Posted by: Fr Chris | April 23, 2010

Great and Glorious Martyr, George

One of the most popular saints ever, his feast day of April 23rd is the only universal feast of a saint other than the Virgin Mary or John the Baptist! Why? He reflects universal Christian values, ones that many men in the western world would do well to emulate: constancy, strength, fidelity, love of God and neighbor, self-sacrifice, upholding a true military code of chivalry and honor. Too often the gifts of Christian men are spurned in pseudo-feminist dialogues of the western world, missing the point of what a solid Christian man offers to the world, and how badly the world needs Christian men! A saint like George, who inspired others both in life and death, and whose heavenly protection has been felt for over 1,700 years, is one who can move Christian men forward in their faith lives.

The basics of  the St George icon are the bold warrior astride a white stallion, raising his spear to pierce the dragon in its open throat, while a woman stands in the distance waiting to be rescued. Out of that icon, comes the legend of George slaying a dragon who was fed with an annual tribute of a virgin from a besieged town. But the icon has nothing to do with such a legend at all. Rather, the woman is Ekklesia, the Church. The warrior is indeed George, who we know was an officer in the Roman army and is one of many who died rather than sacrifice incense to a statue of the emperor. We also know that this George suffered a great deal in his martyrdom, probably because of both his high rank and own personal popularity among the troops, in order to frighten other Christian troops to convert to paganism. The dragon is the force of Evil – and the righteous George plunges the spear, which is topped with the Cross of the Savior, right into the jaws of hell. Thus Satan is destroyed, the Church’s victory won, and souls are inspired to follow George in his righteous behavior.

In Transcarpathia – East Slovakia, this feast is a major event in the agricultural cultures there. April 23 is when the flocks and herds are moved up out of the valleys and into the highlands, and when the fields are blessed. Even today, this marks the migration of shepherds and animals (they leave the highlands on the feast of another warrior-saint, Demetrius, at the end of October, and the farming season ends on the feast of the Dedication of the Church of Saint George in early November). All the animals are under George’s protection, so if a wolf or bear snatches one on the feast-day, it must be George’s will and no hunter will pursue the predator.

It is also the day to bless fields and gardens. Parishioners come out of the churches carrying all of the processional banners, and the priests go forward to bless the farm fields first, then on their return the gardens of individual houses. I have seen this practice followed even in driving rain, because there is no thought of delaying the blessing – the private gardens provide so much of the food for villager and townspeople alike.

St George is the patron saint of the Republic of Georgia, of England, Germany, Palestine, Lithuania, Greece, and co-patron of Ukraine; of all soldiers, Boy Scouts, the cities of Moscow, Beirut, L’viv, and Venice; the islands of Malta and Gozo just visited by Pope Benedict XVI ; farmers, shepherds, horsemen and saddle-makers. One of the most ancient churches in Jordan is still the site of pilgrimages by Christian and Muslim shepherds.

The legends of his martyrdom speak of terrible sufferings, and we know from history that the Roman authorities used such tortures to try and frighten Christians into conformity with the state religion. In a martyr like George, who was obviously a popular fellow among his peers as well as being a solid Christian man, the legends pile on the tortures. It’s easy to either dismiss these accounts, or just accept them as all having happened. The point though of all great myths is that there are deep truths underlying them. For George, who has been a favorite of mine a very long time, here are some observations:

– he did not condemn his torturers, in fact he forgives them;

– he behaves as an authentic baptized warrior of Jesus with fidelity and love;

– his example of enduring under the prolonged physical and psychological tortures inspired wavering Christians, and led pagans to search out more about Christianity;

-he prays. Every evil can be conquered with prayer, and by imitating Jesus’ self-emptying love we will conquer all evil forces;

-he is authentic, and does not look for an easy solution or escape, but embraces the Cross of the Savior and so finds redemption.

We all have individual dragons which need to be slain,  and we will indeed conquer them when we live, love, and serve hand in hand with the Lord.  We all should be upright defenders of the truths of the Church and be honest about her members’ failings while defending those truths, and we can do so when we are people of prayer and bold soldiers of Truth.

O brave Saint George, help us to be brave in the face of false attacks! Help us to fight for purity against all those who hate the Church of Christ. Help us to be leaders, who are not afraid of facing the filth condemned by Benedict XVI, who will stand firm against those who have hurt Christ’s Church through these terrible scandals. Help the men of the Church to be strong men rooted in the absolute self-giving love of Jesus Christ. Help the women of the Church to be strong and authentic defenders and leaders. Help our armed forces to be forces for good. Help us to be brave in the face of any adversity. Help us to be honest with each other, and in our own hearts with God. St George pray for us!

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