By St. Luke, Archbishop of Crimea
"If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you… If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My word, they will keep yours also" (John 15:19-20).
These words of the Lord Jesus Christ were spoken not only to His Holy Apostles, but to all those whom He so often called His little flock.
The little flock is made up of all those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and taken His law into their hearts – the law of love, His beatitudes, which are all commandments of love – and who fulfill His commandments.
In this small flock of His, the holy martyrs shine as stars of the first magnitude, serving as great examples for us of the most profound faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, of boundless love for Him, and of self-denial in sufferings and unimaginable torments and tortures.
Among the enormous host of holy martyrs, the number of which likely exceeds ten thousand, there shine the holy great martyrs, those who endured especially terrible sufferings for Christ and whose exploits have the greatest significance for the entire Christian world. And even among the great martyrs, the great George the Trophy-Bearer, whom we are now honoring, stands out as one of the very greatest.
Why do I attribute such enormous importance to the exploits of the holy martyrs?
First of all, because by their blood and boundless love for the Lord Jesus Christ they contributed greatly to the preaching of Christ’s Apostles.
Think of this: had it not been for the tens of thousands of holy martyrs, would the preaching of the Resurrection of Christ, of the Resurrection of the crucified Lord, really have had such all-conquering force?
Could all nations, over the course of a few centuries, really have come to believe in a crucified Jewish Teacher as the True Son of God, as the Savior of the entire human race?
The pagans would have laughed at faith in the Crucified One had it not been confirmed by His Resurrection from the dead; had the Apostles not possessed the right to preach Him as having been Crucified and Resurrected, as having died and risen again, as the Conqueror of death and the devil.
The holy martyrs played a most profound and effective role in this great work, for you all know what a tremendous impression their sufferings had on pagan witnesses and even on the executioners themselves, when they underwent horrific torture fearlessly and silently, sometimes even with thanksgiving on their lips.
Today, along with the memory of St. George the Trophy-Bearer, we also celebrate the memory of Alexandra, wife of the wicked Diocletian who tortured and tormented more Christians than all the other Roman emperors.
You know that witnessing the sufferings of the Great-Martyr George immediately converted this pure-hearted woman to faith in Christ. She fearlessly declared herself a Christian before her terrible spouse, suffering death for our Lord Christ along with the Great-Martyr George.
Why does the blood of the martyrs have such enormous significance for the entire Christian world? Because this blood blessed and sanctified the earth; because this blood makes the devil himself and his dark angels fear and tremble more than anything else.
The exploits of the holy martyrs have a most profound significance in other regards as well. They serve as the most vivid examples for us of absolutely unwavering faith in Christ and of love for Him. We should be ashamed if we show cowardice, fearing with fear where there is no fear [Psalm 13:15].
The martyrs themselves did not fear anyone or anything; they were not seduced by anyone or anything.
The Emperor Diocletian, who martyred St. George, loved him very much, considering him his bravest and most essential soldier. When he saw that the severest torments could not break his faith in Christ, he even reached the point of offering George the second place in his great Roman Empire if he offered sacrifice to the gods.
In reply, St. George only laughed at this pledge; he, of course, rejected even the first place in glory and honor after the Roman Emperor, for his fidelity to Christ was firmer than adamant and His love for Him was boundless.
You have heard more than once from your pastors about the terrible torments the holy Trophy-Bearer George underwent for Christ. I will not enlarge on them. You yourselves will remember well how he was tortured for days on end with his legs fixed in stocks, with an enormous stone placed on his chest that nearly crushed him; you will remember how he was broken on the wheel, being tied to an enormous wheel under which a plank with nails and blades was placed, which cut and tore his holy body; how iron boots with sharp nails inside were placed on him, and how he was driven to run through the streets of the city in these boots; how he was thrown into a pit filled with quicklime, filled from the top with lime. He was supposed to have been burned in the lime; but when, three days later, Diocletian ordered a report on how St. George had been burned, the messengers returned to report to him that George was unharmed. When the Great-Martyr was brought alive before Diocletian, the latter could not believe his eyes.
The Great-Martyr George’s exploit was a difficult one. The good favor of the Lord Jesus Christ towards him for this great exploit was shown by how He Himself came to him in prison, encouraging and blessing him for the completion of his martyrdom.
George the Trophy-Bearer feared nothing. But do we, weak and worthless Christians, face in like manner that which, in whatever small and distant a measure, threatens us with some difficulty?
Did it not happen quite recently that there were hundreds of thousands of people among us that easily renounced faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, declaring in questionnaires that they were unbelievers, fearing something that did not in any way threaten them? They were not threatened in any way; they were required only to write in the questionnaire whether they believed or did not believe. And this was enough for them to commit the terribly grave sin of denying the Lord Jesus Christ, forgetting His dread words: "But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father Which is in heaven" (Matthew 10:33).
Do we not really prefer the worthless and quickly fleeting goods of this world to those of eternity? Do we really place traversing the path He pointed out to us as the goal of our lives? Do we really always remember Christ’s words: "I am the way, the truth, and the life" [John 14:6]?
For the holy martyr and Trophy-Bearer George, He was truly the Path and the Life; he neither followed any other path, nor did he wish to know of any other. He was not frightened by threats or fears, boldly following the way of Christ.
Therefore, we bow down before all the martyrs, and especially such great ones as George the Trophy-Bearer, commending them by our ardent love.
They strengthen our faith and love by their miracles, for the majority of them work miracles. You will know from your pastors about the miracle performed three times by the Great-Martyr George, freeing from bondage the youth who were languishing and suffering in captivity. You will remember how, as they were thinking about their native home and the Great-Martyr’s feast day while they were supposed to be serving food or wine to their masters, George the Trophy-Bearer suddenly carried them away on a white horse, transporting them in an instant to the home of their parents, who were then celebrating the memory of the Great-Martyr.
Do not such miracles serve as a great and powerful fortification of your faith in that which the Lord Jesus Christ said? After all, He said that those who believed in Him could perform not only such miracles as did He, but even greater ones. The martyrs accomplished great deeds, confirming the truth of these words of Christ.
Let us then be ashamed of our cowardice in the face of the slightest fear presented to us by our imaginations.
Let us love the Lord Jesus Christ and His martyrs with all our hearts, and especially the Holy Great-Martyr George the Trophy-Bearer, whose memory we celebrate today. Amen.
(Originally delivered on April 23, 1954.)