In the Epistle to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes that together with the Apostle Peter, the Apostles James and John were also considered to be pillars of the Church. Saint James was the half-brother of Jesus, and in the Bible he's often referred to as the brother of the Lord. Before the crucifixion of Jesus, James didn't really believe that Jesus was the Messiah. But according to Church tradition, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him after His Resurrection and made Himself known to James. The other Apostles then commissioned James to be the first Bishop of the Jerusalem Church. In this way, a special work fell to James: he didn't travel around the various countries preaching the Gospel as the rest of the Apostles did, but he stayed in Jerusalem where he built up one of the most important Churches in all of Christianity. That Church is still going in Jerusalem today, with Bishop Diodoros now taking the place that St. James once held.
As the head of the Jerusalem Church, St. James presided over the firstmajor Council that the Church ever held - it was known as the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem, and it took place in the year 51 AD. As Bishop of the Church, James had the final say as to what the decisions were going to be. The story of this Council is found in our Bibles, in Acts 15, and it was one of the most important Councils ever held, since it determined how one was to become a Christian and join the Church. Throughout the next 800 years of the Church, seven more major Church Councils were held by the Bishops throughout the Christian world. They are known to us as the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Like the one recorded in Acts 15, these Seven Ecumenical Councils were all called so that the Bishops and Priests might work through some major theological questions and issues that the Church was facing at the time, and then they would put in writing what the true teaching of the Church would be concerning these issues.
Although St. James was not one of the 12 Apostles, the Church still referred to him as an Apostle, in the same way it referred to St. Paul as the Apostle Paul. James lived a life of great self-denial. He was a strict virgin, never married, did not drink either wine or other alcoholic beverages, abstained from all forms of meat, and wore only linen clothing. He had the custom of going off by himself to the temple in Jerusalem for prayer, and there he would pray for his people on bended knee. He was so often stretched out on the ground in prayer that the skin on his knees became extremely calloused and hard.
The Apostle James' ministry was also a very difficult one. There were many enemies to Christianity living in Jerusalem. In fact, twelve years after the day of Pentecost, a great persecution hit the Christians of Jerusalem, causing many of the Christians, and even the 12 Apostles, to scatter to different countries. But Bishop James stayed to care for his people in the Church there.
As Bishop, James acted with such good sense and fairness to all the people, that not only did the Christians think highly of him, but many Jews did as well. In fact, over the years that he was there, James earned a reputation of being a strong support to the people and a very righteous man. Because of this, he has often been referred to as James the Just, or James the Righteous.
Remaining in the office of Bishop of Jerusalem about thirty years, he spread and established the Christian faith in Jerusalem and in all of Palestine. When the Apostle Paul visited the Apostle James on his final missionary journey, the Presbyters or Elders of the Church gathered together and told Paul about the successes of the Christian preaching among the Jews. We see in Acts 21:20 that they told Paul: "Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law." Many of the Jews were converted to the Church simply by listening to, and trusting the word of, James the Just, Bishop of Jerusalem.
Seeing how great the influence the Apostle James had, the Jewish leaders began to be quite concerned that all the people might become converted to Christ, and so they decided to do something about it. In the year 62 AD they decided to try and convince James to deny Christ, and if they didn't succeed, they would kill him.
The High Priest of the Temple at that time was a man by the name of Ananias. During a great gathering of the people, they led the Apostle to the steps of the temple, and after a few flattering words they mockingly asked him: "Tell us about the Crucified?" "Are you asking me about Jesus?" the righteous one said loudly. "He is sitting in the Heavens at the right hand of the Most High and shall come again on the clouds of heaven." It turned out that in the crowd many Christians had gathered together, and when they heard James talk so boldly, they shouted out: "Hosanna to the Son of David!" Then the chief priests and the scribes cried: "O, even the righteous one himself is in error!" - and they dragged him up to the top of the temple and threw him off the temple. James somehow survived the fall. And while he lay there almost to the point of death he began to pray for them, and say: "Lord, forgive them! They know not what they do!" The enemies cried out: "Let us stone him." But a Jewish Priest that was in the crowed began to try to stop them: "What are you doing? Don't you see? The righteous one is praying for you." But at that minute a fanatic came along and struck the Apostle in the head with a club and killed him. Many Christians were killed together with him during that day.
This was in the year 62 AD. Eight years later, in the year 70 AD, the Imperial Army of Rome entered Jerusalem, and completely destroyed the city, including the great Temple. Part of that Temple can still be seen today in Jerusalem. It's known as the Western Wall, or the Wailing Wall, because that's the main place in Jerusalem that Jews still go to in order to pray. During the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, that Temple was destroyed, and many thousands of Jews were killed.
One of the eyewitnesses to that event was the Jewish historian, Josephus. Sometime after that event, Josephus wrote about what he saw. As he began listing the various reasons for the fall of Jerusalem, he says that one of the reasons it happened was because the Lord had chastised the Jews for the murder of the righteous James.
This morning, St. James stands for us as an example that we might learn to live holy lives. We must, with great effort and perseverance, learn to live a life of righteousness and purity before God and before each other. And like St. James, the Bishop of Jerusalem, we must - in everything we do and say - seek to bring honor and glory to the Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, God, and Savior.