Blessed be the memory of the righteous. Every year this time, we hear and read of St George. We might be reading the same thing that we read the previous year. St George’s story is all the same. It is not going to change year to year. We have the same type of food our mother cooks year after year. But it was necessary to keep us healthy and fit from time to time. Likewise when we hear the stories of saints and martyrs it keeps our spiritual life healthy and fit. Reading the life of saints again and again gives us the inspiration to live a life dedicated to the Lord just as they did.
St George would be the most recognizable Christian figure in the world after Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary. The interesting thing is we have or know very little evidence about the life of this man called St George who lived and died long back. The earliest source of writing that we have in support of St George’s life is the works of Eusebius of Caesarea in AD 322. Eusebius talks about a soldier of noble birth who was put to death under Diocletian at Nicomedia on 23 April, 303, but makes no mention of his name, his country or his place of burial. Despite this St George is venerated across the world, is truly because his Master wished so.
St George was born to Christian parents in the city of Cappadocia in Asia Minor. At a very young age he enrolled in the army. Some books say that St George’s fathers was also in the army and it was after his death that St George was asked to take his father’s position. With his bravery, strength and courage George quickly rose among the ranks in the army and became close with Emperor Diocletian. Diocletian though a good ruler worshiped pagan gods. In AD 303 he gave orders for the issue of a formal edict against the Christians. The provisions of the edict was published in public places and it read “All churches should be levelled to the ground. All sacred books to be burned. All Christians who hold any honorable rank are not only to be degraded, but to be deprived of civil rights. Also, All Christians who are not officials are to be reduced to slavery”. There was mass persecution of Christians after this. On hearing this St George liberated his slaves, sold his wealth to the poor and prepared himself for martyrdom. He went before Diocletian, resigned his post in the military and spoke about the True God. On hearing this Diocletian tried to please St George with various offers of position and money. When he found that George was not giving up Christ, he ordered him to be jailed.
St George had to endure lot of torture while in custody of Diocletian. He was beaten with a weapon that had metallic teeth. He was put in active lime and then water poured on him. He was tied to spiked wheel which was made to roll. Despite all these and many more tortures nothing happened to St George. The Lord saved him from all these. Seeing this many people converted to Christianity. Diocletian understood that it was his strong and powerful faith that helps George to overcome all the tortures. He believed that if somehow he could make George sin then God will no longer help him. So Diocletian sent a beautiful lady to the prison room of St George, to seduce him. But St George was least interested in the beauty of the girl. He talked passionately about his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. On hearing this, the girl’s eyes opened to her true bridegroom, the Lord. She proclaimed Christ as her savior. Seeing that none of his tricks were working, Diocletian brought famous black magician, Athanasius. Athanasius, after performing some black magic made a poison which on consumption would kill anyone instantly. Athanasius asked the soldier to give it to St George. On presenting the poison to St George he said without any hesitation that he will drink it. But before he drank he made the sign of the cross. To the utter shock of Athanasius, nothing happened to St George. He made the poison again and offered to St George, this time St George’s hand were tied behind so that he could not make the sign of cross. But St George, before drinking the poison made the sign of the cross with his head asking “Should I drink it up above, down here, on the left, or on the right”. He was again saved. After seeing the power of St George’s God, even the black magician Athanasius believed and proclaimed the risen Lord. Diocletian ordered Athanasius to be killed.
As a final attempt to tempt St George to forsake his faith, Diocletian invited St George to dine with him in his palace. Diocletian’s wife Queen Alexandria was also there with them. During the dinner the emperor made several offers to St George, including that of making him the heir to the throne. But St George was not at all interested in that. He was talking with increased vigor about his Lord. Hearing his powerful speech and true faith to the Lord, Queen Alexandria also saw light and proclaimed Jesus Christ as her savior. The Emperor was furious now. He ordered his soldiers to imprison both St George and Alexandria. He said that the next day they both will be offered as sacrifice to their God in their temple. The very next day a large crowd had assembled in the temple to witness the execution. Before the execution, St George raised his hands and prayed to God. While he was praying the idols of the pagan Gods collapsed and fell to the ground. On seeing this, the crowd shouted “we believe in George’s God”. Diocletian ordered the soldiers to unleash force on the crowd and kill them. At the same time, St George, who was still praying was beheaded by the soldiers and so was Queen Alexandria. St George was believed to be buried in Lydda in Palestine.
The Legacy of St George
The story of St George and the dragon achieved popularity when it was printed in 1483 by Caxton in a book called The Golden Legend. This was a translation of a book by Jacques de Voragine, a French bishop, which incorporated fantastic details of Saints’ lives.
In this Legend there was a kingdom in Libya, where once lived a dragon by their pond. The citizens brought sheep to it every day so that it stays away from killing them. Once all the sheep were over the citizens decided to meet the king and decided what to do. They decided that each day a human being will be offered to the dragon. Who is offered, will be decided by drawing of lots. As per this decision each day one man or woman was offered to the dragon. On one day the lot fell for the King’s daughter, Princess Sarba. The King tried to bargain his daughter out of it. But the people were adamant that just like many of their children were sacrificed the King’s daughter shall also be. The King had no other choice but to send his daughter to the dragon. While she was waiting for the dragon near the pond, a handsome young man riding on horse passed by. That young man was none other than St George. Seeing the young princess there alone, he stopped the horse before her and enquired the reason for her being there. The princess told him everything. While they were talking the dragon came up from the pond. St George jumped back on top of the horse and took his spear, made the sign of cross on it and rode towards the dragon. Dragon furiously came towards St George. On coming close enough to the dragon, St George smote the dragon with spear. With a big cry it fell on its feet. St George then asked for a girdle from the princess and tied it around the neck of the dragon. He dragged the dragon to the centre of the city. Seeing the dragon and the princes unhurt the people were amazed. Someone went and called the King. When the King came, St George said “If you all shall believe in Lord Jesus Christ, I shall slay the dragon”. The King and his countrymen believed in the Lord and baptized. Then St George killed the dragon. The princess Sarba was given in marriage to St George.
There are many churches in the Malankara Orthodox Church that are dedicated in the name of St George which celebrates the feast with big festivities. Puthupally, Chandanapally, Karingachira, Kunnakurudy, Thiruvananthapuram are some of those. In all these churches large numbers gather for this feast.
I was to have written this article at least a week back but kept it aside mainly because of laziness or some other work. Sometimes I even thought of skipping this. But as I came back from office yesterday night with some disappointment, sadness and extreme anger towards someone, I decided to sit up and write this piece and post it before I attend the feast of St George in the nearby Church tomorrow and the day safter. With the Lord’s abundant mercy and the intercession of the St George, I now believe that all dark clouds that came about will go and God will give me the strength to forgive the people whom I was angry with.