The Popularity of Saint George
What is it that makes one saint more popular that others? Why do so many of the icons we paint tend to be of the same saints? Certainly there are many answers to those questions, but also, there are some saints who exist powerfully in the imagination of many people and thus are frequently used to focus prayers and our understanding of God’s power . Saint George is one of those, and since we recently painted his icon in the recent color theory and icons class I taught on line, I share with you some of the important aspects of Saint George that we discovered.
Saint George was one of the saints most highly regarded in ancient Russia. He was venerated not only as a warrior but also as a protector of agriculture. His feast day is April 23, which coincides with the beginning of the agricultural season. The icon we painted is Saint George and the Dragon. This one shows Saint George with his spear ready to pierce the dragon, who symbolizes evil. The hand of God in the upper corner completes the meaning that man, with God’s help, conquers evil in the world.
|Both Catholics and Protestants maintained fidelity to St. George through the Reformation and its aftermath. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, England’s Catholics observed his feast each year as a holy day of obligation.|
|In Henry V, Shakespeare has the title character invoke St. George at Harfleur before the battle of Agincourt: “Follow your spirit, and upon this charge cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'” And of course, Saint George is the patron saint of England.|
In French, the word “cheval” means horse, and so it happens, as Chesterton once observed, that in the concept of chivalry, the very name of the horse has been given to the highest mood and moment of man. The combination of man and horse, he continues, evokes feelings of so high an order that earlier ages happily portrayed in their art Christian heroes on winged stallions. The most famous of these images was that of St. George, the mounted knight, defender of the good, piercing with his lance the dragon, that representation of evil rampant in the world. Some of this material is excerpted from ( Fr. James’ Newsletter, April 21, 2021, St. Procopious Abbey).
George’s real importance in the lives of Slavic peasants was as the mythical hero “Yegoriy the Brave,” the militant protector of cattle from wolves and bears, associated not only with the well being of horses but also with the greening of the grass after winter and the pasturing of the cattle. St. George became a kind of nature god, like the Prophet Elijah, whose chariot rolling across the heavens made the thunder. George was, in Russian peasant lore, the one who brought the spring. (Icons and their Interpretation)
The Significance of Saint George Today
Yet another reason for Saint George’s popularity with people today is that he symbolizes a spiritual truth which places the power of God firmly on the throne. It is only with God’s help that victory is achieved. Just as David, in 2 Samuel 5:6-6:23, asked God before he went into battle if he should go forth or not, giving God’s will preference over his own, here Saint George’s message is similar. He doesn’t trust in his own strength, but in God’s Strength. And this message is in contradiction to the message of humanism that our culture has inherited from the cultural developments after the Renaissance. Before the 1300’s, the world was defined with a theistic world view. As part of that world view, every creature as well as heaven had a clearly defined place in the hierarchy established by the laws of God. The good of all required devotion, community and cooperation with one’s neighbor. Humanism cultivated the reliance of man upon his own strength and abilities for answers and salvation from life’s problems. So, Saint George is a visual reminder to us to always seek our help for above, from God himself, and then our victory is assured.
May God bless the work of your hands and protect you from all that is not of Him,
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