Thursday, April 23, 2015

St. George the Trophy-Bearer

The holy, glorious and right-victorious Great-martyr and Trophy-bearer St. George was a Christian Roman soldier killed under Diocletian at the beginning of the 4th century.
According to Tradition, George was born to a Christian family during the late 3rd century. His father was from Cappadocia and served as an officer of the army. His mother was from Lydda, Palestine. She returned to her native city as a widow along with her young son after the martyrdom of George's father, where she provided him with a respectable education and raised him in piety.
The youth, it would seem, followed his father's example in joining the army soon after his coming of age. He proved to be a charismatic soldier and consequently rose quickly through the military ranks of the time. By his late 20s he had gained the titles of tribunus (tribune) and later comes (count). By that time George had been stationed in Nicomedia as a member of the personal guard attached to Roman Emperor Diocletian (reign 284–305).
In 303, Diocletian issued an edict authorizing the systematic persecution of Christians across the Roman Empire. His Caesar, Galerius, was supposedly responsible for this decision and would continue the persecution during his own reign (305–311). It is believed that St. George was ordered to take part in the persecution, but instead confessed to being a Christian himself and criticized the imperial decision. An enraged Diocletian proceeded in ordering the torture of this apparent traitor and his execution.
Then, after innumerable forms of torture, George was executed by decapitation in front of Nicomedia's defensive wall on April 23, 303. The witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to also become Christians, and so they also joined St. George in martyrdom as consequence. St. George's body was then returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians soon came to honor St. George as a martyr.

St. George and the dragon
St. George is often depicted with a dragon or some other serpentine creature under his feet. This comes from a legend whose details may vary according to local tradition. The tale begins with a dragon making its nest at the spring (or lake) that provided a town (either near Beirut or Silena, Libya) with water. Consequently, the citizens had to temporarily remove the dragon from its nest in order to collect water. To do so, they offered the dragon a daily human sacrifice. The victim of the day was chosen by drawing lots. Eventually, the "winner" of this lottery happened to be the local princess. The local monarch is occasionally depicted begging for her life with no result. She is offered to the dragon, but at this point a traveling George arrives. He faces the dragon, and, after invoking the name of the Holy Trinity, slays it and saves the princess. The grateful citizens then abandon their ancestral paganism and convert to Christianity.
The story may or may not be taken entirely literally. For example, the battle between George and the dragon may represent the battle between Christianity and Satan or between St. Michael the Archangel, and Lucifer. Dragon-slaying does appear to be a common religious theme; it may be the case that George has served as a Christianized version of older Indo-European deities and their folklore.

The Church of the Holy Great Martyr St. George in Lodd, Lydda (Palestine) houses the relics of this glorious saint in a Greek Orthodox Monastery.

St. George is also the patron saint of Moscow, Georgia, and England, amongst other places.
The Orthodox Church commemorates St. George on April 23, and the translation of his relics on November 3. 

"Saint George and the Dragon" by Egle-Ekaterine Potamitis
"Saint George and the Dragon" by Margaret Hodges.  
"Saint George and the Dragon: A new children's book" written by Jim Forest, illustrated by Vladislav Andreyev.

Since St. George is arguably one of the most popular saints (especially in England!), there are several hundred traditions on his feast day.


 handprint dragon


A shield with St. George's Cross (color red)
little "t" traditions (more secular but still have religious symbolism)

In England: The earliest documented mention of St. George in England comes from the venerable St. Bede (c. 673–735). In 1222, The Synod of Oxford declared St. George's Day a feast day in the kingdom of England. Today, St. George's day may be celebrated with anything English including morris dancing (a style of English folk dancing with props) and Punch and Judy (puppet) shows. A traditional custom on St. George's day is to wear a red rose in one's lapel.  Another custom is to fly or adorn the St George's Cross flag in some way. And Traditional English food and drink (afternoon tea) must be consumed! A St. George Day parade is widely popular throughout the country

In Bulgaria, it is possibly the most celebrated name day in the country. St George's Day (Гергьовден, Gergyovden) is a public holiday that takes place on 6 May (Old Calendar) each year. A common ritual is to prepare and eat a whole lamb, (which is an ancient practice possibly related to Slavic pagan sacrificial traditions and the fact that St George is the patron saint of shepherds).

In Albania and Kosovo, St George's Day is celebrated as a day of joy and believing in God. People will go out and build a fire and play around it, and they will bless their houses, fields, their children and everything around them with water as if it were holy water.

In Serbia, St. George's Day is celebrated on 6 May every year, as the Serbian Orthodox Church uses the Julian, Old Style calendar. St. George's Day is one of the most common Slavas (family patron day) among the Serbs. 

 In Syria, many Christian celebrate St. George's Day, especially in the Homs Governorate. They do this by dressing small children as dragons and chasing them through the streets whilst "beating" them with clubs and batons. It is a very special time of year, after the beatings folks will enjoy a sit down dinner and dancing. The monastery of Mar Jurjus (St. George) dates back to the 6th century, and is a regional center of Orthodox Christianity. 

If St. George's Day (or any saint's feast day) falls during Holy Week or on Pascha, it is observed on Bright Monday.

Short children's video on St. George and the Dragon