April 23, 2021: ST. GEORGE
April 23, 2021: ST. GEORGE, MARTYR
Out of ardent love for Christ, his King,—who gave his life for the world's salvation,—the great Soldier George longed to suffer death for his sake. He delivered himself up, for his heart was inflamed with divine zeal.
Faithful friend of Christ, Prince of his soldiers,—most brilliant luminary of earth,—star of fairest light,—watchful guardian of such as honour thee! be thou our guardian, O Martyr George.
O God, who by the merits and prayers of blessed George, thy Martyr, fillest the hearts of thy people with joy; mercifully grant, that the blessings we ask by his intercession, we may happily obtain by the favour of thy grace. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
Clad in his bright coat of mail, mounted on his warsteed, and spearing the dragon with his lance,—George, the intrepid champion of our Risen Jesus, comes gladdening us to-day with his Feast. From the East,—where he is known as The great Martyr,—devotion to St. George soon spread in the Western Church, and our Christian Armies have always loved and honoured him as one of their dearest Patrons. His martyrdom took place in Paschal Time; and thus, he stands before us as the Guardian of the glorious Sepulchre, just as Stephen, the Protomartyr, watches near the Crib of the Infant God.
The Roman Liturgy gives no Lessons on the life of St. George; but, in their stead, reads to us a passage from St. Cyprian, on the sufferings of the Martyrs. This derogation from the general rule dates from the 5th century. At a celebrated Council held in Rome, in the year 490, Pope St. Gelasius drew up, for the guidance of the Faithful, a list of books, which might or might not be read without danger. Among the number of those that were to be avoided, he mentioned the “Acts of St. George,” as having been compiled by one, who besides being an ignorant man, was also a heretic. In the East, however, there were other “Acts” of the holy Martyr, totally different from those current in Rome; but they were not known in that City. The cultus of St. George lost nothing, in the Holy City, by this absence of a true Legend. From a very early period, a church was built in his honour; it was one of those that were selected as Stations, and gave a Title to a Cardinal; it exists to this day, and is called Saint George in Velabro (the Veil of Gold). Still the Liturgy of to-day's Feast, by the exclusion of the Saint's Life from the Office, perpetuates the remembrance of the severe Canon of Gelasius.
The Bollandists were in possession of several copies of the forbidden “Acts;” they found them replete with absurd stories, and, of course, they rejected them. Father Papebroke has given us other and genuine “Acts” written in Greek, and quoted by St. Andrew of Crete. They bring out the admirable character of our Martyr, who held an important post in the Roman army, during the reign of the Emperor Dioclesian. He was one of the first victims of the great Persecution, and suffered death at Nicomedia. Alexandra, the Emperor's wife, was so impressed at witnessing the Saint's courage, that she professed herself a Christian, and shared the crown of martyrdom with the brave soldier of Christ.
As we have already said, devotion to St. George dates from a very early period. St. Gregory of Tours gives us several proofs of its having taken root in Gaul. St. Clotilde had a singular confidence to the holy Martyr, and dedicated to him the Church of her dear Abbey of Chelles. But this devotion became more general and more fervent during the Crusades, when the Christian armies witnessed the veneration in which St. George was held by the Eastern Church, and heard the wonderful things that were told of his protection on the field of battle. The Byzantine historians have recorded several remarkable instances of the kind; and the Crusaders returned to their respective countries publishing their own experience of the victories gained through the Saint's intercession. The Republic of Genoa chose him for its Patron; and Venice honoured him as its special Protector, after St. Mark. But nowhere was St. George so enthusiastically loved as in England. Not only was it decreed in a Council held at Oxford, in the year 1222, that the Feast of the Great Martyr should be observed as one of Obligation; not only was devotion to the valiant Soldier of Christ encouraged, throughout Great Britain, by the first Norman Kings;—but there are documents anterior to the invasion of William the Conqueror, which prove that St. George was invoked as the special Patron of England even so far back as the 9th century. Edward III did but express the sentiment of the country when he put the Order of the Garter, which he instituted in 1330, under the patronage of the Warrior Saint. In Germany, King Frederic III founded the Order of St. George in the year 1468.
St. George is usually represented as killing a Dragon; and, where the representation is complete, there is also given the figure of a Princess, whom the Saint thus saves from being devoured by the monster. This favourite subject of both sacred and profane Art is purely symbolical, and is of Byzantine origin. It signifies the victory won over the devil, by the Martyr's courageous profession of faith; the Princess represents Alexandra, who was converted by witnessing the Saint's heroic patience under his sufferings. Neither the “Acts” of St. George nor the Hymns of the Greek Liturgy, allude to the Martyr's having slain a Dragon and rescued a Princess. It was not till after the 14th century, that this fable was known in the West; and it arose from the putting a material interpretation on the emblems wherewith the Greeks honoured St. George, and which were introduced among us by the Crusaders.
St. George, Martyr.
About A.D. 303
St. George is honoured in the Catholic church as one of the most illustrious martyrs of Christ. The Greeks have long distinguished him by the title of The Great Martyr, and keep his festival a holiday of obligation. There stood formerly in Constantinople five or six churches dedicated in his honour; the eldest of which was always said to have been built by Constantine the Great; who seems also to have been the founder of the church of St. George, which stood over his tomb in Palestine. Both these churches were certainly built under the first Christian emperors. In the middle of the sixth age the Emperor Justinian erected a new church, in honour of this saint, at Bizanes, in Lesser Armenia: the Emperor Mauritius founded one in Constantinople. It is related in the life of St. Theodorus of Siceon, that he served God a long while in a chapel which bore the name of St. George, had a particular devotion to this glorious martyr, and strongly recommended the same to Mauritius, when he foretold him the empire. One of the churches of St. George in Constantinople, called Manganes, with a monastery adjoining, gave to the Hellespont the name of the Arm of St. George. To this day is St. George honoured as principal patron or tutelar saint by several eastern nations, particularly the Georgians. The Byzantine historians relate several battles to have been gained, and other miracles wrought through his intercession. From frequent pilgrimages to his church and tomb in Palestine, performed by those who visited the Holy Land, his veneration was much propagated over the West. St. Gregory of Tours mentions him as highly celebrated in France in the sixth century. St. Gregory the Great ordered an old church of St. George, which was fallen to decay, to be repaired. His office is found in the sacramentary of that pope, and many others. St. Clotildis, wife of Clovis, the first Christian king of France, erected altars under his name; and the church of Chelles, built by her, was originally dedicated in his honour. The ancient life of Droctovӕus mentions, that certain relics of St. George were placed in the church of St. Vincent, now called St. Germans, in Paris, when it was first consecrated. Fortunatus of Poitiers wrote an epigram on a church of St. George, in Mentz. The intercession of this saint was implored especially in battles, and by warriors, as appears by several instances in the Byzantine history, and he is said to have been himself a great soldier. He is at this day the tutelar saint of the republic of Genoa; and was chosen by our ancestors in the same quality under our first Norman kings. The great national council, held at Oxford in 1222, commanded his feast to be kept a holiday of the lesser rank throughout all England. Under his name and ensign was instituted by our victorious King Edward III in 1330, the most noble Order of knighthood in Europe, consisting of twenty-five knights, besides the sovereign. Its establishment is dated fifty years before the knights of St Michael were instituted in France, by Lewis XI, eighty years before the Order of the Golden Fleece, established by Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy; and one hundred and ninety before the Order of St. Andrew was set up in Scotland by James V. The Emperor Frederick IV instituted, in 1470, an Order of knights in honour of St. George; and an honourable military Order in Venice bears his name.
The extraordinary devotion of all Christendom to this saint, is an authentic proof how glorious his triumph and name have always been in the church. All his acts relate, that he suffered under Dioclesian, at Nicomedia. Joseph Assemani shows, from the unanimous consent of all churches, that he was crowned on the 23rd of April. According to the account given us by Metaphrastes, he was born in Cappadocia, of noble Christian parents. After the death of his father, he went with his mother into Palestine, she being a native of that country, and having there a considerable estate, which fell to her son George. He was strong and robust in body, and having embraced the profession of a soldier, was made a tribune, or colonel in the army. By his courage and conduct, he was soon preferred to higher stations by the Emperor Dioclesian. When that prince waged war against the Christian religion, St. George laid aside the marks of his dignity, threw up his commission and posts, and complained to the emperor himself of his severities and bloody edicts. He was immediately cast into prison, and tried, first by promises, and afterwards put to the question, and tortured with great cruelty; but nothing could shake his constancy. The next day he was led through the city and beheaded. Some think him to have been the same illustrious young man who tore down the edicts when they were first fixed up at Nicomedia, as Lactantius relates in his book, On the Death of the Persecutors, and Eusebius in his history. The reason why St. George has been regarded as the patron of military men, is partly upon the score of his profession, and partly upon the credit of a relation of his appearing to the Christian army in the holy war, before the battle of Antioch. The success of this battle proving fortunate to the Christians, under Godfrey of Bouillon, made the name of St. George more famous in Europe, and disposed the military men to implore more particularly his intercession. This devotion was confirmed, as it is said, by an apparition of St. George to our king, Richard I, in his expedition against the Saracens: which vision, being declared to the troops, was to them a great encouragement, and they soon after defeated the enemy. St. George is usually painted on horseback, and tilting at a dragon, under his feet; but this representation is no more than an emblematical figure, purporting, that, by his faith and Christian fortitude, he conquered the devil, called the dragon in the Apocalypse.
Though many dishonour the profession of arms by a licentiousness of manners, yet, to show us that perfect sanctity is attainable in all states, we find the names of more soldiers recorded in the martyrologies than almost of any other profession. Every true disciple of Christ must be a martyr in the disposition of his heart, as he must be ready to lose all, and to suffer anything, rather than to offend God. Every good Christian is also a martyr, by the patience and courage with which he bears all trials. There is no virtue more necessary, nor of which the exercise ought to be more frequent, than patience. In this mortal life we have continually something to suffer from disappointments in affairs, from the severity of the seasons, from the injustice, caprice, peevishness, jealousy, or antipathy of others; and from ourselves, in pains either of mind or body. Even our own weaknesses and faults are to us subjects of patience. And as we have continually many burdens, both of our own and others, to bear, it is only in patience that we are to possess our souls. This affords us comfort in all our sufferings, and maintains our souls in unshaken tranquillity and peace. This is true greatness of mind, and the virtue of heroic souls. But, alas! every accident ruffles and disturbs us: and we are insupportable even to ourselves. What comfort should we find, what peace should we enjoy, what treasures of virtue should we heap up, what an harvest of merits should we reap, if we had learned the true spirit of Christian patience! This is the martyrdom, and the crown of every faithful disciple of Christ.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – The Paschal Time, Vol. II, Dublin, Edition 1871;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. I, 1903; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. George, pray for us.