In ancient times, Jacob the Great, or Saint James of Nisibis was highly revered throughout the Church. Pious Christians knew his life, made pilgrimages to his relics, in the east and west his name was commemorated during divine services and in church monthly books. It is very important for us, Orthodox Christians of the 21st century, not to forget about this great saint.
Jacob's entire life was connected with the city of Nisibis, by which he is named in church calendars. Now Nisibis is modern Nusaybin, a small town in southeastern Turkey near the Syrian border.
It was once located on the line of contact between the Roman and Persian Empires, and, in modern terms, was a missionary center and an outpost for the spread of Christianity in Persia. For a long time, the city passed from hand to hand until, finally, in 639/640 it was taken by Arab conquerors, after which its historical significance faded away. Today, the Church of St. James with the tomb of the saint has been preserved in it. Nisibis had a special spiritual and historical relationship with another great center of ancient Eastern Christianity - Edessa. Edessa was located about two hundred kilometers from Nisibis and today bears the name Şanli-Urfa. To remind ourselves of church history in any circumstances, we note that today this particular city is considered the capital of the hot red pepper and one of the famous varieties of kebab - Urfa kebab.
The memory of Saint James was preserved thanks to the “Religious History” by Theodoret of Cyrus (393–457); ancient church historians also talk about him. According to life, Jacob was originally a hermit. Ancient Syrian monasticism was particularly extremely strict; ascetics lived in the open air and ate exclusively plants. However, in 309, local Orthodox Christians elected Jacob as their bishop. This was a time of severe persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, and therefore Jacob simply could not refuse. Through extreme hardship, the ascetics sought gradual voluntary martyrdom, literally dying to the world, and the bishopric gave the elect a great chance of instant martyrdom!
However, the saint survived persecution and thus became a living confessor of the faith. In 325, he took part in the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea, at which he showed himself as a supporter of the Orthodox faith, the main exponent of which was the future Bishop of Alexandria Athanasius the Great (298–373).
Like Saint Augustine (354–430) a century later in the city of Hippo besieged by Vandals, in July 337 Saint James went to the Lord in prayer during the siege of his hometown by the Persians. Let us remember that James and Augustine, saints of the Golden Age of patristic writing, at different ends of the then Universe, both died during a military siege. This is the wonderful kinship of the saints in everyday suffering.
Life and popular veneration testify to the miracles and signs performed by the saint on a biblical scale. “Nicholas the Wonderworker” of ancient Persian Christianity, as he can be called in the light of tradition, Saint James was not only a national saint. Theological works bearing his name have been preserved, and tradition connects the founding of the great Nisibian theological school with his works. Ephraim the Syrian called him his teacher in theology and father in faith. The memory of Saint Jacob of Nisibis recalls the ancient patristic axiom: “Practicing theology is akin to prayer, and whoever prays a lot is a theologian.”