In Christian hagiography, Saint George – The Saint who killed the Dragon (ca. 275-281?-April 23, 303) was a soldier of the Roman Empire, from Anatolia, now modern day Turkey, who is venerated as a Christian martyr.
George was born to a Christian family during the late 3rd century. His father, Geronzio, was from Cappadocia and served as an officer of the Roman army, but was killed in battle. His mother, Policronia, was from Lydda, Iudaea (now Lod, Israel). She returned to her native city as a widow along with her young son, where she provided him with an education.
The youth followed his father’s example by joining the army soon after coming of age. He proved to be a good soldier and consequently rose through the military ranks of the time. By his late twenties he had gained the title of Tribunus (Tribune) and then Comes (Count), at which time George was stationed in Nicomedia as a member of the personal guard attached to Roman Emperor Diocletian, who embraced him, having known and regarded his father as one of his finest soldiers.
In 303 Diocletian, influenced by Galerius, issued an edict authorizing the systematic persecution of Christians across the Empire. The emperor Galerius would continue the persecution during his own reign (305-311).
George was ordered to take part in the persecution but instead confessed to being a Christian himself and criticized the imperial decision. Diocletian was upset, not wanting to lose his best Tribune and the son of his former best official. George loudly denounced the Emperor’s edict, and in front of his fellow soldiers and Tribunes he claimed himself to be a Christian and declared his worship of Jesus Christ. Diocletian attempted to convert George, even offering gifts of land, money and slaves if he made a sacrifice to the pagan gods. The Emperor made many offers, but George never accepted. An enraged Diocletian ordered the torture of this apparent traitor, and his execution.
Before the execution George gave his wealth to the poor and prepared himself.
After various tortures, beginning with being lacerated on a wheel of swords in which he was revived three times, George was executed by decapitation before Nicomedia’s defensive wall on April 23, 303. The witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to become Christians as well, and so they joined George in martyrdom. His body was returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians soon came to honor him as a martyr.
Saint George is one of the most venerated saints in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodox Churches. Immortalized in the tale of George and the dragon, he is the patron saint of Canada, Catalonia, England, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Montenegro, Portugal, Serbia, the cities of Beirut, Istanbul, Ljubljana and Moscow, as well as a wide range of professions, organizations and disease sufferers.
In the legend of St George and the dragon, brought back to Europe by Crusaders, a dragon makes its nest at the spring that provides water for the city of Cyrene in Libya or the city of Lydda, depending on the source you consult. Consequently, the citizens have to dislodge the dragon from its nest for a time, in order to collect water. To do so, each day they offer the dragon a human sacrifice. The victim is chosen by drawing lots.
One day, this happened to be the princess. The monarch begs for her life with no result. She is offered to the dragon, but there appears the saint on his travels. He faces the dragon, slays it and rescues the princess. The grateful citizens abandon their ancestral paganism and convert to Christianity.
In Sweden, the princess rescued by Saint George is held to represent the kingdom of Sweden, while the dragon represents an invading army. Several sculptures of Saint George battling the dragon can be found in Stockholm, the earliest inside Storkyrkan (“The Great Church”) in the Old Town.
Prayer in honor of St George
O God, You granted Saint George strength and constancy in the various torments which he sustained for Holy Faith; we beseech You to preserve, through his intercession, our faith from wavering and doubt, so that we may serve You with a sincere heart faithfully unto death. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Invocation of St George
Faithful servant of God and invincible martyr, Saint George; favored by God with the gift of faith, and inflamed with an ardent love of Christ, you fight valiantly against the dragons of pride, falsehood, and deceit. Neither pain nor torture, sword nor death could part you from the love of Christ.
I fervently implore you, for the sake of this love, to help me by your intercession to overcome the temptations that surround me, and to bear bravely the trials that oppress me, so that I may patiently carry the cross which is placed upon me; and let neither distress nor difficulties separate me from the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
O, Valiant Champion of Faith, assist me in the combat against evil, that I may win the crown promised to them that persevere unto the end.
“Saint George was a man who abandoned one army for another: he gave up the rank of tribune to enlist as a soldier for Christ. Eager to encounter the enemy, he first stripped away his worldly wealth by giving all he had to he poor. Then, free and unencumbered, bearing the shield of faith, he plunged into the thick of the battle, an ardent soldier for Christ.
Clearly what he did serves to teach us a valuable lesson: if we are afraid to strip ourselves of our worldly possessions, then we are unfit to make a strong defense of the faith.
Dear brothers & sisters, let us not only admire the courage of this fighter in heaven’s army, but follow his example. Let us be inspired to strive for the reward of heavenly glory. We must now cleanse ourselves, as Saint Paul tells us, from all defilement of body and spirit, so that one day we too may deserve to enter that temple of blessedness to which we now aspire. “
– from a sermon by Saint Peter Damian (1007-1072), priest & one of the Great Catholic Reformers