About that time Herod the King laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword; and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. The very night when Herod was about to bring him out, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison; and behold, an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angels said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him “Wrap your mantle around you and follow me.” And he went out and followed him; he did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened to them of its own accord, and they went out and passed on through one street; and immediately the angel left him. And Peter came to himself, and said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
Acts 12: 1-11 (Epistle for the Feast of St. George)
Christ is Risen!
The feast of St. George is celebrated on April 23. There are Scripture readings that are attached to his day, an Epistle and a Gospel. When Pascha falls on April 23 or later, then St. George’s feastday is celebrated on the Monday after Pascha, Bright Monday. Because Pascha was on April 16 this year, and April 23 now coincides with Thomas Sunday, on Sunday, the Epistle will be the one generally connected to St. George, while the Gospel will be the traditional one that is read on Thomas Sunday.
Saint George lived in the late third and early part of the fourth centuries. He was an accomplished soldier in the Roman army. He had advanced quickly through the ranks and by the time he was in his late twenties, he was a member of the personal guard of the Emperor Diocletian. Diocletian persecuted Christians across the empire. Saint George was ordered to help in the persecution but instead confessed his Christian faith. Diocletian was enraged and ordered the execution of George. After being tortured, St. George was finally decapitated on April 23, 303.
The Epistle reading on the feast of St. George (when it isn’t during Bright Week, which isn’t often), is from the book of Acts. We are reminded in this passage that Diocletian wasn’t the first leader to persecute the Christians. Herod the King killed James, the brother of John, in the year 44 A.D., making him the first of the disciples to be martyred. This Herod, also known as Herod Agrippa, was the grandson of the King Herod who sought to murder Jesus when he was an infant. Herod arrested Peter also and threw him in prison, bringing many soldiers to guard him.
Peter was bound with chains and slept between two guards. The church prayed for Peter. Right after Passover, when Herod was about to bring Peter out to the people, presumably to do to him what had been done to Jesus only a few years before, an angel of the Lord appeared to Peter and told Peter to get up and get dressed. The angel then had the chains fall off Peter’s hands and walk out of the cell. Peter thought he was seeing a vision but once he passed through the first and second gates of the prison, he realized the miracle that was taking place. Peter finally came to himself, as we read in Acts, and realized it was the Lord who had sent an angel to rescue him from the hand of Herod.
There were people at the time of the death of the Apostle James, just as there were at the time of death of St. George, just as there are still people today, who want to persecute Christians. Then, as now, we need people to be martyrs for Christ. The title “martyr” that we ascribe to saints refers to those who were killed for Christ, like St. George. The word, “martyr” however, means “witness.” We are called to be witnesses for Christ. While most of us will not be killed in such a violent way like St. George, we are all called to be witnesses for Christ and also called to be His soldiers. A good soldier knows his objectives, his enemies, his weapons and his fellow soldiers. As soldiers of Christ, we need to know our objective (to spread the Gospel, to love God and to serve others), our enemies (the devil and those who speak against Christianity), our weapons (the Gospel, prayer, love, patience, the Fruit of the Spirit), and our fellow soldiers (priest, parishioners, friends).
As the one renowned for setting captives free and for defending those in poverty, the physician of the sick and the champion of emperors, great and victorious Martyr George, interceded with Christ our God, beseeching Him to save our souls. (Apolytikion, St. George, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes).
Be a good soldier for Christ, be His martyr (witness).