Read Warrior Saints Pt. 1 Here
Saint George slew a dragon. A real, man-eating, fire-breathing dragon. Call me crazy, but this isn’t the first or last time God has allowed one of his servants to defeat a monster. If we go back to the Old Testament, we can find many examples of supernatural physical strength being granted to people. For example, Samson slew a lion with his bare hands and a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. He later destroyed the temple of the demon Dagon with his bare hands. And I’m sure everyone knows the story of David and Goliath. Goliath was a monster, larger than any man seen before. And yet, a small shepherd boy named David was able to slay him with a single stone. Gideon conquered many tribes, and Jacob wrestled an Angel of the Lord into submission despite having a dislocated hip.
The list can go on and on, but it should now be clear that combat and warfare have been a part of our faith since the beginning. It is an indisputable fact that Judaism and Christianity have benefitted and spread greatly due to the proper application of the sword. This is not a call to violence, but rather an exploration of the context and meaning behind the use of violence in our history as a religion. Perhaps Warrior Saints serve as a reminder of this. Either way, it will do us no good as Christians to ignore such a significant part of our faith.
I am no Theologian by any stretch of the imagination. Being “cradle Orthodox” (Orthodox since birth) meant I never had to read numerous books or study in-depth theology in order to be a member of the Orthodox Church. But the lives of the Saints are one thing I have studied and been taught my whole life. Their lives have always been like true fairy tales to me. Stories of wonder and excitement about people that actually existed. People I can relate to who went through a lot of the same struggles that I go through. And the Warrior Saints are no different. It is not an un-Christian thing to fight in self-defense. Nor is it un-Christian to serve in the military. But these things come with the grim reality that you will have to hurt and most likely kill other human beings. It is a horrible truth, but at times a necessity in order to defend that which is important to us.
How then do we bring together our Christian faith with the occasional necessity of warfare? Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV) says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” This question has been asked before and will be asked again. Countless Christians have struggled with it without finding a clear-cut answer. But the lives of the Saints serve as an example of how martial skill and a deep Christian faith can coexist. Their witness served and still serves as an example for many, bringing people to Christ in droves. And this is not in spite of their actions, but hand-in-hand with them.
I’m not saying we should be like Charlemagne and force conversions with the sword. To do so would make Christianity look no different from Islam. But when the pagan Emperor Maximian’s champion Lyaeus is known for reveling in the torment and murder of Christians, something must be done about it. This is where Saint Nestor of Thessaloniki comes in, slaying the cruel pagan champion in the arena. In ways like this, the Warrior Saints echo the actions of the warriors of the Old Testament.
But are Prophets made Prophets or Saints made Saints because of how physically powerful they are? Or rather, how physically powerful the Lord let them be? If we believed that, we’d be no better than the pagans who revel in cruelty and warfare for the sake of warfare. There is more to figures like Samson and Saint Nestor than just a body count. There is something that separates people like them from the pagan heroes of the past. But we’ll get into that in the next article.