Blessings to you on this Feast of St. George, the saint known to the Eastern Churches as “the Great Martyr,” the patron of England, glorious guardian of the Holy Sepulchre, and long one of the most popular and venerated figures in the whole Martyrology.
That said, the truth is that we don’t know much for certain about his life or deeds; he is one of those Saints whose earthly life is greatly overshadowed by his heavenly one. It is said (by the Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine) that he was born in Cappadocia in modern Turkey and was of the patrician class. The Greek Acts of his life tell that he was an officer in the Roman Army and suffered in the persecutions under Diocletian, being martyred in Palestine, and that his heroic witness led to the conversion of the emperor’s wife, Alexandra. His tomb remains to this day in the town of Lod, south of Tel Aviv, and his cultus was well-established by the mid 4th century.
It is further related of him that, one day in his travels, he came to a place by a great lake, wherein there dwelt a dragon who envenomed the whole district. To appease the dragon, the people were obliged to offer first their flocks, and then their children, selected by lot from among gentle and poor alike. Then, one day, the lot fell to the king’s daughter, who, despite his lamentations, was led out to the dragon.
St. George happened to be passing by and found the maiden weeping. He asked her what her trouble was, and she told him, whereupon he swore to help her in the name of Jesus. The dragon appeared, and St. George, making the sign of the cross, rode against the dragon and subdued it with his spear. He then had the princess take her girdle, bind it about the dragon’s neck, and lead the beast into the city, where St. George presented its subjection as a sign of the power of Christ and promised to slay it once and for all if they would convert and be baptized. So the king and all his people were baptized, and St. George smote off the dragon’s head and sent it to be buried in the fields.
The king made a great church to Our Lady and offered George money, but the Saint refused it and ordered it given to the poor before enjoining the king to have care of churches, honour priests, hear the holy services diligently, and have pity on the poor. Afterwards he departed and went to meet his martyrdom by beheading.
I’m sufficiently agnostic to say that I don’t know far the above story is historical and how much is pious legend, but it is the most famous of the saint’s earthly deeds.
What is quite certain is that his cultus was well-established from a very early date, and he has been invoked and shown forth his power all throughout the history of Christendom, particularly in bringing victory in battle. He is one of the great patrons of Chivalry and the Christian Warrior, the image of the good knight fearlessly defending the innocent as he fights to bring more lands under the Cross.
He is also, as mentioned, the patron of England, which kingdom has ever loved him dearly and sought his intercession since at least the 9th century. What St. Patrick is to Ireland, St. George is to England. In olden days, the Feast of St. George on the 23rd of April was an event to rival Christmas, and it is still celebrated in that kingdom with ardor by those who remember.
Myself, I am ethnically Polish, German, and Irish, but culturally I consider myself to be mostly English, as are most Americans. Today, I would argue, is a great day for Americans to recall our English heritage and origins, to ask the Saint’s blessings on our mother country.
In any case, it is beyond dispute that we today find ourselves beset by venomous dragons in the form of evil ideologies and poisonous mindsets. In our present battles, St. George is a powerful helper whose aid we ought to be invoking.
It is a good opportunity to recall, not just St. George, but the whole glorious tradition of chivalry and the Christian warrior. Surely we need it now and are likely to need it more in the future. Let us, therefore, imitate our forbearers and invoke the glorious knight and martyr to our aid, with a red rose in our lapel and the red cross flying high:
Faithful servant of God and invincible martyr, Saint George; favoured by God with the gift of faith, and inflamed with an ardent love of Christ, thou didst fight valiantly against the dragon of pride, falsehood, and deceit. Neither pain nor torture, sword nor death could part thee from the love of Christ. I fervently implore thee for the sake of this love to help me by thy intercession to overcome the temptations that surround me, and to bear bravely the trials that oppress me, so that I may patiently carry the cross which is placed upon me; and let neither distress nor difficulties separate me from the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Valiant champion of the Faith, assist me in the combat against evil, that I may win the crown promised to them that persevere unto the end.