A homily by His Grace Bishop Partenij of Antania, given on the Feast of St. George at Divine Liturgy on November 16th in the year of Our Lord 2022 at Knežino Monastery.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Today, my beloved, we are illuminated by the brilliance of the Feast of the Holy Great Martyr George the Victorious, on which we commemorate the transfer of his relics and the restoration of his glorious church in Lydda in the Holy Land. It was on this spot that he glorified his Lord with martyr’s blood and was crowned by Him with Divine Glory. For more than 1,700 years, his memory has shined forth in both the heavenly and the earthly Church. The Church also honored him with the title of Great Martyr, because his sufferings for the sake of Christ described in his Life are truly enormous and indescribable. The Church also gives him the name of Victory Bearer because the victories he brought Christians in spiritual battles against evil, sin, passions, and egoism are innumerable.
We know for certain that St. George was a tribune in the Roman army. He began his military career at a very young age, around thirteen, and distinguished himself with his honesty and zeal. This was because he had been brought up to be charitable as he grew up in a warm Christian family. His father also suffered as a martyr for Christ. His mother continued to educate him in Christian virtue so that St. George grew into a virtuous, brave, and sound-minded young man. As such, he took his duty to the Empire seriously, and with his brave endeavors as a soldier, he brought the Roman Army many victories. Of course, this was not all that he accomplished. Through his personal example of a virtuous life, fearlessness, and freedom in God, he helped many of his fellow soldiers accept the Christian faith and get baptized. Therefore, he preached with both words and deeds.
He served as a Roman military commander under the emperor Diocletian, a despotic man and fierce persecutor of Christians. In the year 303 AD, Diocletian carried out a cruel wave of torture and execution of Christians. In this same period, in that most terrible time when many were afraid, St. George proclaimed before the Emperor that he was a Christian himself, and when the latter threatened him and finally subjected him to cruel tortures, he still would not give up Christ’s life-giving teachings for anything. No power could shake his unwavering faith in Christ. All his desires, his entire heart’s longings, and all his inner man’s strivings were directed to the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, as a Christian, he had faithfully fulfilled his military duty to the earthly king, but when it came time to show his loyalty and devotion to the heavenly King, he had no doubts or hesitation as to Whom he should serve more. In a word, Christ was everything to him: the fulfillment of his heart and all his desires, the Bridegroom of his brilliant soul that longed for eternal life in God.
Thus it becomes clear why in a time of the greatest slandering of Christians and fierce persecution, St. George not only did not hide his faith so as to preserve his important position and the honor society gave him but on the contrary, he began to profess his Christian faith even more openly and emphatically. First, Emperor Diocletian tried to tempt him with seductive proposals and promises if he would renounce Christ. But, after he wisely rejected all of these offers, he was subjected to unspeakable sufferings and torments. However, the Holy Great Martyr bravely stuck to his strong confession of faith. In the end, he laid down his life for his faith in Christ.
Where, my beloved, did this young warrior for Christ get all this courage and determination? Since he put Christ above everything in his life, He was filled with divine eros for Christ. This is precisely why he was granted such unusual spiritual strength that he could endure such cruel tortures with joy. The Holy Great Martyr George’s example should also encourage us, that as Christians we might see everything in our lives through the lens of God’s eternity, through Christ, and in Christ. Only if we live our lives filled with Christ will we have the right to call ourselves Christians. In the Life of St. George we read that when he was asked what his name was, he answered, “Christian.” He did not even say his baptized name, but what was most precious and important to him was to identify himself with the name of Christ. In so doing, the Victorious One showed us how much responsibility we have since we bear the Holy Name of Christ, and that it should not be just an ordinary name, but the very essence of our life. “The light of Christ enlightens all,” the Church often repeats. Thus, we are the ones who are called to be light, according to the words of our Savior, who commanded the disciples: “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).
St. George was a light even under the most severe tortures. We too, in our trials, should carry our cross with joy and gratitude like he did, knowing that in the end, Christ will give us his victorious crown of salvation. At the end of Saint George’s martyrdom, after enduring numerous pains, an angel from heaven descended into that darkness and encouraged him to continue to be brave, because he would be crowned by the Lord Jesus Christ. And then that’s what happened. St. George fearlessly persevered in confessing the Christian faith and finally, his honorable head was cut off for the sake of Christ so that he could live forever in the Kingdom of Heaven. For more than 1,700 years, he has been among the most beloved saints in the entire Christian world. It would seem almost every larger town has a church dedicated to this Great and Holy Martyr of Christ.
Do you see what strength man acquires through faith in Christ? Man is so ordinary, and yet he is able to acquire miracle-working divine qualities and become God by grace! All the Saints of our Church, the martyrs, the venerable, and the righteous have great power and freedom in the heavenly Church and therefore can help us here, in the earthly Church. They loved Christ who gives eternal life with all their strength. Without Christ, my beloved, without faith in Him, we are literally nothing. If we do not direct our lives, desires, and longings to the Kingdom of Heaven, we will be simply the living dead. Every reasonable person comes to this conclusion one way or another. I will give you an example that inspired me recently. Some young people in the city who like to write graffiti and slogans on street walls wrote in one spot: “We die at 18, but they only bury us at 80.” What they wrote is not far from the truth at all. Without a doubt, if a person loses faith in Christ, in eternity, in joy, he really does become just a dead man in this life. Unfortunately, it is obvious that many in the Christian world have lost this faith and that is why we see chaos everywhere. Fratricidal wars, the disintegration of moral and ethical values, and the profaning of everything that is sacred – for example, marriage and the family, which are like a miniature church. There are no more people who live normal, healthy lives, and Christians have remained Christians only in name and not in reality. We do not put Christ above everything like today’s saint, Saint George the Victorious, who was truly filled with Christ and gained acquired strength so that he continues to work miracles and helps us in our weaknesses. Through his prayers, may we also gain boldness in faith and works for the sake of Christ, so that we too can testify to the faith of light, blessing, and truth.