One of the most beloved and renowned saints of the Orthodox Church is St. George. His feast is celebrated on April 23, however, when Pascha falls on April 23 or later, it is celebrated on Bright Monday (Easter Monday). St George is known as the Trophy-Bearer (Τροπαιοφόρος), since he was both brave as a soldier in battle and as a martyr for Christ. Thus, the real trophy he beheld was the crown of martyrdom.
St George was born in Cappadocia and raised in a small town in Palestine, called Lydda. Both his parents were Christians; in fact, his father was martyred for Christ. When George became of age, he entered military service. He advanced in the ranks, becoming a chiliarch (commander of a thousand soldiers) and was known for his bravery in battle. Despite the harsh persecutions of Christians under the Emperor Diocletian, George openly confessed his faith in Christ. He was later apprehended and brought before Diocletian for interrogation. The Emperor was not able to persuade George to abandon his faith and subjected him to extreme torture. In one instance, armed guards pushed on St George with their spears, yet, the steel became soft and inflicted no harm. In another instance, St George was tied to a wheel and as the wheel turned, sharp metal slashed up his flesh. Suddenly a light shone near the wheel and an angelic youth appeared to St George. He strengthened George and healed his body. The Emperor was stunned and could not believe his eyes. Many of the soldiers believed in Christ as a result of this. After several other brutal tortures inflicted on the Saint, the Emperor ordered for St George to be beheaded, on April 23, 303.
St George performed several miracles. Once, he prayed to the Lord over a man’s grave and immediately the earth quaked and the grave opened; the man was raised from the dead. Those who witnessed this miracle immediately believed in Christ. Similarly, at another instance, there was a farmer whose only ox had died. St George prayed to the Lord to raise the ox back to life and so it happened.
Of the many miracles worked by St George, the most famous is him slaying the dragon. This became known as the Legend of St George. In fact, the popular icon of him upon a white horse, slaying the dragon with a spear portrays this miracle. In the saint’s native city of Beirut were many idol-worshippers. Outside the city, near Mount Lebanon, was a large lake, inhabited by an enormous dragon-like serpent. Coming out of the lake, it consumed people, and there was nothing anyone could do, since the breath from its nostrils poisoned the air. Every day people would cast lots to feed their own children to the dragon. One day, the lot fell to the ruler’s daughter. As she was being led to the lake to be eaten, St George suddenly appeared on his horse. He made the Sign of the Cross and pierced the dragon with his spear and then trampled on it with his horse. Later, twenty-five thousand men, not including women and children were baptized. Many years later, a church was built there dedicated to St George and the Theotokos.
The icon of St George slaying the dragon has a deeper meaning. St George mimicked Christ throughout his life, up until his execution. The dragon-serpent on the other hand represents evil and death. Thus, the icon is an image of Christ’s Resurrection. When we look at the Resurrection icon, we see Christ emerging from the grave, with darkness below Him. He is seen raising Adam and Eve from Hades and ushering them into His Kingdom. The brightness in the foreground is emitting from Himself, since He is Eternal Light. Both the icon of the Resurrection and that of St George slaying the dragon portray triumph. Sin and death are trampled upon. The icon of St George certainly depicts the trampling of evil and death. Perhaps, this is why St. George’s feast is always celebrated in the Paschal season. The ruler’s daughter is spared and so are the other inhabitants of the land.
Recently in the midst of Coronavirus, there was an icon or rather image circulating on social media of a doctor on a horse stabbing the virus with a syringe. The image is a resemblance of the icon of St George. There have been different viewpoints on this recent image. Nevertheless, in these past several months, the healthcare workers have become the great heroes of our times. They are clad with facemasks, gloves, surgical gowns and shoes. They have become the brave warriors that everyone commends and depends on. Does their sacrifice and selflessness not remind us of that of St George? The doctor on the horse obliterating the evil and destructive virus gives a sign of hope and victory. The healthcare workers certainly risk their own lives and that of their families every day, not simply for a paycheck but for the love of their fellow man. No amount of money could possibly be worth the sacrifices they are making or minimize the danger they face. They all have risen to a great challenge with a formidable, invisible enemy. Many have died as a result of contracting the virus while saving lives. Are they not the martyrs of our times? Have they not obtained their trophy? As Christ said: greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. (Jn 15:13)
As the one renowned for setting captives free and for defending those in poverty, the physician of the sick and the champion, of emperors, great and victorious Martyr George, intercede with Christ our God, beseeching Him to save our souls. (Festal Apolytikion)
Christ is Risen!
Glory to His Three-Day Resurrection!
A Blessed Feast to all!
A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.
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