October 18, 2018

Saint James the Deacon

St. James the Deacon (Feast Day - October 18)

Saint James lived in the seventh century, and assisted Saint Paulinus of York (Oct. 10) in evangelizing the north of England, known as Northumbria.

Following the death of Saint Edwin (Oct. 12) in 633, the northern kingdom experienced many trials, including military defeats, famine, and plague. The year 633-634 was so fraught with misfortune that it became known as “The Hateful Year.” Saint Paulinus accompanied Saint Ethelburga (Apr. 5) back to her native Kent after the death of her husband King Edwin, leaving Saint James behind to care for the new converts in northern England.

Saint James has been described as “faithful and undismayed,” even though the secular power which supported the Church had been overthrown. Even so, he would not abandon the people in his care, nor would he cease his missionary labors.

This faithful servant of the Lord established himself near the village of Catterick in Yorkshire, teaching, comforting, and encouraging his flock. Even in such difficult times, Saint James was able to win many converts to Christ. He had a talent for music, and was skilled in the Roman chants composed by Pope Gregory the Dialogist (Mar. 12) which were being used in Kent. James taught these chants to the Christians of the north. When peace returned and the churches reopened, their services were beautified with the chants which Saint James had given them.

We do not know exactly when Saint James died, but it is believed that he survived for at least thirty years after “The Hateful Year,” and participated in the Synod of Whitby in 664. During the reign of King Oswiu of Northumbria, James attended the royal court, for he celebrated Easter with Oswiu's queen, Eanflaed, Edwin's daughter. Both James and Eanflaed celebrated Easter on the date used by the Roman church, which led to conflicts with Oswiu, who celebrated Easter on the date calculated by the Irish church. These dates did not always agree, and was one of the reasons that Oswiu called the Synod of Whitby in 664 to decide which system of Easter calculation his kingdom would use.

Saint James does not appear to have been ordained to the holy priesthood, but through his tireless labors he built up the Church in the north. Saint Bede calls him “a man of great energy and repute in Christ’s Church” (History of the English Church and People, Bk. 2, Ch. 16).