April 23 – George the Right Victorious Wonderworking Great Martyr

George the Victorybearer, Greatmartyr, and Wonderworker (280–303) has brought hope and encouragement to millions of Christians, and tenure and lucre to hundreds of scholars[1], for well over a millennium. The patron saint of Bulgaria, Egypt, England, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, India, Iraq, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, and countless smaller places, professions, and disease sufferers, George has faced a lot of fire in recent centuries from dragons of the historical-critical sort. Gibbon thought he was a legend, but then Gibbon himself was a legend, at least in his own mind.

George’s dad was martyred, and George went into the army (those facts are (probably) unrelated), becoming a favorite of Emperor Diocletian, which, as anybody who knows anything about martyriology knows, isn’t a great idea. Sure enough, George ended up defending his faith before the Senate, and the Emperor was in turns stunned and enraged. Thus began a series of tortures which would make an Orc (except, perhaps, an Uruk-Hai) blush. Rolled over a bed of pointy things, shod with red-hot sandals, whipped with ox thongs (back when “thong” meant “leather strap” and not “sorry excuse for a pair of undershorts”), and given death-dealing drugs, George remained alive and defiant (if a bit worse for wear).

The emperor (why did emperors always get personally involved in torture? you’d think they’d have had more important things to do, and just delegate) asked George what was so great about this Jesus person, and was told about how our Lord gave sight to the blind, cleansed lepers, healed the lame, and so on, ending with raising the dead. Thus it was that George was led to the graveyard. He prayed for God to reveal His glory, whereupon a (now-formerly) dead man emerged from a grave. Immediately the emperor’s sorcerer confessed belief in Christ, whereupon Dio had both him and the newly-not-dead-any-more man beheaded. “I wonder what that was about?” the newly-re-dead man may or may not have thought.

There was a whole lot more in this vein, including a demon speaking from inside a pagan idol (it said, “All right, I admit it, I’m not really a god”) and the Empress either professing Christ or being ushered away just as she was about to, but we need to get to the dragon (I left him till last because it’s more literary) and we’re running out of words. Suffice it to say George died an unflinching martyr via decapitation. His relics were moved to Lydda (near modern-day Tel Aviv) under Justinian. And now the dragon.

Once upon a time in the third century there was a dragon that lived in a fountain near Lydda (or some other town). In order to draw water from the fountain, the villagers had to lure the dragon away by means of a sheep, or, when no sheep was available, a virgin. (Why do dragons always require virgins? Question for another day.) This was all well and good when it was commoners’ daughters being et, but when the princess’s name was drawn, something had to be done.

Fortunately, George was passing through at that very moment. Seeing what was about to happen, he subdued the dragon by making the sign of the cross (with or without poking it with his spear). He then had the princess tie her sash around its neck and lead it into town like a dog. “This is so-o-o undignified,” the dragon thought. “Eeeek! The dragon!” the townspeople thought (and some thought it out loud). “Never fear!” said George, and he slew the dragon. The people burned its carcass outside town, and 25,000 of them converted to Christianity on the spot (it was a large spot). The aforementioned scholars like to make this allegorical for something, but what fun is that? And anyway, who wants a patron saint called St. George the Allegory Slayer?

[1] Historians, theologians, you know the type. Not to mention purveyors of religious trinkets.