There are always new things to discover in Jerusalem, even after fifty times. Today I visited the darkened Armenian Cathedral of St. James not too far from the Western Wall where the Temple used to stand. It is only open one hour in the afternoon and there was a divine liturgy in progress. I made friends with Fr. Gomidass Sherbetdjian who gave me his phone number and invited me to call any time and he will open the church for me.
Inside to the left is a small chapel with an altar which contains the skull of St. James the Great, the Apostle and brother of St. John. He was beheaded near the Temple. The story is told in Acts 12.
"About that time Herod the king laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword; and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread." (Acts 12:1-3, RSVCE)
It is always an awesome thing to kneel at the bones of one of the Apostles and ask them to pray for us while at the same time thanking God for these great men. In two days I will be out on a boat with our pilgrims, sailing the Sea of Galilee where young James was fishing with his brother John and his partners Peter and Andrew.
And under the high altar of the church rest the remains of James the Less, the half-brother of Jesus. Most of the Eastern Churches believe that Joseph was a widower with sons and daughters before he married Mary (many in the West believe the brothers of Jesus were actually cousins according to the customs of the time). We read several times about the "brothers of Our Lord" and especially "James, the brother of Our Lord" (Gal 1:19).
James the Less was bishop of Jerusalem after Peter left for Antioch and Rome. He is mentioned again in Acts 15. We learn from Eusebius that James was a very righteous man and was thrown from the pinnacle of the Temple to his death.
[After much preliminary narrative Eusebius records] "So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to each other, ‘Let us stone James the Just.’ And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned and knelt down and said, ‘I entreat thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And while they were thus stoning him one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, the son of the Rechabites, who are mentioned by Jeremiah the prophet, cried out, saying, ‘Cease, what do ye? The just one prayeth for you.’And one of them, who was a fuller, took the club with which he beat out clothes and struck the just man on the head. And thus he suffered martyrdom. And they buried him on the spot, by the temple, and his monument still remains by the temple. He became a true witness, both to Jews and Greeks, that Jesus is the Christ" (Eusebius' History of the Church, 2:23).
How amazing to stand in a church where to your left is the head of St. James the Great and under the high altar is the body of St. James the Less, also known as James the Just. It take you right back to the times of Jesus and the early Church.
St. James the Apostle, pray for us! St. James the Just, pray for us!