Vol. 2 No. 2 - Pentecost 2007
The Dragon-Slayer of Lydda
"I saw an angel come down from heaven... And he laid hold of the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him...and cast him into the bottomless pit." - Revelation 20:1-3
Unlike our neighbours to the south, most early settlers to Canada brought with them a love for the saints. Even the most strident anti-Papist protestant often held up the saints of the Church as heroes and protectors, whose memory should be honoured. For the pious, this honour often meant the appointment of patron saints for organizations, and for the nation herself.
It should be no surprise that the leader among these patrons would be Saint George, the dragonslayer and martyr of Lydda, of the fourth century. Saint George exemplifies not only the qualities of a true Christian, but the essential qualities of a true citizen: loyalty, courage, and a deep sense of self-sacrifice for the salvation of others. Holy Tradition tells us that Saint George was a loyal soldier in the army of the pagan emperor Diocletian, a loyalty that remained firm until it was forced to choose between the empire of Rome and the Eternal Kingdom of Christ. The saint saw no conflict with Christianity in serving as a good and loyal citizen, protecting the weak against enemies (including a beastly dragon, outlined in the tradition as it is repeated throughout the world), and swearing loyalty to his emperor - even a demonstrated evil and pagan emperor such as Diocletian.
For Saint George, like Orthodox today, civil citizenship does not come into conflict with faith: faith underpins good citizenship in a healthy kingdom. Only when a nation becomes sick, and demands that the faithful worship false gods - military policy, materialism, sensuality, or the leader himself - must the Christian draw the line, and make the choice for Christ, against the nation.
The cross of Saint George (originally the flag of the holy city of Jerusalem, borrowed by the English crusaders in their battles against Islam) graces five provincial coats of arms and six provincial flags (as well as the original national flag). Even the flag of the city of Montreal, the earliest Canadian city, bears the red cross of Christian martyrdom linked to this saint. The colours of his martyrdom are preserved in the national flag used today.
The material evidence of our Canadian national symbols, a national tradition that runs alongside the Holy Tradition of the Church, underscores Saint George's unique position as the first patron saint of Canada. Long before the Roman Catholics introduced Righteous Joseph, the foster father of the Lord, as their patron for Canada, the founding fathers, fueled with a sense of an empire of many cultures garnered from the Byzantines and the Slavs through the Anglo-Norman English, chose a patron and a symbol that stands the test of time. For Saint George is not simply the patron of Canada, but the patron of countless Orthodox peoples. He is the patron of the Church in Moscow and the armed forces in Greece. The nation enlightened by his cousin, Saint Nina of Georgia, bears his names as well as his cross on its flag. He is the patron of the Great City, Constantinople, first in honour among the surviving ancient patriarchates. He is patron and defender of Arab Orthodox in Palestine and Lebanon, as well as the Orthodox faithful of a millennium ago in Genoa, Calabria, Catalonia, Venice, Portugal, and Lithuania. Further, he is the patron of the ancient Orthodox empire of Ethiopia, the crown of Christianity in early Africa, and a beacon to Orthodox faithful of African heritage to this day.
Whether they knew it or not, the builders of Upper and Lower Canada forged a nation around a patron saint whose universality could not have been anticipated, but by God. Even in our age of contrived government-funded multiculturalism, the universal Orthodox witness of Saint George, the Great Martyr, must not be lost, for he represents the true unity of the Orthodox faith, a unity not based on changing national identities and politics, but on the Blood of Christ, shared by him and by Orthodox faithful to this day, and the blood shed by the martyrs of the Church.
Yet how often have Canadian Orthodox Christians been deceived, forgetting this inheritance? How often have we seen our commonalities reduced to sharing the crumbs of government handouts for "culture" - singing, and dancing, eating and drinking - which keep us divided into ethnic ghettos? The Great Martyr himself loved his nation - pagan Rome - but his heart was always tied to a higher nation, a better citizenship, an eternal home in Heaven. It was this citizenship that inspired Saint Alexandra, wife of an emperor, to accept Christ and deny her husband and his empire - and to face martyrdom at his hands. This is the eternal citizenship summed up by the faith of Saint George, a mixed-blood Anatolian Palestinian whose true Father was the Lord, and whose true mother was the Church.
As we mark the feast day of the Patron Saint of Canada (April 23 / May 6), we must ask ourselves if we have been worthy of him. Have our Orthodox legislators been both loyal citizens, and champions of the Faith, or have they accepted the offers of rank, title, and money from modern-day Diocletians? Have our Orthodox leaders demonstrated the faith of Saint Alexandra who, looking to the martyrdom of Holy George, experienced conversion of heart, whatever the consequence to their public position? And have we, as citizens in the army of a new pagan empire of the west, made up our minds that the blood red cross of Saint George, the red Cross of Christ, is the cross we will carry, in our families, in our schools, at our workplace, and throughout our life?
Unlike Saint George, the dragons we face today are much more subtle, but like the dragons he conquered, they still hide in dark holes, and still offer bribes, if only we turn from Christ, even for a moment. These are the dragons that lurk within our political debate, that bribe us with promotions if we only pour our blood into our ambitions, that offer us wealth and position if we will just set aside the quaint custom of prayer and Church, for the idol of running our family restaurant, being a cultural community leader, and - above all - fitting in to mainstream Canadian life.
The banner of Saint George - the banner of Jerusalem - still graces our national symbols. He is still alive in our nation, but more importantly, he is still alive, standing before Christ, interceding for us and for our country, if we only ask him, marking his feast day with love and conviction.
Our alternative is the alternative of the earthly life, and the dragon who is its symbol and the symbol of its fallen ruler. For not only is Holy George the dragon slayer, he is also the tiller of the earth, which is the meaning of his name, and like him, we have the task of tilling the soil of our spiritual hearts and those of our country, that watered by the blood of his martyrdom, they may bring forth fruit in the Kingdom of Christ.
Father Geoffrey Korz, (Pentecost, 2007)
© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2007.