Some time ago I spent three weeks in Cairo at an international meeting of priests. We visited Old Cairo and was shown the place where St George was imprisoned. It was only when here in Egypt did I realise what an important saint he was for the Christian community in the East.
The fact that he was martyred at Lydia in Palestine probably before the emperor Constantine is all that can be ascertained about this famous saint. Under the emperor Diocletian a persecution of the Christians arose, and being a Roman commander by this time, George was ordered to take part. He refused and confessed his faith. Terrible tortures failed to weaken the young George (he was still in his twenties), but instead converted some of those who witnessed his confession, including Diocletian’s wife Empress Alexandria. Finally, George was beheaded. The year of his martyrdom was 303 A.D.
Just a generation later, when the Christian emperor Constantine ruled the Roman Empire, there was a church dedicated to St George and his relics were kept at Lydda for veneration by local Christians.
Stories about him and the slaying of the dragon don’t appear till the twelfth century. St George came to the city of Selene in Lydia that was a being persecuted by a terrible dragon and the people had been reduced to supplying prey from this own people. His next victim was the princess.
“The old dragon emerged from the pool, ready to eat the princess, when suddenly St George appeared on a radiant white horse, armed with spear, shield, and sword. Making the sign of the Cross, and in the name of “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”, St George transfixed the dragon to the ground with his spear, whilst his horse trampled the serpent under its hooves. St George commanded the princess to bind the neck of the dragon with her belt and lead the beast back to the town. Once there, in front of the astonished citizens and the grateful king, St George dispatches the dragon with his sword.”
For me the symbolism of the dragon is the evil we are all called to resist and fight against today. I remember one of the priests at my seminary asking us what are the dragons in our lives that are ready to swallow us? What are the dragons that keep us fearful and helpless? He suggested sloth, apathy, and indifference. Today we need to be freed from what binds us and keeps us imprisoned. The power of the Cross will set us free.