On Friday 23 April 2021, the Church celebrated the Feast day of Saint George Megalo-Martyr. But why is this early fourth century saint such a great martyr?
The Byzantine liturgy gives us the answer in the Akathist Hymn to Saint George. From the first kontakion, Saint George is depicted as the champion leader, victorious, one who hath boldness before the Lord, guardian and passion-bearer for the faith, inspiration, and so forth. Hence, George is a Great witness because he loved unto the end Jesus, the Son of God, he laid down his life for His Name, was a confessor called forth by God, was a spiritual athlete glorified by the grace of God, dwell with the angels, he is the equal of the prophets.
Infront of the wicked idolaters [who] were persecuting the Christians, George did not fear their wiles and tortures. In this George was certainly divinely wise. As a good soldier of Christ he distribute[d] all thy possessions among the poor. George acknowledged the One God divinely worshipped in Three Persons. And, with a firm mind, he confess[d] Him before the assembly of the ungodly. Thus, he did expose the unwise king’s foolish worship of creation.
Therefore, Saint George is the Great Martyr because he was the wise preacher of the One True God, the faithful advocate of the All-Holy Trinity, he manifest[ed] the great mystery of the True Faith unto the unbelievers, he did expose the deception of idol worship, he was revelation of holy wisdom and image of divine inspiration.
Saint George, enlightened by the power of God, even when he was suffering in prison, he wisely grew in humility. He despise[d] all the corruptible things of this life as chaff since he did faithfully cling unto Christ alone. George fought the good fight for His Name. That is why now he was granted eternally to chant with the angels.
George possessed a mind and heart enlightened by the Holy Ghost. And by His inspiration he was fervent to struggle for the Name of Christ, even unto blood. Standing courageously in the faith, George managed to expose the puffed-up pride of the ungodly congregation. The most wonderful George is a Great Martyr because he is a shield lifted for preservation of piety, a sword raised for the beheading of evil, a confirmation of the Christian Church, a comfort of those gathered in prayer, an encouragement of the faithful, and fear and disgrace of the unbelievers.
In encountering the passion-bearer George, his words of wisdom made Diocletian and the priest of the idols …enraged with hatred for him. But George stood his ground and told to the mad persecutor: O tormentor king, why dost thou torture me in vain? For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. In all this we can see a George of great fame. He rightly is to be called the Great Martyr because he shed [his] blood upon the wheel for [his] courageous confession of the Faith and did magnify the triumph of the Faith by [his] blood. George is a
zealot together with the apostles, an imitator of the voluntary Passion of Christ, an unshakable champion of the Faith, and a passion-bearer harder than adamant.
By being a star sent by God, Saint George, was miraculous healed and release[d] from the wheel by an angel before the eyes of all. In that way, he did enlighten the unbelievers to believe in the Trinity in One Essence. Thanks to the miracles fully impregnated with the power of God many were the people who meekly accepted the teaching of Christ from George’s mouth. Thus, Saint George is a Great Martyr because he did disperse the darkness of unbelief by the radiant word of salvation, did convert unbelievers unto Christ by thy martyr’s confession of faith, did lead legions of earthly soldiers unto the heavenly army, did dwell with the heavenly hosts as a soldier of Christ. George is the glory of courageous soldiers and the beauty of the all-radiant choirs of martyrs.
As the Akathist Hymn flows on we notice that Saint George is zealous in faith, like unto those Spirit-bearing preachers, the apostles, as Jonah was in the belly of the sea monster George was hurled headlong into the furnace of the lime pit. It was through his life that the glory of the Lord was manifested.
George is a Great Martyr because he did cast down the puffed-up pride of the devil by thy being cast down in disgrace into the lime pit, did overcome the persecutor’s bestiality by thy miraculous salvation from God, did pray as for benefactors for those who worked evil against him, he was zealous for their conversion as Paul was for the Jews. In all this George was a man of spiritual desires and a victor through the power of Christ.
George is a Great Martyr because he did count [his] torment as nothing, he was expeller of soul-destroying demons, destroyer of the wiles of magicians, through [him] God is shewn to be wondrous in His saints and the Name of Christ is piously glorified. Through Saint George the Lord of hosts manifested wonders, he resurrected a dead man from the tomb. Saint George was the one who did grant the mental vision of faith unto the blinded wizard (the emperor Diocletian). He was the one who did shew the way to the Holy of Holies unto many who suffered for Christ. From this clearly emerges that Saint George is the astonishment of Rome as well as the exaltation of the Christian race.
By his life testimony George continued to give witness to Christ! The victorious George, even if he was locked up in prison, did not cease to keep vigil in prayer. As a great communicant of the mystery of divine grace, he was vouchsafed to behold the Lord in a vision. The Lord crowned [his] head with the crown of incorruption.
Hence, Saint George is a Great Martyr because by [his] voluntary suffering for Christ and the Church he did crucify the old Adam in [himself]. By his courageous suffering George did receive a crown of righteousness from the Lord. Thus, we can rightly call George a rule of pious zeal and model of self-sacrifice. This is so since he did please not himself, but Christ alone. George was prepared for any form of death for the sake of [his] Saviour, Christ.
This Saint George, lover of God, who was zealous for God like Elijah, by entering into the temple of the idols, by the power of God, he did drive out the demons, shattering the idols and putting the priests to shame. As a result, he was a conqueror, not with men but with angels.
It is therefore right that we praise Saint George as the one who did keep faith, hope and love unto the end, did work many great miracles at [his] beheading. He was crowned to the glory of God’s goodwill toward those on earth. He was adorned with majesty in Heaven. George is really the man of God and the good soldier of Christ.
Thanks to his faithful and powerful witness of faith George did render a hymn unto the Most Holy Trinity exceeding others. In fact, the holy Saint George was not in word and mind only, but by the living sacrifice of [his] whole self. Imitating Him Who was crucified for us, Christ the Lamb without blemish, George did voluntarily lay down [his] life for thy friends.
It is really amazing that the Akathist considers George as a light-receiving lamp of the True Light [for] those on earth. The great Saint George is chosen of God. He is an apostle because he is sent by God to enlighten the hearts of the faithful and … guide them all unto divine understanding, instructing and joy! George now dwell[s] in the all-radiant angelic mansions. You did commune of the never-waning light of the Trinity not in a mirror, but face to face. Saint George is the provider for the needy and defender of the wronged, healer of the infirm and support of kings, champion of [Christian] soldiers in battle. He is fervent intercessor for the salvation of sinners.
It is precisely for this that we, as celebrate [his] memory, that of the Great Martyr George, we run with fervent prayer to [his] miraculous icon, we are protected by [his] all-powerful help in the Lord as by an invincible wall. Saint George, as a good soldier of Christ, as the passion-bearer and helper in all good for us, we earnestly pray to him to protect us.
Yes! Thanks to Saint George, the Church of the faithful is enlightened, for [his] name is praised even among the infidels. He is a wondrous glory of the confessors, a lofty praise of the martyrs, a protector of those who honour [his] memory, a deliverer of those who confess Christ God. Saint George, a guardian and passion-bearer for the faith, an inspiration for us, a man marked by the ascetic labors of [his] sufferings, he did love unto the end Jesus, the Son of God, did lay down [his] life with love for His Name. Saint George is, a confessor called forth by God and a spiritual athlete glorified by the grace of God. He who dwelt with the angels and are the equal of the prophets.
In encountering such a most blessed and holy Great Martyr George, let us pray to him to deliver us from every evil by [his] fervent intercession unto God:
Great Martyr George, we hasten to thee for triumph over every torment and distress and over all pride and passion, that we may glorify Jesus Christ as zealous conquerors of this world and heirs of the Heavenly Kingdom. We acknowledge our unworthiness of such holy victory but, in praise of the courage, hope and trust which thou hast demonstrated throughout thy life and into thy martyrdom, we lovingly beseech thine aid in battle against sin. Pray for us, Saint George, that we may be granted the grace to confess the Faith before others and to fulfill the Commandments under all circumstances and among all people. Let us witness of Christ the Lord that everyone might see His radiant light and believe in His holy teachings. Amen
Saint George, Great Martyr and Trophy-bearer, Megalo-Martyr, pray for us!
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap