|Sts. James, James and Dionysios the New Martyrs (Feast Day - November 1)|
The three Venerable Ones were put to death by strangling,
By wicked enemies of the Holy Trinity.
The holy martyred monk James was born in a village of the diocese of Kastoria [in Macedonia]. His parents were named Martino and Paraskevi. After their death, he occupied himself with herding sheep and, having become very prosperous in this occupation, he aroused jealousy in his brother, as Abel had in Cain. His wicked brother then invented a false story which he told to the local Turkish governor, saying that his brother had found a treasure. In order to escape his brother's envy on the one hand, and the greedy Turks on the other, he betook himself to Constantinople, where he became quite wealthy as a sheep merchant by appointment to the Sultan's palace.
One day, while a guest in the home of a wealthy Turk, James refused to eat meat at the banquet given by the noble, because it was the Fast of the Holy Apostles. He was asked, therefore, why he did not eat of the food and he answered, "These days we Christians fast." Whereupon his Muslim host sighed deeply and said, "Truly, great is the faith which you Christians have." And James said, "From what do you know that the faith of the Christians is great?" Thereupon the Muslim began to relate a miracle, saying that he had a very beautiful and chaste wife and she became possessed; and he spent much money to cure her, but to no avail. One day a friend of his told him: "Take her to the patriarch of the Christians, for they worship the true God, and He works miracles." In the beginning the patriarch, then Saint Niphon II, did not wish to receive her, saying, "It is not proper for us to accept those who are foreign to our Faith." But after many supplications he accepted, because of the saying of our Savior: "He that comes to Me I will in no wise cast out." The holy hierarch had only just begun to read the Gospel over the unfortunate woman when, to the amazement of the Turk and his servant, the roof of the church suddenly opened up and a heavenly light surrounded the patriarch and the efendi's wife, filling the whole church with radiance. Hearing this from a Hagarene, James was deeply moved and went to the patriarch to ask his advice in regard to his own situation. The patriarch's conversation so touched him that, then and there, he distributed three hundred thousand piastres among the poor and left for Mount Athos. There, having made the rounds of all the monasteries, he entered the brotherhood of the Monastery of Docheiariou, which was then coenobitic. There he lived for three years in great humility and obedience.
His fervent zeal soon kindled within him a love for silent prayer and solitude, in order to dwell with the one God in a more suitable manner. "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke [of the Lord] in his youth. He sits alone and keeps silence" (Lam. 3:27-28). The fathers of Docheiariou blessed him for this ascetic discipline. Then he traversed the whole Holy Mountain, seeking a deserted spot which would be suitable for the solitary life, and God revealed such a place to him. This was the ruined Georgian monastery named for Saint John the Forerunner. With the blessing of the abbot of the Monastery of Iveron, who was at that time the Protos of the Holy Mountain, he dwelt there and labored for six long years. This holy skete had been founded at the end of the eighth century by pious Georgians. Later there arrived the son of the widow of Nicaea who had cast her icon of the all holy Theotokos into the sea to save it from the iconoclasts - that same icon that floated to the shores of Mount Athos, guided by the Providence of God, and is now enshrined in the Monastery of Iveron and venerated under the name of "Portaitissa." Throughout the following centuries the little skete, though fallen into ruin, sheltered many who carried on the monastic struggle in silence and solitude. And even when Saint James arrived at this spot, in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century, he encountered one such struggler, the experienced elder Ignatios, to whom he placed himself in obedience. There, in the Skete of the Forerunner, the holy James led a life of silent prayer, fasting, all-night vigils and various ascetic disciplines of self-denial. Throughout his struggle, incessantly attacked by the devil through diverse thoughts and apparitions, he finally conquered the ancient deceiver with the help of God, and received tokens of grace from the Divine Spirit, attaining such purity that he was accounted worthy of heavenly revelations.
Around the venerable James lovers of silent prayer gradually settled, subjecting themselves to his spiritual direction. One such monk was Marcian of the Monastery of Vatopaidi, to whom James once related one of his visions: "I was caught up to a great height where I beheld all material creation, the magnitude and beauty of the sun, the stars in dazzling array, and a tangible paradise in the East, illumined with an unwaning light and inhabited by holy souls. After this was I taken up still further and beheld that place, where Lucifer, pride-besotted, was cast down. This place, which was empty, was yet full of light and ineffably beautiful. Then I visited all the choirs of angels and realized that the light within there had become even more pure, so that the many-eyed cherubim became visible to me and my mind also became many-eyed. At length some mysterious power carried me up to an indescribable height, and there I beheld the Lord Jesus Christ Himself in the flesh, emanating an inaccessible light. I saw also the spiritual Jerusalem, the mother of the first born, in which the souls of the righteous shall dwell after the Second Coming of the Lord. And then the invisible power bore me down to the nethermost region, in which souls await a decision on their fate, and yet further down to Tartarus, to the place of the worm, to fiery Gehenna." The Life says, "The souls are not afflicted yet, but they are imprisoned in a dark place, and await the righteous judgment against them, as our Lord Jesus Christ has said." Relating this to Marcian, Saint James asked him to repeat it to Job, Abbot of Vatopedi, who was a learned elder and well-versed in the Holy Scriptures and philosophy. Marcian went to him, and Job praised the venerable James and gave thanks to God, Who had vouchsafed that anchorite such an abundance of His grace. Marcian related this vision also to Hieromonk Theonas, who struggled in asceticism at the Monastery of Pantocrator. Theonas later became a disciple of James and was afterwards Metropolitan of the Church of Thessaloniki. It is probable that after this Saint Theonas left Pantocrator and asked the Saint to accept him under his direction in the spiritual life.
When the monks of Athos learned of all this, they began to come to him to confess and reveal their thoughts and deeds, for the snares of the devil are many and various, and only a man endued with grace can understand them. But the venerable James did not wish to hear confessions without the permission of the monastery and the blessing of the bishop. Therefore, the abbot of Iveron went to Ierissos and obtained from the bishop of that place the necessary blessing. Then all began to confess to Saint James and were astounded at his wisdom and ability to discern thoughts and heal souls. They were even more astounded that he was quite illiterate, yet had been vouchsafed such lofty spiritual gifts. The holy elder Symeon the Pious, the grace-bearing instructor of Saint Symeon the New Theologian, says: "Acquire God as a friend, and you will have no need of books." Many unlettered ascetics have put to shame the most learned and wise of philosophers, though it is more correct to say that it was not they that did so, but the Holy Spirit, dwelling in them because of the purity of their life. "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God" (Mt. 5:8). And he that beholds God in this manner knows all things in God, and consequently he sees all things before him clearly; as one who has good ocular vision sees all things before him clearly, so one that has the pure vision of spiritual eyes can see all that is invisible, as though it were visible. He that understands, let him understand; but I myself know naught but what I have heard from others, and it is much to see and to listen to such grace-bearing ascetics.
Here is another vision of Saint James. Once he went to the Protaton, the main church in the village of Karyes, before the beginning of the liturgy. It was not yet dawn when the celebrant began to vest, but then and there a light appeared in the church - a light not of the sun, but angelic. When the priest began to perform the proskomedi, holy angels occupied the right and left choirs near the iconostasis, and stood along the four walls of the church, each choir in its proper place. As soon as the priest had finished the proskomedi, a great light shone round the gifts. At the time of the great entrance this light went before the priest and illumined the people. When the gifts had been placed on the Holy Table, the light surrounded it. After the consecration of the Gifts, the venerable James beheld the Lord seated upon the paten in light. When the liturgy came to an end he again beheld the Infant Savior whole, borne to Heaven by holy angels.
Saint James, through a gift from on high, was able to discern the secret, heartfelt and hidden thoughts and feelings of each and every person that approached him. And the Lord also accounted him worthy of the gift of miracles. There came a time when water was very scarce and he was forced to depart to the area surrounding the Monastery of Xenophontos, but longing for the labors and silent solitude that he had lost drew him back. Soon, at his entreaty, the most merciful God granted him a spring of water which flows even in our day and is called the "Well of Saint James," and this divinely bestowed spring does not dry up even in summer. Likewise through his prayer a vessel filled itself with oil. At Vatopaidi he healed a novice who had become possesed by a demon. Another time, during a drought, like Elias he called down rain from the heavens. Once, while walking with one of the brethren on a path, he was caught in a dense fog and darkness and there was a very real danger of their falling over a cliff. But when the holy one prayed, the fog parted and the path lay open before them. And again while he was walking along a path, he became very thirsty and, not being able to locate any water, he prayed, and a spring of water sprang up before him.
Desiring greater silent prayer, he left the Skete of the Forerunner and journeyed to the innermost parts of the wilderness of Athos where, with six of his disciples, he struggled in solitude and ascended within his heart to the mysteries of divine contemplation. In the course of a week's time, apart from Saturdays and Sundays, he conversed with no one. In short, it may be stated that he was at that time a true guide on the path to salvation for the whole of Mount Athos. Eventually he conceived a desire to visit Aetolia, and gathering his disciples around him, he ascended the summit of Mount Athos to pray. There he spent the entire night in prayer, and suddenly he beheld before him an old man who told him that it was pleasing to God that he go to Aetolia. Likewise he saw an Angel who brought him three small loaves of dark bread and told him to eat them. The loaves signified that he and two of his disciples would become martyrs.
Thus, he left the Holy Mountain with his disciples and went to the town known as Petra. There it was foretold to the inhabitants that the town would fall victim to a conflagration in three days' time. From thence he went on to visit Meteora. Having instructed the monks of that place, he went further on to the Monastery of the Forerunner at Nafpaktos which was situated near the village of Trevekista. There, in the midst of many brethen, he passed his time in ascetic feats of fasting, as was he was wont to do. Meanwhile, the Christians of the surrounding villages, informed of the arrival of a great elder in their area, began to flock to him in multitudes. The Venerable One received them all, comforted them and edified them, and worked a great many miracles. In one case, he delivered a virgin from a demon that possessed her. A boy who ate coals instead of ordinary food, because of the devil's activity, he freed from the forces of Satan by the sign of the Honorable Cross. A certain "Christian" sorcerer he left to Satan because he did not wish to confess sorcery. And a mule, which annoyed the brethren with his braying, he reproved, and it did not bray again until death. And he performed many other miracles in that place.
Such wonders, as well as the fact that multitudes of people streamed to him from all sides, did not move all to compunction, however. The local bishop, Akakios, incited by those that hated the glory of the Saint, and himself moved by envy and other wicked feelings, informed the Turkish governor that there was a strange elder who was staying in Trevekista for some unknown (though probably traitorous) purpose, and that he was gathering a multitude of people around him, more than likely to start a revolt. The Muslims, in turn, were disturbed, and informed the Bey of Trikala, who forthwith dispatched eighteen armed guards to arrest the accused. Meanwhile, the Holy One beheld what was transpiring in a vision from on high, and foretold this to his disciples, urging them on towards their struggle; he himself spent the night in prayerful vigil. This occurred on a Sunday. The Holy One ordered the Divine Liturgy served earlier than usual, but even before it ended the Hagarenes had surrounded the church like wild beasts. Seeing this, the disciples of Saint James trembled. "Whom do you seek," the venerable James asked the Muslims. "The abba," they answered. "I am he," he said unto them. Then the messengers declared the Bey's command. Courteously the Holy One asked the Hagarenes to rest from their journey and offered them hospitality. They, in turn, were touched by his cordiality. Thereafter they took the holy Elder and two of his disciples to the Bey.
Long did the Bey torment the Venerable One, at first, offering him endearments, but later employing threats and torture, attempting to ascertain whether he was guilty of the crimes of which he had been accused; but finding no fault in him, he cast him into a dungeon until such time as he could inform the Porte of what had transpired and ascertain what sort of orders would be forthcoming in the matter. In prison, two of his disciples, the priest Theonas and Marcian, asked him: "What shall become of the monastery and the brethren after your death?" "When we shall be freed from the hands of the King, we will go to meet the Patriarch [i.e., our Lord Jesus Christ], after this we shall go to Greater Wallachia [i.e., to Paradise], and from there we shall come from above and you from below, and we shall be gathered together close to Thessaloniki, and a monastery shall be found [which already is known as Saint Anastasia, situated in Galatistaj for our habitation and, thus, we shall remain inseparable both now in this life and forever in the one to come." And truly, there in Galatista, are the relics of Saint James and the two disciples that suffered with him. The relics of Saint Theonas, former abbot of that monastery and later Archbishop of Thessaloniki, are also there, whole and incorrupt, and dressed in episcopal vestments. The Venerable One composed an epistle which he sent from prison to the brethren at Trevekista, urging them to pass their monastic life in a worthy manner. In conclusion, he requested that, after his death and that of his fellow sufferers, a forty-day period of liturgies for their contest be set aside.
Meanwhile, the order came from the Sultan Selim to transfer the Elder and his two disciples, the deacon James and Dionysios, to Adrianople, to which place they were conducted in fetters. The sultan himself went to Didymoteichon, where the holy Confessors were admitted to his presence. Gazing upon the Saint threateningly, the sultan asked him: "To what end have you attracted a multitude of Christians to yourself? Who has permitted you to do so? Perhaps you wish to be king yourself?" And the Saint replied: "You are the sovereign and ruler in this world, but I have been given another authority and judgment by God." And the sultan asked: "What manner of authority have you been given by God?" The Saint answered: "To teach the law of God to my fellow Christians, that, fulfilling His commandments, they may turn away from every evil thing." "You lie!" cried the sultan, enraged. "Confess your crime, of which my governor accuses you in his report!" "I have confessed everything with a pure heart. If you do not believe me - I am in your hands; do with me what you please." Then the sultan commanded his servants to flog the Saint and his disciples with whips. Not a word did the Venerable One utter, nor did he groan during his grievous torment. It was as though it were not he, but some other that endured the flogging. Afterwards, they cast them into prison.
On the following day a new torture was devised for them. At the sultan's command, the torturers wrapped bands of cloth around the Confessors' heads and twisted them gradually so that their heads were compressed and squeezed. The venerable James suffered no ill effects from this, but one of the eyes of his disciple, the deacon James, was forced from its socket. The sultan all the more directed his attack against the deacon, seeing his noble demeanor and handsome features, and strove in every way to bring him to renounce Christ, but in vain. After this, they bound the holy Confessors and took them to Adrianople to be examined anew. After a certain time had elapsed, one of the pashas resident there, on being informed of the three monks that were kept in chains, remarked that he had been informed that one of them could foretell the future. The sultan, on hearing this, rejoiced and straightway summoned the Venerable One. When the prisoner appeared, the sultan asked him: "How many years have I left of my life?" "In nine months your life shall end," replied the holy monk. "You do not know what you are saying!" protested the sultan. "I shall live to take Rhodes." "In nine months you shall die. Why do you care about Rhodes?" The prophecy of the holy James was later fulfilled. Although the sultan did not believe this prophecy, yet was he seized by a secret fear. On his orders the Saint was again cast into prison.
In order to find a plausible reason to kill the innocent sufferers, for he was ashamed to slay him without just cause, the sultan sent one of his pashas to ask the Saint what his opinion was of Christ and of Muhammad. When the pasha put this question to the Venerable One, the latter replied with firmness that our Christ is perfect God and perfect Man, and then explained to him the mystery of the Incarnation and the entire economy of God's salvation and His Providence concerning man. "But what do you think of our prophet?" the pasha asked the Holy One. "Your Muhammad is not a prophet, but a charlatan and a liar, the enemy of Christ our God and of our Faith. No one man has so angered God as Muhammad, and whosoever putts his trust in him and holds him to be a prophet shall be damned." The pasha conveyed all of this to the sultan, who was furious. Then did he send a company of his Janissaries to the prison, promising them his favor if they would but persuade the Venerable One to deny Christ, employing whatsoever means they saw fit. And they going, sought earnestly with every machination to bring the Saints to their religion. But the Saints, all three together, cried out with one voice, "God forbid that we should ever renounce our Lord Jesus Christ, even if you torture us with ten thousand torments." They, hearing this, reported it to the sultan.
The sultan then commanded them to bring the monks into his presence. When this had been done, the barbarian ordered some to rend their flesh with instruments of torture and to strike them in their jaws, while others mocked them, urging them to eat meat, knowing full well that as monks they would not obey such a command. Throughout these tortures the blood of their martyrdom flowed in streams and soaked the earth. Nevertheless, the venerable Martyrs were not shaken in their spirit of endurance. At the sultan's command they were again cast into prison, where they languished for three days. At last, the sultan, not satisfied with such tortures, commanded the tormentors to bring the Saints forth for a new torture. First, he ordered them to remove strips of flesh from the Elder's body, from his breast to his shoulders and back and to lay bare his internal organs. Then they were told to pour vinegar mixed with salt on his wounds. Meanwhile they flogged his disciples with whips for a long time. Thus, in great pain and barely alive, they were cast once more into prison. But one final trial yet awaited the sufferers. Seeing that they were still impervious to all manner of torment, the sultan ordered the torturers to tear their legs with iron claws, to burn their sides with fire and to rub their wounds without mercy with haircloth steeped in salt water. Thus, tortured throughout the course of seventeen days, the sufferers were at length condemned to the gallows.
Saint James went walking to the place of execution to the marvel and amazement of the observers, for his feet were bare bones, naked of flesh. But his two disciples were brought carried. Then the Holy One requested a short time for prayer; and having obtained permission, set the deacon James on his right and Dionysios on his left, and said unto them: "My children, it is time for us to go to our beloved Christ, for Whom we have been accounted worthy of suffering. Wherefore, entreat Him on behalf of the Church and the whole world; and let us give thanks that the Lord, having delivered us from this vain world, deem us worthy of inheriting His eternal Kingdom." Then all three made three prostrations, worshipping God. After this, the Venerable One drew forth three particles of the Life-creating Mysteries of Christ which he had concealed, and having given them to his disciples, they partook of them together. Finally, lifting his eyes and hands to Heaven, he cried out with a loud voice: "O Lord, into Your hands I commit my spirit!" and with a joyful countenance, he peacefully reposed. Seeing this, the soldiers were amazed, and informed the sultan, who commanded them to hang his body anyway. And on the right and left side of the Holy One they hanged his disciples. Thus did the right-victorious Martyrs repose and receive crowns for their suffering. This took place on November 1, 1520.
Their honorable relics were ransomed by certain Christians, removed to the village of Arvanitochorion (near Adrianople), and placed in three separate graves. Every Sunday and feast day, a Heavenly light appeared over the graves of the holy Martyrs. This apparition amazed all that lived there. After the Saints' cruel death, a certain priest of Arta, by the name of Nicholas, who had a brother that dwelt near the Danube River, desired to visit him, for which purpose he travelled overland. But on arriving in Adrianople his horse fell sick, and he was able neither to go forward nor to turn back. In such extremity he remembered Saint James and prayed to him thus: "O holy and venerable James, martyr of Christ! Help me, a traveller and stranger in a strange land!" And his animal was straightway healed. In gratitude, he hastened to the place where the relics of the venerable Martyrs rested, related to the inhabitants the misfortune which had befallen him and from which he had been delivered through the intercessions of the Saints, and earnestly besought them to uncover their relics. His request was honored. When they opened the grave of the venerable Martyr James, a wonderful fragrance came forth from his relics.
With the assent of the people that lived in that place, the priest took the skull of the Saint and certain other remains, but left the remainder intact. Enriched by such a priceless treasure, he did not wish to conceal it, but rather to leave the miraculous remains to the Saint's disciples. Meanwhile, it chanced that he was at a metochion of the Athonite Monastery of Dionysiou which was at Orphani. There he learned from the monks of Dionysiou that near their monastery, in the Monastery of Simonopetra, one of the Saint's disciples lived as a hermit. This news was the cause of much joy for the priest. He then related to the monks his tale of the wonderworking relics of the Saint, and that he had them in his possession. On hearing this, the steward of the metochion, a monk by the name of Neophytos, who was diseased in one eye, asked him to bring forth the holy relics. When he called upon the venerable Martyr's aid and touched his eye to the relics, it was immediately healed. In gratitude for his healing, the steward himself accompanied the priest to the Holy Mountain, where he sought out the disciples of the Saint. It is difficult to describe the joy of the disciples on beholding the much-suffering relics of their father and instructor. They kissed them, rejoiced and gave thanks unto the Lord. Afterwards they sent a certain monk named Theophilos with the priest to Adrianople, and together they brought back the rest of the remains of the Venerable One and his disciples who had suffered with him.
And yet another miracle was worked by the divine relics of the Saint. The eye and mouth of a certain priest named Kallistos turned to another place of his face and when he touched them to the holy relics, his bodily organs returned to their proper places; and having obtained healing, glorifying God, he preached about his recovery everywhere he went. A short time passed, and the disciples of the Holy One, due to the poverty and want of the monastery, but even more in fulfillment of the Saint's prophecy, left Simonopetra with the relics of the Saint and went to a place known as Galatista, nigh unto Thessaloniki. There, in the Monastery of Saint Anastasia Pharmakolytria, which had long been abandoned, they abode, restoring it and struggling ascetically for the Lord. Meanwhile, the glory and miracles of the holy relics attracted thence a hundred and fifty brethren in but a short time, under the abbacy of Saint Theonas, who subsequently became Archbishop of Thessaloniki (commemorated on April 4).
One hieromonk from among the brethren, Barlaam by name, broke his obedience to the abbot and was immediately possessed by an evil spirit. His possession was so severe that the demon tormented him as many as thirty times a day. Taking pity on the wretch, the abbot sprinkled him with water in which the holy relics of the venerable Martyr had been washed, and the brother was healed. Likewise, one of the monastery's laborers, who had become possessed, was cured. However, not only the honorable relics of the Saint worked miracles, but even certain portions of his garments. In the latter case, when placed upon women that had difficulty during childbirth, they straightway gave birth. Once, a certain resident of Thessaloniki named Philip, had occasion to call upon the Saint for help when he was in danger of drowning. In gratitude for his miraculous rescue, Philip donated oil for the lamps in the monastery church until the end of his life. This same Philip once loaned seven hundred piastres to a certain Turk, but when he asked for payment the Muslim not only denied that he had borrowed the money, but became enraged against his creditor. Philip, who could not hope to receive a just verdict if his case were brought to court, turned in prayer to Saint James and, relying on his aid, went again to the Turk. The Muslim, who hitherto had been furious, received Philip with love and endearments and forthwith handed over the money he had borrowed.
Such were the life, martyrdom and miracles of the holy martyred monk James. Through his prayers and the prayers of them that suffered with him may we be accounted worthy of the eternal blessings of the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.
Sources: Athonite Patericon, vol. II, pp 323-333; Spiritually Beneficial Convesations, 1897, # 1, pp.23-27.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
You appeared as angelic on the earth, having received the grace of the apostles, and you were sent forth preaching repentance, showing the path of salvation to those who wanted, and you nobly approached the contest, with your firm fellow-athletes wise one, Venerable Martyr James the great.
Kontakion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Let us worthily remember James, the new Preacher of the brilliance of repentance, and divine trumpet of the philanthropy of God. You bore the marks of the Lord, and fulfilled the needs of the Saints. Wherefore we say: Rejoice, Father James.
Come let us offer annual hymns, to the wondrous triad, the beautiful Venerable New Martyrs, beseeching through hymns those who were nobly wounded and are ever-ready.