St George: martyr and deliverer

It is St George’s Day today, George is patron saint of England, for reasons that seem to be somewhat lost in the mists of time.  But it is an inspiring story, even if the details of George’s life can’t now be known with any certainty.  A soldier whose faith and obedience to God trumped that to the persecuting Emperor Diocletian, and so became faithful even to death.  It seems he made an active choice to put his loyalty to God first, and so risk the martyr’s death.  Here is the BBC website’s account of much of what we know of the traditions around George.

And here is one prayer inspired by the account of George’s life and death

Almighty God, who gave to your servant George boldness to Confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Of course, these days it is only the myth, so often depicted in art, of George slaying the dragon, rescuing the princess and townspeople, that is at all widely known – even then rarely more than “St George and the dragon”.  These sorts of stories grew up around many of the saints not because the people who told and retold the tales believed them to be factual historical accounts, of the sort we might find in the non-fiction section of our libraries.  Rather they tell of something essential and admirable in the saint’s character and faith.  George didn’t count his own life as something to be grasped at or clung on to at all costs.  Rather he answered a need, of a fair maiden and the people of the town or kingdom, actively choosing to risk his own life to take on, and slay the beast.    Modern children’s versions often so domesticate and bastardise the story as to completely lose its power.  The dragon is a force of evil, and darkness.  It speaks of the devil, and all his works, which we renounce in baptism, and whose temptations we face as we journey through life.    Evil domesticated takes over.

We thank God today for St George, and for those latter day St George’s, faithful and courageous in resisting evil, standing for right and for others, and for being willing to follow Christ even unto death.

The traditions say that George came from Cappadocia in modern day Turkey.  Tomorrow, we mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the massacres of our Armenian brothers and sisters by the Turks (a nice piece from a descendant of survivors in today’s Herald).  Tragically for them there was no St George……but I cannot quite understand the silence, and apparent willing blindness, of today’s churches.  In Wellington Cathedral yesterday they were flying a Turkish flag, and hosting a portrait of Ataturk.    What next?  A portrait of Himmler or Eichmann at a World War Two commemoration?

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