A man dressed all in white, hovering over the rooftops of buildings standing around the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, catching rockets falling toward the Sts. James Armenian Convent. Local Armenians say that he was St. James, the Brother of Christ, who protected the Convent during the 1948 war.
The Brother of the Lord Jesus Christ, St. James, (also known as St. James the Just and St. James the Less) is fondly remembered and commemorated in the Armenian Church. Many Armenians across the world may not be aware of his commemoration day, simply because it does not fall on a Sunday.
A typical question that arises when people are introduced to the Brother of the Lord: “Jesus had a brother? Wait… what does that say about Virgin Mary?”
The brief answer is Jesus did not have a biological brother. Khrimian Hayrik highlights that St. James was a close relative of Christ; thus, he was honored by being a part of the apostolic circle. The ancient churches, including the Armenian Church, solely believe that the Mother of God, Mary, always remained pure and spotless. We refer to her as “Ever-Virgin” in the Divine Liturgy.
In the Holy Land, some Jerusalemite Armenians go to Church to remember, pray, and ask from St. James to intercede for them with God; ironically, even there, too, are people who have not yet met the great saint! But, there is something magnetic about James that attracts the Jerusalemite Armenians.
How peculiar it is that one of the most common male names in the Armenian community of Jerusalem is Hagop (James), or that the cathedral and convent of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem are called Sts. James, as is the monastic brotherhood of the Patriarchate. In the Old and New Testaments, there are “Hagop”s too! The two Biblical characters to whom Armenian Jerusalemites relate the most are St. James the Great, an Apostle of Christ, and St. James the Brother of the Lord.
After Pentecost, when all the apostles departed to make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, St. James the Brother of Christ stayed behind. He eventually became the first Bishop of Jerusalem; but, his task was as difficult as those who went into the “wilderness” of all nations.
Both James the Great and James the Brother of the Lord were martyred in the 1st century for their faith and devotion to Jesus Christ. St. James the Great was beheaded, whereas St. James the Brother of Christ was pushed from the pinnacle of the Temple, and when the fall did not kill him, people smashed his head.
The head of St. James the Great was buried in the East side of the Sts. James Cathedral, whereas the relics of St. James the Brother of the Lord were removed from the chancel, tas, his original gravesite, and buried under the main altar of the Cathedral.
Over St. James’ initial gravesite, in the tas, a throne is built. For the pre-feast, the Church vests the throne with the vestments of an Armenian bishop (with the exception of a few items). The next day during Morning Service, before Divine Liturgy begins, the Patriarch of Jerusalem stands before the throne of St. James the Brother of the Lord (one of two days the Patriarch stands by the throne, the other being the day of his enthronement). This imagery depicts the eternal breath of Christ’s Church, apostolic tradition, and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Whether the miracle in the year 1948 is fiction or reality, one thing is certain: today, in the 21st century, each Armenian faithful should protect the Church from today’s “rockets” by being the continual breath of Christ during these times of political and spiritual hardship. So accustom to St. James’ life, stand strong before all storms, and shepherd those who are afraid of life’s waves.