St. George the Wonderworker
We celebrate the Holy and Glorious Great Martyr, Victory-bearer, and Wonderworker George on April 23rd. St. George is the patron saint of England. But he is also wholly revered in the Eastern Churches.
St. George was the child of Christian parents, though his father died while George was young. So he was primarily raised by his mother. He grew up and became a Tribune in the Roman Army. And this meant he worked closely with Diocletian, who was an emperor in the East at this time. Diocletian was pleased with George’s work, which is why he was promoted as high as Tribune.
However, one day Diocletian discovered George was a Christian. And this meant that the other officers were concerned that George’s loyalty was not with the emperor. So the Diocletian went to George and offered him titles, land, and money if he would publicly renounce Christianity. Tradition is Diocletian pleaded with George for a long time to renounce his faith. Finally, Diocletian realizes George will not abandon Christ, and so George was martyred by decapitation.
Icons of St. George
The earliest icons of St. George present him simply as a Tribune/soldier holding a spear. As of the 1000s, George is pictured with a dragon. This later icon is a reverse image of the martyrdom of George, presenting his defeat of Diocleatian. And the icon shows how George, through his death, triumphs over Satan/the dragon/Diocletian. To the world it looks like Diocletian won the battle, since he had George martyred. However, we know the victory belongs to Geoge, since George lives on in eternal life, where his prayers and intercession may very well have led to the conversation of Constantine and the empire in the 10 years after George’s death.
Symbols in the icon:
First of all, the name George (Georgios) means a worker of the land (i.e. a farmer). This is significant because Adam was a farmer. And Christ is the New Adam, who also cultivates the Earth (though differently). Then there is the white horse (that Christ rides in Revelation). The white horse symbolizes power (Christ’s) and purity (since George was a virgin). The dragon is an obvious symbol of the serpent in Genesis and Revelation. And a symbol of Satan, facing defeat by George’s martyrdom.
Some of the symbols have a few layers of meaning to them. The princess can symbolize several things. According to tradition, the wife of Diocletian converted after seeing George’s martyrdom, so it may be her. The princess is also an effective symbol of Eve’s entanglement with the serpent since the fall. Or simply the Church in need of salvation. Some icons of St. George includes a city in the background, which symbolizes the secular world or the Roman Empire still waiting for redemption. St. George and the Church are transforming the city in the background to become a part of the Church.
George and the Dragon
The icon of St. George seems to have inspired this story about the saint. You can find this tradition about St. George in a medieval book of Saints’ stories called The Golden Legend.
George, as a tribune, was riding around Cyrene. There he finds a young princess named Sabra, tied to a tree. And after inquiring about her situation, he discovers that she is there as a tribute to the dragon that terrorizes their city. George then rescues the maiden, and when the dragon comes out, he slays the dragon by the power of Christ.
In the story, George asks Sabra for her girdle (symbol of virginity), and uses it to lasso around the dragon’s neck. After this, he takes the dragon to the city, and amazed everyone with the captured dragon. George offers to kill the dragon if the people convert to Christianity. (They agree). Then The governor offers his daughter, the princess Sabra to George as a bride. But George explains that he is celibate for Christ, and does not marry her.
Prayers and Tropars of St. George
Troparion: (tone 4)
O Victorious Great Martyr George, liberator of captives and helper of the poor, physician of the sick and champion of kings, entreat Christ our God to save our souls.
Kontakion: (tone 4)
You showed yourself a most honourable harvester of godliness, for it was God who cultivated you. You gathered the sheaves of virtues; for, sowing in tears, you reaped gladness; and shedding your blood, your received Christ.
Prokeimenon: (tone 7)
The just man shall be glad in the Lord, and shall hope in Him.
Verse: Hear, O God, my voice, when I make my petition to You.
The Byzantine Life
Thank you for checking out this week’s article. If you want to celebrate the feast of St. George in style you may want to make this Dragon Cake from Byzimom.
If you haven’t already, you can read our series about deepening your prayer life starting with Guardian Angels, then Icon Corners, and then through prayers to the Theotokos. Or you may be interested in our article on the Fatima and the Rosary.
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