JAMES, SAINT, ascetic (feast day: 3 Amshir)
It is not known from what family James the Ascetic came nor from what country. The story in the SYNAXARION begins with his ANACHORESIS in a cave during a period of fifteen years (all the sources give this figure). The Greek Synaxarion, and it alone, specifies that this cave was near the town of Samaria, very probably the one in Palestine, called Sebaste in honor of the emperor Augustus (27 B.C.-A.D. 14), which has become the modern Sebastiyya in Israel. We shall not be sure if he was an Egyptian who withdrew to Samaria or a Palestinian so long as the source of the Greek Synaxarion is not known.
All sources mention the fervor of his asceticism and his gift for driving out demons. The Coptic Synaxarion adds that this won for him the hostility of the disciples of the devil, who sent to him a woman of evil life to make him fall, without success. Then the demon made use of another stratagem. He took possession of the body of the daughter of a rich notable, and suggested to her father that only James the Ascetic could deliver her. This came about, and the father, fearing that the devil might recover possession, resolved to leave his daughter in the care of the hermit. What might have been foreseen came to pass. The hermit dishonored the girl and, fearing discovery, slew her. Full of remorse, he multiplied his penances, hoping that God would pardon his crime.
Some time after that, a severe drought overwhelmed the people of the region. Not knowing what to do, they thought that only the prayers of James the Ascetic could obtain for them the rain they awaited. So they went in search of the bishop to get him to intervene. James confessed his crime, but the bishop persuaded him that God could pardon everything, on condition that the guilty one repented of his crime and did penance. Finally James agreed to supplicate God; a heavy rainfall came to relieve the people of the region. He died at a ripe old age. The Greek Synaxarion states that he was then seventy-five years old.
This “edifying story” has but one aim, to show the mercy of God and the power of the penances of the ascetic. If the description of the crimes is accomplished with realism to the point of shocking us, it is to bring out more clearly the divine goodness and the efficacy of the hermit’s asceticism.
- Budge, E. A. W. The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church, 4 vols. Cambridge, 1928.
- Delehaye, H. Synaxarium ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae. Propylaeum Ad Acta Sanctorum Novembris. Brussels, 1902. Sauget, J.-M. “Premières recherches sur l’origine et les caractéristiques des synaxaires mélkites.” Subsidia Hagiographica 45. Brussels, 1969.
- Troupeau, G. Catalogue des manuscrits arabes, pt. 1. Manuscrits chrétiens, 2 vols. Paris, 1972-1974.