St George’s Day Reflections – a sermon by Gary at St Boniface Woodgreen
THE CROSS OF St GEORGE
What do we know about St George, whose Feast Day was yesterday? [Discuss].
Compared to other countries in the world, England doesn’t really make much of its patron saint! St George’s Day falls on the 23rd of April but it is rarely marked by any special events and it does not even earn us a Bank Holiday.
Children’s uniformed organisations however have adopted St George’s Day as a time to renew their commitment to their promises and laws and so there are parade services in many churches.
St George’s story has become focused in the popular imagination on his dragon-slaying exploit and as such he is seen as the archetypal hero who defeats evil. But there’s more to him than just this legend. Although, as with many early saints, facts are very sketchy, it seems that he was from Palestine and, as a conscript in the Roman army, decided to stand up against the persecution of Christians in the fourth century because he was so disgusted by the barbaric methods employed by the Empire. He was very impressed by the faith of those who died believing in Jesus that he became a Christian himself, even though he knew that this would mean certain death. At a place called Lod, near Tel Aviv in Israel, St George’s Church is the alleged resting place for his body. In fact St George is very highly regarded by many in this part of the world including Muslims and Jews. George is one the most popular boys’ names. It seems that it was Richard the Lionheart from England who decided to adopt George as our English saint in the time of the crusades, probably because he, too, was impressed by the military might of this hero.
Among Palestinian Christians however St George has other associations: as a protector of the home, as a healer and as someone who stood up against the misuse of power. It was at Lod – which in Bible times was called Lydda – that Peter was used to perform a miracle. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, he experienced the power of God of work through him to bring peace and healing to a man, who had been ill for eight years (see Acts 9: 32-35). As a follower of Jesus, this is the sort of power of which St George would have approved and for which he would want to be remembered as a saint.
The most famous legend of Saint George is of him slaying a dragon. However, this story only became popular in the 12th Century – long after Saint George had died. In the Middle Ages, it was common to use dragons in stories to represent the Devil. There are many different versions of the story but the most common is the following:
Saint George travelled to Libya. When he arrived there he found it had a large pond, almost as big as a lake, where a ferocious dragon lived. The dragon was terrorising the country and, every day, the people had been feeding the dragon a sheep to appease it.
When the sheep had all gone, the dragon had demanded that the people sacrifice a young maiden to him each day. Saint George found that all the young girls had now been killed and only the King of Egypt’s daughter was left. Unless a knight could be found to slay the dragon, the princess would be sacrificed the next day. The King of Egypt had promised his daughter’s hand in marriage to the knight who could overcome the terrible dragon.
Saint George was determined to save the princess, and the next day he rode out to the lake. When he arrived, he found the princess there, waiting to be fed to the dragon. Saint George sent her home to the palace and approached the dragon’s cave.
When the dragon heard Saint George’s horse approaching, he came out of his cave and roared at him. The dragon was huge and its roar sounded like thunder, but Saint George was not afraid. He struck the monster with his spear, but the dragon’s scales were so hard that the spear simply broke into pieces.
Saint George fell from his horse but did not give up. Instead, he rushed at the dragon and used his sword to slay it under its wing where there were no scales. The dragon fell dead at Saint George’s feet.
Christians are people who believe that the real power to overcome evil comes from the story of Jesus – his life, death and resurrection. St George knew this too. He had seen how strong Christians had been when facing persecution from the Roman Empire.
When George saw God’s power at work, he decided not to forget but stay loyal to his new Lord, even though it meant death. This has impressed people ever since and the cross of St George has become his sign as well as our English national flag, which you have printed on your sheet.
Look at the two images of St George here: St George’s Day-WG-Photos-Ap16.
The right-hand image is taken from The Fraser Chapel reredos by Mark Cazalet, which is in Manchester Cathedral, which is dedicated to St Mary, St George and St Denys.
Everyone recognizes the traditional, left-hand, image of St George, as, mounted, on a white stallion, with a lance, he slays a dragon writhing beneath him. That’s intended as a symbol of cool Reason subduing the destructive energy of unruly passion. But here, to the right, we have a very different symbol. In this image the dragon has become, on the contrary, a representation of creative energy. He still represents passion. But here it’s the possibility of an impassioned creativity; which has however been locked up, inhibited by despair. So he’s a sulky, bedraggled sort of creature. And he’s in chains – which the 21st century St George is cutting, to release him. In the background are scenes of a blighted neighbourhood – parts of Manchester. This, then, is an image of Christian faith as, not least, unlocking a creative passion of loyalty to ‘home’ – the nation, the city – and so helping promote the cause of urban renewal.
Further discussion, leading into the prayers.