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The Feast of St. James of Jerusalem




On October 23rd, Christians worldwide celebrate the Feast of St. James of Jerusalem, also known as James the Just or James, the Brother of the Lord (more on that later). St. James of Jerusalem was a remarkable leader and writer of the early Christian Church. His wisdom, character, and contributions to Christian thought continue to inspire and guide believers worldwide. As we honor his memory on this special day, may we also reflect on the timeless teachings in the Epistle of James, embracing a life of faith, wisdom, and good deeds.


The Man Behind the Name


According to Eusebius of Caesarea, the “father of church history,” St. James had a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus, and this experience led to his belief in Jesus as the Messiah. From there, we learn about St. James of Jerusalem primarily from the Book of Acts and the writings of Paul in Galatians. These accounts shed light on his pivotal role in the early Christian Church.


From Acts 1:14, we read that St. James was in the upper room praying when the Holy Spirit fell and was part of the early church in Jerusalem. Our next mention of him is in I Corinthians 15:7-8, where Paul recounts the risen Christ appearing to James, then all of the apostles, and last to Paul. In Galatians, Paul says that three years after his conversion and, after traveling and preaching to the Gentiles, he returned to Jerusalem to meet with Peter and saw no other apostle but James.


Pillar of the Church


We jump ahead in time in Galatians 2; Paul shares that it had been fourteen years since his conversion. He had been traveling and preaching the Good News to the Gentiles. He returned to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus to meet with the leaders of the Church and to make sure that they approved the gospel that he preached. Paul refers to James, Peter, and John as “esteemed pillars of the church” and says that they gave him and Barnabas “the right hand of fellowship” when they recognized the grace given to them. They agreed that Paul and Barnabas should go to the Gentiles and that they would go to the Jews. They only asked that Paul and Barnabas continue to remember the poor. (Galatians 2:9-10)


The Council at Jerusalem


One of the most significant events in James’s life was his leadership in the Jerusalem Council, as documented in the Book of Acts (Acts 15). This council addressed critical issues related to the inclusion of Gentile converts into the Christian community and the observance of Jewish law.


After hearing accounts from Peter, Paul, and Barnabas concerning the movement of the Holy Spirit amongst the Gentiles, St. James stood and spoke eloquently about God’s inclusion of Gentiles and their role in the Christian faith. His wisdom and leadership played a pivotal role in reaching a decision that allowed Gentiles to become part of the Christian community without adhering to all aspects of Jewish law.

According to several early Christian historians, St. James is considered the first bishop of the Church in Jerusalem. He was highly esteemed among the Jews and Christians and was known for his piety, righteousness, and dedication to Jewish law. During his bishopric, the Church experienced famine and persecution from the Jewish religious leaders, eventually leading to his death. 


A Martyr for the Faith


Tragically, James’s life came to a violent end. According to the historian Josephus in his “Antiquities of the Jews,” James was brought before the Jewish high priest Ananus, who was known for his bold and insolent character. Ananus saw an opportunity to exercise his authority and rid himself of James because the Roman governor Festus had died, and his successor, Albinus, was not yet in office.


In AD 62 or 69, Ananus assembled the Jewish Sanhedrin, a council of judges, and accused James and some of his companions of breaking Jewish law. Ananus then ordered that James and his companions be stoned to death for their alleged transgressions. This was a massive blow to the early church.


The Controversy Surrounding James’s Brother


There is an ongoing debate among Christian denominations regarding James’s relationship with Jesus. The concept of “brother” in Hebrew and many other ancient languages is more inclusive than the strict modern Western definition. In ancient cultures, people often used terms like “brother” to refer to male relatives within an extended family, including cousins, nephews, and other close male kin. This linguistic flexibility is relevant to discussions about the “brothers” of Jesus mentioned in the New Testament because it has led to different interpretations among scholars and within various Christian traditions. Some Christians interpret the term “brothers” to mean close relatives or cousins rather than biological siblings when discussing Jesus’ family. Others interpret it more literally, believing that Jesus had half-siblings, such as James, mentioned earlier. 


The Epistle of James


Tradition attributes the Epistle of James to St. James of Jerusalem. The Epistle is unique in its focus on practical Christian living and ethical guidance. Unlike texts that delve deeply into theology or doctrine, James offers practical advice on faith, patience, and justice. It emphasizes the importance of living out one’s faith through good works and challenges Christians to examine and improve their way of life.


Symbols and Icons


In Christian art and iconography, St. James of Jerusalem is often depicted holding a book or scroll, symbolizing his authorship of the Epistle of James. This image serves as a reminder of his enduring influence on Christian thought and practice.


The Cathedral of St. James


St. James of Jerusalem is considered the patron saint of Jerusalem, and the Cathedral of St. James in Jerusalem is said to be built upon his remains. The Cathedral is dedicated to St. James of Jerusalem and St. James the son of Zebedee. It was built during the 12th century on the remains of a 5th-century Georgian church on a site identified as the burial place of St. James of Jerusalem. It is located in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and is one of the few cathedrals from the Crusades to have survived almost intact. 


Ways to Celebrate the Feast of St. James


  • Read the Book of James (it’s not long!) to gain insights into his teachings on faith and wisdom.

  • Since St. James wrote a letter or epistle, take a moment to write a letter to a loved one.

  • Explore Armenian culture and cuisine by making lavash, a traditional Armenian flatbread. Making lavash connects us with the rich heritage of the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem, where St. James’s Cathedral stands as a testament to his enduring legacy.


Lavash (Armenian Flat Bread)


Ingredients:


FIRST DOUGH

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1/4 cup plus a scant 1 Tablespoon lukewarm water 

  • ¼ teaspoon instant yeast


SECOND DOUGH

  • 1 cup lukewarm water 

  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

  • 2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 3 cups plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting 


Instructions:


FIRST DOUGH

Mix the flour, water, and yeast in a bowl using a rubber spatula until it forms a thick paste. Scrape the paste into a small, lightly oiled container, cover it, and let it sit out for 1½ to 2 hours. First, the dough should have doubled in volume.


SECOND DOUGH

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the first dough, water, oil, and salt. Squish the first dough with your hands to break it up in the water.


Add 1 cup of the flour and using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed until the dough looks like pancake batter. Next, add the remaining flour and mix on low speed until fully incorporated. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let the dough sit for 20 minutes.


Remove the towel, attach the dough hook to the stand mixer, and mix the dough on medium speed until the dough releases from the sides of the bowl without sticking and feels smooth to the touch, about 4 minutes.


Lightly grease an 8-cup bowl and place the dough inside. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 3 hours or until doubled in volume.


Dust a clean surface lightly with flour and place the dough on top. Cut the dough into 8 pieces.


SHAPE THE DOUGH


Cup the palm of your hand over one portion at a time and move your hand in a circle. The friction from the counter will help form the dough into a ball.


Lightly oil a rimmed tray and place the dough on the tray, don’t let dough balls touch. Cover with plastic wrap lightly coated with cooking spray or oil. Let rest for 1 hour.


Dust a clean surface lightly with flour. Lightly flour a rolling pin and roll each ball of dough into a thin rectangle about 8×12 inches. Work in batches and keep the dough covered in between. 


COOK THE LAVASH


Place a large cast-iron pan (or griddle over two burners) over medium-high heat for a few minutes or until a sprinkle of water instantly evaporates.


Place the dough in the pan or over the griddle. Cook for 1 minute or until puffed slightly and blistered. Turn over using tongs to cook the other side, no more than 30 seconds. For extra browning, flip it over for 30 more seconds.


Transfer the lavash to a baking sheet and cover with a dry kitchen towel while you cook the rest of the dough.

Recipe courtesy of Silk Road Recipies

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