For today’s saint we reach back a bit, to the first few centuries of Christianity. Also, we look at someone of a very different disposition and manner from the previous saints. Today’s saint is St. George:
Saint George (Greek: Γεώργιος (Georgios), Classical Syriac: ܓܝܘܪܓܝܣ (Giwargis), Latin: Georgius; c. 275/281 – 23 April 303 AD), born in Lydda, Roman Palestine, was a soldier in the Roman army and was later venerated as a Christian martyr. His father was Gerontius, a Greek Christian from Cappadocia, and an official in the Roman army. His mother, Polychronia was a local Greek Christian of Palestine. Saint George became an officer in the Roman army in the Guard of Diocletian. In hagiography, Saint George is one of the most venerated saints in the Catholic (Western and Eastern Rites), Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and the Oriental Orthodox churches. He is immortalized in the tale of Saint George and the Dragon and is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. His memorial is celebrated on 23 April, and he is regarded as one of the most prominent military saints.
When dealing with a figure like Saint George, one finds that little is truly known about him and yet the tales about him are numerous indeed. I like what Pope Gelasius said about him, in that he was among the company of those “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose actions are known only to God.” It is he who is attributed the story of slaying the dragon, and whom England now claims as its patron Saint- although he lived long before there ever was an “England.”
Setting aside any fanciful tales, there is a lot to admire in the man, or at least what is probably true of him. He was a Roman soldier, and a brave and capable one at that. He was an officer in that army, and thus enjoyed a position of authority, influence and respect. Yet he was a devout man, unafraid to express his faith. This story from the Wikipedia article on him is inspiring:
In the year AD 302, Diocletian (influenced by Galerius) issued an edict that every Christian soldier in the army should be arrested and every other soldier should offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods of the time. However, George objected, and with the courage of his faith approached the Emperor and ruler. Diocletian was upset, not wanting to lose his best tribune and the son of his best official, Gerontius. But George loudly renounced the Emperor’s edict, and in front of his fellow soldiers and tribunes he claimed himself to be a Christian and declared his worship of Jesus Christ. Diocletian attempted to convert George, even offering gifts of land, money and slaves if he made a sacrifice to the Roman gods; he made many offers, but George never accepted.
Here was a man who was offered not simply a choice between life and death, but between a life of luxury and power and a death both painful and humiliating. There is a stark comparison to be made between the test that St. George faced in the court of the Emperor, and that faced by Jesus during his forty days in the desert. So in a way it is altogether fitting that he graces this blog during the season of Lent.