“Under the Lord’s wings you shall take refuge: His faithfulness is a buckler and shield. You shall not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.” (Psalm 91: 4-5)
St. George’s life might be an enigma, but his legacy is one of sacrificial service in the faith unto death. Folklore tells of his great defeat of the dragon in battle but once we dispel with these myths, he is, in the words of Pope Gelasius (d. AD 496) one of those saints “whose names are rightly reverenced among us, but whose actions are known only to God.”
The earliest reference to St. George in Britain is conjectured to be found in the 7th century writings of both the Venerable Bede and St. Adaman, Abbot of Iona.
It seems that George (Georgios) had been born in 3rd century Cappodicia (modern day Turkey) into a noble family where he was raised in the Christian faith. On moving to Palestine, he joined the Imperial Army and rapidly advanced to the high-ranking office of Tribunus, a favoured royal guard. In early 303 AD Emperor Diocletian sent out a proclamation that all Christian soldiers be arrested; those remaining had to make sacrifices to the Roman gods. It is likely that George had kept his faith secret, but now, unable to reconcile his beliefs with such brutality, resigned his commission and gave all his wealth to the needy. Free and unencumbered he plunged into a campaign of defiance and objection, eventually tearing down the Emperor’s Edict against Christians. Arrested, imprisoned, and brutally tortured, he remained steadfast in his faith. Broken in body but not in soul, he was martyred by decapitation on 23rd April AD 303 (hence his Feast Day).
Once the myth is pared away, George’s story is one of self-sacrifice and self-denial, immense courage and bravery in defence of Jesus Christ; it is in adherence to this memory that he was canonised in AD 494.
St. George was made Patron Saint of England by Edward III on his founding of the Order of the Garter c.1348. As we remember him on this, his Feast Day, we are invited to join-in with the special Collect for St. George:
God of hosts,
who so kindled the flame of love
in the heart of your servant George
that he bore witness to the risen Lord
by his life and by his death:
give us the same faith and power of love
that we who rejoice in his triumphs
may come to share with him the fullness of the resurrection;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
The feature image for this post is “Saint George the Dragon Slayer by Georgios Klontzas Byzantine museum” (WikiCommons, PD).