Saint George was a martyr during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. He was a distinguished soldier in the Roman army who refused to renounce his face in Christ, even when threatened with execution. He is a very popular saint, especially among soldiers, and is the patron saint of England, Ethiopia and Georgia.
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God is glorious in his Saints!
Welcome to the Christian Saints Podcast. My name is dr Darren Ong, recording from Malaysia. In this podcast, we explore the lives of the Christian saints, from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions.
Today, we commemorate Saint George, also known as St George of Lydda, or St George the martyr. He was a distinguished Roman soldier in the early church who was martyred in the year 303 for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. This was the time when the Emperor Diocletian was in power, a man who was extremely hostile tot the Christian faith. St George became a very popular saint, particularly with soldiers. The nation of Georgia is named after him, he is a patron saint of that country as well as two others, England and Ethiopia.
The most famous story involving St George has to be his legendary encounter with a dragon. This story is not in the earliest sources of the saints life, but only emerges in medieval times. In Libya, there was a village threatened by a dragon, who demanded an annual tribute of livestock to eat. The village soon ran out of livestock, and were forced to give a human to the dragon instead. The sacrifice was chosen by lot. One year, a princess was chosen by lot. Luckily for her, St George drops by and kills the dragon. The villagers are so grateful that they all convert to the Christian faith.
Let us read an account of the Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine about the martyrdom of St George, this is a collection of saints lives. I am using a translation by William Granger Ryan.
At this time, in the reign of Diocletian and Maximian, the prefect Dacian
launched against the Christians a persecution so violent that in one month sev-
enteen thousand won the crown of martyrdom, while many others, being
threatened with torture, gave in and offered sacrifice to the idols. Seeing this,
Saint George, overcome with grief, gave away all his possessions, laid aside his
military trappings, and put on the garb of the Christians. He then pushed into
the middle of the crowd and cried out: "All your gods are demons, and our God
alone is the Creator of the heavens!" This angered the prefect, who retorted:
"By what rashness do you dare to call our gods demons? Where do you come
from and what is your name?" George answered him: "My name is George, I
come of noble forebears in Cappadocia. With the help of Christ I have con-
quered Palestine; but now I have left all that to serve the God of heaven more
freely." The prefect, seeing that he could not win him over, commanded that he
be stretched on the rack and had him torn limb from limb with hooks. His body
was burned with flaming torches, and salt was rubbed into his gaping wounds.
That very night the Lord appeared to him in the midst of a great light and so
sweetly comforted him with his presence and his words that the saint thought
nothing of his torments.
Dacian, now convinced that the infliction of pain was of no avail, summoned
a certain magician and said to him: "It must be by their magical arts that the
Christians make light of our tortures, and they hold sacrifice to our gods to be
worthless." The magician replied: "If I cannot overcome his spells, let my head
be forfeit." Thereupon, relying on his magic and invoking the names of his
gods, he mixed poison into some wine and gave it to blessed George to drink;
but the saint made the sign of the cross over the wine, drank it, and suffered no
harm. The magician then put a stronger dose of poison into the wine, but the
saint, again making the sign of the cross over the cup, drank with no ill effect.
At this the magician prostrated himself at George's feet, begged his pardon with
loud lamentation, and asked that he be made a Christian: for this he was be-
headed in due time. The following day the prefect ordered George to be bound
upon a wheel that was fitted with sharp knives, but the wheel fell apart at once
and the saint remained unharmed. Dacian then had him plunged into a caldron
of molten lead, but George made the sign of the cross and, by God's power,
settled down as though he were in a refreshing bath.
Now, realizing that he was getting nowhere with threats and torments, Da-
cian thought he might bring the saint around with soft speech. "George, my
son," he said, "you see how long-suffering our gods are; they put up with your
blasphemies so patiently yet are ready to forgive you if you consent to be con-
verted. Follow my advice, then, dearest son. Give up your superstition, sacrifice
to our gods, and win great honors from them and from ourselves." George
smiled and replied: "Why did you not say kind things to me before, instead of
trying to overcome me by torture? So be it: I am ready to do as you say."
Dacian, deluded, was glad to hear this and ordered the herald to call the whole
populace together to see George, who had resisted so long, finally yield and
worship the gods. The city was strung with garlands and filled with rejoicing,
and all stood by as George came into the temple to offer sacrifice. He fell to his
knees and prayed the Lord to destroy the temple with its idols so completely
that, for the glory of God and the conversion of the people, nothing would be
left of it. Immediately fire came down from heaven and consumed the temple,
the idols, and the priests, and the earth opened and swallowed up anything that
was left. Saint Ambrose says in his Preface for Saint George: "While Christianity
was professed only under cover of silence, George, most loyal soldier of Christ,
alone and intrepid among Christians openly professed his faith in the Son of
God; and the grace of God, in return, gave him such fortitude that he could
scorn the commands of tyrants and face the pain of innumerable torments. O
blessed and noble fighter for the Lord! Not only was he not won over by the
flattering promise of earthly power, but he fooled his persecutor and cast the
images of his false gods into the abyss." Thus Ambrose.
When Dacian heard what had happened, he had George brought before him
and said: "How evil can you be, you wickedest of men, that you could commit
so great a crime!" George retorted: "You do me wrong, O king! Come along
with me and watch me offer sacrifice again!" "You trickster!" Dacian ex-
claimed. "What you want to do is to get me swallowed up as you made the earth
swallow the temple and my gods." "Miserable man!" George answered, "how
can your gods, who could not help themselves, help you?" Enraged, the king
said to Alexandria, his wife: "I shall faint, I shall die, because I see that this man
has got the best of me." Her response was: "Cruel, bloodthirsty tyrant! Did I not
tell you not to go on mistreating the Christians, because their God would fight
for them? And now let me tell you that I want to become a Christian." Stupe-
fied, the king cried: "Oh, worse and worse! So you too have been led astray!"
Thereupon he had her hung up by the hair of her head and beaten with
scourges. While she was being beaten, she said to George: "O George, light of
truth, what do you think will become of me since I have not been reborn in the
waters of baptism?" "You have nothing to fear, lady!" he answered. "The shedding
of your blood will be both your baptism and your crown." With that she
prayed to the Lord and breathed her last. Ambrose testifies to this, saying in his
Preface: "For this reason the queen of the pagan Persians, though she had not yet
been baptized, was shown mercy and received the palm of martyrdom when her
cruel spouse had condemned her to death. Hence we may not doubt that she,
crimson with the dew of her blood, gained entrance through the celestial portal
and merited the kingdom of heaven." Thus Ambrose.
The following day George was sentenced to be dragged through the whole
city and then beheaded. He prayed the Lord that all who implored his help
might have their requests granted, and a heavenly voice came to him saying that
it would be so. His prayer finished, his head was cut off and his martyrdom
accomplished in the reign of the emperors Diocletian and Maximian, which
began about the year of our Lord 287. As for Dacian, while he was on his way
back to his palace from the place of execution, fire fell from above and con-
sumed him and his attendants.
St George’s willingness to die for Christ was an example and inspiration for many martyrs after him. As an example, let me read an excerpt of a sermon from Father George Calciu, a Romanian Orthodox priest who suffered in prison for daring to criticize the Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, where he talks about the importance of St George in his life, and how the great saint helped Father Calciu when he had to suffer for Christ.
God gives His martyrs special spiritual strength, and I have seen this in prison. That is, completely weak people, sick people who are barely breathing—like Valerian Gafencu—did not feel any suffering and continued to confess God, blessing their tormentors. Such was Gafencu, who died like a saint. So it was with all the martyrs. God gives them strength, and sometimes they do not even experience any physical suffering. Their flesh was torn with iron claws, nails were pounded into the hands and feet, they were burned with fire, and they felt no pain. God gave them this strength to pass through sufferings.
And the fact that they did not deny God, and that after they were burned they went forth to people unharmed, led many of those present at the tortures to repent and join the ranks of Christians. This was an enormous service the Christians did. Therefore our Church says that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christianity. The more Christians there were tortured and killed, the more Christians came out of their blood. They saw their steadfastness, the power of God, the miracles, and they repented. Right then and there, during the tortures, they came forward and confessed their faith before the emperor, declaring that they too are Christians. And often scores of them were thrown into the arena, where the beasts ripped them to shreds and the soldiers put them to death.
There was a close connection between St. George and me. When I was in prison I always called upon him, and he helped me in many circumstances. From that time on and to this day I never cease to pray to him every day. I am convinced that between a saint and those who pray to him a close connection is formed, and often many of the saint’s qualities, if you have a close spiritual connection with him, appear in you also.
In my case, for example, just as St. George went through prison, so did I; as St. George was strengthened by God in difficult circumstances, so was I strengthened in the most difficult moments, when I might have perished not only physically but also spiritually. But the saint’s presence strengthened me, because he gives to those who bear his name firmness in faith and spiritual protection, which God gives us through him.
Pray to the saint whose name you bear, and he [or she] will help you. Turn to him in times of sorrow and sickness; in difficult circumstances and in moments of joy: “St. John (or, St. George), my protector, pray to God for me, a sinner!” Pray to him and he will hear your prayer! He is your advocate before God, the advocate of all those who bear his name. He brings our prayer before God and intercedes for us.
At the end of life, when we depart for the other world, our patron saint will be standing next to us. If we venerated him and prayed to him, he will stand next to our guardian angel to protect us from satan’s accusations.
This is because at the personal judgment the devil pulls out all our sins, even those we don’t remember, exhibits them for everyone to see, and throws them on the scales. And we must have an advocate to defend us, who will make all our good deeds known. After all, we will be so humiliated that we may not even remember our good deeds, just as we forgot our sins. But our guardian angel and patron saint will come and place all our good deeds on the scales. And often one tear surpasses all the evil deeds we did throughout our whole lives.
Therefore I ask you to remember the saints whose names you bear, and pray that they would protect you, protect your families, your nation, and all people
Let us read from another sermon, by the Roman Catholic saint Peter Damian, on the occasion of St George’s day. St Peter Damian was a benedictine monk and a Doctor of the church. St Peter Damian draws a connection between the martyrdom of St George and the miracle of Easter, since St George’s day April 23 often occurs a little after Easter.
Saint George was a man who abandoned one army for another: he gave up the rank of tribune to enlist as a soldier for Christ.
Eager to encounter the enemy, he first stripped away his worldly wealth by giving all he had to the poor.
Then, free and unencumbered, bearing the shield of faith, he plunged into the thick of the battle, an ardent soldier for Christ.
Clearly what he did serves to teach us a valuable lesson: if we are afraid to strip ourselves of our worldly possessions, then we are unfit to make a strong defence of the faith.
As for Saint George, he was consumed with the fire of the Holy Spirit. Armed with the invincible standard of the cross, he did battle with an evil king.
And he acquitted himself so well that, in vanquishing the king, he overcame the prince of all wicked spirits, and encouraged other soldiers of Christ to perform brave deeds in his cause.
Of course, the supreme invisible arbiter was there, who sometimes permits evil men to prevail so that his will may be accomplished.
And although he surrendered the body of his martyr into the hands of murderers, yet he continued to take care of his soul, which was supported by the unshakeable defence of its faith.
Let us not only admire the courage of this fighter in heaven’s army but follow his example.
Let us be inspired to strive for the reward of heavenly glory, keeping in mind his example, so that we will not be swayed from our path, though the world seduce us with its smiles or try to terrify us with naked threats of its trials and tribulations.
We must now cleanse ourselves, as Saint Paul tells us, from all defilement of body and spirit, so that one day we too may deserve to enter that temple of blessedness to which we now aspire.
Anyone who wishes to offer himself to God in the tent of Christ, which is the Church, must first bathe in the spring of holy baptism; then he must put on the various garments of the virtues.
[…] He who is reborn in baptism is a new man. He may no longer wear the things that signify mortality. He has discarded the old self and must put on the new. He must live continually renewed in his commitment to a holy sojourn in this world.
Truly we must be cleansed of the stains of our past sins and be resplendent in the virtue of our new way of life.
Then we can be confident of celebrating Easter worthily and of truly following the example of the blessed martyrs.
St George’s feast day is on April 23 in both the east of the west, and is a public holiday in multiple countries.
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Let us end with some shakespeare! In his play Henry V, the title character Henry gives this famour rousing speech before leading his army into battle, which ends with an invocation fo St George.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'