The Holy Martyr Saint George is greatly revered in the Orthodox Church. Many churches carry his name, as do many families and individual people. His initial fame stems from a legend where he valiantly rode down from heaven on a horse and rescued a young woman by slaying a demon in the form of a dragon. But there is much more to Saint George than legends of heroism.
Saint George grew up as a devout Christian in Cappadocia. When he was fairly young his father was martyred at the hands of a Roman persecution and he and his mother were forced to move to Palestine. Though Saint George grew up fatherless, his mother was able to raise him to be a good, pious man. He found quick success in his service and soon rose to the rank of military commander. His success would not continue, however, for soon Diocletian would tighten his grip on the Christian community in Rome and Saint George would have to make a choice between his earthly success and his God.
Saint George knew that he could never turn his back on the thing his father died for and immediately began making preparations to fight the emperor’s ruthless persecution. He began his protest in the Senate where he openly spoke out against Diocletian intentions and revealed himself as a Christian. The moment came when Saint George had to decide what he loved more, his life or his God. Valiantly Saint George sealed his fate by saying “Nothing in this inconstant life can weaken my resolve to serve God.” Though the threat of torture loomed ominous in the distance, Saint George gathered his courage, telling the emperor prophetically, that “you will grow tired of tormenting me, sooner than I’ll grow tired of being tormented.”
The emperor took on the challenge and first ordered him to be tied naked to a wheel and rolled over boards pierced with sharp pieces of iron. Though the sharp edges tore at the Saint’s mortal body, his spirit could not be broken. Just as the emperor had assumed George was dead the whole land grew dark and thunder boomed as God called down from the heaven, “Fear not George, for I am with you.”
Suddenly the light shown in the darkness and an angel of the Lord came down and healed him. This miracle lit a fire in the hearts of the Christians, inspiring them to do as George did and fight for their God. Two of these Christians were Saints Anatolius and Protoleon who like George had been officials in the Roman army. Casting aside their worldly success they followed Saint George’s example and were martyred for Christ. Diocletian had many more gruesome tortures to give the Saint over to. First, he had St. George placed in a deep pit which was covered over with lime. After three days they unearthed him and the Saint came out cheerful and well. Next they put him in iron sandals with red hot nails and they drove him back to the prison with whips like an animal. In the morning he was led back to the emperor. George asked him cheerfully and with healed feet, if the emperor liked his shoes, commenting on the fact that they were just his size. Finally they beat him with ox thongs and the saint suffered far beyond the capability of the average man.
Concluding that he was being helped by magic Diocletian summoned the sorcerer Athanasius to take away the Saint’s powers or poison him. Athanasius gave Saint George two goblets, one that would have silenced him and one that would have killed him. The valiant martyr drank both and suffered no effect from either. These miracles had continued to increase the number of Christians and Diocletian began to grow desperate. He made one final attempt to shake George’s constitution by offering to make him his co-administrator if he denounced Christianity and sacrificed to the pagan gods. The holy martyr pretended to be interested and they went to the holy temple.
Once there Saint George went up to the idol, made the sign of the cross, and spoke to it asking, “Are you the one who wants to receive from me a sacrifice befitting God?” The idol replied, “I am not a god, and none of those are like me are a god either. The only god is He whom you preach. We are fallen angels and we deceive people because we are jealous.”
“How dare you remain here when I, the servant of the true God have entered.” Then noises and wailing were heard from the idols and they fell to the ground and were shattered. Suddenly the people all around went into a frenzy of confusion. The pagan priest and many in the crowd took the holy martyr, tied him up, and began to beat him for what he had done, calling for his immediate execution.
Among the chaos, Diocletian’s wife Empress Alexandria pushed through the crowd and said, “Oh God of George, help me, for you alone are powerful.” At the feet of St. George, Alexandria professed Christ and was immediately sentenced to death alongside the martyr. Finally the invincible Saint was killed by beheading. Because of Saint George the pagan era was coming to an end and Christianity was preparing to triumph. Within 10 years Saint Constantine would issue the edict of Milan, allowing religious freedom to Christians. While Constantine was credited for dealing the final blow to the pagans of Rome, Saint George will always be remembered as the valiant solider who fought for God until he breathed his last.
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone:
Liberator of captives, defender of the poor, physician of the sick, and champion of kings, O trophy-bearer, Great Martyr George, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.
Video produced by Efstratios Papageorgiou
Written by Mia Pearson