St George and His Understanding of Death
Christ is Risen!
A young, strong man rising up through the ranks of the ancient Roman army. By his late 20s, he receives the titles of tribune and count. His charismatic personality endears him to his fellow soldiers, and he is selected to serve in the personal guard of the Emperor. Yet in the late 3rd century, when the Emperor Diocletian issues an edict authorizing the persecution of all Christians, this young soldier faces a dilemma. How will he respond during this last, great persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire.
The young, aspiring soldier, George, faces the question of life and death – should he follow the command of his earthly emperor, or follow the way of His divine Lord, Jesus Christ. St George wouldn’t deny his own Christian faith, but instead, publicly declared himself a follower of Jesus Christ. And for his boldness and faith, he was arrested, terribly tortured, and ultimately killed. Martyred for his faith!
From the world’s perspective, we would think that a 20 something year old soldier dying is a tragedy. Anytime a young person dies we think it’s a heartbreak. Yet, as we still bask in the Paschal season and as we listen to today’s Gospel story of the myrrh-bearing women finding an empty tomb and encountering an angel proclaiming that Christ is Risen, we realize that the world’s perspective verses God’s perspective of tragedy are quite different. Tragedy in God’s eyes is not a young death, but a life not lived to its God-given potential, a life not dedicated to God and lived for God. If one dies for the sake of Christ, no matter what age, then one’s death goes from tragedy to victory. Through death, someone like the great martyr George, no matter how young he was, discovered new life, an eternal life that knows no end. And as Jesus once said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24-25).
Martin Luther King once noted, “If a man hasn’t found something to die for, he isn’t fit to live.” For what is life if it is devoid of deep meaning. The real tragedy is a life lived without meaning, whether old or young. Always remember, a long life doesn’t necessarily mean a good life. History is filled with great men and women who lived short lives, and yet whose lives impacted the world. Thus, never evaluate life by its length of days, but instead evaluate it by its quality of life, quality of meaningful love.
Two weeks ago, we journeyed through the Passion of Christ, and witnessed another young man, only 33 years old, who endured unimaginable suffering – beatings, ridicule, betrayal, a crown of thorns, spitting, humiliation, and finally the cross. What a tragedy, the world says! And yet, those who understand see a tragedy turned into triumph. Our Lord Jesus, like his follower Saint George, willingly accepted suffering, but he accepted it because he understood that through his suffering comes something greater. His death would conquer death. And for all future Christians, we know that suffering is not the end. Out of darkness comes hope, from death comes life.
Christianity turns the logic and reason of the world upside down. This is why St. Paul would write, “The cross is a stumbling block for the Jews, and foolishness to the Greeks, but for us who believe, it is the power and wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24) The logic and ways of our Lord often seem like foolishness, and even a scandal, to the world. Yet be careful not to judge one’s life and death by the standards of the world. We follow a different path, and walk according to a different drum.
The world sees St. George, the great martyr whose memory we celebrate tomorrow, as a tragic story of a young death; God sees St. George’s few years of life as fulfilling their purpose. He lived for God, and loved His Lord even more than life itself. The world may see St. George’s death as the end of a promising career; God sees St. George’s death as the end of a beautiful witness, a life of encouraging other believers in their faith and commitment. And 1700 years later, we still remember this young soldier martyr!
As we prepare to honor the life of St. George the Great Martyr tomorrow, and as we continue to soak up the joyous spirit of Pascha through the witness of the myrrh-bearing women at the empty tomb, let us remember what life and death is all about. The importance of our own lives won’t depend on how many years we live, but on how significant we live whatever years we are given. Whatever years God gives us, may they be dedicated to Him and Him alone.
Thus, as Saint Paul once wrote, “If we life we life to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we life or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:8)
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!
The Holy Hieromartyr Paphnutius; George the Confessor; Tryphon, Patriarch of Constantinople; Martyrs Emmanuel, Theodore, George, Michael and the other George of Samothrace; Aelphege the Hieromartyr of Canterbury
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