Everyone knows about St. George and the dragon. Hundreds of churches bear his name. And in thousands of icons he appears, the handsome young warrior on a white horse. The dragon lies dead, fatally wounded by the lance wielded by St. George.
But who knows anything about our Blessed Mother Elizabeth the Wonder-Worker (Thaumatourgos), who also killed a dragon? It is most unlikely that any church bears her name or that icons of Elizabeth and the dragon exist. Nevertheless, she has not been totally neglected. Orthodox tradition has happily preserved the memory of this woman who was both an ascetic saint and a dragon-slayer. Her feast day falls on April 24. In the past, Byzantine writers and hymnographers recorded her story and sang the praises of Elizabeth "our God-bearing Mother."
Fifteen hundred years ago, sometime in the fifth century, Elizabeth was born in the Thracian town of Heraklea. The only child of devout parents, she began to learn the "holy writings" when she was only three years old. After hearing the lives of saints one time, she could recite them by heart. By the time she reached adolescence Elizabeth had lost both parents. Having distributed her inheritance among the poor, she left Heraklea and went to Constantinople.
In the imperial city she entered the Convent of St. George the Great Martyr, whose abbess was a sister of her father. There the young nun soon adopted a strict ascetic lifestyle. Winter and summer, Elizabeth wore but one garment and never wore shoes on her feet. Imitating the prophets Moses and Elijah, she often fasted for forty days, abstaining from all food and drink. Once she "fastened" her mind so intently on God that for three years she never saw "the beauty and breadth of the heavens."
Disciplining her body, Elizabeth freed her spirit to search for God. As a result, in the words of a hymnographer, she gained "wisdom in her soul, humility and divine gentleness, pure faith, god-like love and hope." She also received power to heal physical and spiritual illnesses and to drive out demons. When her aunt the abbess died, Elizabeth was elected to succeed her.
Soon after her elevation to abbess, the emperor Leo I gave her convent a piece of property belonging to him. It is said that the gift was an expression of respect for Elizabeth. However, the property was useless and uninhabitable because a "very huge and most deadly" dragon lived there. "Sorrow and despair" gripped the entire city of Constantinople. No one dared to go near the dragon.
The abbess of St. George's convent, however, was not in the least afraid of the monster. One day she went to her newly acquired dragon-infested property. As usual, she was bare-footed. In her hand she carried a cross.
Looking up to heaven, she prayed for help from above. Then she ordered the dragon to come out from his lair. Meekly the ferocious beast obeyed her and appeared. When Elizabeth had made the sign of the cross over him, she spat on him. Next she grabbed his head and with her bare feet stamped on the dragon. Thus she slew the dragon and liberated the city from terror.
Unlike St. George, St. Elizabeth did not rely on weapons of steel to kill the dragon. Nor did she require armor for protection. Just as she had by faith and prayer triumphed over demons, so did the pious abbess rid Constantinople of the terrorist dragon. From that moment of triumph Elizabeth worked countless miracles. The years passed and she reached venerable old age. To the end of her life and beyond St. Elizabeth brought divine blessings to humankind.
Rejoicing that she had once again celebrated the shining feast of St. George, our Blessed Mother Elizabeth died the next day, on April 24.