April 23 is the feast of St. George. George was a Roman soldier in the third century, during the time of the Emperor Diocletian. He was from a Christian family and his father was an army officer. As a young man, he also entered the service of the Empire and rose to the rank of Tribune, enjoying a position of trust with the Emperor. When Diocletian turned against Christians and ordered the arrest of Christian soldiers, George went to him and protested the action. The Emperor was not swayed by George’s appeal and instead ordered him to renounce his Christian beliefs. George refused, was tortured and eventually was beheaded.
Most of the stories of St. George are non-verifiable legends. At least some of them seem to be confusions with the stories of others named George or others who had similar positions or histories.
The stories with which he is most often identified have him in the role of Dragon-slayer. They are found in many countries and cultures, even crossing religious lines between Christian and Muslim worlds. In most stories St. George slays the dragon. In some, he subdues the dragon.
I like the idea of subduing the dragon. I first came across it when my sons were young and attending Waldorf school. For the Feast of Michaelmas, in September, the second graders performed a play in which St. Michael faces a dragon that has been terrorizing a village. The play has a character more like St. George who is supported by St. Michael. In this particular version of the story, the dragon is tamed and provides energy to run the mill so the villagers can grind the wheat they have grown to make flour for their bread.
Dragons come in many sizes and shapes in stories from cultures all over the world. In China, dragons are respected and seen in a much more positive light than in Western European stories. In fact, when my first son was born, my Mother’s cousin who was a priest in Hong Kong sent a gift of a red dragon to us in celebration. The Dragon Wars stories of novelist Laurence Yep are some of my favorites. Written for middle school and older children, they present Chinese folklore in a very engaging way. Dragons are to be respected, held in awe and definitely not destroyed. Their presence and the gifts of passion and energy they bring are necessary for all of creation.
I like to think of dragons in these more Chinese terms. Having been born in a “Year of the Dragon” myself, and being somewhat choleric in nature, I have had to come to terms with the passionate, powerful energy within myself that can burst out in good ways and in not-so-good ways. That “dragonish” energy can bring forth wonderful things. It can also blast potentially wonderful things to smithereens if released inappropriately. I’m sure sometimes God winces in dismay as a carefully set up pattern of events that would lead to something really good gets derailed by such blasts. (Not to say that God can’t still bring something good out of it, but it’s so much more bother!)
So when I think of the feast of St. George and the stories of dragons slain or subdued or celebrated, I pray that the dragonish power within me – the Greek “dunamis” or power, potential, capacity – will be focused by the Holy Spirit for service of the Kingdom. I hope that will be your prayer as well.Read More