This glorious and victorious saint was born in Cappadocia the son of wealthy and virtuous parents. His father suffered for Christ and his mother then moved to Palestine. When George grew up, he entered the military, where in his twentieth year, attained the rank of a Tribune and as such was in the service of the Emperor Diocletian. When Diocletian began the terrible persecution against Christians, George came before him and courageously confessed that he is a Christian. The emperor had him thrown into prison and ordered that his feet be placed in a stockade of wooden hobbles and that a heavy stone be placed on his chest. After that, the emperor commanded that George be tied to a wheel under which was a board with large nails and he was to be rotated until his entire body became as one bloody wound. After that, they buried him in a pit with only his head showing above the ground and there they left him for three days and three nights. Then George was given a deadly poison to drink by some magician. But, through all of these sufferings, George continuously prayed to God and God healed him instantly and saved him from death to the great astonishment of the people. When he resurrected a dead man through his prayer, many then accepted the Faith of Christ. Among these also was Alexandra, the wife of the Emperor Athanasius, the chief pagan priest and the farmers: Glycerius, Valerius, Donatus and Therinus. Finally the emperor ordered George and his wife Alexandra beheaded. Blessed Alexandra died on the scaffold before being beheaded. St George was beheaded in the year 303 AD The miracles which have occurred over the grave of St George are without number. Numerous are his appearances, either in dreams or openly, to those who have invoked him and implored his help from that time until today. Enflamed with love for Christ the Lord, it was not difficult for this saintly George to leave all for the sake of this love: rank, wealth, imperial honor, his friends and the entire world. For this love, the Lord rewarded him with the wealth of unfading glory in heaven and on earth and eternal life in His kingdom. In addition, the Lord bestowed upon him the power and authority to assist all those in miseries and difficulties who honor him and call upon his name.
But of course there is also this interesting story of the dragon (told briefly, with some hesitation, here). Although he doesn’t mention it in the brief Life in the Prologue, St Nicholas does refer to the dragon in his ‘Hymn of Praise’ for St George:
Saint George on a tall horse
Saved the maiden from the dragon,
On his lance, the sign of the Cross,
Holy weapon, invincible,
With that weapon, the dragon he slayed,
The spared maiden, to the father he returned,
With his goodness, he indebted God Himself
With a wreath of glory, God repaid him.
The Life of St George published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, relates a very full version of the dragon story with no caveat, introducing it with the following words (The Passion and Miracles of the Great Martyr and Victorious Wonderworker Saint George [Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1976], p. 33):
We must not fail to mention the glorious miracle of the slaying of the dragon performed by the Great Martyr Saint George close to his native country of Palestine, in the land of Syro-Phoenicia, in the city of Beirut on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, not a great distance from Lydda where St George’s body was buried.
The Jordanville Life ends with a reference to the Church built at the spot ‘in honour of Saint George the Victor, who guards with his help the Church of Christ and every right-believing soul from the invisible devourer in the abyss of hell, and also from sin, as from a deadly dragon, just as he delivered the maiden from the visible dragon’ (pp. 33-4).
In keeping with the simplicity of the Jordanville narrative, I seem to recall, but cannot currently locate, a comment by Fr Seraphim (Rose) of blessed memory concerning his admiration, and emulation, of a Russian nun’s simple acceptance of the dragon. (The kind blogger from Incendiarious has pointed out in a comment below that, while there is no mention of a nun, Fr Seraphim is decidedly on the side of accepting the dragon in his article 'The Theological Writings of Archbishop John and the Question of "Western Influence" in Orthodox Theology', The Orthodox Word, Vol. 30, Nos. 2-3 [175-6], March-June, 1994, pp. 142-58. See pp. 150-3 for the passages quoted below.) But on the other hand, it is interesting to note that in the account on his website, Bishop Alexander (Mileant) of Buenos Aires of blessed memory has the following to say:
In the history of our Church, we find a myth related to a dragon and Saint George. This dragon threatened the idolaters in the area of Atalia. The people were forced to live inside the walls of their city. This prevented them from tending their fields and grazing their sheep. Every year, they would sacrifice a young girl to the dragon. When Saint George arrived in this area, the King’s daughter was about to be sacrificed. After subduing the dragon, Saint George placed a rope around its neck. He then gave the rope to the princess so that she could lead the beast back to the city. Thence, he slaughtered the terror and subsequently baptized thousands of the city’s inhabitants.
It is from the icon of Saint George that this myth came about. The icon depicts the Saint as an equestrian slaying the dragon with the princess in the background. The first iconographers of Saint George were probably trying to depict Satan as the dragon and Saint George conquering evil. Another explanation of this icon is that the artists were trying to depict Diocletian as the dragon and Saint George conquering him. The princess in the background could have been the Empress Alexandra who watched Saint George as he triumphed. She could also symbolize Christianity, or the Church itself. When the Crusaders journeyed through the Byzantine Empire, they saw this icon and from its depiction they interpreted the legend which they spread throughout western Europe.
I for one am ready to believe that the story may have taken place—that either a bona fide dragon (whether spiritual or natural) or dragon-like creature (the Antiochians suggest a python or crocodile, while John Masefield’s play [look for a post later!] makes it a fearsome pirate known as ‘the Dragon’) really was slain by the Saint. But I do not feel that the integrity of the hagiographical tradition is threatened by interpreting the story allegorically or as a narrative account of the scene in the icons.
Hymning thy glorious end, by which thou wast magnified as a good soldier of Christ, we pray thee, O passion-bearer George: be a helper in all good for us and hear us, as we fervently cry unto thee:Rejoice, for by thee the Church of the faithful is enlightened!Rejoice, for thy name is praised even among the infidels!Rejocie, wondrous glory of the confessors!Rejoice, lofty praise of the martyrs!Rejoice, healer of our bodies!Rejoice, intercessor for our souls!Rejoice, Saint George, great trophy-bearer!