St James of Nisibis – Belief despite adversity

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 vegetables, 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 (a piece of wood from the Ark), said to be given to him by an angel of our Lord, and brought it to the Armenians to put to rest all naysayers. The wonderworking saint also prayed to God for an eternal miracle, and a spring appeared where he had his vision, till today.

As we remember what Christ said in St John 20:29, that “because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

So like the naysayers of old till today, do we need to question our Lord on what is ahead of us? Or do we rely on our Lord, despite what comes before us, be it pain or bliss?

Just as we remember the war and pain many people face in certain places today, we pray that their suffering will be alleviated through the Mercy of God (St Mark 11:27-33). Likewise, if we examine the suffering we go through individually, we know that each of us carries a personal cross that only we can carry, and that our crosses may not be apparent to others, or easily understood.

The crosses we carry, each of us, will not be light or easy, as we reflect upon Malachi 3:1-5. Whoever tells you that the Christian journey is a walk in the park, where you simply believe and you will be blessed aplenty, is a liar. Christ our Lord showed us exactly how the Christian journey is – full of challenges, and even death. The Holy Apostles and saints also showed us the same journey that Christ showed us – arduous journeys ahead when we affirm our faith in God against all odds. There will be no easy journeys, and we must be prepared for the long haul, and soldier on as Apostle Paul admonished us (2 Timothy 2:3-13). We are to be soldiers of Christ, and athletes of Christ.

St James 4:7-5:9 is both a passage of admonition and a passage of encouragement. There will be lots of “nays” in our heads every day. There will be lots of “nays” from people around us. However, we are only to submit to God with humility and gladness, draw near to Him with repentance and prayers. Just as we are reminded of the judgment of God and the coming of His Kingdom, we know that every day is a full day of preparation. There will be no time for “nays” in us, nor any time to entertain the “nays” from others.

We are to simply pray, and pray simply, such as, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.

Though the journey will be tough, and we must never be complacent to imagine easy journeys, we must 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).

Just as Malachi 3:1-5 tells us that God refines us through challenges and difficulties so that we can reconcile with Him, we know that this is true love. True love is never about spoiling us or telling us everything is fine and that we are perfect. True love is ready to discipline. True love is ready to strengthen. True love is ready to educate.

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