St. George of Cappadocia is the most popular among the saints of the Christian world. Its importance for the Christian Church, both Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Gregorian, is hard to underestimate. Moreover, the death and resurrection of St. George are also mentioned in the commentaries of the holy book of Muslims, the Koran. But there is no other place in the world where St. George is as highly regarded as Georgia.
In 1180, Jacques de Vitry, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote: “In the East, there is a Christian people, a great warrior, brave in war, strong in body and mighty.” They have countless warriors. These people are called Georgians because they treat and worship St. George with special awe, whom they consider their protector and flag bearer in the fight against the infidels and respect more than all other saints.”
In the reports of the crusaders, the Georgian nation’s affection for St. Giorgi is particularly emphasized. Moreover, the crusaders even named our country after St. George – for them, our Georgianness is precisely related to the cult of George the patron saint of our country.
The importance of Saint George for Georgians is immeasurable. George is the first most popular male name in the country.
Everyone in Georgia knows the Troparion of Saint George – the Great Martyr, the Mighty, and the Miracle Worker: Liberator of captives, erector of the hands of the poor, healer of the sick, and invincible champion of kings, great martyr George clothed in merit, beg the Lord Christ for mercy upon our souls!
Georgians consider Saint George a special patron of the nation. Most of the churches in the country are built in his name. There are 365 blessings in the name of St. George preserved in folk speech, which are connected with the daily celebrations in St. George’s name throughout the year. The Great Martyr is also depicted on the State Coat of Arms of Georgia.
The veneration of St. George began in Georgia at the beginning of the 4th century, and gradually the horseman who defeats the beast became a constituent part of Georgian consciousness and Orthodox beliefs.
According to tradition, Georgian educator St. Nino the Great Martyr was a cousin, and Georgians were told about the martyrdom of St. George from her.
In Georgia, there are many legends about how the saint in the flesh used to fight with the army of Georgians against numerous enemies, including the battle of Didgori.
Saint George was depicted on the coat of arms of the kings of Georgia, the Bagrations.
As a rule, the icon of the great martyr was embroidered with silk on the flags of the Georgian army, and not infrequently, the image of St. George was also engraved on the shields of warriors.
Who was Saint George?
According to tradition, Saint George was born in Cappadocia in the second half of the 3rd century, around 275. The father, Gerontius, was a deeply religious Christian who ended his life as a martyr. After her husband’s death, Giorgi’s mother, Polytronia, moved to her family estate in Palestine and raised her son with God-fearing and love. George started his military service at a very young age, and an outstanding warrior in battle soon attracted the attention of Emperor Diocletian. The emperor highly regarded George and gave him the rank of knight.
In the early days, Diocletian did not persecute Christians, but after 15 years of rule, famine, epidemics, and rebellions began in the empire. The priests and Diocletian believed that this happened because of the increase of Christians in the country, and the emperor began to persecute them.
Despite the obvious danger, George went to the king and publicly opposed the torture of innocent Christians. Diocletian was unable to recruit St. George, so he decided to torture him. By order of Diocletian, St. George was put on a wheel, and swords were placed below, as a result of which the martyr’s body was cut into many parts. But in some miraculous way, George was healed after every torture. This miracle converted many people to faith in Christ.
George was then thrown into the pit with wet lime, where he spent three days, but survived this ordeal unscathed. Then they forced him to run with nailed shoes and severely beat him.
After realizing they would never break his spirit, the soldiers beheaded St. George by order of the emperor.
The legend about slaying the dragon
Selinos, an idolater who was unforgiving towards Christians, reigned in the city of Lasia. An evil dragon appeared in a lake near the city, it rose from the water every day and slayed the inhabitants. No one could kill him. The alarmed king ordered the inhabitants of the city to give their children one by one to be sacrificed to the beast. Every resident had given one child and it was the king’s daughter’s turn. The distraught father offered many riches to the people to save his daughter from this fate but in vain. Just when the woman was waiting for the dragon to come out of the lake, St. George passed by on the way, saw the virgin girl with tears in her eyes, and asked her why she was crying. The woman asked him to leave this dangerous place quickly, but St. George firmly told her that he would not leave her, even if it cost him his life. Then the woman told him about her predicament. Saint George told her that he was saving her in the name of God. He prayed to the Savior to help him defeat the beast. Soon a dragon appeared, but as a result of George’s prayer, the evil beast fell at the saint’s feet almost like pierced with a lance.
The grateful king offered him the treasure as a reward for saving his girl’s life, but George refused and gave the riches to the poor instead. The people in the city were so impressed by what they saw that they converted to Christianity and got baptized.
The image of Saint George defeating the beast is a symbol of Christianity’s victory over evil and sin. For Georgians all the main components are gathered in the image of St. George: the fight against evil echoes the main priorities of the national consciousness, which is of great importance for the Georgian nation. Armored warrior rider reminds us of a mythical passage, in which psychic details expressing the mood of society collide: reality and legend, Christianity and national consciousness.