Friday, December 21, 2007

Saint George

Statue of Saint George in Tbilisi (Georgia)
Tomb of Saint George in Lob (Israel)

A commonly sung troparion in the Eastern Orthodox Church is the Hymn of St. George:
"Liberator of captives,
and defender of the poor,
physician of the sick,
and champion of kings,
O trophy-bearer,
and Great Martyr George,
intercede with Christ our God
that our souls be saved."
In Christian hagiography, Saint George (ca. 275-281–April 23, 303) was a soldier of the Roman Empire, from the then Greek-speaking Anatolia, now modern day Turkey, who was venerated as a Christian martyr.
Saint George is one of the most venerated saints in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodox Churches.
Immortalized in the tale of George and the Dragon, he is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.
There are no historical sources on Saint George.
The legend that follows is synthesized from early and late hagiographical sources - chief among these sources is the Golden Legend.
George was born to a Christian family during the late 3rd century. His father was from Cappadocia and served as an officer of the Roman army. His mother was from Lydda, Iudaea (now Lod, Israel). She returned to her native city as a widow along with her young son, where she provided him with an education.
The youth followed his father's example by joining the army soon after coming of age. He proved to be a good soldier and consequently rose through the military ranks of the time. George was stationed in Nicomedia as a member of the personal guard attached to Roman Emperor Diocletian.
According to the hagiography, in 303 Diocletian issued an edict authorizing the systematic persecution of Christians across the Empire. The emperor Galerius was supposedly responsible for this decision and would continue the persecution during his own reign (305–311). George was ordered to participate in the persecution but instead confessed to being a Christian himself and criticized the imperial decision. An enraged Diocletian ordered his torture and execution.
After various tortures, including laceration on a wheel of swords, George was executed by decapitation before Nicomedia's defensive wall on April 23, 303. A witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to become Christians as well, and so they joined George in martyrdom. His body was returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians soon came to honour him as a martyr.
A church built in Lydda during the reign of Constantine I (reigned 306–337), was consecrated to "a man of the highest distinction", according to the church history of Eusebius of Caesarea; the name of the patron was not disclosed, but later he was asserted to have been George. The church was destroyed in 1010. but was later rebuilt and dedicated to Saint George by the Crusaders. In 1191 and during the conflict known as the Third Crusade (1189–1192), the church was again destroyed by the forces of Saladin, Sultan of the Ayyubid dynasty (reigned 1171–1193). A new church was erected in 1872 and is still standing.
During the fourth century the veneration of George spread from Palestine to the rest of the Eastern Roman Empire.
By the fifth century the cult of Saint George had reached the Western Roman Empire as well: in 494, George was canonised as a saint by Pope Gelasius I, among those "whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God."
The episode of St George and the Dragon was a legend, brought back with the Crusaders and retold with the courtly appurtenances belonging to the genre of Romance (Loomis; Whatley). The earliest known depiction of the mytheme is from early eleventh-century Cappadocia (Whately), (in the iconography of the Eastern Orthodox Church, George had been depicted as a soldier since at least the seventh century); the earliest known surviving narrative text is an eleventh-century Georgian text (Whatley).
In the fully-developed Western version, a dragon makes its nest at the spring that provides water for the city of "Silene" (perhaps modern Cyrene) in Libya or the city of Lydda, depending on the source. Consequently, the citizens have to dislodge the dragon from its nest for a time, in order to collect water. To do so, each day they offer the dragon a human sacrifice. The victim is chosen by drawing lots. One day, this happened to be the princess. The monarch begs for her life with no result. She is offered to the dragon, but there appears the saint on his travels. He faces the dragon, slays it and rescues the princess. The grateful citizens abandon their ancestral paganism and convert to Christianity.
The parallels with Perseus and Andromeda are inescapable. In the allegorical reading, the dragon embodies a suppressed pagan cult. The story has roots that predate Christianity. Examples such as Sabazios, the sky father, who was usually depicted riding on horseback, and Zeus's defeat of Typhon the Titan in Greek mythology, along with examples from Germanic and Vedic traditions, have led a number of historians, such as Loomis, to suggest that George is a Christianized version of older deities in Indo-European culture.
St. George is most commonly depicted in early icons, mosaics and frescos wearing armor contemporary with the depiction, executed in gilding and silver color, intended to identify him as a Roman soldier. After the Fall of Constantinople and the association of St George with the crusades, he is more often portrayed mounted upon a white horse. At the same time St George began to be associated with St. Demetrius, another early soldier saint. When the two saints are portrayed together mounted upon horses, they may be likened to earthly manifestations of the archangels Michael and Gabriel. St George is always depicted in Eastern traditions upon a white horse and St. Demetrius on a red horse St George can also be identified in the act of spearing a dragon, unlike St Demetrius, who is sometimes shown spearing a human figure, understood to represent Maximian.
In 1969, Saint George's feast day was moved to an optional memorial in the Roman Catholic calendar; the solemnity of his commemoration depends on purely local observance. He is, however, still honored as a saint of major importance by the Eastern Orthodox Church and in Oriental Orthodoxy.
In 1963, in the Roman Catholic Church, St George was demoted to a third class minor saint and removed him from the Universal Calendar, with the proviso that he could be honored in local calendars. Pope John Paul II, in 2000, restored St George to the Calendar, and he appears in Missals as the English Patron Saint.
Saint George is the patron saint of the Palestinian Christians, who believe he lived in the areas around Bethlehem in his childhood. Christian Houses can be identified with a stone-engraved picture of the saint (known as Mar Girgius) in front of their homes for his protection.
Saint George is the patron saint of Beirut. The Saint George Bay in Beirut is believed to be the place where the dragon lived and where it was slain. In Lebanon, Saint George is believed to have cleaned off his spear at a massive rocky cave running into the hillside and overlooking the beautiful Jounieh Bay. Others argue it is at the Bay of Tabarja. The waters of both caves are believed to have miraculous powers for healing ailing children.
In Greece, St. George is the patron saint of the Hellenic Army.
In Italy, Saint George is one of the patron saints of Genoa.
There are numerous churches dedicated to St. George in India (especially in Kerala) practicing Oriental Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism. There are also countless shrines to St. George in Kerala, India.
St George is also known to be the patron saint of the Boy Scouts of America.
The Freemasons consider St. George one of their primary patron saints. The United Grand Lodge of England holds its annual festival on a day as near as possible to St. George's Day, and St. George is depicted on the ceiling of the Grand Lodge Temple on Great Queen Street, London. A number of Masonic lodges around the world bear the name of St. George.
There is a tradition in the Holy Land of Christians and Muslim going to an Eastern Orthodox shrine for St. George at Beith Jala, Jews also attending the site in the belief that the prophet Elijah was buried there. This is testified to by Elizabeth Finn in 1866, where she wrote, “St. George killed the dragon in this country [Palestine]; and the place is shown close to Beyroot. Many churches and convents are named after him. The church at Lydda is dedicated to St. George: so is a convent near Bethlehem, and another small one just opposite the Jaffa gate; and others beside. The Arabs believe that St. George can restore mad people to their senses.
It is singular that the Moslem Arabs share this veneration for St. George, and send their mad people to be cured by him, as well as the Christians. But they commonly call him El Khudder —The Green—according to their favorite manner of using epithets instead of names. Why he should be called green, however, I cannot tell—unless it is from the colour of his horse. Gray horses are called green in Arabic.”
A possible explanation for this colour reference is Al Khidr, the erstwhile tutor of Moses, gained his name from having sat in a barren desert, turning it into a lush green paradise. See above for the association of Al Khidder and St George.

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