A meditation on St George and Englishness

Fr Ray Andrews, parish priest of St George the Martyr, Borough, offers the following thoughts.

I hope that these words will help in some way to open our minds and our hearts to all the possibilities that St George offers to us.

The collect for the feast of St George:

God of hosts, who so kindled the flame, of love in the heart of your servant George that he bore witness to the risen Lord by his life and by his death: give us the same faith and power of love that we who rejoice in his triumphs may come to share with him the fullness of the resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever, Amen.

Let us take some time to reflect on those things we value most about England.

 

Perhaps the most enduring image that has attached itself to St George is the image of George fighting the dragon.

Legends like this began in the twelfth century, a time of crusades, a time when soldiers on every side were inspired, encouraged and strengthened by such stories of good overcoming evil.

And it is a powerful image because it touches something in us that knows about struggle and battle and fighting. The dragon will be different for each one of us – illness – fear -poverty.

Or the battle for truth,justice,freedom.

Or perhaps it’s a battle against illness, against fear, against depression.

Let us take some time to reflect on the dragons in our own lives, and in  the lives of those we love.

But, of course, we know that the George we honour was neither English, nor a dragon-fighting crusader.

The Saint we are honoring  lived much earlier, and we honour him for what we know about him,we honour him for his faithfulness and his courage.

In our East Window here, we see St George with his foot on Diocletian’s edict,the edict that gave the emperor’s authority to persecute the Christians.

As well as being a fine example of faith and faithfulness for us, there are other significant aspects of George and his story that I believe are important for us today. George has been the patron saint of England since the 14th century and he has come to be associated with all things English. But this flag  has also become associated with a xenophobic kind of nationalism.

One of the sad consequences of that is that it has made people uncomfortable about expressing a healthy kind of patriotism. And there have been times and places where the English Flag and even the Union Jack have been banned because of negative associations.

But there is nothing wrong with celebrating England and things English, just as there is nothing wrong with celebrating Germany or Turkey, or Ethiopia or Palestine.

It is good for people to feel good about where they come from. It’s good for our sense of identity and good for our sense of self esteem.

There is nothing at all wrong with patriotism. It’s just that it is not enough.

The last words of the famous nurse, Edith Cavell, before she was shot, were:

Patriotism is not enough. I must have no bitterness towards anyone.

Our Saint, who has come to be associated with England and all things English, was a Turkish national, he spent half his life in Palestine and he served in the Roman army.

And we share his patronage with more countries than any other saint in the calendar, all over Europe and beyond.

That’s why I am glad that St George is Our Saint. Because we share him with so many other nationalities. It’s great to honor him as the Patron Saint of England, but it’s greater still to honor him with a deeper and wider generosity of spirit.

Around St George’s Day we rejoice and we revel in our love of England and all things English. And so we should. But we must remember, it is not enough.

As Christians we are called beyond our race and nationality to another greater country. And that’s the essence of St George.

During the Festival of the coming days, in the spirit of St George, we enlarge our vision.

 

St George the Martyr, our soldier-saint, stood up for what he believed, and spoke out against what he saw as undermining that belief.

That witness, which is what the Greek word Martyr means, challenges us all.

May it also encourage us to do likewise.

Pray for people and countries who stand under thew patronage of St George

And we end with another collect for the feast of St George:

Lord,

hear the prayers of those who praise Your mighty power.
As Saint George was ready to follow Christ in suffernig and death,
so may he be ready to help us in our weakness.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.

Given on the Eve of St George 2009 in St George’s church, Borough High Street