Venerated in East and West
April 23rd is the feast of Saint George the Martyr. In the reformed Roman Missal he is honoured with an optional memorial. (It’s a pity, but true, that as soon as anything is made optional in the liturgy it tends to disappear altogether. What is made optional is, in the end, suppressed. I loathe options in the liturgy. They do not “foster a greater pastoral sensitivity to the spiritual needs of local communities” — what a lot of balderdash! — they foment chaos and liturgical minimalism! But I digress.) Saint George is venerated with a special cultus in Belgium, Bulgaria, Brazil, England, Georgia, Greece, India, Italy, Lebanon, and Russia.
Among the Proper Offices for Matins of the feast of Saint George the Martyr one finds several “dragon” responsories drawn from the Apocalypse of Saint John. Think what you will of Saint George and the dragon, I find it salutary to recall the old legend. We are all, in one way or another, locked in spiritual combat with the ancient dragon, our hateful foe.
The Weapons of Humility and Prayer
The iconography of Saint George is fabulously rich. I chose two images. In the first, a Byzantine icon, we do not see the dragon. Though real, the ancient dragon is invisible. Saint George is defeating the dragon through prayer alone. His hands are raised in supplication, his head is bowed in humility, and he carries no earthly weapon.
In the second image, the work of Pisannello (1445) Saint George is shown in the company of another spiritual warrior, Saint Anthony of the Desert. The dragon slithers defeated at Saint George’s feet. Saint George is decked out in a gorgeous suit of armour with a plumed chapeau. Saint Anthony wears another kind of armour: the monastic habit. Both spiritual warriors stand under the protection of the Woman clothed with the sun, the Immaculate Virgin Mary. Victory over the ancient dragon comes to those who trust in the all-powerful supplication of the Queen of Heaven and in her Divine Son.
R. Out of the bottomless pit cometh forth the beast, * Against them that do bear their testimony, alleluia. V. The same maketh war against them to overcome them and kill them. Against them that do bear their testimony, alleluia.
R. There is a wonder in heaven, a Woman who is clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars, * For the dragon is wroth with the Woman, and persecuteth the remnant of her seed upon earth, alleluia. V. And he maketh war with those who keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus Christ. For the dragon is wroth with the Woman, and persecuteth the remnant of her seed upon earth, alleluia.
R. And man may overcome the dragon * By the blood of the Lamb and the word of testimony, alleluia. V. Blessed George, defend us in the hour of battle, and help us to gain the victory over our hateful foe. By the blood of the Lamb and the word of testimony, alleluia.