Tuesday, October 16, 2012

St. George

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” –G. K. Chesterton 

George’s deeds are shrouded in legend. He’s the epitome of the knight on the white horse. He was born in Syria in the third century. He joined the Roman army. Popular legend says that there was dragon who nested near a city’s water. To collect water each day, the city would offer a sheep. If no sheep could be found, a maiden, chosen by lottery, would go. One day, a princess is chosen by lottery to be the sacrifice to the dragon. St. George is traveling by and sees the princess offered to the dragon. He fights the dragon, protecting himself with the sign of the Cross. Because he defeats the dragon and saves the princess, the citizens of the city convert to Christianity. When the emperor Diocletian declared that all Christian soldiers should be arrested, George publicly announced his faith. He was tortured and executed. His feast day is April 23.

It’s interesting that not only is St. George venerated in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions, but he is also highly respected among Muslims. The Eastern Orthodox shrine of St. George in the Holy Land is visited by Muslims and Jews, the latter with the belief that Elijah was buried on that site. I think the story of defeating the dragon resonates with people of all traditions; there is something primal in the simple story that speaks to all of us. The story took a strong hold in Anglo-Saxon communities, and to this day, St. George is the patron of England, and his cross is the English flag. He is also the patron of Lithuania, Georgia, Palestine, Portugal, Germany, and Greece, as well as soldiers, archery, chivalry, and Boy Scouts.

George killing dragon. Cotswolds, England
It is accepted that St. George existed and that he was martyred, but what to make of the dragon? The enemy is what separates George's story from other martyrs'. I think we can make the dragon whatever we need to make it. The dragon is the devil, is temptation, is the dangers of the world, and is the dangers of our inner demons. It’s something between myth and reality, something we won’t admit believing in, but also something we’re secretly scared of. It’s strong and reckless and evil. But it can be defeated. It will be defeated. Time and time again, the brave hero on the white horse will defeat the dragon, because ultimately, good conquers evil.

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