St. George the Martyr
Preaching on the saints can be, at times, a real challenge. This is especially true with some of the early saints, including some of the apostles, about whom we know very little, and what we do know, is largely legend. Does the preacher simply stick to the texts, or do they focus on the legend? The problem with dismissing the legend out of hand is that many of the legends have within them shards of historical truth, and if they don’t, the legends are so archetypal, they still contain truth, and those archetypal legends have the power to shape and influence lives.
This is especially true of St. George, whom we remember today. What can be said about him, or at least about his feast historically, is that his feast was being kept as early as the mid fifth century. The legend of George and the dragon can’t be traced back earlier than the twelfth century. It is thought he died a martyr in the early years of the fourth century, during the persecution of Diocletian. He may have been a soldier, which gave rise to him being recognized as the patron saint of soldiers in twelfth century. As patron saint of soldiers, the Crusades were fought under his banner, which is how, ultimately, devotion to George was carried back to England, where in 1347 he was declared the patron saint.
But that’s not much to base a life upon, especially a Christian life, unless you are prepared to enter the world of archetype.
The soldier archetype is a strong, determined, and courageous individual, who is prepared to do battle. They care deeply for those with whom they fight, and often for the civilian caught in the middle. Identity is rooted in physical prowess, and the ability to defeat the enemy.
This is the archetype upon which the legend of George is based, whom we see single handedly defeating evil, personified by the dragon, and so save, and save the virtue, of the maiden.
Our ancestors in the monastic tradition would recognize themselves in this description. They too were engaged in battle with evil, in order to save themselves, and others. We have only to think of Anthony of Egypt to see this archetype deeply rooted in our tradition.
As monastics, we may not think of ourselves as soldiers in the midst of combat, but who among us does not have to wage war with the demons, sometimes daily? The word God spoke to Joshua is also a word for us, as we like George, put on our battle gear, and enter the fray.
Be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go even if you go into battle with Satan, and all the demons of hell.
 Joshua 1: 9
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