According to a local tradition, Saint James received monastic tonsure at Kopyrsk monastery on the River Ukhtoma, 80 kilometers from Rostov. For a long time he was igumen of this monastery, and in the year 1385 he was made Bishop of Rostov when Pimen was Metropolitan and Demetrius of the Don was Great Prince.
In defending a woman condemned to execution, the saint followed the example of the Savior, inviting whoever considered himself to be without sin to cast the first stone at her (John 8:7), and he then sent the woman forth to repentance. The Prince and the Rostov nobles, disgruntled over the bishop’s judgment, threw Saint James out of Rostov.
Leaving the city, the saint proceeded to Lake Nero, spread his bishop’s mantiya on the water, and having signed himself with the Sign of the Cross, he sailed off on it as if on a boat, guided by the grace of God. Traveling one and a half versts from the city, Saint James emerged on shore at the site of his future monastery. The prince and the people, repenting their actions, besought the saint’s forgiveness. The gentle bishop forgave them, but he did not return again.
On the shore of Lake Nero he made himself a cell and built a small church in honor of the Conception of the Most Holy Theotokos by Righteous Anna, marking the beginning of the Conception-Saint James monastery. Saint James died there on November 27, 1392.
There is a story that Saint James fought against the Iconoclast heresy of a certain fellow named Markian, who appeared in Rostov toward the end of the fourteenth century. The more ancient Lives of our saint do not mention this, and even the great hagiographer Saint Demetrius of Rostov was unaware of it. More recent hagiographers were wont to draw material from the Service to Saint James of Rostov. But the Service itself, preserved in copies from the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries, was compiled by borrowing from the Service to Saint Bucolus (February 6), who struggled against the first century heretic Marcian, and from the Service to Saint Stephen of Surozh (December 15), who contended against the emperor Constantine Kopronymos (741-775).
Saint James is also commemorated on May 23.