The Saint Great-Martyr George the Trophy-Bearer.
When the Roman Emperor warned that those who professed Christianity would be hunted down and killed, the great Roman soldier was not afraid.
Instead of going into hiding, George the Tribune - sometimes referred to as the "Dragon-Slayer" - decided to publicly proclaim his allegiance to Jesus Christ. After selling all his property and freeing all his slaves, he strode boldly into the Roman Senate and asked to be heard. Because he was a respected officer (a Tribune in those days commanded a thousand men), he was given permission to speak.
Without hesitating, the blunt-spoken Tribune told the stunned Senators that he was a practicing Christian ... and that he had no intention of giving up his faith, regardless of the recent decision by the Emperor Diocletian (284-305) that Christians would now be persecuted throughout the land.
Stunned, the Senators shook their heads in disbelief. Then they asked him to explain why in the world he had decided to challenge the mighty Emperor's authority in broad daylight, in front of the entire Senate. But the Tribune only smiled. Then, in a bold and determined voice, he told them quite simply, according to historians of the period: "I am a servant of Christ, my God, and trusting on Him, I have come amidst ye at mine own will, to witness concerning the Truth."
They shook their heads in amazement. They sneered. Hoping to goad him, one of the Senators shouted, "What is Truth?" But he did not hesitate to answer.
“Truth is Christ Himself,” he told them, “persecuted by ye!”
Shaken by this outrageous pronouncement, one of Diocletian's aides warned the famous soldier, who had won numerous medals for valor on the battlefield, that he was in great danger of ruining his outstanding military career. If he did not recant immediately and promise to worship the pagan idols favored by the all-powerful Diocletian, he would be destroyed in the eyes of Rome forever!
Once again, the valiant Tribune refused to back down. After explaining that he considered himself a true patriot who loved Rome and also loved the Roman Legions he had served so well, George looked the Senators in the eye and told them the truth:
“Nothing in this inconstant life can weaken my resolve to serve God.”
By now, the news had reached Diocletian that his favorite military commander was openly challenging his recent anti-Christian edict on the floor of the Senate. The Emperor was very fond of this military hero, but he knew that he could not allow such insubordination to continue. Within a few seconds, he had called for the Centurions and ordered them to arrest this rebel Christian immediately.
They did so. As they led him off to prison, several tried to cut him on the arms and legs with their spears ... and were startled when the deadly bronze points on the weapons appeared to melt and become soft as butter!
He was about 25 years old on that day in 303 A.D., and he had already enjoyed an outstanding military career. Born in the Roman province of Cappadocia (now part of modern Turkey) around 280, he was the son of a father who had been a martyr for Christ, and of a pious Christian mother from Palestine. After her husband's martyrdom in Cappadocia, she had taken her boy back to Lydda, the Palestinian town of her own upbringing. Raised in the faith of Jesus Christ, he had there been taught the Sacred Scripture from childhood. He had also become a terrific athlete and an even better soldier. By now, even at the youthful age of only 25, he was already revered throughout the Roman world for his heroic fighting prowess.
Nonetheless, his fame and his glittering reputation could not save him now, and he knew it. Alone in his cell on the night before his trial, he prayed to Almighty God for the strength to endure the tortures that he knew were coming. The next day, the interrogation began. When they asked George the Tribune to describe his background, he told them the truth. When they warned him that great tortures lay in store for him if he did not repent immediately and begin worshipping the idols that were favored by the Emperor, he actually laughed out loud. “Thou wilt become exhausted sooner, tormenting me, than I being tormented of thee!”
Diocletian listened to this, and his scowl of rage deepened. On his orders, the torturers stepped forward with their whips. After beating the Tribune until his skin ran with blood, they tied him to a great iron wheel. On each revolution, his body slashed across a series of razor-sharp metal strips set into the floor. Yet he did not cry out, and he did not speak. Nor did he beg for mercy. The wheel rumbled through the afternoon, on and on, and soon the floor beneath them was slick with his blood.
When he had been silent and motionless for a very long time, they assumed that he was dead. They stopped the wheel; Diocletian ordered the soldiers to untie him and carry him off for burial. They stepped forward, but as their hands went to the ropes, the entire dungeon suddenly went dark as night. Thunder groaned ominously in the distance, and a solemn voice could be heard intoning:
Fear not, George, for I am with thee!
A moment later, a brilliant light blossomed - so bright that it hurt the eyes. And a great winged figure materialized beside the blood-spattered wheel, as if to lend the tortured man his heavenly protection. Somehow, the saint had been restored to life; he was already struggling against his bonds again. Amazed and infuriated, the Emperor ordered that he be buried in a pit up to his neck, and left there to suffer for three days and nights. After this, the torturers held a goblet full of poison to his lips and allowed him to drink deeply. Once again, however, he seemed to be protected by the powers above, and he was not in the least affected by the potion.
In the days ahead, while defended by the power of the Lord God of the Universe, he would resist the tortures so bravely - and with such evident faith and wisdom - that his actions would convert not only the wife of the Emperor, the Empress Alexandra, but even Diocletian's pagan priest, Athanasius. In the end, both of them would be sentenced to beheading for joining him in the faith - and the courageous Alexandra would die soon after collapsing on the pathway to the gallows, on the same day that the Great-Martyr George was beheaded for worshipping Jesus Christ.
Just before the sword fell, on the 23,d of April, 303, the noble Tribune prayed to God to forgive those who were taking his life, and also the Emperor who had been torturing and killing so many Christians. Then he bent his neck beneath the blade and with a smile of peace, breathed his last.
His remains were carried back to Lydda, the town in Palestine where his mother had raised him, after her husband's martyrdom for Christ in the Province of Cappadocia.
Today the Great-Martyr George remains a hero to Christians around the world, who frequently call on him whenever they need strength to endure their trials. Of the many miracles worked by this supremely courageous soldier in his lifetime, none surpasses the astonishing victory he won with the help of the Lord near Beirut (then in Phoenicia, but today part of modern Lebanon).
Outside Beirut, in a region around Mt. Lebanon where lived many worshiping pagans, there was a dark lake that contained a gigantic, dragon-like serpent. This monster would emerge from the waters periodically to devour the residents, who cowered in fear beneath the roaring flames that jetted from the beast's nostrils. For many years, the residents had lived in a dark nightmare of dread, waiting at every hour for another appearance of the monster who ruled their world.
In a desperate effort to placate this grotesque demon, the terrified residents had grown accustomed to feeding their children one by one into its fiery maw. Each time the beast emerged, a resident who had been chosen by lot would hand over one of his own children as an unholy sacrifice to the dragon.
It was a brutal, hopeless existence, and at last they turned to St. George for help. “No one else can save us,” they told him in words like these, “and no one has ever found the strength and the courage required to face this gorgon from the depths of the lake. So terrifying is the fire-snorting visage of this demon that grown men who witness it will weep for their mothers in abject terror!”
St. George listened to all of this and smiled. The very next morning - on the day when the ruler of the region had promised to give his own beautiful daughter to the merciless beast - the saint from Palestine appeared, costumed in armor and ready for combat. While the young maiden who was to be eaten wailed helplessly in the background, the great warrior for Christ rode up on his battle-horse, armed only with a spear.
Without hesitating, the saint made the Sign of the Cross, then prayed in a loud voice. “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!” With that battle cry on his lips, he galloped into combat with the monster. And within a matter of minutes, the Great Martyr George had pierced the throat of the serpent with his spear and crushed it with his horse. But he wasn't finished yet. Next he asked the lovely maiden to tie her kerchief around the neck of the brute - and then lead it into the city like a trained pet! The residents nearly panicked at the sight, but St. George reassured them by crying out again and again: “Be not afraid, but rather trust on the Lord Jesus Christ and believe in Him, since it be He Who hath sent me to you, to save you!”
In the end, the people burned the dragon outside the walls of the city. Within a few days, more than 20,000 citizens were baptized in the name of Christ! Years later, the people of Mt. Lebanon would build a great church named for the Most Holy Mother of God and the Great Martyr George - on the very spot where he had dispatched the dragon that day.
One of the most colorful heroes in the history of the Holy Church, the Great-Martyr George occupies a special place in the hearts of Christians. For all those who must struggle with conflicts and dangers in their daily lives, he is a source of endless hope and comfort. Because his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ never faltered, he was given the strength to perform feats that lie beyond the strength of most mortal men. Yet this great warrior was a man of the most intense humility - and a man who understood that all of his strength came from the grace of Almighty God!
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.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Having been cultivated well by the Lord God, as the most honored cultivator of piety thou hast now gathered sheaves of virtue for thy self; for, as thou didst sow with tears, thou dost reap with rejoicing; with thy blood didst thou contest and thou now hast received Christ. And by thine intercessions, O Saint George, thou grantest all the forgiveness of trespasses.
From book A Cloud of Witnesses: Saints and Martyrs from the Holy Land by Bishop Demetri (Matta) Khoury (AuthorHouse, 2008), pp. 396-401.
Saint George became a talented military officer and continued to amaze the world by with his military exploits. He died, when he was not even 30 years old. Hastening to unite with the Heavenly army, he entered into the history of the Church as the Victory-Bearer ("Pobedonosets"). With this title he was glorified in early Christianity and Holy Rus'.
Saint George, the Victory-Bearer was the patron Saint and protector of several of the great builders of the Russian state and Russian military. The son of the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Vladimir, Yaroslav the Wise – in holy Baptism Georgii (+1054), much advanced the veneration of the Saint in the Russian Church. He built the city of Yur'ev [i.e., "of Yurii" – "Yurii" being the diminutive of "Georgii", as "Ivan" is to "Ioann" (John)], he founded likewise the Yur'ev monastery at Novgorod, and he erected the Church of Saint George, the Victory-Bearer in Kiev. The day of the consecration of the Kiev Georgiev temple, which took place on November 26, 1051 by Sainted Ilarion, Metropolitan of Kiev and Russia', entered forever into the liturgical treasury of the Church as a special churchly feastday – Yur'ev Day, beloved by the Russian people as an "Autumn Saint George's Day".
The name of Saint George was indeed also borne by the founder of Moscow – Yurii Dolgoruky (+1157), who was the builder of many churches of Saint George, and the builder of the city of Yur'ev-Pol'sk. In the year 1238 the heroic fight of the Russian nation against the Mongol Horde was headed by the Vladimir Great Prince Yurii (Georgii) Vsevolodovich (+1238, commemorated 4 February), who fell into eternal rest in the Battle at Sita River. His memory, just like that of Egor (Igor) the Brave, and defender of his native-land, was reflected in Russian spiritual versification and ballads. The first great-prince of Moscow, in the period when Moscow became the center of the Russian Land unification, was Yurii Danilovich (+1325) – son of Saint Daniel of Moscow, and grandson of Saint Alexander Nevsky. From that time Saint George, the Victory-Bearer – a horseman, smiting the serpent – became the coat of arms of Moscow and the emblem of the Russian state. And this has strengthened the connections with Christian peoples more deeply and especially with the same-believing Iveria (Georgia – the Land of Saint George).