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St. George's Day

Opening Sentences:  Thus says the Lord, fear not, for I have redeemed you;
                                   I have called you by your name, you are mine.
                                   When you walk through the waters,
                                   I will be with you;
                                   When you pass through rivers,
                                   They shall not overwhelm you;
                                   When you walk through fire,
                                   The flame shall not consume you.
                                   Thus says the Lord, fear not, for I have redeemed you;
                                   I have called you by your name, you are mine.

Hymn:    496  Fight the good fight

Prayers of Approach:   R&S 2b, 3b, 4b

Reading:   Isaiah 43:1-7

George - "Martyr"

George was the son of wealthy and pious parents, who raised him in the Christian faith. He was born in the city of Beirut, at the foot of the Lebanese mountains.

Having entered military service, George stood out among the other soldiers by virtue of his mind, valor, physical strength, military bearing and beauty. Having quickly attained to the rank of millenary [an officer in the Roman army in charge of a thousand or more soldiers], George became a favorite of the Emperor Diocletian.

Diocletian was a talented ruler, but a fanatical adherent of the Roman gods. Having set for himself the goal of reviving dying paganism in the Roman Empire, he went down in history as one of the most cruel persecutors of Christians.

Once, when he heard in a court the inhuman sentence concerning the annihilation of Christians, George became inflamed with compassion for them. Foreseeing that sufferings were also awaiting him, George distributed his property to the poor, freed his slaves, appeared before Diocletian and, having revealed himself as a Christian, denounced him for cruelty and injustice. George's speech was full of powerful and convincing objections against the imperial order to persecute Christians.

After futile persuasions to deny Christ, the Emperor ordered that the saint be subjected to various tortures. Saint George was confined in a dungeon, where they placed him supine on the ground; his legs they confined in stocks, and on his breast they placed a heavy stone. But Saint George manfully endured the sufferings and glorified the Lord. Then George's torturers began to refine their cruelty. They beat the Saint with ox­hide whips, subjected him to the wheel, threw him into quicklime and forced him to run in shoes with sharp nails inside. The holy Martyr endured everything patiently. Finally, the Emperor ordered the Saint's head to be cut off. Thus, the holy sufferer departed unto Christ in Nicomedia in 303 AD.

As we remember St. George today we remember Christians all across the world who are persecuted for their faith.  This is a map of the world highlighting the countries where Christians are most systematically persecuted for their faith.  I'll do the top-ten countdown for you:

10.  Egypt
9.    The Comoro Islands
8.    Morocco
7.    North Korea
6.    Yemen
5.    Iran
4.    China
3.    Sudan
2.    Saudi Arabia
1.    Somalia

We pray for the work of organisations who seek to support persecuted Christians - Christians Against Torture and Open Doors.  We also pray for the work of Amnesty International who campaign on behalf of anyone imprisoned unjustly.  We pray for ourselves, perhaps not called to suffer persecution as St. George did, but certainly called to speak out in favour of those who are.  We are called too to encourage them with Good News.  The words of God through Isaiah ring out with special force: "Do not be afraid..."

Hymn:     634  Pray for the Church afflicted and oppressed

Reading:  Revelation 12:7-12

George - "Dragonslayer"

St. George is usually depicted sitting on a white horse and smiting a dragon with a spear. This depiction is based on tradition and relates to the posthumous miracles of St. George. It is said that not far from the place where Saint George was born in the city of Beirut, in a lake lived a dragon which frequently devoured people of that locale. What kind of beast that was, a python, crocodile or large lizard is not known.

In order to appease the wrath of that dragon, the superstitious inhabitants of that locale began regularly by lot to give up to it a youth or maiden to be eaten. Once the lot fell on the daughter of the ruler of that locale. They took her to the shore of the lake and tied her up where she began to await in terror the appearance of the dragon.

When the beast began to approach her, suddenly a radiant youth appeared on a white horse who smote the dragon with a spear and saved the maiden. This youth was St. George. By such a miraculous appearance he caused the extermination of youths and maidens to cease in the environs of Beirut and converted to Christ the inhabitants of that country, who until then were pagans.

Plentiful legends abound about St. George in many languages - Greek, Latin, Armenian, Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopian and Turkish.  Nobody really knows how he became the Patron Saint of England, but he became popular in the time of the crusades and came to personify the ideal of Christian chivalry - courageous, noble defender of the weak.

Throughout history, dragons and mysterious beasts from the sea have been used to represent evil.  As John wrote down his vivid revelation from God about the ultimate struggle between good and evil, "evil", was revealed in the shape of a huge red dragon.  The story of George and the dragon is such a story, it is a story which serves to remind us of our calling as Christians to fight evil, and a reminder that we are fighting on the side of God.  However small we may appear in the face of the dragon, victory is assured.

Hymn:     556  When a knight won his spurs

Dragons of Today - our fight!

"...giants have fled, and the knights are no more and the dragons are dead."

Would that they were!  There are dragons all around us.  There are huge dragons which stalk the planet crushing whole nations and communities in their path, poverty, debt, warfare, disease...  and there are smaller dragons which lurk in our minds and in our hearts - things in our lives which we personally have to conquer, fear, hatred, guilt, envy...

I'm going to ask you to come out as John plays the organ and write the names of some of those dragons on this big paper dragon.  It might be a big international dragon or a personal dragon, whatever, come and name it on here.  You can write on as many as you like.  Then we will pray that God will help us to vanquish them all.

(Music plays as people come out and write)

Prayer (extempore) - incorporating the dragons that have been named.

Hymn:     570  A glorious company we sing