The Catholic Southern Front

Chapter 5 – Our Lady’s Knight, Saint George the Roman Tribune

 

The religion was first deemed ‘unusual’ and later tolerated, Christianity displaying brotherly love and charity adapting easily within any country. Initially, proved harmless and was ignored by the Roman authorities, however when the Christians revealed to be unwilling to worship both the ancient pagan Roman deities and the Roman Emperor, trouble followed. The accusations against the Christians were numerous including; disloyalty to their land, unbelief, hatred towards humanity, incest, infanticide and cannibalism, a calumny probably generated following the Christian statements that they consumed the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Christians were blamed for the calamities striking the Empire, such as all the natural disasters including plagues, floods, famines, earthquakes and fires. The most classical example was Emperor Nero’s burning of Rome which was blamed of having been the work of them, the Christians. It is interesting to note that in the nineteenth century the British historian Edward Gibbon, essentially attributed the ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ to its gradual conversion to Christianity and the general loss of its ‘aggressive posture.’ After proper analysis this affirmation cannot be found to be farther from the truth as the pagan Roman Empire was gradually transformed into the ‘Holy Roman Empire.’

The calumniation and smear campaign against Christianity was intense. The Senatorial decree of the year 35 proclaimed the Faith as; “strana et illicita” or “strange and unlawful,” Tacitus described it as; “exitialis et detestabilis”(1) or “deadly and hateful,” Plinius as; “prava et immodica” or “wicked and unbridled,” Svetonius as; “nova et malefica” or “new and harmful,” Octavius by Minucius described the Faith as; “tenebrosa et lucifuga” or “mysterious and opposed to light.”(2) Christianity was outlawed and labeled as the most dangerous enemy of ancient Rome. This was enough proof to demonstrate that the power and light of the Roman people was exclusively derived from the rebellious ‘Prince of the world,’ the cherubim Lucifer: “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Emperor Diocletian created a new system of Imperial succession, and drew his power from the command of the Praetorian Guard, grossly ignoring the republican ideology of the Roman Senate. He made himself a semi-divine monarch and high priest; he was ‘Pontifex Maximus’ and ‘Dominus et Deus’ or ‘Lord and God.’ Later in sixteenth century England, King Henry VIII adopted a similar position. Visitors were required to lie prostrate on the ground and never to gaze at the Emperor and maybe allowed to kiss the bottom of his robe. Emperor Diocletian created the ‘Tetrarchy’ whereby two senior Emperors would rule the Eastern and Western Empires respectively, each aided by a junior Emperor. A senior Emperor was referred to as ‘Augustus’ while the junior was simply called ‘Caesar.’ In 292, Diocletian ruled the Eastern Empire, while Maximian the Western. In 293, Galerius and Constantius (Constantine’s father) were appointed Caesars. In 306, the Senate in Rome and the military respectively, elected their own two Caesars. Conflicts arose between the members of the Tetrarchy, primarily on the Christian issue. Nevertheless, it was Christianity which gained the upper hand, bringing a new order to the Roman Empire. In that age the new order was Christianity.

Approximately in the year 283, Saint George was born in the ancient town of Cappadocia in Turkey. The name George is derived from the Greek word ‘Gorgi’ which means ‘tiller of land.’ This name serves the military saint well for thousands would in the future entrust their lives to his protection as they fought in battle fields during barrages and shellings which churned the land. In actual fact ‘the tilling of the soil’ represents Christian evangelization, through the action of his martyrdom this saint evangelized powerfully, he was a witness to the Faith for the people of his time. His parents, Geronsio and Polikronia, were devout Catholics who instilled within George a love for his religion. George’s father was the Governor of Lydda and a soldier. Regarding George it is said that his soul never suffered the corrupting results of one mortal sin. In his youth, he lived in Lydda Palestine, and later joined the Roman army as a young but brave conscript. The City of Lydda itself had been evangelized by Saint Peter. Once enrolled in the army, George’s bravery earned him the title of ‘Tribunus Militum.’ A Roman Tribune was similar in rank to our modern day’s Colonel and was in charge of one thousand men. George earned heroically the favor of Emperor Diocletian and as regards to his military duties, amongst many other political engagements, he was assigned to the City of Nikomedia in Turkey. George was appointed head of the Imperial Guard. Although Emperor Diocletian demonstrated no initial hostility against the Christians, he later chose the anti-christian Senator Galerius as an advisor, who became the fourth most influential in the Imperial Roman command. Galerius nurtured an intense hatred towards the Christians and together with the ogre Haruspicina, convinced the Emperor that the Christians were the chief reason to blame for the desertion of the Roman gods, who had abandoned their armies during war. They were also blamed for the decline in economic prosperity. Galerius rebuked the Christian soldiers, who adorned the symbol of the cross upon their shields, as the primary reason for the ‘bad luck’ the Empire was experiencing. It is quite probable that the Roman gods: Jupiter, Arthemis, Venus, Mars, Bacchus etc. were non other than demons, Satan in disguise. It follows therefore, that Galerius was indeed right.

The historian, John Clemence, Chairman of the Royal Society of Saint George said: “The main religion of the Roman Empire was Paganism and Christianity was feared by the establishment. The emerging religion was perceived to be undermining the Roman morale and order… Catholic scriptures were burnt, churches were destroyed and practicing Christians lost their right to Roman citizenship… Saint George himself is not a mythical figure. Many of the legends surrounding his deeds have been dramatized over the centuries but the truth is that he was a brave man who died for his beliefs… George tore down the Emperor’s edict and worked to alleviate the suffering of Christians in the area. His position however was unsustainable. He was taken prisoner and brought before Diocletian. George gave a passionate speech denouncing the persecution and defending Christianity…. The date of his martyrdom has become the date we celebrate Saint George’s Day. His courage and faith were exalted by the early Christians and his martyrdom elevated him to a special place in the Christian church.”(3)

At Nicomedia, George tore down the Emperor’s edict against the Christians, which was nailed at the palace gate. He subsequently left for home, gave his possessions to the poor and freed his slaves and servants. Arrested for the supposedly ‘public offence’ and brought before Diocletian, George acknowledged that the Lord Jesus Christ was the only Savior of humanity, that mankind cannot be saved if not through Him and that nothing could separate him from the love of Christ. The enraged Diocletian, who by luring and menacing orders did not get George to sacrifice to his gods or return to the honorable position of Tribune, had George tortured. Firstly, the Saint was scourged at the column; this gave George much joy for he emulated Christ. Subsequently, Saint George was thrown in prison and there he received the apparition of the Lord. Jesus Christ revealed to George that he would suffer torture for seven years, die three times and be resurrected thrice.

George was taken to the wheel, a torture instrument consisting of a wooden or iron wheel with protruding knives, nails and sharp edges. Placed against the body and turned vigorously, the knives would slice through the flesh and the other blunt tips would rip bits off. During this torture Saint George cried out: “Who can separate me from the love of Christ?” He offered his suffering for those who would later remember this day of martyrdom. George was slit in half and killed. Following his martyrdom an angel descended from heaven and as was reported to the Emperor, George came back to life. On witnessing this prodigious event, the Roman Commander Anatolio and his men converted to the Faith and were immediately put to the sword. The saint was subsequently thrown into a furnace; he died a second time and was once again, by angelic intervention, resurrected. Following this event, the ogre Atanasio converted to the Faith and was immediately martyred. Through his prayer, Saint George then resurrected seventeen people, the seventeen lived four hundred and sixty years previously. George baptized them and they vanished. Following this second supernatural event Galerius’ wife, Prisca Alexandra, converted to the Faith and was eventually martyred together with her daughter Princess Valeria. Saint George was beheaded for testimony to the Faith on April 23, 303 or 304. Before his decapitation he prayed to God for the conversion of Diocletian and Galerius and his seventy-two kings. Interestingly, on April 22, 296, the Catholic Pope Caius died martyred during the Diocletian persecutions. The martyrdom of Pope Caius and George occurred on April 22, 23 respectively, Emperor Diocletian was Pope Caius’s uncle. Soon after the horrendous executions, Emperor Diocletian began suffering from panic and anxiety attacks and could not hold a political office any longer, he was forced to retire and never again accepted a political post. Both Galerius and Diocletian seem to have repented for their most wicked deeds. George and Constantine were friends in arms, who fought together under Galerius in the Persian and Egyptian campaigns. Certain historical sources claim that George was a kinsman of Saint Joseph of Arimathea and for this reason (and due to a political mandate by Diocletian) George had visited Glastonbury in England, where St Joseph of Arimathea (possibly the Blessed Virgin’s uncle) was burried.

Following his martyrdom, George’s former servants removed the body and entombed his corpse in Nikomedia. In 326 in Lydda, Palestine, Emperor Constantine built the first church dedicated to Saint George. Following the translation of St George’s relics, which occurred on November 3, 330, from Nikomedia to Lydda, the City of Lydda (Diospolis) was henceforth called Giorgiopolis. For many centuries miracles occurred at George’s tomb. Emperor Constantine built a second church dedicated to this saint in Constantinople and other churches dedicated to the megalomartyr were in future years, erected in Mesopotamia, Ethiopia, Lybia, Egypt, Italy, Malta, France, Germany, England, Poland, Russia and Spain. In ancient Constantinople there stood six churches devoted to Saint George. Emperor Justinian erected one in honor to the saint at Bizanes, in Armenia. Later, Queen Clotilda, wife of the converted French King Clovis, erected a Church dedicated to Saint George in Chelles, and consecrated altars to him all over France. In the later Muslim countries the cult of Saint George would be extinguished (not at Saint Catherine’s monastery in Egypt). But in Russia the faith of his intercession was not wiped out during the Communist years. In 494 Pope Gelasius canonized George.

In the year 900, Moors besieged the City of Morgeto in Reggio Calabria, Italy, for six months. An apparition of Saint George was reported to have put them to flight. In 1864 the city was named San Giorgio Morgeto. In the eleventh century, the First Crusaders sought his emblem and protection. During the military campaigns Saint George was, along side the Blessed Virgin, particularly invoked. According to the Georgian writer named John Zosimo, (literary works at St. Catherine Monastery, Egypt), the Feast in Jerusalem of September 22 commemorated the translation of the relics together with the relics of Saints Peter and Paul, to a building founded by Saint Ischio. Together with the relics of another five saints, the second translation of relics occurred and all were deposited in the Church of Saint Alexander in Engiglon. The years passed and the times of the First Crusade arrived. While the Catholic army marched on its way to Jerusalem, Count Raymond was approached by a priest and urged to search for the relics of four martyrs of the Faith in the Church of Saint Leontius. When questioned by Count Raymond how he came to know of the relics, the priest replied that a certain beautiful youth had appeared to him in vision. Together with Count Ysoard, the Count of Die, the Bishop of Orange and the Count of Saint Gilles, the priest carried lit candles and in procession, visited the Church of Saint Leontius. In the church the pilgrims prayed that they would recover the relics and for the saints to whom the relics belonged, to assist them in their pilgrimage towards Jerusalem and intercede for them before the Lord our God. The relics were recovered and later discovered to belong to Saints Cyprian, Omechios, Leontius and John Chrysostom. Amongst the remains, the crusading pilgrims discovered a chest filled with other relics, however, knowledge to whom these belonged was unknown. The priest intended to remove the chest together with the rest, but Count Raymond rebuked the priest ordering that if this saint to whom the bones within the chest belonged, wished to travel with them to Jerusalem: “Let him make known his name and wish; otherwise let him remain here.”(4) Raymond’s thoughts were on the following lines, why should the army weight itself with unknown bones and carry them along all the way to Jerusalem? For the crusaders own sake, Count Raymond eventually translated the relics to Jerusalem and the following events explain the reason for Raymond’s change in decision. The priest collected the relics of the four saints, rolled them in cloths and on the following night as the priest lay awake, he received a visitation of a fifteen year old youth who was, as he later described “…exceedingly beautiful.”(5) The youth inquired why had he not removed the relics within the chest together with the rest? The priest inquired who was he and the youth replied: “Do you not know who is the standard bearer of the army?”(6) The priest who replied in the negative, was asked once again this same question sternly. The cleric replied that the army’s standard bearer was “Saint George” and the youth promptly said: “I am he!”(7) Now George commanded him to remove his relics from the church and translate them to Jerusalem. The cleric delayed this order and Saint George re-appeared a second time, commanded to remove his relics and an ampule containing the blood of a martyr named Saint Tecla and not to delay this order till morning. Accordingly, the priest performed Saint George’s desire and subsequently celebrated Holy Mass. Following this event, Saint George appeared before a major battle at Antioch and miraculously intervened bringing victory for the Christians. This victory increased the devotion to the saint and Godfrey of Bouillon promulgated the cult and this devotion amongst his soldiers who now held Saint George’s relics in great honor.

In 1199, during the Third Crusade the French King of England, Richard I, was to call at the tomb of Saint George in Lydda. There, Richard received a vision of Saint George who pledged him victory over the Islamists. Invoking the military martyr, he won a great victory and consequently placed himself and his army under Saint George’s protection. In another apparition of the fifteenth century, Saint George protected the people of Pizzo in the province of Catanzaro, Italy, from Scipione Cigala and his band. Again in 1429, when the Jihadi Islamists raided Malta’s City of Mdina, Saint George together with Saint Paul and Saint Agata appeared fighting the Moors. An apparition of Saint George in Gozo (the Sister Island of Malta) also witnessed the martyr’s miraculous action, as he exited his Basilica in the capital city and with sword in hand and upon white steed, was said of having given chase to the Moors.

Saint George is generally depicted on steed piercing a dragon with his lance. This association of George in battle with the ‘Dragon/Devil,’ has the same symbolism attributed to Saint Michael and the Blessed Virgin of Revelation 12. The primary reason for the association with Our Lady is therefore, his battle stance against the ‘Serpent’ or the ‘Dragon/Devil.’ Since the early four hundreds and five hundreds, the English considered England to be ‘the Virgin’s dowry.’ In the sixth century on the precepts of Emperor Constantine, who asserted that Saint George was the “Champion of Christendom.”(8) King Arthur chose Saint George as the Patron Saint for his chivalrous ‘Order of the Round Table.’ The incredible connection between these ancient personages, is that Constantine’s career began in Britain, possibly his mother St Helen (daughter of King Coel of Eastern Britain?) was English and a descendent of the English warrior Caracticus, however this is disputed and Helen could have been born in Drepanium (Helenopolis). Arthur was said of having been also a descendent of Saint Helen and Augustus Constantius Chlorus. In York, Constantine was proclaimed as his father’s successor. Due to the repentance of Galerius and Diocletian, occuring following George’s martyrdom, Constantine declared George as the champion of Christendom. Primarily due to George’s martyrdom (and many thousand others), freedom of worship was partially instituted, however there was still the need for a military victory to engrave the power of the Christian God within the minds of the Roman populace so accustomed to these war and god issues. The victory in Rome would seal the freedom of worship, which the Christians desired and deserved. Therefore, the cult of St George was taken to Britain, firstly by the English Emperor Constantine and later reaffirmed by King Arthur or Arturus.

In England in 1222, a national council commanded his feast to be kept in all the country and Edward III in 1330-1348, established the ‘Order of the Knights of the Garter.’ An Order dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint George and Saint Edward the Confessor. At Windsor Castle, carvings which allude to England herself represented by Saint George, show reverence to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1415, William Bruges became the first Garter King of Arms; he set out to restore a church dedicated to Saint George in Lincolnshire. Within the church there existed depictions which showed the beheading of Saint George before an altar bearing the Virgin’s Image. Other depictions showed his resurrection and the military martyr being armed as the ‘Virgin’s Knight.’ Saint George also intervened miraculously in the Battle of Agincourt, during the reign of Henry V. In 1475; as a thanksgiving for the saint’s intercession at recovering his crown from Henry VI, King Edward IV rebuilt a chapel dedicated to Saint George at Windsor Castle. One of the images within the Chapel of Windsor Castle, depicts George kneeling on one knee before the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child. Later Pope Benedict XIV installed him as the Patron Saint of England and in 1573, was to become the most prominent of the fourteen auxiliary Patron Saints of the Roman Catholic Church. It was not an uncommon thing for the English soldiers during World War I to cry out the encouraging slogan: “For George and for England,” after all, George was also the name of the English King. As England was considered to be ‘Our Lady’s Dowry’ and George was referred to as ‘Our Lady’s Knight,’ it is therefore understandable that George was, and still is, protecting England and Christianity by following the orders of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Similarly to Saint Michael, his intercession in all Christendom is ever under the direction of the Queen of Martyrs.

Russian icons, such as the Icon of Saint George at the Dormition Cathedral, the Kremlin in Moscow, which has its origins in Kiev, bear the Image of George on one side and the Image of the Blessed Virgin and Child on the reverse. The Blessed Virgin is of the type ‘Hodegitria’ meaning ‘Our Lady of the wayfarers’ or ‘Our Lady who shows the way of Salvation.’ This Icon was brought to Moscow by Ivan the Terrible from Novgorod and was probably painted in 1050. The Russian cult of the military martyrs was popular and ‘Our Lady of Odegon’ (the original name of this Icon) was the Patron of the entire Empire. Another particular Russian Icon depicts Saint Theodorus, Saint George and the Blessed Virgin of Tichvin. At the Monastery of Saint Catherine, upon Mount Sinai Egypt, there exists a miraculous Icon portraying Saint George, Saint Theodorus and the Virgin Mary upon a throne with two angels on their sides.

The Christian Church of Ethiopia where Saint George is regarded as a great saint, most evidently displays Saint George’s connection to Our Lady. Many icons depicting the martyr on one side and the Blessed Virgin on the other are found within Ethiopian churches. The Ethiopian christians relate Saint George to the Blessed Virgin, as on November 3, the same day the relics of Saint George were translated from Nikomedia to Lydda, the Feast of the translation of the body of the Blessed Virgin during Dormition, is celebrated. Therefore, Saint George is also by this occasion of translation associated with Our Lady.

The Cathedral of Saint George in Modica, Sicily was built in 1090 by the Norman Count Roger of Hautville. After experiencing in vision Saint George, Count Roger was able to defeat his enemies, probably Moors. He later built the Cathedral in honor of the saint over the ruins of an earlier church dedicated to the Holy Cross and destroyed by Islamic invaders in 845. This particular cathedral holds a statue dedicated to Our Lady under the title of the ‘Madonna della Neve’ or ‘Our Lady of the Snows,’ similarly to Salus Popoli Romani at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

One thousand, six hundred and twelve years, following Saint George’s martyrdom of April 23, 303, in Turkey, there occurred the first genocide of the twentieth century. On April 24, 1915, two million Armenian Christians were, similarly to Saint George before them, martyred in Turkey for the sole fact of being Christian; the Armenian massacre was a separate development to the First World War.

The German ‘Georgstaler’ coin bearing the image of Saint George upon steed, was known of having saved the life of a young German officer during the First World War. The enemy bullet struck the Georgstaler coin and did not injure the soldier. Following this event, many German soldiers carried such a coin in their pockets. Saint George’s flag represents a Red Cross upon a white field. During the Second World War, on April 22, 1945, Herr Hitler, fearing that his end was near, refused to leave his bunker. The next day, on Saint George’s day, the Soviet forces completely surrounded the City of Berlin and Reichsführer-SS Himmler began secret negotiations for a separate peace in the West with Count Bernadotte, head of the Swedish Red Cross. In 1995, for the fiftieth anniversary commemorating the end of the Second World War, on Poklonnaya Hill in Moscow, a monument bearing the names of all the Russian soldiers who died in the Second World War was erected. There also was erected an obelisk bearing a statue of Saint George on steed defeating and piercing  the ‘Dragon/Devil’ beneath. Yearly on May 9, beneath the obelisk bearing Saint George the dragon slayer, the Russian people gather to celebrate this victory and their liberation from communism. In 1956, Pope Pius XII made Saint George the Patron Saint of all the Italian cavalry. In 1978, a study commissioned by the Institute of Anthropology of the University of Bologna Italy, confirmed that the relics of Saint George, found in Como, Venice, Ferrara and Rome (Velabro), belong to the same individual of age eighteen to twenty, who was 165 centimeters tall, and lived during the fourth century. Saint George’s Feasts are celebrated on April 23, November 3 and 23, he is accredited as the liberator of slaves, the defender of the poor, the healer of the infirm and the strength of rulers, leaders and kings. A Bavarian Monarch King Ludwig II idolized St George to the point of believing that he was the Grandmaster of the Order of St George, he built a grand palace, the Neuschwanstein Castle which inspired Mr. Walt Disney’s architecture at Disney World, USA.

Although the Christian meaning was indeed on the retreat from the hearts and minds of the English people, during WWII Britain still identified itself with St George. Interestingly on November 23 (St George feast Constantinople) of the year 1939 and 1940, the Brits had some luck against NAZI Germany. The Rawalpindi, an armed merchant-cruiser had foiled an attempt of two NAZI battle cruisers from attacking the Atlantic convoys. In 1940 the first NAZI magnetic mine was captured, this enabled the development of the ‘degaussing’ system.  In our modern days certain political events occurred on Saint George’s Feast Days. In 2006, the promising Lebanese leader Pierre Gemayal was murdered in Beirut, shot by repeated volleys of automatic rifles fitted with silencers. Father Joseph Abu Ghazab recounted how six months earlier; Pierre Gemayal was attending one of his sermons at the Maranite Catholic Church of Saint Anthony, some fifty yards from the site of his assassination. Father Joseph Abu Ghazab preached on the ancient Christian martyrs and he is sure that Pierre Gemayal understood the significance of self-sacrifice and would have willingly sacrificed himself for his people. The murder was an attempt to extinguish the hope of the Christian people in the region. A people who for so long have suffered the interference of their neighbor, in their internal affairs. Pierre Gemayal was gunned down on November 21, 2006, and on November 23, 2006, on the ancient Feast of Saint George, his funeral took place at Saint George’s Cathedral in Beirut. On April 23, 2007, the Russian ex-President Boris Yeltsin died, it is important to note that thanks to Mr. Yeltsin the last vestiges of the Communist Party in Russia was defeated, during a short-lived Communist coup. The scene of Mr. Yeltsin standing upon a Russian tank urging revolt, is both fresh in the minds of most Russians and other peoples. Mr. Boris Yeltsin can be symbolically compared with the figure of Saint George battling a huge Red Dragon (the Red Star) and as such, can be also associated with Our Lady’s prophesy of Fatima in 1917. For she had pledged victory of her Immaculate Heart, if Russia were consecrated to her. The day following Mr. Boris Yeltsin’s victory and the morrow of the end of the Russian Communist Party, occurred ‘coincidentally’ the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, August 22, 1991. Recently, though the Communist Party in Russia has been reconstituted. Does the reconstituted Russian Communist Party represent the fatal wound which heals (Revelation 13:3)? However, although  Mr. Boris Yeltsin accomplished the liberation of Russia coincidentally on such significant Feast Days, this does not necessarily mean that he was a saintly figure. In the year 2000, Saint George’s Feast was reinstuted in the Catholic universal calender of Saints by Pope John Paul II.

The military martyrs were known to wait upon the right moment to profess their Faith and own up to their Roman persecutors. The injustice against society, the injustice against Christians and the Church, the injustice against God, the atrocities accomplished against the people, these matters led George to sum up a conclusion through the eyes of his own Faith. In Saint George’s case his affirmation that nothing can separate us from the love of the Lord, led him to desire the experience of martyrdom. The challenge, which the military martyrs took upon themselves, was to stare at death in its most ugly and destructive, monstrous form and expel all the deep fears, which were evoked when the torture instruments were revealed. For if they allowed fear to enter their hearts none would have been able to keep their Faith and affirm that what Saint Paul affirmed in Romans 8:35-37, “Nothing therefore can come between us and the love of Christ, even if we are troubled or worried, or being persecuted, or lacking food or clothes, or being threatened or even attacked. As scripture promised: For your sake we are being massacred daily, and reckoned as sheep for the slaughter. These are the trials through which we triumph, by the power of him who loved us. For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, or height or depth, nor any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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1 Comment »

  1. Thank you for this well-researched and written account of the life of St. George. Awesome is an understatement.

    Comment by Ameurfina Silo — May 14, 2012 @ 4:40 am | Reply


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