Thursday, 22 April 2010

April 23rd. - St. George day

The world is celebrating the memory of Mor Geevarghese Sahada on April 23rd. St. George was a Roman soldier from ancient Palestine in the third century AD. Hagiographers (those studying hagiography: the lives and writings of the saints) indicate he was most likely a historic personage in the guard of the Emperor Diocletian (244-311 AD), an emperor notorious for his persecutions of early Christians. In the most popular and most likely scenario of those involving his real life story, George refused to offer up a sacrifice to the gods of the Roman Empire (a type of refusal which was one of the primary issues of discontent between the Roman Empire and monotheistic cults like Christianity and Judaism). When bribery to coerce his sacrifice failed, he was tortured and purportedly killed three times, all the while refusing to renounce his faith and allegiance to the Christian God. Supposedly his devotion to his cause was so moving, that the pagan priest and writer Athanasius and a potentially fictional consort of Diocletian, the so-called Empress Alexandra, were converted on the spot and were executed alongside George.

By the end of the fourth century AD, his worship was popular in the Near East, particularly in George’s native Palestine and in Turkey. He was canonized (made a saint) in the 4th century in 494 AD . But it was the Crusaders in the Middle Ages who made Mor Geevarghese so popular and by their time, St. George’s story had expanded to include what is today its most prominent and romantic element: George’s encounter with a dragon.

Legend has it that during George’s travels with the Roman legionnaires, George found himself in Lydda in Palestine (potentially also his hometown) where a fearsome dragon was holding the town’s water supply hostage. The townspeople had been distracting if with an offering of a sheep a day in order to sneak past it to collect water. But eventually the dragon had tired of sheep (or they had run out of them) and the town had started sacrificing its young woman to the dragon: one a day. The maidens were chosen for sacrifice by lot, and as it happens, the day George strolled into town was the day a local princess was being offered up. George promptly stepped in between the dragon and the princess, crossed himself (hence his emblem the St. George’s cross, which is prominently featured on the flags of the United Kingdom), killed the dragon and rescued the princess. Some legends have him briefly marrying the princess (who is occasionally given the name Sabra) before rejoining the army in order to make it back to Diocletian in time for his later martyrdom; others have him monastically denying her devotion and the reward of her hand in marriage to pursue his celibate military life.

As such, it is appropriate that he is venerated so widely around the world. He is the patron saint of Genoa, Georgia, Germany, Gozo, Greece, Istanbul, Lithuania, Malta, Moscow, Netherlands, Palestine, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Venice. He is also known as the patron of shepherds, horses, equestrians, warriors, battles, farmers, fighting diseases (all and specifically snakebites, syphilis, herpes, and leprosy).

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