St. George & the Dragon: Dialogue with an Orthodox Priest (Harry H. McCall, 2012)

NOTE: Most modern orthodox commentators have rationalized the icon of St. George slaying the dragon as “purely symbolic art” with varying interpretations of the symbolism. Protestant fundamentalist, and some Orthodox Christians who have bought into the creationist science theories, take the icon as one more proof of man’s co-existence with dinosaurs even after the Flood.

However Orthodox Christians want to interpret their St. George icon the fact remains that the greatest “God-inspired luminaries of the Church” not only believed in the allegorical dragon–Satan–but they also believed in the existence of real dragons (as well as unicorns and other mythological creatures mentioned in the Bible). St. John Damascene, St. Athanasios the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Ephraim the Syrian, etc. are just a few of the Church Fathers who have written about the “real existence” of imaginary creatures. Orthodox Saints have been slaying dragons since the beginning of Christianity (see the Life of Apostle Thomas and Apostle Philip)

Some other pre-Schism Orthodox Saints who have battled or slain dragons: St. Adelphus, Bishop of Metz; St. Areml; St. Beatus; St. Bertrand; St. Cain; St. Clemens; St. Donatus; St. Hilarion; St. Lupus, Bishop of Sens; St. Magnus, the Apostle of the Allagu (south Germany); St. Mangold; St. Marina(Margaret) of Antioch; St. Narcissus of Gerona; St. Nikolaus; St. Philip the Apostle; St. Procopius; St. Romain; St. Servan; St. Sylvester I, Pope of Rome; St. Theodore Tyron; St. Thomas the Apostle; St. Urgin (This is, of course, not a complete list)!

The following article is one South Carolina man’s quest at the meaning behind the icon of St. George and the Dragon:

Iconostasis of Chapel in lower level of Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral Greenville, SC
Iconostasis of Chapel in lower level of Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral
Greenville, SC

Christian “truth” is fabricated and propagated by Christian tradition and one of my favorites deals with my experience at Saint George Greek Orthodox Church here in Greenville, S.C.

While attending its annual spring Greek festival, I noticed the church was open so visitors could venture inside to get an introduction to the Greek Orthodox tradition and its icons, so I decided to check it out. As I entered, I was given a brief printed history which included the claim that the Greek Orthodox Church was the ONLY TRUE Christian Church established by Jesus Christ himself. (Wow, and I thought it was the Mormons!)
On the wall in front of the church is a large iconic mural of a knight on a white horse who had just slain a dragon. The guide told visitors that the icon depicted Saint George as a righteous knight who killed a dragon (a creature pictured with bat like wings and a snake like neck and head) who had terrorized a village for a number of years. The guide told us, by killing the evil dragon, George became a Saint: Thus the name of Greenville’s Saint George Greek Orthodox Church.

Icon of St. George slaying the dragon at St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (Florence, AZ)
Icon of St. George slaying the dragon at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (Florence, AZ)

After considering the logical reality behind this dogma, I decided to call Saint George Greek Orthodox Church and ask if they really thought dragons existed.

The church’s secretary (who was herself a Methodist) told me she would have to refere this question to the priest (Father Tom) who was out of town, but she would have him call me.

One morning (several weeks later) the phone rang and a man identified himself as Father Tom from St. George’s Church (who seemed to have been given the impression that I was a potential member).

After a few formalities, the conversation focused on St. George killing the dragon and went as follows:

Harry: Could you tell me about Saint George Killing the dragon.

To which Father Tom basically recounted what the church guide stated about the miracle of St. George killing the dragon that had terrorized a village.

Harry: So there was a real flying dragon that terrorized some ancient village?

Father Tom: Well, the dragon which St. George killed was, in reality Satan, and by killing Satan; George freed the village from the dragon’s destruction.

Harry: What you’re telling me then is that Satan is now dead?

Father Tom: No! Satan is not dead! St. George killed the dragon just as the icon depicts.

Harry: (Thinking I must have missed something) . . . But was there a real dragon that flew and terrorized an ancient village?

Father Tom: (Now getting angry) Who are you? You’re not a Greek Orthodox are you?

Harry: No (I decided it was not a good idea to tell him I was an Atheist).

Father Tom: I’ll tell you one thing! You and the rest of you so-called Christians will stand before Christ at the judgment and there you WILL give an account to him as to just why you are not Greek Orthodox (with that final comment, he hung-up)!

Frankly, I knew no more about the matter of St. George and the flying dragon than before he called.

(What I had done was to not only questioned religious dogma, but by pressing Father Tom on the dragon, I was then given the wrath of God and Hell as a future judgment for my soul (par for the course in Christianity)!



I work with a former Southern Baptist (I’ll call him Jim) who joined St. John of the Ladder Orthodox Church which also venerates St. George. I told Jim about my experience with Father Tom and I asked him how he dealt with questions regarding St. George and the dragon? Jim told me he hadn’t really thought about it.

A week later, I got an email from headquarters telling me Jim had filed a formal complaint with them in that I was harassing him over his religious beliefs and it would be in my best interest not to bring the matter up again with him!

When pressed on the reality of St. George and the dragon, Lvka (herself an Orthodox and a regular DC commenter) linked me to this sign:

chruch sign


Novgorod, 1400-1500
Novgorod, 1400-1500

From the church’s website:

If you’ve been looking for a Church that is, Orthodox in morals, Orthodox in doctrine, Orthodox in worship, you’ve probably been looking for the Orthodox Church. Please know that Fr. Tom and Deacon Charles are always ready to sit down with you and talk about Orthodox Christianity. Many before you have walked the path and asked the questions that you have. Our faith is personal. One can learn a little by reading, but the Christian faith is a living faith, and is properly transmitted from person to person. People who are interested in the Orthodox Church are encouraged to come to the Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, attend actual services, meet flesh-and-blood Orthodox Christians, and talk with Fr. Tom and Deacon Charles. We have regular classes about the Orthodox faith where you can also learn more about Orthdoxoy. Contact the office for information.

Well, if you love morals that include myths with lies to cover them up, I’m sure you’ll love the Orthodox doctrine and worship!

Nice detective work on Wike, but the website of the Orthodox Church does not use Wiki.

Their own description of not only the dragon, but Saint George did 8 more miracles:

Here is a quick rundown of George’s life and it is good thing that the Holy Church Fathers weren’t like Pinocchio. If they had been cursed with Pinocchio’s punishment for lying, most all the Orthodox Holy Church Fathers could pole-vault over their cathedrals with their noses!

Saints Barbara, George, & Theodore
Saints Barbara, George, & Theodore

Now the life of St. Geroge as taught by the Orthodox Church (buckle your mental seat belts and kick your brain in neutral):

A. The Emperor ordered this George taken to prison and that a boulder be placed on his chest as a form of torture. The next morning Diocletian ordered that the prisoner be brought before him for questioning. George stood steadfast and told Diocletian of his belief in the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven.

B. The Emperor then summoned the executioners to take the George and have him bound to the rim of a wheel set with sharp spikes.// When the Saint appeared before Diocletian not only was he unharmed, but an angelic aura had settled about him. Suddenly, two officers of the Roman army, Anatolios and Protoleon, appeared before Diocletian with two thousand soldiers. They admitted their belief in Christ and Diocletian had them all executed.

C. He then ordered his soldiers to dig a pit and fill it with lime. The George was then drenched with water and thrown into the pit. The water and lime would slowly destroy the Saint’s body. After three days, Diocletian instructed the soldiers to clear the pit. To the surprise of the soldiers and the Emperor, Saint George sat at the bottom of the pit unharmed.

D. The Emperor then ordered that iron sandals be tied to the feet of the George and that he be made to run. As he ran, he was beaten. As he ran, he was beaten. One of Diocletian’s advisors, Magnentios, ordered George to perform a miracle. They happened to pass by a tomb of a man who had been dead for many years. // Diocletian asked the resurrected man who he was and when he had died. He told Diocletian that he had lived before Christ had come on the Earth, and because he was an idolater, he had burned in the fires of Hell during all those years. Many idolaters were converted to Christianity because of this great miracle.

E. The next day, Diocletian met with his noblemen to determine Saint George’s fate. They decided to beat the George mercilessly. The Saint nevertheless remained unharmed and retained his angelic appearance.

F. Diocletian was convinced that all of George’s miracles were done by magic. He, therefore, called upon Athanasius the Magician to break this magic. Athanasius held two vials in his hands. If the George drank the first one, he would go insane, if he drank the second one he would die. The George took the first vial and prayed. He drank its contents and there was no effect.

G. Once again George appeared before Diocletian who ordered that Saint George accompany him to the temple and sacrifice to the gods. When they arrived at the temple, Saint George made the sign of the cross and the idols were again destroyed. The people and the priests were furious and demanded that Diocletian have the Saint executed. Saint George was taken out of the city and as he turned his head toward the executioner, he was beheaded.

St. Theodore Tyron
St. Theodore Tyron

Then we come to the ONLY miracle (lie) St. George is really known for:

In the history of our Church, we find a myth related to a dragon and Saint George. This dragon threatened the idolaters in the area of Atalia. The people were forced to live inside the walls of their city. This prevented them from tending their fields and grazing their sheep. Every year, they would sacrifice a young girl to the dragon. When Saint George arrived in this area, the King’s daughter was about to be sacrificed. After subduing the dragon, Saint George placed a rope around its neck. He then gave the rope to the princess so that she could lead the beast back to the city. Thence, he slaughtered the terror and subsequently baptized thousands of the city’s inhabitants.

Pope Saint Sylvester overcomes the dragon of the Tarpeian Rock
Pope Saint Sylvester overcomes the dragon of the Tarpeian Rock

The problem allegory!  So why use language and terms that would never escape perjury in a court of law?

Thus, I could claim I have a million dollars in the bank, but I’m not talking about a real million dollars so let’s say my heart has a million dollars of love in it.  That’s great a nice harmless allegory, but try getting a car loan with that “fact”!

So here’s my view of St. George and the Dragon:  It was at one time a great belief in antiquity when most people were illiterate (by one estimate, only about 5% could read and write (China still has beliefs in dragons)), but as modern times arrived neither did George kill a real dragon nor does the Catholic Church hunt down and burnwitches anymore.   However, to totally deny the myth of the dragon tell would mean that George would no longer be a “saint”; something Orthodox tradition could not deal with!

So to keep any credibility for this myth of dragons to survive in the modern world, allegory has softened the harsh reality of a myth better known as a lie in a court of law. 

Great red dragon with seven heads from a scene illustrating chapter 12 of the book of Revelation of St. John. Late 18th c.