The story of Saint George
By Sue Reid
Now very little is known about the real life of Saint George. What we DO know is that he lived a long time ago...about 1700 years ago, during the time of the Roman empire. But he didn't live in England. He lived far away in a place that is now part of Turkey. And it was an important time for the Christian faith because the rulers of the Roman empire had decided to treat Christians very badly. And many had to go on the run to escape being captured. And that's the background of our story - the real story of Saint George. And it's told for us by one of those early Christians - on the run, and with a sad story to tell...
What a steep hill! How hard to climb! When I was a soldier I’d have leapt up it like a goat. I was a bit younger then. And fit. Used to long marches. I’m not a soldier now though, because I’m on the run. A boy walks by my side – also on the run. He’s a good boy. He leads my mule and helps me to find safe places to hide in, goes looking for food. I couldn’t manage without him.
The boy points down the hill. 'Look – it’s Nicomedia,' he says. That city was my home once, I tell him. It is the most beautiful city in the world. The Emperor Diocletian made it his capital. 'Is it true what they say?' the boy asks me. 'Are the houses made of marble? The streets paved with gold?' I don’t answer. I feel sad when I think about my city. Sad because Nicomedia was my home and I had to leave it. And then I think about it – why I had to leave.
I was a soldier in the service of the Emperor Diocletian – ruler of the Roman Empire. I was so proud. I admired the Emperor. He was a strong man. He tried to make the empire safe. But it wasn’t safe. There were rebellions and I believed the Emperor when he said the Christians were to blame for the trouble. He ordered that a special notice be placed on the walls of the city. And I put it there! It said that all the Christians’ churches were to be destroyed and their holy books burnt. Anyone who refused to obey would be imprisoned, or put to death. And we, the soldiers, had to carry out these orders.
I feel ashamed now to think what I did then. I set fire to churches and dragged people out of their homes - just for being Christian.
‘You there, come out!’ I’d say harshly. ‘Please sir, leave us be. We’ve done nothing wrong,’ they’d cry.
I can still hear their voices. Pleading. I was a hard man then.
Then one day I saw a Roman officer tear down the notice I’d put up. ‘This is an evil thing,’ he said. I was startled. I knew that officer. He was a man I had much respect for – an officer in charge of 1000 men. George was his name. His valour, and his brave deeds were known to me as they were to everyone in the city. It was said that the Emperor himself knew George and valued him highly. Yet here he was – a Roman officer - tearing down the Emperor’s orders! I didn’t agree with what he had done, but I admired his courage.
Stories began to spread about George. People said he helped the Christians to hide. That he treated them kindly. And one night – when I was a guard on duty – I myself saw him lead a family to safety. ‘Follow me,’ I heard him whisper. ‘I will show you a safe place to hide.’
It wasn’t long before the Emperor learnt how George had disobeyed his orders...so George was arrested. I remember the day well, for I was one of the soldiers sent to arrest him. It was a task I’d rather not have had. We found George in his house. He was alone. He came quietly, walked between us so proudly. People fell silent as he passed through the city under guard towards the palace. Some stared. Some even wept. They knew he was a kind man...that he helped people in need. It was even said that he was a Christian himself.
Inside the palace courtyard we stopped, and waited. The Emperor’s bodyguard of soldiers marched in. Then came the Emperor; my Emperor. My heart swelled. He was dressed in long silk robes, covered with precious gems...and there was a crown of gold and pearls on his head. Who would dare to disobey such a man? As was the custom, we fell to our faces before him. ‘Hail,’ we cried as one. ‘Hail, mighty Caesar!’
George was in chains but how proud he looked. And then he spoke. He asked the Emperor: ‘Why do you, a great ruler, treat your people so harshly? Why do you punish them? What is their crime? Being Christian? What harm do Christians do you?’ Then he told the Emperor that he too was a Christian. A soldier of Christ. He would not stand by and watch others suffer.
How angry the Emperor was! He would not listen to George. I looked from one man to the other. In my eyes the Emperor seemed to have got a little smaller, George to have grown taller. As for me, I felt ashamed of myself. I remembered what I had done. How I’d dragged people from their homes, and burnt their churches. And for what? How ashamed I felt.
As we led George away to prison, I decided that I would find out more about his faith...