This great martyr lived in the latter part of the third century A.D., during Diocletian's rule of the Roman Empire. He originally came from the area of Cappadocia and was raised by very pious parents.
When Diocletian started his persecutions against the Christians, Saint George declared himself to be a Christian and thus denied the false idols. He suffered many tortures because of his belief, but never considered renouncing it.
The life of Saint George is a prime example of the life that each Christian should follow to obtain salvation.
Saint George, the Great Martyr, was raised in the Christian religion. His father, himself, martyred for his faith. After his father's death, George's mother took him to Palestine where she had some farm land. At a young age, he served in the Roman army under the Emperor Diocletian and was commended many times for his excellent service to the Empire. From the rule of the Emperor Decian, until 284 A.D., when Diocletian became Emperor, the Christian Church went through a period of peace and prosperity. During that time, the Christians obtained important positions in the government, built many churches and schools, and organized the authoritative structure of the Church. Diocletian gave many of his loyal officers political positions so that he could have the military strength of his Empire on his side.
After Diocletian had suppressed the barbarian tribes which were attacking the Empire and after he had secured its borders, he began to concentrate on the Empire's internal affairs. Diocletian believed that a state religion could keep an Empire united. Since paganism was the state religion, Diocletian focused his efforts toward the suppression of Christianity.
During the year 303 A.D., Diocletian summoned his aides to meet in Caesarea, a city of the Eastern Roman Empire. He held three general meetings with his aides, instructing them to persecute the Christians. Saint George, since he had shown his excellence while serving in the army, was among these aides. Diocletian asked them to pledge their allegiance to this cause by making pagan sacrifices as proof of their loyalty. All of the aides pledged their loyalty, except for the Saint. He stood in front of Diocletian and admitted his belief in Christianity, telling the monarch of the Christian teachings and the Godliness of the Crucified Nazarene. The Emperor ordered this Christian taken to prison and that a boulder be placed on his chest as a form of torture. The next morning Diocletian ordered that the prisoner be brought before him for questioning. George stood steadfast and told Diocletian of his belief in the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Emperor then summoned the executioners to take the Saint and have him bound to the rim of a wheel set with sharp spikes. Diocletian admired the courage of the Saint and asked him to sacrifice to the gods to save himself. He refused Diocletion's request and welcomed the chance to martyr for Christ, as his father had done. After praying to God, he heard a voice from heaven say, "Do not fear, George, I am with you." With the help of Christ, the spiked wheel had no effect upon Saint George. When the Saint appeared before Diocletian not only was he unharmed, but an angelic aura had settled about him. Suddenly, two officers of the Roman army, Anatolios and Protoleon, appeared before Diocletian with two thousand soldiers. They admitted their belief in Christ and Diocletian had them all executed.
He then ordered his soldiers to dig a pit and fill it with lime. The Saint was then drenched with water and thrown into the pit. The water and lime would slowly destroy the Saint's body. After three days, Diocletian instructed the soldiers to clear the pit. To the surprise of the soldiers and the Emperor, Saint George sat at the bottom of the pit unharmed. Diocletian demanded to know what type of magic George had used to escape his fate. George answered that he had not used any magic, but that he had been saved by the power of God.
The Emperor then ordered that iron sandals be tied to the feet of the Saint and that he be made to run. As he ran, he was beaten. One of Diocletian's advisors, Magnentios, ordered George to perform a miracle. They happened to pass by a tomb of a man who had been dead for many years. Magnentios ordered George to resurrect this man to show the power of his God. After praying for a long time, he rolled the rock away from the tomb and resurrected the dead man. The by-standers praised the strength of Christ. Diocletian asked the resurrected man who he was and when he had died. He told Diocletian that he had lived before Christ had come on the Earth, and because he was an idolater, he had burned in the fires of Hell during all those years. Many idolaters were converted to Christianity because of this great miracle.
Among the people who glorified God and Saint George at the tomb was a farmer named Glecerios. Previously Saint George had resurrected this farmer's oxen, his livelihood. Because the farmer was so outspoken, the soldiers murdered him and thus he received the crown of martyrdom.
The next day, Diocletian met with his noblemen to determine Saint George's fate. They decided to beat the Saint mercilessly. The Saint nevertheless remained unharmed and retained his angelic appearance. Diocletian was convinced that all of George's miracles were done by magic. He, therefore, called upon Athanasius the Magician to break this magic. Athanasius held two vials in his hands. If the Saint drank the first one, he would go insane, if he drank the second one he would die. The Saint took the first vial and prayed. He drank its contents and there was no effect. Diocletian still believed that George was a magician; however, Athanasius realized the strength of God and confessed his belief in the Christian God. Athanasius was immediately executed by Diocletian's order. After seeing the miracles of Saint George, Diocletian's wife, the Empress Alexandra, also confessed her belief in Christ. Diocletian imprisoned her. Saint George was returned to prison and dreamt that Christ told him that he would receive the crown of martyrdom and life eternal.
Once again George appeared before Diocletian who ordered that Saint George accompany him to the temple and sacrifice to the gods. When they arrived at the temple, Saint George made the sign of the cross and the idols were again destroyed. The people and the priests were furious and demanded that Diocletian have the Saint executed. Saint George was taken out of the city and as he turned his head toward the executioner, he was beheaded.
In the history of our Church, we find a myth related to a dragon and Saint George. This dragon threatened the idolaters in the area of Atalia. The people were forced to live inside the walls of their city. This prevented them from tending their fields and grazing their sheep. Every year, they would sacrifice a young girl to the dragon. When Saint George arrived in this area, the King's daughter was about to be sacrificed. After subduing the dragon, Saint George placed a rope around its neck. He then gave the rope to the princess so that she could lead the beast back to the city. Thence, he slaughtered the terror and subsequently baptized thousands of the city's inhabitants.
It is from the icon of Saint George that this myth came about. The icon depicts the Saint as an equestrian slaying the dragon with the princess in the background. The first iconographers of Saint George were probably trying to depict Satan as the dragon and Saint George conquering evil. Another explanation of this icon is that the artists were trying to depict Diocletian as the dragon and Saint George conquering him. The princess in the background could have been the Empress Alexandra who watched Saint George as he triumphed. She could also symbolize Christianity, or the Church itself.