Saturday, February 6, 2016

Saint James the Ascetic of Cyrus

St. James the Ascetic of Cyrus (Feast Day - February 6)

By Bishop Theodoret of Cyrus, Syria

Now that we have proceeded through the contests of the athletes of virtue described above, narrating in summary their laborious exercises, their exertions in the contests and their most glorious and splendid victories, let us now record, and leave to posterity as a profitable memorial, the way of life of those still living, who contend magnificently and strive to surpass their predecessors in exertion. For just as the life of the conspicuous saints of the past brought the greatest benefit to their successors, so the accounts of these men will become models for those after us. At the head of these I shall place the great James,1 for he has precedence over the others both in time and in labor, and it is by emulating him that his emulators do wondrous and extraordinary things. It has turned out, I know not how, that this name has come at the head of both the departed and those still alive; for in recounting the life of the former I placed at the head the divine James who scattered the Persian army by prayer and, when the surrounding walls of the town fell down, both refused to allow the capture of the city and forced the enemy to flee by sending against them gnats and mosquitoes. Therefore let the man with the same name and the same ways come at the head of the company of the contestants still alive, not for the reason that he shares the name, but because he also emulated his virtue and became himself a model of philosophy for others.

A companion of the great Maron and a recipient of his divine teaching, he has eclipsed his teacher by greater labors. For Maron had a precinct of the ancient imposture as enclosure, pitched a tent of hairy skins, and used this to ward off the assaults of rain and snow. But this man, bidding farewell to all these things, tent and hut and enclosure, has the sky for roof, and lets in all the contrasting assaults of the air, as he is now inundated by torrential rain, now frozen by frost and snow, at other times burnt and consumed by the rays of the sun, and exercises endurance over everything. Competing as if in the body of another, and striving with zeal to overcome the nature of the body - for clad in this mortal and passible one he lives as in an impassible one -, and practicing in a body the life without a body, he exclaims with the inspired Paul, "Though walking in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, for our weapons are not fleshly but mighty through God for the destruction of strongholds, as we destroy arguments and every high thing exalted against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive for obedience to Christ." For these contests that surpass nature he rehearsed by means of lesser labors: it was by earlier immuring himself in a small cell, freeing his soul from the tumults outside and nailing his mind to the thought of God that he engaged in the rehearsal of complete virtue.

After training himself perfectly and accustoming his soul to excellent labors, he dared greater contests. Repairing to that mountain which is thirty stades distant from this town,2 he has made it distinguished and revered, although formerly it was totally undistinguished and sterile. So great is the blessing it is confidently believed to have now received that the soil on it has been quite exhausted by those coming from all sides to carry it off for their benefit. Living in this place he is observed by all comers, since he has, as I said, no cave or tent or hut or enclosure or obstructing wall; but he is to be seen praying or resting, standing or sitting, in health or in the grip of some infirmity, so that it is unceasingly under the eyes of spectators that he strives in combat and repels the necessities of nature - nor are other men who have had a respectable upbringing ready to evacuate excrement in the presence of strangers, let alone a man trained in the highest philosophy.

And I mention this, not having learnt it from another, but having myself been a witness. Fourteen years ago,3 a grave illness came upon him which caused him a condition to be expected in one with a mortal body. It was the height of summer, and the heat of the sun's rays was kindled more intensely, with a lulling of the winds and the air remaining motionless. The disease was a flux of bile moving downwards, hurting the guts, causing pressure and forcing one to run outside. It was then that I witnessed the great endurance of this man. For while very many men of the country had assembled with the intention of seizing the victorious body, he sat there torn by contrary impulses: while nature pressed him to go and evacuate, shame before the attendant crowd compelled him to stay in the same position. Noticing this, I addressed many exhortations to those who had come, and many threats, ordering them to go away. Finally I applied to them my episcopal authority, and in the evening, with great effort, sent them away. But even after their departure the man of God was not defeated by nature, but maintained his endurance until the dead of night set in and compelled everyone to go home. Coming to him again on the next day, I saw that the burning heat had become still more intense and that the fever that beset him was nourished and increased by the fire without; so alleging a headache, I said that the impact of the sun's rays was causing me discomfort, and asked him to improvise for me some slight shade by him. He gave the order, and by fixing three stakes and putting two cloaks on them we contrived some shade. When he bid me go inside, I replied, "It would be disgraceful, father, for me, who am young and strong, to obtain this relief, while you, who are beset by a violent fever and need such solace, sit outside, receiving the impact of the sun's rays. Therefore (I continued) if you want me to enjoy the shade, come and share with me this scanty tent; for I wish to stay beside you, but am hindered by the rays." On hearing this plea he consented, and chose to render me service.

When we were enjoying the shade together, I started on another plea, and said I needed to lie down, since my hip found sitting painful. Again he begged me to lie down, and heard in reply that I could not bear to lie down and see him seated: "Therefore," I said, "if you want me to enjoy this rest as well, let us lie down together, father, for I will not have the embarrassment of lying down alone." By this plea I outwitted his endurance and gave him the relief of lying down. Now that he was stretched out on the ground, I made agreeable remarks to him, to make his soul more cheerful; and putting my hand inside his clothing, I tried gently to rub his back. It was then that I perceived the great load of iron that bound his waist and his neck; and other chains, two in front and two behind, extending obliquely from the circle round his neck to the circle below, and forming the shape of the letter X, connected the two circles to each other, both in front and behind; and beneath his clothing his arms bore other bonds of this kind round his elbows. On perceiving this tremendously heavy load, I begged him to assist his sick body, which could not bear at the same time both the voluntary load and the involuntary infirmity. "At the moment, father," I said, "the fever is doing the work of the iron; when it abates, let us at that stage impose on the body again the labor from the iron." He yielded to this as well, bewitched by these many words of enchantment.

On this occasion he recovered easily after a few days of illness; but at a later time he fell ill of a more serious disease. As many came together from all sides to seize his body, all the men of the town, when they heard of it, hastened together, soldiers and civilians, some taking up military equipment, others using whatever weapons lay to hand. Forming up in close order, they fought by shooting arrows and slinging stones - not to wound, but simply to instill fear. Having thus driven off the local inhabitants, they placed the all-round contestant on a litter, while he was quite unconscious of what was happening - he was not even conscious of his hair being plucked out by the peasants -, and set off to the city.4 Arriving at the shrine of the Prophet,5 they placed the litter in the retreat adjoining it. Someone came to Beroea, where I happened to be, to tell what had happened and bring the news of his death; immediately I made haste and spent the whole night traveling, and just after daybreak reached the man of God, who was neither speaking nor able to recognize any of those present. But when I addressed him to tell him that the great Acacius6 sent his respects, he instantly opened his eyes, asked how he was, and inquired when I had come. When I had answered these questions, he shut his eyes again. After three days had passed, in the evening, he asked where he was; on being told, he was extremely vexed, and demanded to be taken back at once to the mountain. In my wish to serve him in everything, I gave immediate instructions for his litter to be brought and to be carried to the desired spot. It was then that I witnessed the lack of vanity in this, to me venerable, person.

On the next day I brought him some barley gruel, which I had cooled - since he refused to take anything hot, having renounced entirely the use of fire. Since he was unwilling to partake, I said, "Show consideration, father, for all of us, for we think your health to be preservation for all. For not only are you set before us as a model that is of benefit, but you also help us by your prayers and procure us God's favor. If the disruption of your habits torments you, father (I continued), endure this as well, for this too is a form of philosophy. Just as when in health and desiring food you overcame appetite by endurance, so now when you have no appetite show endurance by taking food." While I was saying this, the man of God Polychronius was also present, who, to support my plea, volunteered to be the first to take food, although it was morning and he often fed his body at seven day intervals. Worsted by this reasoning, he swallowed one cup of the gruel with his eyes shut, just as we normally do with bitter drinks.

I think it useful to reveal as well the following example of the philosophy of his soul, which occurred after we induced him to wet with water the feet that out of debility had lost the ability to walk. The cup was lying nearby, and one of the attendants tried to cover it with a basket so that it should not be visible to those who visited him. "Why," he asked, "do you cover the cup?" The other replied, "To stop it being exposed to the gaze of visitors." "Clear off, boy," he exclaimed, "do not hide from men what is manifest to the God of the universe. Wishing to live for him alone, I have paid no thought to my reputation with men; for what benefit is it, if the latter think more of my asceticism but God thinks less? For they are not the givers of reward for labors, but God is the bestower." Who would not be overwhelmed with admiration both at these words and at the mind, so superior to human reputation, that bred them?

I learnt of something similar that occurred on some other occasion. It was evening, late evening, and the time for nourishment. So taking the potsherd lying to hand, he ate the soaked lentils - for this was his food. There came someone from the town, entrusted with some military exaction. James, seeing him at a distance, did not put his lentils aside, but continued swallowing the food as usual. And thinking him to be a demonic illusion, he assailed him with words, to drive him off as an enemy; and to show he was not afraid, he continued during this to put lentils in his mouth. The man being assailed with abuse besought him, and declared he was a man, and that he had arrived at this time because obliged by an oath to leave the city towards evening. "Be of good courage," said the other, "and do not be afraid, but pray and then depart. Be my table-companion, and share this food with me." While saying this, he filled his hand and gave a portion of the lentils. In this way he has expelled from his mind the passion of vainglory together with the others.

But of his endurance it is superfluous to speak, since sight is the witness. Often after snow has fallen for three days and as many nights, he has been so buried, when lying prone in prayer to God, that not even a tiny piece of the rags that cover him can be seen. Often his neighbors have to use forks and shovels and in this way remove the snow covering him, in order to drag out and revive his supine body.

As a result of these labors he has culled the gifts of divine grace, and these are shared by all who desire it. Through his blessing many fevers have been quenched - and still are -, many agues have abated or departed completely, many demons have been forced to flee; and water blessed by his hand becomes a preventive medicine. Who is ignorant of the resuscitation of a dead child that occurred through his prayer? In the suburbs of the city lived the child's parents, who had begotten many children and escorted them all prematurely to the grave. So when this last child was born, the father hastened to the man of God, begging to obtain a long life for it, and promising to dedicate it to God, should it live. After living for four years, it came to the end of its life. The father was absent; but the moment he returned, he saw the child being already carried out. Snatching it from the bier, he said, "It is fitting that I fulfil my promise and give the child, even though dead, to the man of God." So he took it as he had promised, and laid it before those holy feet, saying what he had already said to his household. The man of God, placing the child before him and kneeling down, lay prostrate as he entreated the Master of life and death. In the late afternoon the child made utterance and called its father. This inspired man, perceiving thereby that the Master had accepted the petition and bestowed life, got up, and after worshipping the One who does the will of those who fear him and hearkens to their requests, completed his prayer and restored the child to its begetter. I myself saw the child and heard the father narrating the miracle; and I have transmitted to many this story worthy of the Apostles, knowing that it will be a cause of great benefit to those who hear it.

I myself have often enjoyed his help. I shall recall one or two instances, knowing that it would be the height of ingratitude to consign to silence, and not to make known, his varied good services. The abominable Marcion had sown many thorns of impiety in the territory of the city of Cyrrhus (Cyrus); trying to pull these out by the root, I shook every sail and applied persistently every device. But those who received these attentions from me "instead of loving me (in the words of the prophet) calumniated me, and returned against me evil for good, and hatred for my love." They tried to make war invisibly by using magic spells and having recourse to the cooperation of evil demons. Once by night there came a wicked demon, who exclaimed in Syriac, "Why, Theodoret, do you make war on Marcion? Why on earth have you joined battle with him? What harm has he ever done to you? End the war, stop your hostility, or you will learn by experience how good it is to stay quiet. Know well that I would long ago have pierced you through, if I had not seen the choir of the martyrs with James protecting you." I heard this, and said to one of my friends sleeping nearby, "Can you hear, my friend, what is being said?" "I heard it all," he replied, "and though I wanted to get up and peer and find out who was speaking, I kept quiet for your sake, supposing you to be asleep." So getting up we both peered about, and saw no one moving and heard no one speaking; the others who lived with us had also heard these words. I realized that by 'the choir of martyrs' was meant the flask of oil of the martyrs, with a blessing gathered from very many martyrs, which was hung up by my bed; and under my head lay an old cloak of the great James, which for me had been stronger than any defenses of steel.7

When I was about to attack the chief village of these same men, and many things got in the way to hinder my setting out, I sent to my Isaiah, begging to enjoy divine reinforcement. "Have confidence," he said, "for all those hindrances have been swept away like spiders' webs; God taught me this by night, not sketching a shadowy dream but displaying a vision. For I saw (he continued), as I was beginning the hymnody, in that part where those places are situated, a fiery serpent crawling from the west to the east and carried through mid-air. After completing three more prayers, I saw it curled up and displaying a circular shape, touching its tail with its head. After finishing eight more prayers, I saw it cut in two and dissolved into smoke." This is what he foresaw, and we witnessed how the issue agreed with the prediction. For in the morning, under the command of the serpent, originator of evil, those who were formerly of the company of Marcion, but now belong to the host of the Apostles, set out from the west, brandishing naked swords against us. About the third hour of the day they formed up in close order, taking thought only for their own protection, just as the serpent covered his head with his tail. At the eighth hour they dispersed, giving us room to enter the village. And we immediately found a serpent made out of bronze material which they worshipped - for having openly declared war against the Creator and Maker of the universe, they were eager to serve the accursed serpent as being his enemy. Such are the good services which I have myself received from this, to me venerable, person.

Since my account has entered on the narration of divine revelations, I shall narrate what I heard from this tongue incapable of deceit. He told this story not out of vanity - for his godly soul is far removed from this passion -, but because a certain need compelled him to tell what he wished to hide. I was asking him to beg the God of the universe to make the crop clear of weeds and free it altogether from the seeds of heresy, for I was utterly tormented by the error of the abominable Marcion's having so strong a hold. To my earnest entreaty he replied, "You need neither myself nor some other intercessor with God, for you have the famous John, the mouthpiece of the Word, the forerunner of the Master, who constantly transmits this petition on your behalf." When I declared that I had faith in the prayers of this saint as in those of the other holy apostles and prophets whose relics had lately been brought to us, he said, "Have confidence, since you have John the Baptist." But not even so could I bear to keep silent. I pressed my inquiries all the more in my desire to learn why he made mention of this one in particular. "I wanted," he replied, "to embrace his beloved relics." When I said I would not bring them unless he promised to tell me what he had seen, he gave the promise, and I on the next day brought what he longed for; and ordering everyone to keep at a distance, he recounted to me alone the following. "At the time," he said, "that you welcomed with Davidic choral singing the arrival from Phoenicia and Palestine of these city-guardians, a thought occurred to me whether these were in reality the relics of the famous John and not of some other martyr of the same name. Now one day later I got up at night for the hymnody, and saw someone clad in white who said, 'Brother James, tell me why you did not come to meet us on our arrival.' When I asked who they were, he replied, 'Those who came yesterday from Phoenicia and Palestine. While everyone welcomed us enthusiastically - the shepherd and the people, townsfolk and countrymen -, you alone did not take part in this veneration.' He was alluding to the doubts I felt. At this (James continued) I replied, 'Even in the absence of you and the others, I venerate you and worship the God of all things.' Again on the next day, at the same time, he himself appeared: "Brother James," he said, "look at the one standing there, whose raiment is like the snow in color, and before whom is placed a furnace of fire.' I moved my eyes in that direction and surmised it was John the Baptist, for he wore his cloak, and was stretching out his hand as if baptizing. 'It is the one,' he said, 'whom you have guessed it to be.' And on another occasion (he continued), when you departed by night to their principal village, in order to punish them as seditious, and bade me address still more earnest prayer to God, I persevered without sleep entreating the Master. Then I heard a voice saying, 'Fear not, James. The great John the Baptist all night entreats the God of the universe; for there would have been great slaughter, had not the insolence of the devil been extinguished by his intercession.'" After recounting this to me, he charged me to keep the knowledge to myself and not make others share it; but I, for the sake of the benefit, have not only recounted the story to many, but also entrust it to writing.

He said that he had also beheld the patriarch Joseph, with his hoary head and beard, emitting in old age the radiance of youth, and at the summit of virtue naming himself the last of the saints. "While I," he continued "declared him to be the first of those who shared a tomb with him, he called himself the last."

He also recounted to me the attacks of all kinds made on him by the evil demons. "At my very entry," he said, "into this way of life, I used to see someone naked, with the appearance of an Egyptian, shooting fire from his eyes. I, on seeing him, would be filled with fear, have recourse to prayer and could not bear to take food, for it was at this time that he used to appear. When seven, eight, ten days had passed and I remained without food, finally, despising the evil onslaught, I sat down and took food. But he could not bear my elevation of mind, and threatened to strike me with a rod. But I (he continued) said, 'If you have been given permission by the Master of the universe, then strike, and I shall receive the blow with pleasure, as being struck by Him; but if you have not been given permission, you will not strike, however infinite your frenzy.' On hearing this, he on this occasion fled away. His frenzy, however, continued in secret. Water was brought to me from below twice a week. Meeting the carrier and imitating my appearance, he would take the water and, after telling him to depart, pour it away. This he did not merely twice but three times, and the affliction of thirst made war upon me. In my torment, I asked the usual carrier, 'Why on earth for fifteen days have you not brought water?' He replied that he had brought it three times already, indeed four times, and that I had received it from him. 'And where,' I asked, 'did I receive this water from you when you brought it?' When he indicated the place, I said: 'Even if on innumerable occasions you see me there, do not hand over the jar until you come to this place.'

After I had in this way frustrated his plot, I was tested again by another one. Crying out at night, he said: 'I shall fill you with such a stench, and spread so evil a reputation, that no one from anywhere will look at you.' To this (he continued) I made reply: 'I shall concede thanks to you, for against your will you will be doing your enemy a kindness, by making him luxuriate all the more in remembering God; for enjoying greater leisure, I shall keep up as my uninterrupted task contemplation of the divine beauty.' After a few days had passed, (he continued) when at midday I was performing the customary liturgy, I saw two women coming down from the mountain. When in vexation at this unusual occurrence I tried to throw stones at them, I recalled the threat of the avenging spirit and guessed this to be the evil reputation. So I shouted that even if they sat on my shoulders I would not throw stones at them or chase them away, but have recourse to prayer alone. When I said this, they vanished, and the visual illusion ended as I spoke.

After this again (he continued) I was praying by night, when the noise of a carriage reached me, as also the cry of a driver and of horses whinneying. The novelty of the thing bewildered me, for I reflected that no governor was staying in the city at that time, that the road was not for carriages, and that the time of day was not suitable for carriages. As I was having these thoughts, there was heard a tumult of a great company approaching and the cries of the rodbearers in front, hissing to clear the crowd out of the way and make the road ready for the governor. When they seemed to me to be extremely close (he continued), I said, 'Who are you? Where have you come from? For what purpose have you come at this time? How long will you keep up your jesting, you wretch, and presume upon the divine forbearance?' This I said as, facing east, I addressed petition to God. The other gave me a push, but had not the strength to knock me down - for divine grace resisted -, and immediately the whole apparition vanished."

He related too how, at the time when those wicked brigands coming from Isauria burnt and plundered most of the east,8 he was terrified at the thought, not of being killed - he was not so in love with the body - but of enslavement and captivity and witnessing impiety and lawlessness. The devil, perceiving this fear - for he often heard him express it to his friends -, imitated by night the wailing of women. "I thought I could hear," he continued, "the enemy arriving and setting fire to the villages. I at once parted the hair on my head, drawing some on the left and some on the right down my shoulders to my chest, and made my neck ready to be severed by the sword, so that receiving the blow immediately, I might be spared the sight I deprecated. When day came and some people arrived, after spending the whole night like this, all the time expecting an assault, I asked what they had heard of the Isaurians. They replied that during these days they had heard nothing of them. That (he concluded) was how I discovered that this too was a diabolical illusion."

"On another occasion," he said, "in the likeness of a youth in full vigor, resplendent in bloom and adorned with blond hair, he came up to me both grinning and flirting. But I (he continued), was armed with indignation and drove him off with abuse. But he persevered with his wanton look and with a grin and speech that reeked of pleasure. At this point I intensified my anger: 'How do you have the strength,' I said, 'to traverse the whole world and lay such snares for all men?' He replied that he was not on his own, but that a mass of demons was scattered through the whole world, to play tricks and be at work simultaneously; for by their playful appearance they are at work to destroy the whole human race. 'But as for you,' I said, 'go away: you are being ordered by Christ, who by means of swine sent a whole legion into the abyss.' As soon as he heard this, he fled, not able either to endure the power of the Master's name or to look at the radiance of the philosophers of His household."

I know many more stories than these, but I do not wish to record them, lest their quantity become for the more weak an excuse for disbelief. To those who see the man of God no story of this kind appears incredible, because the virtue they see confirms the stories. But since this composed narrative will pass down to posterity and most people trust their ears less than their eyes, let us adjust the narration to the weakness of the hearers.

Others built him a great tomb a few stades away in the neighboring village, while I prepared a grave for him in the shrine of the triumphant Apostles.16 But on learning of this, the man of God besought me many times to bury his body on the mountain itself; I replied as often that it is not fitting for one who is indifferent to the present life to take thought for his burial. But when I saw that this was dose to his heart, I agreed and consented, and made arrangements for the coffin to be carved and brought up; and when I saw that the stone was being damaged by the frost, I ordered a small hut to be made for the coffin. When, following his orders, we had completed the construction and put on the roof, he said: "I will not allow this tomb to be called that of James. I want it to be a shrine of the triumphant martyrs, and myself like some immigrant to be placed in another tomb, honored to dwell with them." This he not only declared but accomplished. Collecting from all sources many prophets, many apostles, and as many martyrs as possible, he placed them in a single coffin, in his wish to dwell with the assembly of the saints, and his desire to share with them both the resurrection and the privilege of the vision of God.

This is sufficient to prove his modesty of spirit. Although he had amassed such wealth of virtue, while living in extreme poverty, he desired to dwell with the company of the rich. Of what kind are the labors of this, to me venerable, person, how great his contests, how much grace from God he has enjoyed, what victories he has won and with what crowns he has been adorned, these stories are sufficient to teach. Since some people accuse him of peevishness of character and are annoyed at his love of solitude and tranquility, it is after saying a few words on this that I shall bring the account to an end.

As I have said already, he lies exposed to everyone's gaze, being neither fenced round with an enclosure nor sheltered by some hut or tent; each of his visitors, because hindered by no barrier, goes to him at once and wants to make conversation. Other lovers of this philosophy have enclosures and doors and the enjoyment of tranquillity; the recluse opens when wishing to, delays as long as he wants, and has his fill of divine contemplation as long as he wishes. But here there is none of this; and this is the essential reason why he gets annoyed with those who are a nuisance at the very time of prayer. If at his bidding they go away at once, he again concentrates on prayer; but if they continue to be a nuisance and do not obey when ordered once or even twice, then he is annoyed and sends them away with a rebuke. I myself have had a discussion with him on this matter. I told him that some people were upset at being driven away without even a blessing. "It would be proper," I said, "for those who come for this and make a journey of many days to depart not in vexation but full of joy, to feast the ignorant with stories of your philosophy." He replied, "I did not come to the mountain for another's sake but for my own. Bearing the wounds of so many sins, I need much treatment, and because of this I beseech our Master to give me the antidotes to wickedness. How, then, would it not be absurd and utterly senseless to break the sequence of petition and make conversation with men in between? If I happened to be the domestic of a human being like myself, and at the time for serving the master failed to bring the food or drink at the right time but instead made conversation with one of my fellow-servants, what great blows would I not justly receive? And if I went to the governor and, while relating an injustice I had suffered from someone, broke off my discourse in the middle and made some other remarks to one of those present, do you not think that the judge would be annoyed, withdraw his assistance, and have me whipped and driven from the bar? How could it be right for a domestic to behave appropriately towards a master, and a plaintiff towards a judge, but for me, as I approach God, the eternal Master, the Judge most just and King of all things, not to make my approach like these, but during my prayers to turn to my fellow-servants and hold a long conversation with them?" This is what I heard and have transmitted to those who had taken offence; and he seems to me have spoken well and fairly. In addition to what he said, it is characteristic of lovers to overlook everyone else and cleave to the one they cherish and love, to dream of him by night and think of him by day. It is, I think, for this reason that he is annoyed when, in the middle of the contemplation he longs for, he is prevented from being immersed in the beauty he loves.

We have composed this in the form of a narrative not of a panegyric, paying close attention to brevity, in order not by length to exhaust our readers. If he outlives this narration for a time, he will doubtless add innumerable other achievements to his earlier ones, and others will record them. As for us, great is the longing to depart from here. May the Umpire of the athletes of piety grant this man an end worthy of his labors, and make the rest of his course consonant with the earlier part, so that he may reach the finishing-post as victor; and may He through the prayers of this man support our weakness, so that strengthened we may retrieve our many defeats and depart from this life with victory.

(There is remarkable consistency between this St. James the Ascetic of Cyrus with the St. James the Anchorite of Cyrus commemorated on November 26th, inclining one towards the belief that the two are in fact one, with the difference that today's account was written by Theodoret while the Saint was still alive, whereas the November account was recorded after his repose. The latter is the one also included in the Synaxarion with iambic verses.)


1. James was the most famous ascetic of the region of Cyrrhus (Cyrus). At first a companion of Maron, then briefly a recluse, he had been an open-air hermit since 402. It emerges from this chapter that he had close relations with Theodoret, who stresses the spiritual assistance James gave him in his campaign against the Marcionites. Likewise in 446/7 James added his moral support to Theodoret's pleas to high court officials for a remission of taxes to be granted to Cyrrhus, 'a city which he names, makes illustrious by living near and protecting with his prayers'. Theodoret does not care to mention that in 434 James had been one of the ascetics, the others being Symeon Stylites and Baradatus, who, at the request of the imperial court, pressed a reluctant and aggrieved Theodoret to be reconcilea with John of Antioch and accept the end of hostilities with Cyril of Alexandria. It is remarkable that in 457 it was the same three ascetics - James, Symeon, and Baradatus - who were singled out by the emperor Leo I to be consulted over the controversial Chalcedonian Definition of 451. Theodoret's very full account of James in the Rel. Hist. was clearly justified by much more than local loyalty.

2. This mountain has been identified with Sheih Khoros, four miles west of Cyrrhus.

3. 'Fourteen years ago' implies a date of 426.

4. Similar is the way soldiers from Antioch secured Symeon Stylites's body and carried it to the city, despite the resistance, not only of the local inhabitants, but also of a band of armed Ishmaelites, who also wished to obtain it

5. This is the shrine containing relics of John the Baptist and others.

6. On Acacius, bishop of Beroea. The teaching of Marcion seems to have taken special root in rural Syria, where in the third century Marcionites are likely to have outnumbered Orthodox. Their continuing strength in the region of Cyrrhus is indicated by John Chrysostom, writing c. 400 as bishop of Constantinople to the bishop of Cyrrhus about the presence of Marcionism in his diocese, 'urging him to expel the disease and offering assistance from the imperial laws' (Theodoret, Eccl. Hist. V .31). In ep. 81 (of AD 448) and 113 (of 449) Theodoret claims to have converted eight villages of Marcionites, a total of over one thousand souls, and to have extirpated the heresy from his diocese.

7. Cp. IX.15 for a prophylactic object provided by a holy man (Peter's belt). n. So far from being pagan, Marcionite churches were very similar in afpearance and liturw to Catholic ones (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catecbetical Lectures XVII .26). The Marciomtes did not so much introduce innovations as exaggerate certain tendencies in Syrian Christianity. They pushed anti-Judaism to the point of rejecting the Old Testament and the more Judaistic parts of the New, and pushed encratism (or continence) to the point of using water not wine in the euchanst and insisting that all the baptized were committed to lifelong sexual abstinence.

8. This Isaurian raid probably dates to 404.

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