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November 27, 2019

Saint James the Persian as a Model for our Lives

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint James lived in the fourth century. He came from Persia and lived in the city of Bethlava. Being of noble lineage, he was friends with King Yazdegerd of Persia. Unfortunately, however, this friendship proved fatal for James, for it became the cause for which he changed his faith. Following pressure from his "friend" the King, he renounced his faith in Christ and worshiped idols. This brought great sadness to his mother and his wife, who truly loved him, which caused them to be hard on him, in order to lead him to repentance. They told him that after what he had done, they no longer wanted to see him. "We will receive you only if you sincerely repent," they told him in a letter. The attitude of his loved ones shocked him and led him to repentance. He sensed his great error and wept bitterly. Then, armed with spiritual courage, he went to the king and confessed boldly his faith in Christ. With this the king put him to be horribly tortured. He cut into little pieces the feet and hands of his "friend", and finally he beheaded him. Thus, James with the blood of his martyrdom sealed his confession, but also corrected the error of his renunciation.

His life and conduct gives us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, friendship is a sacred thing, but only if it is genuine and true. For friendship to be true, their must be mutual respect between friends. If there is no respect in the freedom of another, then the friendship is a counterfeit, and as we know, whatever is counterfeit has no value or duration. This is why one must be careful in choosing friends. Also, when you notice your friends enticing you through various means to distance yourself from God and the Church, you should cut off all communication with them, in order to protect your own spiritual well-being, since faith and spiritual health are inextricably linked. True faith in the Triune God, which is expressed through prayer, the sacramental life and asceticism, attracts the Grace of God, which strengthens the faithful in their struggles to overcome their passions. And when the passions are overcome, then the spiritual immune system of people is strengthened, which contributes most to the preservation of spiritual health.

Therefore, when someone realizes that their friend or friends do not respect their faith and freedom, they must react, stop associating with them, and find other more genuine and true friends. These are the ones who accept their friends as they are and not how they want you to be. In the case of someone being seduced or alienated from the Church, even their own family, since both are usually related, they must know and be reminded of the fact that there is repentance, which requires courage and spiritual bravery as a precondition. After all, eternal life belongs to those who do not justify themselves and hide their wrongs, but recognizes them, confesses them and corrects them. And it is not just given to them, but it is earned with blood, in accordance with the well-known patristic saying: "Give blood and receive the Spirit."

Second, God loves everybody, but His love is not understood by all, instead it is only understood by those who have a spiritual antenna and are tuned to the same frequency as the Church. That is, they must attend church, pray, partake of the Immaculate Mysteries, especially of the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist, under appropriate conditions. It is truly tragic for God to visit us, to embrace us tenderly with His Grace, and for us not to understand nor perceive Him in the least. Although he loves us, we think He does not love us, and is harshly against us. Many times we have this same feeling about God's people, who truly love us and long for our repentance and correction. When the mother and wife wrote to Saint James, they may have appeared to have been harsh, but it proved to be therapeutic and saving, since it led him to repentance and salvation. Without this seemingly cruel behavior, he might not have been corrected. One wise Elder used to say that "those who punish us love us more than those who praise us" because they want our correction.

Therefore, genuine love is therapeutic, but many times, for the sake of human suffering, therapy does not take place without pain. After all, authentic love teaches, and leads to repentance, perfection, and God dwelling within us, as Saint Symeon the New Theologian says: Love is "the teacher of the prophets, the fellow traveler of the apostles, the strength of the martyrs, the inspiration of the fathers and teachers, and the perfection of all the saints." Unfortunately, however, many times, as stated above, we do not understand the expression of God's love and that of the people of God, and we turn against them. They love us, they stand by us, but we do not understand it. Nor do we feel grateful, but we constantly complain. In fact, we behave like young children, when parents send them off to school to get an education, but they think their parents don't love them and they are being cruel against them for not allowing them to stay home and play with their toys, but instead are forced to go to school where they get bored and feel tortured.

The heat of the sun melts a candle, but it hardens clay. Likewise the love of God softens the hearts of the humble, but hardens the hearst of the proud. It is clear, however, that neither the heat of the sun nor the love of God is responsible for the effect. When, with the Grace of God and our personal struggle, we cast away cold and perishable pride and put on soul-feeding humility, then our hearts will soften, it will feel the love of God, and it will turn from hell into paradise.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.