Joy of All Who Sorrow

St George, the Great Martyr

Saint George, born in Cappadocia, was the son of Christian parents. His father was martyred for the Faith while George was still a child, so his mother took him to Palestine where she had considerable estates.

As a young man he had a distinguished career in the Roman army and, in reward for his bravery, he was awarded the rank of Tribune. After his mother’s death he distinguished himself yet further by his courage in battle. The Emperor Diocletian, who was unaware of George’s adherence to Christianity, awarded him the rank of Comitium and General.

Diocletian was a fervent devotee of the pagan god, Apollo, who was reputed to be a foreteller of the future. Thus it was that, when the priests of this cult grew jealous of the Christians, they were able to persuade Diocletian to purge the empire of their rivals. Thus there began one of the most savage waves of persecution in the history of the Church. On seeing this, George determined on a course of action. He sold his land and possessions, and gave the proceeds to the poor. Then he gave his slaves and servants their freedom. Then, putting aside all fear, he went to Diocletian and denounced the persecution as evil and the worship of Apollo as false.

George was interrogated but to no avail and thus he was thrown into prison. The soldiers attempted to goad him with their spears as he was led away, but the metal became soft and bent in their hands.

George never ceased to praise God throughout the time of his tortures. At first he was stretched out on a rack, lying on his back with a big block of stone on his chest. In this position he continued until the following day. His torturers, seeing his agony, urged him to submit but he refused. So they tried another device. He was tied to a wheel with a series of blades and spikes which, when rotated, cut and tore his flesh. George uttered not a single groan. Instead, he continually praised God with a loud voice and then fell silent as if asleep or, as his tormentors hoped, dead. Diocletian gave thanks to Apollo.

Suddenly, as in a clap of thunder, a heavenly voice was heard saying, ‘Fear not George, I am with you’ and an angel appeared in a flash of light. Afterwards, George stood up, healed of his wounds. He was taken before Diocletian, who was speechless with rage. There were two provincial judges with the emperor. They were both catechumens and, on seeing this miracle, were completely convinced of the truth of Christianity. The Empress Alexandra was also converted by this and wanted openly to confess Christ, but she was restrained by her attendants, who feared for her safety.

Diocletian was in such fury that he ordered George to be thrown into a pit of quicklime and left to die, just as Nebuchadnezzar had thrown Shadrach and his companions into the furnace centuries earlier. George made the sign of the Cross and praised God. He remained in the pit for three days. Then Diocletian ordered George’s bones to be removed because he supposed that nobody could survive in such a place. Yet George was found to be unharmed and his face radiant with joy.

This was too much for Diocletian, who now suspected sorcery. He sent for George to ask the origin of his powers but was further enraged by the reply. So he had George’s feet shod with iron shoes, like a horse. As the nails were driven into his feet, George praised God with psalms. The saint was again delivered from his tortures. Diocletian marvelled at this but, far from converting, he felt mocked. He realised Goerge’s strength was not his alone but the emperor still called it witchcraft. So he sent for Athanasios the magician, who boasted of his powers. George willingly drank all the potions and poisons produced by Athanasios but, through the mercy of God, he remained completely unharmed.

Diocletian asked George about the origin of his powers and the saint expounded the Gospel to him. Now the magician was enraged. He demanded proof, such as a miracle like raising somebody from the dead. Thus they went to the tomb of a recently deceased man. For a long time George prayed at the tomb. As he came to an end and pronounced ‘Amen’, there was a clap of thunder. The earth shook, the grave opened and the man, who had been dead, stepped out alive. Onlookers were terrified and amazed. Many were turned to Christ by this miracle and even Athanasios fell down at George’s feet begging for forgiveness.

The emperor was so blinded by his hatred and wickedness, that he ordered the beheading of Athanasios and the man who had been raised from the dead. George was returned to prison. One night be had a dream which foretold his death. Knowing that his end was near, he prepared himself.

George was taken to Diocletian, who offered to make him administrator of the empire if only he would renounce Christ and offer sacrifice to Apollo. George asked to be taken to the temple of Apollo and everyone thought that he had submitted and would obey the emperor. George stood boldly before the statue of Apollo and commanded the devils inhabiting it to come out in the Name of Christ. On doing so, the idol crumbled and fell to the floor. This provoked uproar.

Empress Alexandra, who had witnessed this, boldly proclaimed her faith in Christ and rebuked her heathen husband. Raging like a madman, Diocletian ordered the execution of both of them. Thus on 23 April, AD304, the Church was enriched by the sacrifice of two great martyrs. On their way to execution, Alexandra stopped to rest against a wall and gave up her spirit to the Lord. George was beheaded at the appointed place.

St George’s career had been entirely military. He was not in holy orders as some later writers asserted. They had mistakenly identified him with a later George of Cappadoci; an infamous pork butcher who later became an Arian bishop.

Sometimes called St George of Lydda after the place of his martyrdom and burial, the Great Martyr is venerated widely and is Patron Saint of Moscow, Greece and numerous other places.