(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. George the Neomartyr, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saint George the Neomartyr
The atrocities upon which the Christian world looks with horror even to this day were actually legalized by the Muslim invaders, who took delight in victimizing hapless Greeks until driven out by an exasperated nation after nearly four centuries of degradation. Just prior to the outbreak of the Greek revolution, a youth named George was a victim of the Turkish law which allowed him to be dragged from his family at the whim of a calloused Turkish official. The extremists who seize innocent hostages today are descended from the cultists who held a gallant but outnumbered nation hostage for four hundred years. Theirs is a twisted heritage by which they come naturally to actions of barbarism that shock the civilized world.
George was born in the small village of Attaleia, where a certain Agha Turk named Prusali had cast a covetous eye on George as he was growing to manhood and by abduction more than coercion had the golden Greek brought to his household, against the will of his anguished family. Realizing that the customary revenge would be heaped on his family, George accepted his fate and went into the service of the Turk. Looked upon at first as a servant, he was soon enough the center of attention, especially since the Aga’s daughter made it clear she wanted the handsome Greek for her own. Soon afterwards George was induced to become a Muslim and to marry the daughter.
George’s horrified parents did not consider the marriage valid, since they were convinced that either sorcery or coercion had been employed to bring about that unlikely union. At the request of the parents an elderly cleaning woman named Maria, in the employ of the Aga, was asked to speak to George to remind him of his Christian heritage and somehow bring him to his senses. It took only a few minutes of discussion with Maria for George to realize the enormity of his offense against the Messiah. He lost no time in convincing the Aga that his Islamic faith would not be complete without a visit to Mecca, to which the Aga agreed. But the youth hastily departed not for Mecca but for Jerusalem.
After secretly meeting with his parents, George departed, but not until he had been assured that his family would not be involved in his defection. Posing as mother and son, Maria and George surreptitiously left their island, bound for the Holy City where they visited shrines of Christianity, after which the young man left and went directly to the Monastery of St. Savas. After hearing his story, the monks accepted him and were instrumental in having the church declare his marriage null and void. The relieved youth then knelt in repentance and for the next two years remained to enjoy the quiet cloister in which his troubled heart was put at ease. He emerged with a reaffirmation of the Christian faith that made him a loyal servant of Jesus Christ.
When he finally left, he went to a town called Krini, where his surrogate mother Maria was now staying. He was swallowed in the obscurity of this quiet village where he managed to make a meager living. After a short time he met and married, legitimately this time, a comely Greek girl named Eleni Mavrogiannis. Shortly after their marriage the War of Independence broke out in 1821 on the Greek mainland, but it was bedlam in Asia Minor, where every man, woman and child of Greek extraction was suspect. Greeks were put under arrest without trial for the slightest provocation and many innocent people were executed.
As luck would have it, Aga Prusali was transferred to Krini. Maria was first to learn of this evil wretch’s arrival and hastened to warn George to leave the area with his family lest he be discovered. But George was determined to stay, and as a matter of fact eager to face his former master to reveal the truth, unpalatable as it would have been to the Turk.
Reluctant to hide in fear, George boldly exposed himself and in due course was confronted by a very much surprised Aga who wanted to know precisely what had happened since the supposed trip to Mecca years before. The defiant Greek gave a full account, commencing with his return to Christianity, the nullification of his meaningless marriage to a Turk, his stay in a Christian monastery, and finally his declaration of independence of his own from Islamic rule. George was immediately placed under arrest and after months of torture was hanged on June 25, 1823.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.