Read Sermon


St. George the fruitful branch

St. George's Day BCP

23 April 2006 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

Today is our feast of title when we give thanks for the example, the martyrdom, the courage, and patronage of St. George in this our spiritual home and house of prayer. We share his patronage with many other countries and cities as well, though hopefully not the need for his prayers to cure skin diseases, or other so-called 'social diseases' mentioned to Officer Krupke in Bernstein's West Side Story, for which St. George curiously is also the patron!

St. George's martyrdom was celebrated first at Lydda in Palestine following his death in the first decade of the fourth century. You will know he was a revered soldier-saint who was viciously tortured and beheaded… suffering like many others under the persecution of Diocletian. The 11th Century priest St. Peter Damian in one of his sermons exhorts his hearers to follow St. George's example as a soldier for Christ:

'Saint George was a man who abandoned one army for another: he gave up the rank of tribune to enlist as a soldier for Christ. Eager to encounter the enemy, he first stripped away his worldly wealth by giving all he had to he poor. Then, free and unencumbered, bearing the shield of faith, he plunged into the thick of the battle, an ardent soldier for Christ… Clearly what he did serves to teach us a valuable lesson: if we are afraid to strip ourselves of our worldly possessions, then we are unfit to make a strong defence of the faith.'

These days we English can be rather self-congratulatory, and laud our maturity in having the confident poise to have chosen a distant foreigner as our patron. We emphasise the qualities worth emulating in our patron, rather than the requirement to be a local lad or lass. There were other national English saints over the centuries…St. Edward the Confessor and St. Edmund as locals, and St. Gregory the Great who of course sent St. Augustine to these lands. You can visit the church of San Gregorio Magno in Rome, and sit in St. Gregory's chair yourself, should you wish to 'trump' the chair of Augustine in Canterbury upon which you can NOT sit, as it is occupato!

Edward III's choice of the warrior saint, George to become patron of England in 1351, and the context of the early years of the Hundred Years' War, makes perfect sense… though I have seen no comment that the switch to St. George, takes place also after the horrors of the Black Death, when bubonic plague had just killed almost half the population of England, and beyond.

There are many angles and pegs upon which to celebrate England and the English on St. George's Day …with anniversaries for Shakespeare and Rupert Brooke on the day itself, and the recent anniversary of the Union Flag. From time to time we like to remind ourselves of the great games of sport we have bequeathed the world - from cricket to rugby, to football, and many more. This year we also celebrate the life of our Queen, Elizabeth, who, like Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria, our other great Queens, were all unlikely heroines…none of them in direct line to the thrones they inherited. Maybe a celebration of English women would be a good theme for a future Royal British Legion concert which have recently become such a welcome part of our tradition here, as together we observe St. George-tide.

'The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church' wrote Tertullian, and St. George, despite the myths and legends attached to him, endured from the year 303 onwards as a martyr amongst martyrs. There is usually rather a good reason for things being popular (I have to remind myself this frequently, as part of a snooty minority pouring scorn on most things 'popular'!). The story of St. George's exemplary courage prompted myriad conversions to the Faith, including the empress 'Alexandra'.

In the face of suffering and persecution St. George remains in Christ, and Christ in him, like a branch that bears much fruit, giving glory to God the Father. Jesus, after the Last Supper, declares himself to be the 'true vine'. Maybe he was thinking of the vine, carved in stone, on the façade of the temple in Jerusalem, symbolising Israel. Or maybe he referred to his precious blood, just having given his disciples the wine of the new covenant, promised at Cana. The imagery would have spoken to the apostles as representing the whole history of God's relationship with his people. God wanted good grapes, much fruit, from this vigorous vine, which had been uprooted from the land of Egypt and planted in Canaan. After all, he had taken great care of the plant. What did he in fact get? Sour grapes. For the prophets the vine often meant Israel's sinful degeneracy…unfaithful as she was to the agreed covenant. But, after the long, long wait, comes the new vine, the true vine at last. His blood on Calvary causes the blooming of a new vine…bearing fruit because Jesus is in those who follow him, and they in him, in mutual love.

Today is a time for holy pride and prayer, quite properly for our parish and country, even more importantly for our membership as baptised members of the whole worldwide Body of Christ, the Church…militant, expectant, and triumphant…who seek to remain in Christ the true vine…bearing much fruit by deeds of love and service. Possibly even by martyrdom, should God so call. Jean Danielou (Christ and Us) would have the image of Christ the true vine be extended further:

'This too is the cosmic vine, the cosmic tree whose leaves are lost in the stars, in the angelic worlds, whose deep roots penetrate the abyss, to take hold of all its foundations, whose branches stretch out to the farthest bounds of the universe'

May we who proclaim at the altar the death and resurrection of Christ, come to share his glory with Saint George and all the holy martyrs, producing good fruit in England's green and pleasant land. Amen.
Cookies used on this website
New EU legislation requires that all web sites clearly specify the presence of cookies and their purpose. Cookies are used to enhance the user experience. StGeorges uses Google Analytics to track activity on its site, helping to keep the site relevant and easier to use, via the use of these cookies . For an enhanced site experience, consumers will need to consent to the use of StGeorges cookies. A preference cookie, that will become available to you when you choose the ‘I agree’ button, will be a long-life cookie that will not automatically clear when you close the browser window. If you manually delete this cookie you will need to re-confirm your preferences every time you next visit this website, unless you choose accept the long life option.