23 April 2017

St. George the Martyr

Edward Burne-Jones,
‘The Legend of St George and the Dragon,
VI: St George Kills the Dragon’, 1866

St. George was born in Cappadocia in what is now Turkey, of noble Christian parents. After his father died, he went with his mother to Palestine, which is where she had come from. Her family there was quite wealthy, and she had a large estate, which fell to her son George. He was strong and robust, and having embraced the profession of a soldier, was made a tribune in the army of the Emperor Diocletian. He showed himself to be an excellent soldier, very brave, and he received many honours and advancements in his military career. When Diocletian began persecuting the Christian religion, St. George gave up his commission and posts, and complained to the emperor himself of his severities and bloody edicts. He was immediately cast into prison, and put on trial, questioned and tortured with great cruelty; but nothing could shake his constancy. The next day he was led through the city and beheaded.

So why the legends, especially the story of St. George slaying the dragon? According to the story, a terrible dragon, which lived in a marshy swamp, had ravaged all the country round a city of Libya, called Selena. It would come near the city looking for something to eat, and when it breathed, it would spread sickness throughout all the people. The people decided to give the monster two sheep every day to satisfy its hunger, but, when they ran out of sheep, they would give the dragon a human victim, whom they would choose by lot. On one occasion the lot fell to the king's little daughter. The king offered all his wealth to purchase a substitute, but the people had said that no substitutes would be allowed, and so the maiden, dressed as a bride, was led to the swamp. At that very time, St. George happened to ride by, and he asked the young girl what she did, but she warned him to leave her, because his own life was in danger. St. George stayed, however, and when the dragon appeared, St. George, making the sign of the cross, bravely attacked it and stabbed it with his lance, wounding it. Then asking the maiden for her belt, he bound it round the neck of the monster, and the princess was able to lead it without any struggle, back to the town. St. George told the people not to be afraid, but only be baptized, after which he cut off the dragon's head and the townsfolk were all converted. The king would have given George half his kingdom, but the saint replied that he must ride on, bidding the king meanwhile take good care of God's churches, honour the clergy, and have pity on the poor.

This legend was a great symbol of St. George who fought against the Emperor and against all those things that were trying to destroy the Church. The lesson is that good eventually will conquer evil, and all we need to do is put our fear aside, and live in the grace of our baptism.

O God of hosts, who didst so kindle the flame of love in the heart of thy servant George that he bore witness to the risen Lord by his life and by his death: grant us the same power of faith and love; that we, who rejoice in his triumphs, may come to share with him the fulness of the Resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.