St James of Nisibis – Our internal warfare

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Dear beloved, Christ is baptized, in the Jordan! While we remember the afterfeast of the Theophany, the appearance of God to man, we also remember a holy father among the saints, St James, or Jacob, of Nisibis. St James of Nisibis, pray for us!

St James was the spiritual father of Syrian saint St Ephraim. St James was the son of the Armenian prince Gefal. He became a strict ascetic and ate fruits and greens, dressed in goat skins and lived in the outdoors. Eventually, the people chose this pious saint as their bishop. The saint was a wonderworker with great wisdom, who was one of the 318 fathers in the First Ecumenical Council (and also St Ephraim the Syrian), and a true defender of the Orthodox faith. The saint was the nephew of St Gregory the Illuminator of Armenia, and had a divine vision to climb the Mount Ararat, where he found the holy relics of Noah’s Ark and brought it to the Armenians.

As we walk everyday in the faith towards God, one of the many things we hear of is “spiritual warfare”. St James, Bishop of Nisibis, was requested by St Gregory the Illuminator, to write on the Christian faith. St James wrote an 18-chapter discourse on faith, and detailed spiritual warfare that we must contend with in our own interiors.

While some may conjure up an imagery of violence when we read St Paul’s expression of “fighting the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7), true spiritual warfare of the Church is not about the exterior, but of our own interiors.

We are never to raise prayer to God peppered with anger and hatred, for such prayers invariably never reach God because they are tainted with our own grave sins. We are instead, called to pray with tenderness, with humility, with penance, and with love. The positive expression of such prayer brings us closer to God, for we are called to be soldiers of Christ, soldiers of His Light to the people. True spiritual warfare is, as Holy Father St John Climacus wrote, our own slow and consistent climb on the Ladder of Divine Ascent, through our bringing with us the armor of humility, the food of the Word, the nourishment of prayer unto God, and the love for others.

When we reflect upon St James 4:7-5:9, we read a grave message indeed. Spiritual warfare within ourselves demand that we examine our own passions, and confront our own interiors exploding with such passions as hatred, anger, greed, and so on. And when we pray, we are to pray with repentance and humility, and with the same deliberation when we pray the prayer of the Heart, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. But do not be tempted either, by the snares of depression and desolation. We are called to hope in the Lord and He will strengthen us (Psalm 31:23-24, LXX 30:24-25).

St James, Bishop of Nisibis, was heralded by another saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church, St Gregory of Narek Monastery (951-1003). St Gregory of Narek (Sourp Grigor Narekatsi), is one of the most respected Armenian saints who wrote the 95-chapter prayer book “Speaking with God from the Depths of the Heart”, also known as the Armenian Book of Lamentations, written when the saint was suffering from a terminal and crippling illness, and yet he transfigured his sighs to praises for God. Let us pray together this beautiful prayer and reminder of our own interior struggles (prayer 85A).

When we walk every day trying our best to struggle against our own interior passions, let us remember that God intends to refine us into precious metals, because that is how God sees us – as precious ones of His. When we pray, let us also remember that our prayers must be tender, humble, repentant, and craddled with love for God and others. Let us call upon His Holy Name often, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.

Let us close by praying the thanksgiving prayer:

It is truly meet to call thee blest, the Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious than the Seraphim, without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word: True Theotokos, we magnify thee.

O virgin Theotokos, rejoice; O Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fr Raphael+

Malachi 3:1-4
Psalm 31:23-24 (LXX 30:24-25)
St Mark 11:27-33
St James 4:7-5:9