The holy martyrs by their blood, their immeasurable love for the Lord greatly contributed to the establishment of the Christian faith in apostolic times. The preaching of Christianity had great all-conquering power, thanks to the multitude of holy martyrs who gave their lives for the faith in the Resurrection of the crucified Lord. Fearless and silent suffering, sometimes even with thanksgiving for the horrific torture, had a deep, inexpressible impression upon the witnesses of those events – the pagans, and even upon the executioners themselves, after which some of them, with the help of God, became Christians.
The feats of the holy martyrs by their vivid example teach us unshakable faith in Christ, drive out the cowardice, about which the prophet David spoke: «There they were in fear, where there was nothing to fear» (Ps. 53:5). May God give us in trials not to commit a shameful and grave sin – renouncing the Lord, and, if necessary, confess our faith, despite the fact that for this we can be deprived of the temporary goods of this world or even endure torment, for Christ said: «Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven» (Matt. 10:33).
In the huge host of holy martyrs the holy great martyrs shine who endured especially terrible sufferings for Christ and whose feat is of great importance for the entire Christian world shine especially brightly. Among the great martyrs the Holy Church honours today George the Victory-bearer.
The Great Martyr George was the son of wealthy and pious parents who lived in the city of Beirut. Having entered the military service, he stood out among other soldiers for his courage, intelligence, military strength and beauty. Having reached a high military rank, he became close to emperor Diocletian, who was a fierce persecutor of Christians. Once George heard about his cruel sentence about the extermination of Christians, and imbued with compassion for them, he appeared to the emperor, declared himself a Christian, while denouncing his cruelty and injustice.
After long, but unsuccessful persuasions to renounce Christ, the emperor ordered that the saint be subjected to various severe tortures. Saint George was imprisoned in a dungeon, where he was laid on the ground, his feet were hammered into stocks, and a huge stone was placed on his chest. But the saint bravely endured suffering and glorified the Lord, who appeared to him in prison, encouraging, blessing and strengthening him in torments. The torturers, seeing that saint George was still alive, again began to excel in cruelty. They beat him with whips, cut and tore his body, tying him to a huge wheel; they put on him boots with sharp nails inside and made him run, and then they threw him into a pit and covered him with quicklime so that he would be burnt in it. But when they came a few days later, they did not believe their eyes – saint George was alive and glorifying the Lord. In the end the emperor ordered to cut off his head with a sword. This is how the holy sufferer departed to Christ. It was in the year 303. The Great Martyr George for his courage and spiritual victory over the torturers who could not force him to renounce Christ, as well as for his miraculous help to people in danger, began to be called the “Victory-bearer”. On the icons saint George is depicted sitting on a white horse and striking a snake with a spear, which has a cross at its upper end. This image is based on the description of the posthumous miracles of the Holy Great Martyr George. It is told that not far from the place where saint George was born, a great and terrible serpent lived in the lake, which devoured the people of that area.
To appease the fury of that serpent superstitious people started to give it by lot their children to eat. Once the lot fell on the daughter of the ruler of that area. She was brought to the lake where the serpent lived, and she awaited her death with prayer and in horror. Suddenly, at God’s command, the Great Martyr George appeared on a white horse. He asked the virgin what she was crying about, and when he learned that she was threatened by death from the serpent, he said to her: “Do not be afraid, virgin, in the name of my Lord, the true God, I will deliver you from the serpent.” When the terrible and huge serpent appeared, the saint, protecting himself with the sign of the cross and calling on the Lord to help him, rushed to the serpent and, hitting it with the spear into the larynx, pressed it to the ground, while the horse trampled that serpent with its feet.
Saint George commanded the virgin to tie her belt around the serpent and lead it to the city. The people, seeing the serpent led by the maiden, fled in fear, but George said to them: “Do not be afraid, but trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and believe in Him, for He has sent me to deliver you from the serpent.” Then saint George killed the serpent with the sword, and its corpse was burnt outside of the town. Thus tells the story of that miracle, which turned many inhabitants of that country from paganism to Christ.
The image of George the Victory-bearer on a horse symbolizes the victory over all evil that the devil, the «ancient serpent» (Rev. 12:9), does. When we look at the icon of st. George, we see a courageous warrior who had the courage to fight evil in order to save many.
Inside each of us there is that what is symbolised by the virgin on this icon and what needs to be preserved with all the strength of our soul – this is chastity, purity of soul and body, honesty, integrity and everything that makes us participants of the Living God. At all times the forces of evil are up in arms against all this, like the serpent on the icon, ready to tear apart beauty and holiness, leaving behind only destruction and death. And each of us, having the patronage of Christ and the desire to save our soul from destruction, can rise to fight for everything that is pure, noble and holy in our soul that is given from the Lord, for our immortal soul, which, like a bride, belongs to the Bridegroom Christ.
Let us learn to overcome evil and sin in ourselves, and by this victory we will free the soul from the shackles of temptations and passions, in which the evil one often puts it. Then the Lord will give us strength and intelligence to help our neighbour like Great Martyr George in this difficult and constant struggle. By the prayer to st. George let us protect our souls from every influence of the devil, so that, keeping them bright and pure, we may enter the palace of the Heavenly Kingdom of love and beauty!
Let us bow before the memory of Holy Great Martyr George the Victory-bearer, who strengthens our faith with his feats and miracles. It is no coincidence that the image of holy warrior George adorns the coat of arms of the Russian state and is the coat of arms of the first capital Moscow. The saint is also revered as the patron saint of Orthodox Christian warriors, who receive the Order of St. George the Victory-bearer as the highest award for their heroic deeds in war.
Brothers and sisters! The lofty deeds of great martyr George and other martyrs teach us to love Lord Jesus Christ even to death; to preserve the precious gift of faith, trusting in eternal life; fear nothing but the wrath and judgment of God; live on earth for Heaven and eternity; despise and regard as nothing the earthly treasures, and be ready to sacrifice even our body and life itself in order to preserve our soul for eternity, for it is said: «What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?» «For whoever wants to save his soul will lose it, but whoever loses his soul for» the Lord and the Gospel «will find it» (Matt. 16:26, 25).
Let us love our Lord Jesus Christ with all our hearts and let us venerate with love the valiant martyrs who glorified Him with their sufferings, especially Holy Great Martyr and Victory-bearer George, by whose prayers and intercession we will be honoured to reach the Kingdom of Heaven!
Glory to our God, now and ever and unto the ages of ages, amen!