Metropolitan Panteleimon of Antinoes
In the year 296 A.D., during the reign of Diocletian, a man named George was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Roman army in Asia Μinor. This man was later to suffer martyrdom and to become known as St. George the Great Martyr.
In the same year that St. George d his command, Diacletian began his persecution against the Christians. He launched a two-pronged attack against them. Those who agreed to foreswear their faith in Christ were promised high positions in the Empire, whereas those who refused to betray their Lord and Saviour were to be put to death.
At the time the decree suppressing Christianity was promulgated, St. George was travelling alone in Lydia (Asia Minor). Now in that part of the world there was a city, the citizens of which worshipped a large snake, which lived near the lake close by. Every year they would offer a young girl as a sacrifice to the snake, which was known as Dragon, the god of the lake. The annual sacrifice was about to take place and the young victim was already bound and left waiting at the entrance to the cave where Dragon lived. At that moment St. George happened to pass by. He immediately stopped and asked what had be fallen her. She replied that she was a οffering to the god of the lake. St. George reforted that that was iniquitous and that there was One True God, the Creafor of heaven and earth, and that He did not require human sacrifice. Bidding her to be brave and to hold fast, he promised to save her from the monster.
It was not long before Dragon appeared at the mouth of the cave and began attacking his prey. The moment he did this, St. George charged at him, and making the sign of the Holy Cross, ran him through with his lance and kilied him.
When the people of the city, who were watching from the walls, saw what had happened, they let out a great shout of joy. Rushing out of the city, they welcomed St. George, thinking he must be a greater god than the one they had worshipped until then, namely Dragon. St. George knew he was no god, and that there is One True God. He told the people this and taught them the true faith in Jesus Christ. They were immediately converted and all became Christians.
While this was happening, Diocletian issued his decree against the Christians, and when St. George returned to his camp, he was immediately arrested, for it was known that he was a Christian. His own soldiers, forgetting his kindness and the love he had shown them and all that he done for the Empire, promptly clamped him in irons and delivered him to the second officer in command.
They tried everything to get him to deny his faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ. But both their promises of great reward and their threats, of death, were to no avail. Finally, exasperated at his unyielding steadfastness, a soldier threw a spear at him, which struck him in the stomach. The wound bled profusely, but almost immediately the spear miraculously returned to the thrower and the flow of blood ceased. Next they tied him on the rim of a big wheel to which sharp knives were attached, and proceeded to roll him down a hill, hoping thereby to cut him to pieces. But, as the wheel turned, an Angel appeared and protected him from this terrible martyrdom. Upon seeing this, many of the soldiers were converted and became Christians.
Because St. George stood firm in his faith, and because of his high position, he was eventually brought before the Emperors Diocletian and Magnendius. Once again, he was ordered to sacrifice to their false gods, and once again he refused. This time he was ordered to be flogged with the tendons of oxen. This was a most cruel and savage form of punishment, because as the tendons make contact with the body, they stick to the skin, tearing it off as the lashes are pulied back prior to the next blow. Αll the other soldiers who believed in Christ were beheaded.
Diocletian next gave orders that a big hole was to be dug and filled with quicklime and water. When the mixture was boiling and burning, they threw St. George in and left him there from sunrise til sunset. When going to pull him out, they expected to find him dead and all his flesh eaten away. But, once again the strength of Christ protected him and he emerged unharmed. Seeing this miracle Queen Alexandra, Diocletian’s wife, confessed in front of her husband that she was from now on a Christian. The Emperor next ordered boots made of hot steel and filled with spikes to be placed on St. George’s feet. Thus, chased by soldiers with whips, he was forced to run many miles from one city to another. While running he passed a graveyard. The Emperor Magnendius, mockingly, asked him to raise someone who had died many years previously from the dead, as a sign that Christ is the True God. St. George kneeled down and prayed, and immediately the dead person came to life and stood before them. The Emperor asked the man who he was and when he had died. The latter answered giving his name and stating that he had lived before the coming of Christ. Furthermore, he told them, he had believed in the false gods and that after his death he had languished in the kingdom of darkness. Many of those who saw this miracle believed in Christ, and with one voice glοrified God. Drunk with hate and blind to the truth, the Emperor ordered the man whom St. George had raised to be cut to pieces.
On reaching the other city, St. George was taken to the temple of the false gods where it was hoped he could be forced to worship these idols, but standing in front of them, he asked them to say: Who is the True God. Immediately there was a tremendous earthquake and all together, the statues toppled over and shattered into thousands of pieces.
Seeing this and blinded by their unbelief, the on lookers became angry and demanded that St. George be put to death. The Emperor ordered that he and St. Alexandra be beheaded. While in prison awaiting execution St. Alexandra prayed to our Lord to give her strength to endure her martyrdom. Our Lord took pity on her and d her soul into Heaven there and then. Two days later, on the 23rd Αpril, St. George was beheaded.
The news of his martyrdom spread rapidly throughout the empire, and he soon became one of the most loved and best known Saints in the entire Church. He is especially loved in Greece, because he was Greek, and in England where he is the patron Saint.
May the life and martyrdom of St. George be an example to us in our daily lives, that we may at all times and under all circumstances, no matter how threatening, be true to our faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.