The early church referred to the holy apostle James as “James the Elder” or “James the Great” to differentiate him from “James the Younger” or “James the Less,” the son of Alphaeus, who was purportedly a smaller and definitely a younger man.
We can imagine James the Elder as a robust, impressive figure, with piercing eyes, a full beard, and a resonant voice that must have commanded respect.
The son of Zebedee, a affluent fisherman, James was the older brother of John, and a partner of Peter‘s in business. Jesus called James and John Boanerges, meaning “Sons of Thunder” in Greek, for their enthusiastic zeal (Mark 3:17.) Once when the innkeepers in a Samaritan village declined accommodations to Jews, the irritated brothers asked Jesus to call down fire from the heavens to avenge the affront. But Jesus refused, saying, ” … the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” (Luke 9:56)
Holy Scripture describes James, John, and Peter as Jesus’ favorite apostles; those in his inner circle. Some consider the brothers were the Lord’s close relatives and that Peter was their dear friend. These three were present when Jesus raised from the dead the young daughter of Jairus, the synagogue president. They were also with Jesus at the unique revelation on the Mount of Transfiguration; and during the long night in the Garden of Gethsemane.
After Pentecost, James’ name disappeared from the gospels. Some very olden traditions dating back to the earliest centuries try to explain his absence. It is said that in the years following Jesus’ Resurrection James travelled to Sardinia and Spain to preach the word of the Lord before returning to Jerusalem.
During the Middle Ages the holy apostle James the Elder was one of the most well-liked figures in Christian Spain, and his patronage was invoked in time of war. His symbol is the sword or the bishop’s hat, for he is claimed as the first bishop of Spain.
Today the lush hillsides and blue waters of Galilee are virtually unchanged since Biblical times, when the holy apostle Andrew lived and worked as a fisherman. Andrew was the first apostle whom Jesus chose. His brother was Simon, whom Jesus later renamed Peter.
Fascinated in the spiritual life, the young Andrew seems to have left his fishing nets to follow John the Baptist. He walked for miles to find this holy prophet expounding at the Jordan River. After Andrew was baptized by the prophet, there came among them looking for baptism, Jesus of Nazareth.
When John the Baptist saw Jesus, he turned the attention of the crowd toward this solitary figure and said, “Behold the Lamb of God … ” (John 1:29–30.)
Andrew knew that he must seek Jesus out, and he brought his brother Peter, and later Philip to meet Jesus. Though Andrew, Peter, their young cousin John, and Philip were not yet apostles, they escorted Jesus and his mother to the wedding feast at Cana. (John 2:1–11) There they saw him achieve the miracle that changed water into wine. They returned home and took up their trade as fishermen, until Jesus came one day to summon them, saying, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:18–20)
Andrew took the lad with the five loaves and two fish to Jesus. And he assisted in the distribution of the food once Jesus miraculously multiplied the small provisions so that the crowd of 5,000 would have more than enough to eat. (John 6:1–14) He is listed as an apostle in the Acts of the Apostles; it is the last record we have of him in the New Testament.
Presently, the apostle Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland; his cross in the shape of an X is the symbol of the country. He is also declared as patron saint by Orthodox Christians and of fishermen. He is also the patron saint of Greece, Russia, Amalfi (Italy), singers, spinsters, fishmongers, fishermen, gout and sore throats.
Holy Scripture identifies Peter the first of all the apostles, though Peter, a modest fisherman, never put himself first. In many ways the holy apostle is most like us, for his compound nature exposes him to be very human; he is passionate and loyal, cowardly and courageous.
Once called Simon, he was given the name Peter (meaning rock) by Jesus, who said of him, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew I 6:13-19)
Jesus moreover told Peter at the Last Supper that he would deny him. Peter loved his master, yet that night, after Jesus’ arrest by the temple soldiers, a terrified Peter swore three times he did not know Jesus. Then he recalled Jesus’ prediction and was almost driven to misery for his timidity. Unlike Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, Peter deeply atoned and was pardoned.
Following the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to his apostles. On one such occasion he was by the Sea of Galilee as they were out fishing. Identifying him, they swiftly turned their boat toward the shore. But Peter was too impatient and eager— spontaneously he jumped into the water and swam to his master. (John 21:1–8.) Whilst all the rest were filled with the greatest joy to see Jesus, Peter alone seems to have been driven by his brash heart.
After Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles rousing them to preach the word of God, Peter and the others endangered their lives everyday going about their master’s work. In the Acts of the Apostles we discover that it wasn’t long before Peter was imprisoned, but as he lay asleep in his cell, an angel of the Lord came and liberated him.
The location of Peter and Andrew’s house is still marked today. A church was built on the site in A.D. 352. Later it was substituted by a basilica, and excavators unearthed two ancient fish hooks and a small axe for cutting stone. Possibly the fish hooks and axe belonged to Peter and his brother.