Today, in the Church calendar, we discover the annual memorial of the second bishop of Jerusalem, Saint Simeon. We know the first bishop better, the Apostle Saint James the Lesser, called a brother of the Lord. That is to say, a close kinsman, of the extended family of the Blessed Virgin. He has left us a letter in the New Testament. Simeon, too, was of that blessed heritage, a descendant of the royal family of David. Here is the entry in the martyrology:
“At Jerusalem, the commemoration of Saint Simeon, bishop and martyr, who, as tradition holds, was son of Cleopas and near relative according to the flesh of the Saviour, and at Jerusalem consecrated bishop after James brother of the Lord, who having physically suffered very much during the persecution of the Emperor Traiánus, as an old man was crowned with the martyrdom of the Cross.”Roman Martyrology, April the 27th
In the records of those first days, we depend we depend very much on the history of the bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, who had access to writings that don’t exist anymore. We learn from him of the martyrdom of the first bishop of Jerusalem, Saint James [link], a Nazirite like Saint John the Baptist:
“The manner of James’ death has been already indicated by the above-quoted words of Clement, who records that he was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple, and was beaten to death with a club. But Hegesippus, who lived immediately after the Apostles, gives the most accurate account in the fifth book of his Memoirs. He writes as follows: James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the Apostles. He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Saviour to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James. He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath. He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people.”Eusebius of Caesarea, Church History, book II, chapter 23, 3-6
And that was Saint James the Just, who even as Christian bishop was allowed access to the holy place, wearing linen garments like a Hebrew priest. His successor would have very large shoes to fill indeed. Tradition then tells us about James’ brothers [link]: Symeon, Judas and Joseph. The first two are sometimes identified with the Apostles Saints Simon (the Zealot) and Jude. And it was Symeon who followed James as the next bishop of Jerusalem, as Eusebius tells us:
“After the martyrdom of James and the conquest of Jerusalem which immediately followed, it is said that those of the Apostles and disciples of the Lord that were still living came together from all directions with those that were related to the Lord according to the flesh (for the majority of them also were still alive) to take counsel as to who was worthy to succeed James. They all with one consent pronounced Symeon, the son of Clopas, of whom the Gospel also makes mention; to be worthy of the episcopal throne of that parish. He was a cousin, as they say, of the Saviour. For Hegesippus records that Clopas was a brother of Joseph.”Eusebius of Caesarea, Church History, book III, chapter 11
It seems to have been very important to the Church in Jerusalem to have a bishop who was closely related to Christ. As Eusebius says, Cleopas was said to be a kinsman of Saint Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin. The same Cleopas who was married to a kinswoman of Mary’s family, also called Mary. So there was a double relationship of these early bishops of Jerusalem to Christ. I don’t wish this post to be unduly long, but follow this link for more information.
Before Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70, on account of the first great rebellion of the Jews, Saint Simeon, acting on the warnings of Christ noted in the Gospels (see the Gospel of Luke, chapter 21), led the Christians out of the Holy City in time and across the river Jordan to Pella. Simeon later battled the heresies of the Nazareans and the Ebionites and survived the viciousness of the Emperors Vespasianus (AD 69-79) and Domitianus (AD 81-96), who had ordered that all members of the Davidic family were to be executed, to end finally the ancient Messianic promise and to silence the claims of the descendants of David. But he fell prey to the Emperor Traianus (AD 98-117), who sentenced him to grave torture and crucifixion at an advanced age, which he endured, passing over to his reward in the early second century. May he pray for us.
Here is more information of the Hebrew bishops of Jerusalem, who persisted until the Romans, fed up with messianism and endless revolt, decided to end the present of the Hebrew nation in Jerusalem and its surrounds.