Brief yet to the point, clear and sincere, economic in words but rich in idiom, the three homilies of the Triduum leading to the Solemnity of St George were inspirational in as much as they were catechetical. During his three homilies, the young preacher presented to us the figure of St George as the right saint for the right times; he showed us that there is so much to learn from the saint that Holy Providence has given us as our patron and protector. Through the witness he gave to the Gospel, St George is the saint to be imitated now as he was in the past and as he will continue to be in the future.
A Christian feast is what it is; a celebration of Christ in the Mystery of his Passion, Death and Resurrection. Therefore the feasts of the saints should reflect this Mystery in his entirety. This is what we celebrate when we say we are celebrating the feast of St George. It is no coincidence that his liturgical commemoration is celebrated on the 23rd April, when the Church celebrates Eastertide. St George is the Easter saint par excellence; with the red and white flag as his flag, he mirrors Christ in his Passover. From the Early Middle Ages, the Resurrected Christ appears in various paintings holding a white flag with a red cross intersecting it. This red and white flag reminds us of the Resurrection, so it is ipso facto the flag that every Christian should be proud of. It is in its very essence, the flag of Christianity. Every Christian household is able to identify it and there is no other flag more suitable for the Christian than this one. This is why it is right to fly it on Easter Sunday as much as it right to fly it on St George’s Day and on any other Christian feastday. This fact, although sometimes forgotten, taken for granted or not considers, renders the festivity of St George more solemn and grand in its own right. This should lead us to go even deeper into the Mystery!
Why is St George’s flag red and white? What do these colours symbolize? What are its origins? There may be various answers to such a question since interpretations vary. However, an old tradition sees the roots of St George’s banner in a citation from Isaiah.
“Who is this coming from Edom,
coming from Bozrah, his garments stained red?
Under his clothes his muscles stand out,
and he strides, stooping in his might” (Isaiah 63:1-2).
Others have seen the origins of St George’s flag in the following words from the Book of Apocalypse known also as the Book of Revelation, which is the last book of the Bible:
“These are they which came out of great tribulation,
and have washed their robes,
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14).
Looking at the skyline of Victoria and ancient Rabat on the third Sunday of July reveals a great number of red and white flags flying all over the rooftops of the Rabtin. Such is their love and devotion for St George! George is the Palestinian saint who has come to stay! Immortal are the words of local poet Patri Akkursju Xerri OFM who wrote these popular words which have become part of the collective memory
“Ukoll Għawdex dil-gżira maħbuba
Alla xeħet bi ħniena f’riġlejk,
għandek resaq fil-għajb u fin-niket
u fit-tiġrib qatt ma tħarrek minn ħdejk”
which can be loosely translated as
“The children of Gozo, this beloved island
God has put at your feet to protect,
they have to come to you in their hour of need,
their prayer you never reject!”.
The week leading to the third Sunday of July changes the face of Victoria; streets, alleys, squares and other open spaces are given a new dress. Statues of Church fathers, Popes, martyr-saints of the early Church period, Doctors of the Church and angelic figures are a clear expression that Victoria is en fete; the Rabtin of Gozo stand no nonsense; it is to St George that they pay homage and July is his and only his. Victoria, the city called after the great queen-empress of happy memory, fell in love with her patron saint of old, and she feels as if she is still on her honeymoon. St George is her protector and she makes it a point that both locals celebrated the fact and visitors become aware of it and leave astonished as to the manner through which it affirms it. However, there is a deeper meaning to this feast; there is another face to it, another way how to look at it. The via pulchritudinis never ceases to fascinate those who stand in awe of it; St George is not merely a saint for past times – he is very much the saint for our contemporary age!
When the mystics come marching in
Yes, a saint ‘for our contemporary age’! One cannot be nearer to the truth! If Saint Brigid of Sweden, centuries ago, felt inspired by George and spoke of him as Amicus Christi, it is no wonder that modern mystics have also turned to him for inspiration. Brother George Grech of the Trappist Community of Frattocchie in the vicinity of Rome is one such local monacus whose love for St George has become legendary within our local Church. What a wonderful gift has Brother George been to each and every one of us as he shows us his love for our patron saint? If a monk living a cloistered life has found St George appealing, what about me and you? Imħabba Dejjiema is a precious literary treasure that a life in the spirit has rendered possible, and even immortal! A book full of spiritual insights, poems, prayers and reflections as well as hymns, all inspired by the martyr George!
St George never fails to inspire! His love for Jesus Christ to the point of giving up his life, his young person, his chivalric attributes, the heroic virtues that make him the ‘champion of the saints’ as the late Canon Joe Mejlak called him, inspired by what the Church Fathers and the Doctors of the Church dubbed him, are alive today as they were seventeen centuries ago when he was martyred by Diocletian. He is the ‘żagħżugħ ta’ tlitt mitt sena u ta’ dejjem’ as Ġorġ Pisani once called him in one of his poems. St George lives is alive in the reality of a persecuted Christianity which continues to speak to us today as Copts in Egypt and Christians in Syria and Iraq suffer and die for the Lord Jesus Christ. It is up to us now to let him fill us with love for Jesus, the one and only Saviour of humanity! Tolkien was so right when he said: ‘”The age of Men is over. The time of the Orc has come!” The Orc has replaced the dragon; Satan has covered himself with the ‘new attractions’ that are making our humanity, a slave once more! We live again in Eden of biblical times! However, we are not alone! Christ has given us George to show us the way! United in spirit with our Holy Father who made the 23rd of April – the day of his patronal saint after whom he is called – a holiday for Vatican citizens and workers, may we realize that this third Sunday of July 2019 is a day of grace for one and all! “Hæc est dies quam fecit Dominus ; exsultemus, et lætemur in ea” (Psalm 118:24).