In November 2004 I visited the tomb of Saint George in Lydda, in the Holy Land.
I was visiting the Holy Land with a friend who was volunteering with Bethlehem Lutheran Church. He had invited me to come and so I had an amazing pilgrimage – with a young man, deeply committed to justice and nonviolence, whose mother was a Palestinian who had been born in Lydda. She had been carried out of Lydda when the town was overrun by the Zionist armies and many years later had married an Iowan whom she met in Jordan. Her sons grew up in Iowa but always aware of their Palestinian Christian roots. She died a few years before I visited the Holy Land.
We visited Lydda because it was the anniversary of her birth and my friend wanted to lay flowers at the tomb of St. George and try to visit the land where his grandparents had lived.
We visited the church and the tomb of St. George. Afterwards we found the ancestral land which was now occupied by a Bedouin who warmly welcomed us, gave us tea, and talked. We took some photos underneath one of the olive trees of his grandfather. This visit was one of the most moving parts of my time in the Holy Land.
Lydda, now called Lod and near the Tel Aviv airport in Israel, is the traditional site of the martyrdom of St. George, a saint honored by Christians and Muslims, who call him Al-Khadar, the Green One.
It is a place of sorrow for many who were forced out during the Nakba, the disaster which was the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in 1948.
Saint George is usually depicted as killing a dragon to protect a town which was about to hand over a maiden to the dragon to be killed.
He is a protector of the innocent against the forces of evil.
In the face of violence, of exile, of poverty, of the sacrificing of men, women, and children in war, Saint George calls us to stand up and rid the world and ourselves of these dragons.
“Not by force, nor by violence, but by love,” as a hymn we sing here in Honduras says.
We need to root out the fear that keeps us from loving. We need to open up our hearts and imaginations to ways of breaking down walls and of making peace.
This begins in ourselves but cannot remain there. We need to look at our communities and nations to see where we need to uproot the causes of violence, war, and injustice.
May St. George intercede for us – and for all the innocent victims of war and violence.