James of Cyrrhestica, a Disciple of St. Maron

By Cornelia B. Horn
Ph. D. student in the Early Christian Studies Program at The Catholic University of America. She holds an MA in Classics from the University of Texas at Austin and an MA in Early Christian Studies from The Catholic University of America. Her field of research is Oriental Patrology.

In this section of the Journal of Maronite Studies (JMS), we share with you documents or manuscripts that reflect the history of the Maronite people and Church. Whenever possible, we will feature a copy of the original record with an English translation. Should we not be able to do so, we shall rely on the integrity of the author(s) who first brought this record to our attention. The document or manuscript will appear in Italics (unedited). Whenever needed, the Editor's interpolations will appear in square brackets.

James of Cyrrhestica was one of the most famous ascetics of the region of Cyrrhus. He was a companion of Saint Maron (Price 1985: 117-119). He lived briefly as a recluse and was an open-air hermit since 406 A.D.

James is one of the thirty ascetics whose lives are described and praised by Theodoret (A.D. 393-466) (Honigmann 1953: 174-184, 180), the bishop of Cyrrhus (Quasten 1994: 536) in his famous Historia Religiosa. This religious history of ascetic life is Theodoret's earliest historical work and was probably composed around 444 AD (ibid.: 550). In the first twenty chapters of the Historia Religiosa, Theodoret presents "athletes of Christ" in the ascetical life, who have already completed their contests of struggle against the passions that are afflicting human nature in the arena of desires and needs of body and soul. In the remaining ten chapters, Theodoret writes the biographies of the most famous ascetics of his era. Some of these ascetics were still alive at the time when Theodoret composed the Historia Religiosa. Among them were Symeon Stylites, the monk Baradatus, three female ascetics, i.e., Marana, Cyrana, and Domnina (Hourani 1997: np; Schiwietz 1938: 253) and the ascetic with whom Theodoret opens this second section in Historia Religiosa 21, James of Cyrrhestica (Schiwietz 1938: 247-251).

Theodoret himself is aware of the striking coincidence that both sections of his Historia Religiosa (chapters 1-20, and 21-30) start with an ascetic whose first name is James: James of Nisibis (chapter 1) and James of Cyrrhestica (chapter 21). " It has turned out, I know not how, that this name has come at the head of both the departed and those still alive" (Price1985: 133). Theodoret was personally well acquainted with James of Cyrrhestica, and one might even say had been good friends with him. James of Cyrrhestica is "the great James" who "has precedence over the others both in time and in labor" (ibid.: 133). James of Cyrrhestica is for Theodoret the model par excellence of an ascetic, worthy to be held up high for people to know and imitate.

James gained his identifying epithet "of Cyrrhestica" from the fact that he spent his life dwelling in the region of Cyrrhestica in the northern part of Syria Prima. The name of this region as such has most probably been derived from the name of Cyrrhus (Honigmann 1924: 199-204; Janin 1956: 1186-1187). Cyrrhus was the central city in Cyrrhestica in the province of Euphratensis (Janin 1956: 1186) northeast of Antioch (today eastern Turkey), known in Syriac as "Quros" (Honigmann 1924: 199), but today given the name "Huru Pegamber" (Mango 1991: 574). In antiquity, Cyrrhus had great importance as a garrison town, yet this very fact, which had helped the spread of Christianity early on (Honigmann 1924: 200), eventually brought about Cyrrhus' decline, ruin, and destruction in the wars between the Romans/Byzantines against the Persians and later on against the Arabs (Janin 1956: 1186). Nevertheless, Cyrrhestica was, along with the desert of Chalcis, the district of Apamea, and the region around Zeugma, quite an important center and gathering-place of monastic athletes (Vööbus 1960: 17).

All we can learn from Theodoret in the 21st chapter of his Historia Religiosa is that James of Cyrrhestica permanently withdrew to the top of a mountain, about 30 stades (5.5 km) away from Cyrrhus. Ernest Honigmann points to a mountain called Qirik Bâyir Dagh, located southeast of Cyrrhus. Further south he mentions another mountain called Parsa Dagh (Honigmann 1953: 92-100). Honigmann assumes that "the mountain of Jacobus, (i.e., James of Cyrrhestica)... was, according to its distance of only 5.5 km from Cyrrhus, either the actual Kereshir Dagh or Shêkh Khoros Dagh west of the Nahr 'Afrîn and of Cyrrhus, or the above mentioned Qirik Bâyir Dagh southeast of Cyrrhus on the other side of the Nahr 'Afrîn" (Honigmann 1953: 97-98). Pierre Canivet supports the hypothesis that Sheikh Khoros was the dwelling-place of James in the mountains (Canivet 1975: 444-460). Already during James' lifetime, Theodoret began to prepare a tomb for James in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Cyrrhus. These efforts, however, met with strong resistance from James, who wished to be buried in the mountains. Theodoret gave in to this request and had a small chapel erected in the mountains as a sepulchre for James. When he was alive, James used this chapel as a depository for the relics of martyrs which he highly venerated. The account of this particular activity is valuable evidence of the frequent practice of transferring relics of martyrs from one place to another and burying them eventually in a special shrine (Sauget 1965: 413-414). Peter the Iberian, carrying with him a box with bones of martyrs on his journey from Constantinople to Jerusalem in the first half of the fifth century, could be cited as a further example of this widespread practice (Raabe 1895: 23f Syriac text; 29f. German translation).

Historical sources repeatedly mention the Monastery of Mar Ja'qob in the mountainous area of Quros. It might well have been named after James of Cyrrhestica (Honigmann 1924: 201).

Theodoret considered himself "young" in comparison with the monk James of Cyrrhestica (Price: 1985: 135). Since Theodoret was born about AD 393 and predeceased James in ca. 466 AD at the age of ca. 73 years, it is not unreasonable to assume with Honigmann that James of Cyrrhestica might have been 15-20 years older than Theodoret and hence could have been born between AD 373-378 and died between AD 467-468, reaching an age of about 89-95 years (Honigmann 1953:180). If one wants to rely on a more precise chronological date, it could be mentioned that during one of the periods of great sickness in James of Cyrrhestica's life, Theodoret was visiting Bishop Acacius of Beroea (Aleppo). When hearing about James' poor health, Theodoret immediately returned to Cyrrhus. We know for certain that the death of Bishop Acacius occurred between 432 and 435 (Ermoni 1912: 241-242; Perler 1957: 234; Löhr 1993: 285; and Sauget 1965: 413). This was about a decade before Theodoret composed and revised his Historia Religiosa, and while James of Cyrrhestica was still alive at this point in 444-445.

James of Cyrrhestica started his ascetic life quite early in the fifth century. Together with Limnaeus (Price 1985: 150-153), he had become a disciple of St. Maron (Price 1985: 134) and according to Theodoret, James became Maron's most famous disciple (Assemanus 1719: 256; Pfeiffer 1776: 63). Having first spent quite some time in the company of St. Maron, James lived as a recluse for a while and then, in imitation of St. Maron, took up the life-style of open-air eremitism in 406. A.J. Festugière calls the hermits who live without shelter in the open air "hypèthres" (Festugière 1959: 299). This term is derived from the Greek word u p a i q r i o V (hypaithrios) which means "under the sky, in the open air" (Scott 1851: 1432). Normally, hermits lived sheltered in cells or caves. But this open-air pattern of life, which began with St. Maron of Cyrrhus (Festugière 1959: 299) was characterized by the exposure of the hermits to the extremities of the climate. Open-air eremitism gave the asceticism practiced in the region of Cyrrhestica quite a unique character. In his book Ihidayutha, Shafiq AbouZayd summarizes the following important traits of open-air asceticism, which distinguish this particular ascetic school from others in the Syriac-speaking churches (AbouZayd 1993: 371):

(1) Life in the open air is "a radical form of asceticism." In the "struggle between man and his human nature, ... a hermit demonstrate[s] ... mastery over human nature by ... complete subjugation of his body. This total control was achieved despite the harshness of nature and without bodily protection, even during winter and summer" (ibid.: 1993: 371-372).

(2) "The open-air life ... represents the complete rejection of all barriers between man and nature. ... [O]pen-air life was regarded as a return to the condition of Adam and Eve in Paradise, who before the original sin lived in harmony with God and nature and needed no shelter or protection" (ibid.: 1993: 371-372).

(3) In "autumn and spring, the weather in the Syrian Orient is clement and relatively conducive to an open-air existence. Winter and summer, by contrast, are very harsh" and brutal and therefore become dangerous and at times deadly for open-air ascetics.

(4) "Open-air asceticism was not limited to the Syrian hermits" (ibid.: 1993: 371-372).

(5) "Syrian ascetics had a very radical interpretation of the Bible and especially of the New Testament. They tried to apply the sacred words literally in their own lives." Symeon Stylites' "life on the column is described as being like that of 'a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock" (ibid.: 1993: 371-372) [Matt 7.24-25].

In early Syrian eremitism, hospitality was a sacred duty. For many hermits, generous hospitality became an important cornerstone of their spirituality. Yet, given the nature of open-air asceticism, where some of the hermits were virtually flooded with visitors from all over and were constantly exposed to everyone's gaze, hospitality became a real danger for the hermits. In the life of James of Cyrrhestica, as related by Theodoret, one finds a reflection of an ongoing struggle between James of Cyrrhestica's love of solitude and tranquility on the one hand, and the uninterrupted flux of visitors who desired to converse with him, even during prayer time, on the other. One should not be astonished that Theodoret feels a need to explain a certain harshness in James' character, when, annoyed by the visitors, James has to rebuke them and send them away (Price 1985: 145-146). Yet there was also another motive at work that led James of Cyrrhestica to refuse to welcome the crowds of people wanting to come and see him. He regarded himself as a sinner who had taken up the eremitic struggle as a fight against sin --his own sin and the sin of the godless world (AbouZayd 1993: 158). A hermit sought the eremitic life as a remedy for his sins. Thus James can say, "I did not come to the mountain for another's sake but for my own. Bearing the wounds of so many sins, I need much treatment, and because of this I beseech our Master to give me the antidotes to wickedness" (Price 1985: 146).

When one realizes that Syrian hermits live very hard lives of mortification in caves, cells, dens, or without any shelter at all out in the open air, it is no surprise that they suffered greatly from a rapid deterioration of their health (AbouZayd 1993: 257). As a consequence of his open-air asceticism, James of Cyrrhestica was found several times seriously ill and still working (Price 1985: 124-138). Probably, not a single one of the hermits was able to live a life completely free of sickness, yet the information available to us on this subject is scarce. Ascetics preferred to bear their sufferings in silence and did not want to speak openly about them.

James of Cyrrhestica was especially famous among the hermits because of the extraordinary acts of repentance which he performed (Price 1985: 133). One form of repentance is to withdraw from the noise of life of this world and live in total peace and silence. This would create the necessary climate for reflection and subsequent repentance for one's sins. For James, it is utterly senseless for a hermit to interrupt prayers and "to break the sequence of petition" to "make conversation with men inbetween" (Price 1985: 146).

Most hermits used iron chains during repentance (Vööbus 1960: 277). It was a part of the training for the great contest against Satan to endure the sufferings caused by these chains (AbouZayd 1993: 243). Even when in greatest pain from a strong fever, James of Cyrrhestica continued to carry the heavy iron chains wrapped around his body (Price 1985: 136).

Ascetics live their lives according to a special call from God. Seeking to completely follow in the footsteps of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, they choose to live a singular life. God's love and beauty so attract them, that they desire to devote their life exclusively to God (AbouZayd 1993: 110). James of Cyrrhestica expresses such a desire when he says, "Wishing to live for Him alone, I have paid no thought to my reputation with men; for what benefit is it, if the latter think more of my asceticism but God thinks less?" (Price 1985: 137). It seems that Theodoret of Cyrrhus himself well interprets James of Cyrrhestica's intentions when he says that "it is characteristic of lovers to overlook everyone else and cleave to the one they cherish and love, to dream of him by night and think of him by day" (Price 1985: 146; AbouZayd 1993: 113).

In Theodoret's Historia Religiosa, miracles and visions are often the redepiction of events from the Scriptures. The ascetic is presented as imitating the life of the prophets and apostles. He also continues the healing and saving activity of Christ (Canivet 1977: 117-118). In particular, one can distinguish two types of prophecies and visions in the "life" of James of Cyrrhestica, as told by Theodoret. Part of the visions of James directly relate to the ministry of the bishop of Cyrrhus, and another part is interpreted by James and Theodoret as temptations coming from demons that are -- victoriously -- defeated by the grace of God (ibid.: 122-123).

Among the great models for Syrian ascetics in their unique life-style were the prophet Elijah and John the Baptist. For Aphrahat, the Persian sage, the "sons of the covenant" in their ascetic Christian way of life, can look at Elijah and Elisha, at John the Baptist and Jesus, as parallels to their way of life (Bruns 1991: 203; AbouZayd 1993: 127). For the great poet-theologian of the Church, Ephrem the Syrian, John the Baptist is even on a par with the angels in heaven in his search, not for worldly goods but, for heavenly treasures (McCarthy 1993: 157-158). Thus, John is a perfect model to be imitated by the ascetics. It seems that James of Cyrrhestica followed this advice and took John the Baptist as his model, for in his fight against the Marcionites (Price 1985: 148) (1) he was encouraged and protected by John the Baptist, as Theodoret recounts (Price 1985: 1401-142; AbouZayd 1993: 127). James of Cyrrhestica showed great veneration to the relics of John the Baptist, and honored the relics of all the martyrs (Price 1985: 19-20).

It seems that the teaching of Marcion had quickly spread in the Syrian countryside in the third century. Around AD 400, John Chrysostom, the bishop of Constantinople, felt compelled to write to the bishop of Cyrrhus with regard to this problem. Theodoret of Cyrrhus, in his Ecclesiastical History (Parmentier 1954: 331), reports that Chrysostom had exhorted the bishop of Cyrrhus "to expel the disease" and Chrysostom was "offering assistance from the imperial laws" for such an undertaking. In his own correspondance, Theodoret claims to have cleansed eight villages of Marcionites from this heresy by converting over thousand people to Catholic Christianity. The result was that Marcionism was extirpated from his diocese (Azéma 1955/1965: 56-67 and 192-199). Theodoret received help and was not undertaking this struggle against the Marcionites on his own. Rather, Theodoret relates that the relics of the choir of the martyrs were protecting him. And even more specifically, he identifies the "choir of the martyrs" as "the flask of oil of the martyrs, with a blessing gathered from very many martyrs, which was hung up by my bed; and under my head lay an old cloak of the great James, which for me had been stronger than any defences of steel" (Price 1985: 139-140). In Theodoret's fight against the Marcionites, not only the cloak but also the prayers of James of Cyrrhestica proved instrumental in destroying the heresy of Marcion and gathering the Christian flock again under the guidance of the Apostles (ibid.: 140).

James of Cyrrhestica was an influential figure in Cyrrhus. In a letter to Archbishop Alexander of Hierapolis, Theodoret reports that in 434 the government under Emperor Theodosius II had commissioned Count Titus to write to James, Symeon Stylites, Baradatus, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus in an attempt to heal the broken relationship between Theodoret and Bishop John of Antioch (Peeters 1943: 29-71; Vööbus 1960: 217; Schwartz 1922/1923: 170). In 457, Emperor Leo I sent his encyclical also to the monks Symeon Stylites, Baradatus, and James, in order to consult with them about the Council of Chalcedon (Schawrtz 1934: 23; Peeters 1943: 37).

Theodoret's Greek is clear in style and has earned him praise for its purity from Photius (Quasten 1994: 538). It seems that he wrote all his works in Greek, even though his own language was Syriac. Thus it is no great wonder that quite a few of the "lives" that are described in the Historia Religiosa are also preserved in Syriac (Quasten 1994: 550). Originally, they had not been composed in Syriac, since the texts in the Syriac versions (Bedjan 1894/1968: 262-273; 1896/1968: 380-404) have taken on a life of their own and show more or less strongly, certain monophysite leanings (Baumstark 1922: 106). In the Arabic speaking milieu, one can find Arabic translations and reworkings of several biographies from the original Historia Religiosa, and here we find Arabic versions of the "life" of James of Cyrrhestica and also of the "life" of St. Maron (Graf 1944: 366-367).

The most recent critical edition of the Greek text of the Historia Religiosa, including chapter 21 about the life of James of Cyrrhestica, can be found in French in the Sources chrétiennes series, vols. 234 and 257 (Canivet and Leroy-Molinghen 1977/1979). Prior (Halkin 1957: 1: 256, entry 771) to this edition, one had to rely on the Greek text or its Latin translation (Sirmond 1642/1684; Schulze 1769/1774) and the text as printed in Migne's Patrologia Graeca (2) and Patrologia Latina. (3)

The following English translation is taken from R. M. Price, A History of the Monks of Syria by Theodoret of Cyrrhus (Price 1985: 133-149).

"1. Now that we have proceeded through the contests of the athletes of virtue described above, narrating in summary their laborious exercises, their exertions in the contests and their most glorious and splendid victories, let us now record, and leave to posterity as a profitable memorial, the way of life of those still living, who contend magnificently and strive to surpass their predecessors in exertion. For just as the life of the conspicuous saints of the past brought the greatest benefit to their successors, so the accounts of these men will become models for those after us.

2. At the head of these I shall place the great James, for he has precedence over the others both in time and in labor, and it is by emulating him that his emulators do wondrous and extraordinary things. It has turned out, I know not how, that this name has come at the head of both the departed and those still alive; for in recounting the life of the former, I placed at the head the divine James who scattered the Persian army by prayer and, when the surrounding walls of the town fell down, both refused to allow the capture of the city and forced the enemy to flee by sending against them gnats and mosquitoes. Therefore let the man with the same name and the same ways come at the head of the company of the contestants still alive, not for the reason that he shares the name, but because he also emulated his virtue and became himself a model of philosophy for others.

3. A companion of the great Maron and a recipient of his divine teaching, he has eclipsed his teacher by great labors. For Maron had a precinct of the ancient imposture as enclosure, pitched a tent of hairy skins, and used this to ward off the assaults of rain and snow. But this man, bidding farewell to all these things, tent and hut and enclosure, has the sky for roof, and lets in all the contrasting assaults of the air, as he is now inundated by torrential rain, now frozen by frost and snow, at other times burnt and consumed by the rays of the sun, and exercises endurance over everything. Competing as if in the body of another, and striving with zeal to overcome the nature of the body --for clad in this mortal and passible one, he lives as in an impassible one--, practicing in a body the life without a body, he exclaims with the inspired Paul, 'Though walking in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, for our weapons are not fleshly but mighty through God for the destruction of strongholds, as we destroy arguments and every high thing exalted against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive for obedience to Christ.'

4. For these contests that surpass nature he rehearsed by means of lesser labors: it was by earlier immuring himself in a small cell, freeing his soul from the tumults outside and nailing his mind to the thought of God that he engaged in the rehearsal of complete virtue. After training himself perfectly and accustoming his soul to excellent labors, he dared greater contests. Repairing to that mountain which is thirty stades distant from this town, he has made it distinguished and revered, although formerly it was totally undistinguished and sterile. So great is the blessing it is confidently believed to have now received that the soil on it has been quite exhausted by those coming from all sides to carry it off for their benefit.

5. Living in this place he is observed by all comers, since he has, as I said, no cave or tent or hut or enclosure or obstructing wall; but he is to be seen praying or resting, standing or sitting, in health or in the grip of some infirmity, so that it is unceasingly under the eyes of spectators that he strives in combat and repels the necessities of nature--nor are other men who have had a respectable upbringing ready to evacuate excrement in the presence of strangers, let alone a man trained in the highest philosophy. And I mention this, not having learnt it from another, but having myself been a witness. Fourteen years ago, a grave illness came upon him which caused him a condition to be expected in one with a mortal body. It was the height of summer, and the heat of the sun's rays was kindled more intensely, with a lulling of the winds and the air remaining motionless. The disease was a flux of bile moving downwards, hurting the guts, causing pressure and forcing one to run outside. It was then that I witnessed the great endurance of this man. For while every man of the country had assembled with the intention of seizing the victorious body, he sat there torn by contrary impulses: while nature pressed him to go and evacuate, shame before the attendant crowd compelled him to stay in the same position. Noticing this, I addressed many exhortations to those who had come, and many threats, ordering them to go away. Finally I applied to them my episcopal authority, and in the evening, with great effort, sent them away. But even after their departure the man of God was not defeated by nature, but maintained his endurance until the dead of night set in and compelled everyone to go home.

6. Coming to him again on the next day, I saw that the burning heat had become still more intense and that the fever that beset him was nourished and increased by the fire without; so alleging a headache, I said that the impact of the sun's rays was causing me discomfort, and asked him to improvise for me some slight shade by him. He gave the order, and by fixing three stakes and putting two cloaks on them we contrived some shade. When he bid me go inside, I replied, 'It would be disgraceful, father, for me, who am young and strong, to obtain this relief, while you, who are beset by a violent fever and need such solace, sit outside, receiving the impact of the sun's rays. Therefore (I continued) if you want me to enjoy the shade, come and share with me this scanty tent; for I wish to stay beside you, but am hindered by the rays.' On hearing this plea he consented, and chose to render me service.

7. When we were enjoying the shade together, I started on another plea, and said I needed to lie down, since my hip found sitting painful. Again he begged me to lie down, and heard in reply that I could not bear to lie down and see him seated: 'Therefore,' I said, 'if you want me to enjoy this rest as well, let us lie down together, father, for I will not have the embarrassment of lying down alone.' By this plea I outwitted his endurance and gave him the relief of lying down.

8. Now that he was stretched out on the ground, I made agreeable remarks to him, to make his soul more cheerful; and putting my hand inside his clothing, I tried gently to rub his back. It was then that I perceived the great load of iron that bound his waist and his neck; and other chains, two in front and two behind, extending obliquely from the circle round his neck to the circle below, and forming the shape of the letter X, connected the two circles to each other, both in front and behind; and beneath his clothing his arms bore other bonds of this kind round his elbows. On perceiving this tremendously heavy load, I begged him to assist his sick body, which could not bear at the same time both the voluntary load and the involuntary infirmity. 'At the moment, father,' I said, 'the fever is doing the work of the iron; when it abates, let us at that stage impose on the body again the labor from the iron.' He yielded to this as well, bewitched by these many words of enchantment.

9. On this occasion he recovered easily after a few days of illness; but at a later time he fell ill of a more serious disease. As many came together from all sides to seize his body, all the men of the town, when they heard of it, hastened together, soldiers and civilians, some taking up military equipment, others using whatever weapons lay to hand. Forming up in close order, they fought by shooting arrows and slinging stones --not to wound, but simply to instill fear. Having thus driven off the local inhabitants, they placed the all-round contestant on a litter, while he was quite unconscious of what was happening --he was not even conscious of his hair being plucked out by the peasants--, and set off to the city.

10. Arriving at the shrine of the Prophet, they placed the litter in the retreat adjoining it. Someone came to Beroea, where I happened to be, to tell what had happened and bring the news of his death; immediately I made haste and spent the whole night traveling, and just after daybreak reached the man of God, who was neither speaking nor able to recognize any of those present. But when I addressed him to tell him that the great Acacius sent his respects, he instantly opened his eyes, asked how he was, and inquired when I had come. When I had answered these questions, he shut his eyes again. After three days had passed, in the evening, he asked where he was; on being told, he was extremely vexed, and demanded to be taken back at once to the mountain. In my wish to serve him in everything, I gave immediate instructions for his litter to be brought and to be carried to the desired spot.

11. It was then that I witnessed the lack of vanity in this, to me venerable, person. On the next day I brought him some barley gruel, which I had cooled --since he refused to take anything hot, having renounced entirely the use of fire. Since he was unwilling to partake, I said, 'Show consideration, father, for all of us, for we think your health to be preservation for all. For not only are you set before us as a model that is of benefit, but you also help us by your prayers and procure us God's favor. If the disruption of your habits torments you, father (I continued), endure this as well, for this too is a form of philosophy. Just as when in health and desiring food you overcame appetite by endurance, so now when you have no appetite show endurance by taking food.' While I was saying this, the man of God Polychronius was also present, who, to support my plea, volunteered to be the first to take food, although it was morning and he often fed his body at seven day intervals. Worsted by this reasoning, he swallowed one cup of the gruel with his eyes shut, just as we normally do with bitter drinks. I think it useful to reveal as well the following example of the philosophy of his soul, which occurred after we induced him to wet with water the feet that out of debility had lost the ability to walk. The cup was lying nearby, and one of the attendants tried to cover it with a basket so that it should not be visible to those who visited him. 'Why,' he asked, 'do you cover the cup?' The other replied, 'To stop it being exposed to the gaze of visitors.' 'Clear off, boy,' he exclaimed, 'do not hide from men what is manifest to the God of the universe. Wishing to live for him alone, I have paid no thought to my reputation with men; for what benefit is it, if the latter think more of my asceticism but God thinks less? For they are not the givers of reward for labors, but God is the bestower.' Who would not be overwhelmed with admiration both at these words and at the mind, so superior to human reputation, that bred them?

12. I learnt of something similar that occurred on some other occasion. It was evening, late evening, and the time for nourishment. So taking the potsherd lying to hand, he ate the soaked lentils--for this was his food. There came someone from the town, entrusted with some military exaction. James, seeing him at a distance, did not put his lentils aside, but continued swallowing the food as usual. And thinking him to be a demonic illusion, he assailed him with words, to drive him off as an enemy; and to show he was not afraid, he continued during this to put lentils in his mouth. The man being assailed with abuse besought him, and declared he was a man, and that he had arrived at this time because obliged by an oath to leave the city towards evening. 'Be of good courage,' said the other, 'and do not be afraid, but pray and then depart. Be my table-companion, and share this food with me.' While saying this, he filled his hand and gave a portion of the lentils. In this way he has expelled from his mind the passion of vainglory together with the others.

13. But of his endurance it is superfluous to speak, since sight is the witness. Often after snow has fallen for three days and as many nights, he has been so buried, when lying prone in prayer to God, that not even a tiny piece of the rags that cover him can be seen. Often his neighbors have to use forks and shovels and in this way remove the snow covering him, in order to drag out and revive his supine body.

14. As a result of these labors, he has culled the gifts of divine grace, and these are shared by all who desire it. Through his blessing many fevers have been quenched --and still are--, many agues have abated or departed completely, many demons have been forced to flee; and water blessed by his hand becomes a preventive medicine. Who is ignorant of the resuscitation of a dead child that occurred through his prayer? In the suburbs of the city lived the child's parents, who had begotten many children and escorted them all prematurely to the grave. So when this last child was born, the father hastened to the man of God, begging to obtain a long life for it, and promising to dedicate it to God, should it live. After living for four years, it came to the end of its life. The father was absent; but the moment he returned, he saw the child being already carried out. Snatching it from the bier, he said, 'It is fitting that I fulfil my promise and give the child, even though dead, to the man of God.' So he took it as he had promised, and laid it before those holy feet, saying what he had already said to his household. The man of God, placing the child before him and kneeling down, lay prostrate as he entreated the Master of life and death. In the late afternoon, the child made utterance and called its father. This inspired man, perceiving thereby that the Master had accepted the petition and bestowed life, got up, and after worshipping the One who does the will of those who fear Him and hearkens to their requests, completed his prayer and restored the child to its begetter. I myself saw the child and heard the father narrating the miracle; and I have transmitted to many this story worthy of the Apostles [cf. Acts 9.36ff, 20.9ff], knowing that it will be a cause of great benefit to those who hear it.

15. I myself have often enjoyed his help. I shall recall one or two instances, knowing that it would be the height of ingratitude to consign to silence, and not to make known, his varied good services. The abominable Marcion had sown many thorns of impiety in the territory of the city of Cyrrhus; trying to pull these out by the root, I shook every sail and applied persistently every device. But those who received these attentions from me 'instead of loving me (in the words of the prophet) calumniated me, and returned against me evil for good, and hatred for my love.' They tried to make way invisibly by using magic spells and having recourse to the cooperation of evil demons. Once by night there came a wicked demon, who exclaimed in Syriac, 'Why, Theodoret, do you make war on Marcion? Why on earth have you joined battle with him? What harm has he ever done to you? End the war, stop your hostility, or you will learn by experience how good it is to stay quiet. Know well that I would long ago have pierced you through, if I had not seen the choir of the martyrs with James protecting you.'

16. I heard this, and said to one of my friends sleeping nearby, 'Can you hear, my friend, what is being said?' 'I hear it all,' he replied, 'and though I wanted to get up and peer and find out who was speaking, I kept quiet for your sake, supposing you to be asleep.' So getting up we both peered about, and saw no one moving and heard no one speaking; the others who lived with us had also heard these words. I realized that by 'the choirs of martyrs' was meant the flask of oil of the martyrs, with a blessing gathered from very many martyrs, which was hung up by my bed; and under my head lay an old cloak of the great James, which for me had been stronger than any defences of steel.

17. When I was about to attack the chief village of these same men, and many things got in the way to hinder my setting out, I sent to my Isaiah [cf. 2 Kings 19], begging to enjoy divine reinforcement. 'Have confidence,' he said, 'for all those hindrances have been swept away like spiders' webs; God taught me this by night, not sketching a shadowy dream but displaying a vision. For I saw (he continued), as I was beginning the hymnody, in that part where those places are situated, a fiery serpent crawling from the west to the east and carried through mid-air. After completing three more prayers, I saw it curled up and displaying a circular shape, touching its tail with its head. After finishing eight more prayers, I saw it cut in two and dissolved into smoke.'

18. This is what he foresaw, and we witnessed how the issue agreed with the prediction. For in the morning, under the command of the serpent, originator of evil, those who were formerly of the company of Marcion, but now belong to the host of the Apostles, set out from the west, brandishing naked swords against us. About the third hour of the day they formed up in close order, taking thought only for their own protection, just as the serpent covered his head with his tail. At the eighth hour they dispersed, giving us room to enter the village. And we immediately found a serpent made out of bronze material which they worshipped --for having openly declared war against the Creator and Maker of the universe-- they were eager to serve the accursed serpent as being his enemy. Such are the good services which I have myself received from this, to me venerable, person.

19. Since my account has entered on the narration of divine revelations, I shall narrate what I heard from this tongue incapable of deceit. He told this story not out of vanity --for his godly soul is far removed from this passion-- but because a certain need compelled him to tell what he wished to hide. I was asking him to beg the God of the universe to make the crop clear of weeds and free it altogether from the seeds of heresy, for I was utterly tormented by the error of the abominable Marcion's having so strong a hold. To my earnest entreaty he replied, 'You need neither myself nor some other intercessor with God, for you have the famous John, the mouthpiece of the Word, the forerunner of the Master, who constantly transmits this petition on your behalf.' When I declared that I had faith in the prayers of this saint as in those of the other holy apostles and prophets whose relics had lately been brought to us, he said, 'Have confidence, since you have John the Baptist.'

20. But not even so could I bear to keep silent. I pressed my inquiries all the more in my desire to learn why he made mention of this one in particular. 'I wanted,' he replied, 'to embrace his beloved relics.' When I said I would not bring them unless he promised to tell me what he had seen, he gave the promise, and I on the next day brought what he longed for; and ordering everyone to keep at a distance, he recounted to me alone the following. 'At the time,' he said, 'that you welcomed with Davidic choral singing the arrival from Phoenicia and Palestine of these city-guardians, a thought occurred to me whether these were in reality the relics of the famous John and not of some other martyr of the same name. Now one day later I got up at night for the hymnody, and saw someone clad in white who said, "Brother James, tell me why you did not come to meet us on our arrival." When I asked who they were, he replied, "Those who came yesterday from Phoenicia and Palestine. While everyone welcomed us enthusiastically --the shepherd and the people, townsfolk and countrymen-- you alone did not take part in this veneration." He was alluding to the doubts I felt. At this (James continued) I replied, "Even in the absence of you and the others, I venerate you and worship the God of all things." Again on the next day, at the same time, he himself appeared: "Brother James," he said, "look at the one standing there, whose raiment is like the snow in color, and before whom is placed a furnace of fire." I moved my eyes in that direction and surmised it was John the Baptist, for he wore his cloak, and was stretching out his hand as if baptizing. "It is the one," he said, "whom you have guessed it to be."

21. 'And on another occasion (he continued), when you departed by night to their principal village, in order to punish them as seditious, and bade me address still more earnest prayer to God, I persevered without sleep entreating the Master. Then I heard a voice saying, "Fear not, James. The great John the Baptist all night entreats the God of the universe; for there would have been great slaughter, had not the insolence of the devil been extinguished by his intercession."' After recounting this to me, he charged me to keep the knowledge to myself and not make others share it; but I, for the sake of the benefit, have not only recounted the story to many, but also entrust it to writing.

22. He said that he had also beheld the patriarch Joseph, with his hoary head and beard, emitting in old age the radiance of youth, and at the summit of virtue naming himself the last of the saints. 'While I,' he continued 'declared him to be the first of those who shared a tomb with him, he called himself the last.'

23. He also recounted to me the attacks of all kinds made on him by the evil demons. 'At my very entry,' he said, 'into this way of life, I used to see someone naked, with the appearance of an Egyptian, shooting fire from his eyes. I, on seeing him, would be filled with fear, have recourse to prayer and could not bear to take food, for it was at this time that he used to appear. When seven, eight, ten days had passed and I remained without food, finally, despising the evil onslaught, I sat down and took food. But he could not bear my elevation of mind, and threatened to strike me with a rod. But I (he continued) said, "If you have been given permission by the Master of the universe, then strike, and I shall receive the blow with pleasure, as being struck by Him; but if you have not been given permission, you will not strike, however infinite your frenzy." On hearing this, he on this occasion fled away.

24. 'His frenzy, however, continued in secret. Water was brought to me from below twice a week. Meeting the carrier and imitating my appearance, he would take the water and, after telling him to depart, pour it away. This he did not merely twice but three times, and the affliction of thirst made war upon me. In my torment, I asked the usual carrier, "Why on earth for fifteen days have you not brought water?" He replied that he had brought it three times already, indeed four times, and that I had received it from him. "And where," I asked, "did I receive this water from you when you brought it?" When he indicated the place, I said: "Even if on innumerable occasions you see me there, do not hand over the jar until you come to this place."

25. 'After I had in this way frustrated his plot, I was tested again by another one. Crying out at night, he said: "I shall fill you with such a stench, and spread so evil a reputation, that no one from anywhere will look at you." To this (he continued) I made reply: "I shall concede thanks to you, for against your will you will be doing your enemy a kindness, by making him luxuriate all the more in remembering God; for enjoying greater leisure, I shall keep up as my uninterrupted task contemplation of the divine beauty." After a few days had passed, (he continued) when at midday I was performing the customary liturgy, I saw two women coming down from the mountain. When in vexation at this unusual occurrence I tried to throw stones at them, I recalled the threat of the avenging spirit and guessed this to be the evil reputation. So I shouted that even if they sat on my shoulders I would not throw stones at them or chase them away, but have recourse to prayer alone. When I said this, they vanished, and the visual illusion ended as I spoke.

26. 'After this again (he continued) I was praying by night, when the noise of a carriage reached me, as also the cry of a driver and of horses whinneying. The novelty of the thing bewildered me, for I reflected that no governor was staying in the city at that time, that the road was not for carriages, and that the time of day was not suitable for carriages. As I was having these thoughts, there was heard a tumult of a great company approaching and the cries of the rod-bearers in front, hissing to clear the crowd out of the way and make the road ready for the governor. When they seemed to me to be extremely close (he continued), I said, "Who are you? Where have you come from? For what purpose have you come at this time? How long will you keep up your jesting, you wretch, and presume upon the divine forbearance?" This I said as, facing the east, I addressed petition to God. The other gave me a push, but had not the strength to knock me down --for divine grace resisted-- and immediately the whole apparition vanished.'

27. He related too how, at the time when those wicked brigands coming from Isauria burnt and plundered most of the east, he was terrified at the thought, not of being killed --he was not so in love with the body-- but of enslavement and captivity and witnessing impiety and lawlessness. The devil, perceiving this fear --for he often heard him express it to his friends-- imitated by night the wailing of women. 'I thought I could hear,' he continued, 'the enemy arriving and setting fire to the villages. I at once parted the hair on my head, drawing some on the left and some on the right down my shoulders to my chest, and made my neck ready to be severed by the sword, so that receiving the blow immediately, I might be spared the sight I deprecated. When day came and some people arrived, after spending the whole night like this, all the time expecting an assault, I asked what they had heard of the Isaurians. They replied that during these days they had heard nothing of them. That (he concluded) was how I discovered that this too was a diabolical illusion.

28. 'On another occasion,' he said, 'in the likeness of a youth in full vigor, resplendent in bloom and adorned with blond hair, he came up to me both grinning and flirting. But I (he continued), was armed with indignation and drove him off with abuse. But he persevered with his wanton look and with a grin and speech that reeked of pleasure. At this point I intensified my anger: "How do you have the strength," I said, "to traverse the whole world and lay such snares for all men?" He replied that he was not on his own, but that a mass of demons was scattered through the whole world, to play tricks and be at work simultaneously; for by their playful appearance they are at work to destroy the whole human race. "But as for you," I said, "go away: you are being ordered by Christ, who by means of swine sent a whole legion into the abyss." [Cf. Mk 5:9-13] As soon as he heard this, he fled, not able either to endure the power of the Master's name or to look at the radiance of the philosophers of His household.'

29. I know many more stories than these, but I do not wish to record them, lest their quantity become for the more weak an excuse for disbelief. To those who see the man of God, no story of this kind appears incredible, because the virtue they see confirms the stories. But since this composed narrative will pass down to posterity and most people trust their ears less than their eyes, let us adjust the narration to the weakness of the hearers.

30. Others built him a great tomb a few stades away in the neighboring village, while I prepared a grave for him in the shrine of the triumphant Apostles. But on learning of this, the man of God besought me many times to bury his body on the mountain itself; I replied as often that it is not fitting for one who is indifferent to the present life to take thought for his burial. But when I saw that this was close to his heart, I agreed and consented, and made arrangements for the coffin to be carved and brought up; and when I saw that the stone was being damaged by the frost, I ordered a small hut to be made for the coffin. When, follwing his orders, we had completed the construction and put on the roof, he said: 'I will not allow this tomb to be called that of James. I want it to be a shrine of the triumphant martyrs, and myself like some immigrant to be placed in another tomb, honored to dwell with them.' This he not only declared but accomplished. Collecting from all sources many prophets, many apostles, and as many martyrs as possible, he placed them in a single coffin, in his wish to dwell with the assembly of the saints, and his desire to share with them both the resurrection and the privilege of the vision of God.

31. This is sufficient to prove his modesty of spirit. Although he had amassed such wealth of virtue, while living in extreme poverty, he desired to dwell with the company of the rich. Of what kind are the labors of this, to me venerable, person, how great his contests, how much grace from God he has enjoyed, what victories he has won and with what crowns he has been adorned, these stories are sufficient to teach.

32. Since some people accuse him of peevishness of character and are annoyed at his love of solitude and tranquillity, it is after saying a few words on this that I shall bring the account to an end. As I have said already, he lies exposed to everyone's gaze, being neither fenced round with an enclosure nor sheltered by some hut or tent; each of his visitors, because hindered by no barrier, goes to him at once and wants to make conversation. Other lovers of this philosophy have enclosures and doors and the enjoyment of tranquillity; the recluse opens when wishing to, delays as long as he wants, and has his fill of divine contemplation as long as he wishes. But here there is none of this; and this is the essential reason why he gets annoyed with those who are a nuisance at the very time of prayer. If at his bidding they go away at once, he again concentrates on prayer; but if they continue to be a nuisance and do not obey when ordered once or even twice, then he is annoyed and sends them away with a rebuke.

33. I myself have had a discussion with him on this matter. I told him that some people were upset at being driven away without even a blessing. 'It would be proper,' I said, 'for those who come for this and make a journey of many days to depart not in vexation but full of joy, to feast the ignorant with stories of your philosophy.' He replied, 'I did not come to the mountain for another's sake but for my own. Bearing the wounds of so many sins, I need much treatment, and because of this I beseech our Master to give me the antidotes to wickedness. How, then, would it not be absurd and utterly senseless to break the sequence of petition and make conversation with men in between? If I happened to be the domestic of a human being like myself, and at the time for serving the master failed to bring the food or drink at the right time but instead made conversation with one of my fellow-servants, what great blows would I not justly receive? And if I went to the governor and, while relating an injustice I had suffered from someone, broke off my discourse in the middle and made some other remarks to one of those present, do you not think that the judge would be annoyed, withdraw his assistance, and have me whipped and driven from the bar? How could it be right for a domestic to behave appropriately towards a master, and a plaintiff towards a judge, but for me, as I approach God, the eternal Master, the Judge most just and King of all things, not to make my approach like these, but during my prayers to turn to my fellow-servants and hold a long conversation with them?'

34. This is what I heard and have transmitted to those who had taken offence; and he seems to have spoken well and fairly. In addition to what he said, it is characteristic of lovers to overlook everyone else and cleave to the one they cherish and love, to dream of him by night and think of him by day. It is, I think, for this reason that he is annoyed when, in the middle of the contemplation he longs for, he is prevented from being immersed in the beauty he loves.

35. We have composed this in the form of a narrative not of a panegyric, paying close attention to brevity, in order not by length to exhaust our readers. If he outlives this narration for a time, he will doubtless add innumerable other achievements to his earlier ones, and others will record them. As for us, great is the longing to depart from here. May the Umpire of the athletes of piety grant this man an end worthy of his labors, and make the rest of his course consonant with the earlier part, so that he may reach the finishing-post as victor; and may He through the prayers of this man support our weakness, so that strengthened, we may retrieve our many defeats and depart from this life with victory.

In the Constantinopolitan Synaxarium, James of Cyrrhestica is commemorated on February 21 (Synaxarium Constantinopolitanum 481-484, n. 8).


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(1) "Marcionite churches were very similar in appearance and liturgy to Catholic ones (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures XVIII.26). The Marcionites did not so much introduce innovations as exaggerate certain tendencies in Syrian Christianity. They pushed anti-Judaism to the point of rejecting the Old Testament and the more Judaistic parts of the New, and pushed encratism (or continence) to the point of using water and not wine in the eucharist and insisting that all the baptized were committed to lifelong sexual abstinence." | Back to text |

(2) PG 82.1284-1496 (James of Cyrrhestica: PG 82.1432-1452). | Back to text |

(3) James of Cyrrhestica: PL 74.82-92. | Back to text |

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