St George was probably a soldier living in Palestine at the beginning of the fourth century. He was martyred at Lydda in about the year 304, the beginning of the Diocletian persecution, and became known throughout the East as ‘The Great Martyr’. There were churches in England dedicated to St George before the Norman conquest. The story of his slaying the dragon is probably due to his being mistaken in iconography for St Michael, himself usually depicted wearing armour; or it may again be a mistaken identity representing Perseus’s slaying of the sea monster, a myth also associated with the area of Lydda. George replaced Edward the Confessor as Patron Saint of England following the Crusades, when returning soldiers brought back with them a renewed cult of St George. Edward III made St George patron of the Order of the Garter, which seems finally to have confirmed his position.
O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Collect for the Festival of St George
God of hosts,
who so kindled the flame of love
in the heart of your servant George
that he bore witness to the risen Lord by his life and by his death:
give us the same faith and power of love
that we who rejoice in his triumphs
may come to share with him the fullness of the resurrection;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter
and our tongue with songs of joy.
Then said they among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
The Lord has indeed done great things for us,
and therefore we rejoiced.
Restore again our fortunes, O Lord,
as the river beds of the desert.
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed,
will come back with shouts of joy,
bearing their sheaves with them.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
Jesus said to the disciples, ‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.’
The origins and the life story of St George are shrouded in uncertainty and conjecture. But, despite that uncertainty, St George has a special place in our national identity. That ‘special place’ has been marked and honoured for many centuries. Consider the words Shakespeare puts into the mouth of King Henry V just before the battle of Agincourt: Follow your spirit; and upon this charge, Cry, ‘God for Harry, England and Saint George!’
Throughout the history of humanity there has been a marking out of certain individuals for various qualities that have been recognized as being special and inspirational. It is by examining that which seems certain about the life of George that we can begin to understand why he has been honoured, not just as our national patron saint, but as the patron saint of several countries.
Historians generally attest to George’s existence and to the likelihood of his being an officer in the Roman army. But, George lived in difficult times for those who wished to live out their lives as Christians. We are told that George ‘gave his goods to the poor, and openly professed Christianity’. Such words and actions would have labelled him as a certain victim of the Diocletian persecutions which were aimed at stamping out Christianity once and for all. It was this active discipleship of Christ that led to George’s martyrdom, and that, of course, is what stands in our way of following the example of St George – the risk of martyrdom.
In these days and in our country, people are not put to death over matters of faith, but there is still a feeling of persecution. Many people of many faiths feel persecuted for their adherence to a doctrines and practices that bring them closer to God. Being recognized as a person of faith is often seen as synonymous with being a weak and gullible person. Of course, the opposite is true. When we follow the call of God in our lives, when we pray and worship God in a spirit of genuine faith we are demonstrating a knowledge and strength that outstrips all that this world can offer us.
Let us pray for the strength and the courage to fight against the persecution of indifference, apathy and mockery. Let us pray that we might join our national patron in showing our love for Christ in all that we say and do.
Prayers of Intercession
May the memory of those who have fought and suffered for the faith of Christ give strength to our prayers.
Empower the Church with courage to guard and proclaim the word of salvation. As George witnessed for his faith even to death, may God’s people honour his name and follow his example in all adversity.
We pray for all governments and people, and for all nations who have made George their patron. We pray for those who serve in the armed forces, that they may not lose compassion and care for shared humanity in all the strains of their duty.
In all our relationships, in our work and in our play, give us grace to speak against evil but to forgive wrong done to us, to rebuke when we must but never to resent. Help us, and all those we love, to show the power of faith in our daily lives.
Look with mercy upon those who are persecuted for their faith, and turn the hearts of their enemies. Sustain in love all whose work makes it hard for them to maintain integrity and show the reality of their belief.
We give thanks for those who have fought the good fight, have kept the faith and finished their course. Free from the strife of this world, may they rest in the peace of heaven with blessed George and all the saints.
May our prayers be heard in the name of Jesus Christ, the hope and the reward of martyrs.
Prayer for the week
Eternal God, in whom is all our hope
in life, in death, and to all eternity;
grant that, rejoicing in the eternal life
which is ours in Christ,
we may face whatever the future holds in store for us
calm and unafraid,
always confident that neither death nor life
can part us from your love in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
Lord, you give the great commission:
‘Heal the sick and preach the word.’
Lest the Church neglect its mission,
and the gospel go unheard,
help us witness to your purpose
with renewed integrity;
with the Spirit’s gifts empower us
for the work of ministry.
Jeffery W. Rowthorn (b. 1934)