This is the third post of ten for my #TenSaintsTenDays series, counting down from the Feast of All Saints to Veterans Day, when Centurions Guild is launching the 2016 Armistice Appeal. Check back in every day until November 11th for a new saint, their story, and a prayer to guide us into the way of peace.
George of Palestine –
Dragon Empire Slayer
George is one of the most well known and frequently cited of all saints. Perhaps most notably, he has been claimed as patron of England, which has adopted his symbol of a red cross on a white background as their flag as early as the Crusades. The tale of him slaying a dragon has been popular for centuries, telling of his victory for the sake of a damsel in distress and to the benefit of an entire city forced to sacrifice their daughters to the giant lizard. Just as soldiers of our day name their rifles, George had a name for the lance with which he slayed the beast; Ascalon. The story seeps with bravado and commands our attention still. But that George is a fiction.
The George of history was born about 280 AD in central Palestine whose humble name translates as ‘farmer.’ After his parents died, he joined the Roman army like his father before him, but likely over the objections of the church he attended, as military service was not looked at favorably by Christians at the time. Not long after he enlisted, the emperor Diocletian began an overt and sustained persecution against Christians, especially in the military. Afraid the empire was threatened by the Christian religion who refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods, military officers like George were hit the hardest because their status frequently required participation in sacrificial ceremonies. When they came for George, they first tried to reason with him, then bribery, but to no avail. As such a high ranking officer, he had to be made an example, and no macabre impulse was spared on George. After being sure to give his wealth to the poor, he was tortured and killed after being resuscitated multiple times. All the while, a cohort of Roman governors insisted he proclaim Apollo, the Roman god of light, the true “sun of god.”
The tale of the dragon was popularized during the first Crusade and found expression finally in a kind of eleventh century tabloid, the Golden Legend, that sensationalized the stories of saints, making celebrities of them. It traded prophetic inspiration for popular invention, and George’s name gets used in the very spaces he opposed and conquered as a martyr of the faith. Spinning tales about ourselves or people we love risks burying our humanity under piles of praise. In fact, stories of soldiers often get embellished, retold in ways that perpetuate, instead of limit and restrain, war. The human beings they once were pale in comparison to the celebrity their story attains, but that says more about the culture and the impulse that makes celebrity than it does about saints themselves, or about sainthood as a facet of Christian faith. The beauty of the saints (living and dead) is in identifying in them a bit of ourselves, in recognizing our shared ability to be inspired by God, not making gods of those who have gone before. His passion records that George was eventually beheaded by the ‘dragons’ of the empire, and his feast day is April 23.
God of all nations, we give thanks for George, a brave soldier and defender of the faith, whose loyalty to your kingdom eclipsed his ambition to power or prestige. May we look, Lord, upon his perseverance in the face of cruel punishment and be inspired to lives of courageous humility, genuine charity, and pious determination. Give to us, your one holy, catholic, and apostolic church, the wisdom to discern saintliness from celebrity and to raise up your lowly servants, like George, who emptied themselves to the point of death for the sake of this body, your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Follow me on Twitter to get updates each day as the series unfolds, or start by reading the series intro. Learn about George and more than 45 other #SoldierSaints in my book For God and Country [in that order], © 2013 Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Va. Prayer reprinted by permission.
Are you, or do you know, a #SoldierSaint wrestling between faith and service? Get in touch through my connect page!