Commemorated on November 24 (November 25 by Greek Calendar)
GreatMartyress Catherine was the daughter of the governor of Alexandrian
Egypt Constus during the reign of the emperor Maximian (305-313). Living
in the capital – the centre of Hellenistic knowledge, and possessed of an
uncommon beauty and intellect, Catherine received a most splendid of
educations, having studied the works of the finest philosophers and teachers of
antiquity. Young men from the most worthy families of the empire sought the
hand of the beautiful Catherine, but none of them was chosen. She declared to
her parents that she would be agreeable to enter into marriage only with
someone who surpassed her in illustriousness, wealth, comeliness and wisdom.
Catherine's mother, a
secret Christian, sent her for advice to her own spiritual father – a saintly
elder pursuing prayerful deeds in solitude in a cave not far from the city.
Having listened to Catherine, the elder said that he knew of a Youth, who surpassed
her in everything, such that "His beauty was more radiant than the shining
of the sun, His wisdom governed all creation, His riches were spread throughout
all the world – this however did not diminish but rather added to the
inexpressible loftiness of His lineage". The image of the Heavenly
Bridegroom produced in the soul of the holy maiden an ardent desire to see Him.
Truth, to which her soul yearned, revealed it to her. In parting, the elder
handed Catherine an icon of the Mother of God with the God-Child Jesus on Her
arm and bid her to pray with faith to the Queen of Heaven – the Mother of the
Heavenly Bridegroom – for the bestowing of the vision of Her Son.
Catherine prayed all
night and was given to see the MostHoly Virgin, Who sent Her Divine Son to look
upon the kneeling of Catherine before Them. But the Child turned His face away
from her saying, that He was not able to look at her because she was ugly, of
shabby lineage, beggarly and mindless like every person – not washed with the
waters of holy Baptism and not sealed with the seal of the Holy Spirit.
Catherine returned again to the elder deeply saddened. He lovingly received
her, instructed her in the faith of Christ, admonished her to preserve her
purity and integrity and to pray unceasingly; he then performed over her the
mystery / sacrament of holy Baptism. And again Saint Catherine had a vision of
the MostHoly Mother of God with Her Child. Now the Lord looked tenderly at her
and gave her a ring – a wondrous gift of the Heavenly Bridegroom.
At this time the
emperor Maximian was himself in Alexandria for a pagan feastday. Because of
this, the feast was especially splendid and crowded. The cries of the
sacrificial animals, the smoke and the smell of the sacrifices, the endless
blazing of fires, and the bustling crowds at the arenas filled Alexandria.
Human victims also were brought – because they consigned to death in the fire
the confessors in Christ, those not recanting from Him under torture. The
Saint's love for the Christian martyrs and her fervent desire to lighten their
fate impelled Catherine to go to the pagan head-priest and ruler of the empire,
the emperor-persecutor Maximian.
the saint confessed her faith in the One True God and with wisdom denounced the
errors of the pagans. The beauty of the maiden captivated the emperor. In order
to convince her and show the superiourity of pagan wisdom, the emperor gave
orders to gather 50 of the most learned men (rhetoricians) of the empire, but
the Saint got the better of the wise men, such that they themselves came to
believe in Christ. Saint Catherine shielded the martyrs with the sign of the
cross, and they bravely accepted death for Christ and were burnt by order of
Maximian, no longer
hoping to convince the saint, tried to entice her with the promise of riches
and fame. Having received an angry refusal, the emperor gave orders to subject
the saint to terrible tortures and then throw her in prison. The Empress Augusta,
who had heard much about the saint, wanted to see her. Having prevailed upon
the military-commander Porphyry to accompany her with a detachment of
soldiers, Augusta went to the prison. The empress was impressed by the strong
spirit of Saint Catherine, whose face glowed with Divine grace. The holy
martyress explained the Christian teaching to the newly-arrived, and they in
believing were converted to Christ.
On the following day
they again brought the martyress to the judgement court where, under the threat
of being broken on the wheel, they urged that she recant from the Christian
faith and offer sacrifice to the gods. The saint steadfastly confessed Christ
and she herself approached the wheels; but an Angel smashed the instruments of
execution, which broke up into pieces with many pagans passing nearby. Having
beheld this wonder, the empress Augusta and the imperial courtier Porphyry with
200 soldiers confessed their faith in Christ in front of everyone, and they
were beheaded. Maximian again tried to entice the holy martyress, proposing
marriage to her, and again he received a refusal. Saint Catherine firmly confessed
her fidelity to the Heavenly Bridegroom – Christ, and with a prayer to Him she
herself put her head on the block under the sword of the executioner. The
relics of Saint Catherine were taken by the Angels to Mount Sinai. In the VI
Century, through a revelation, the venerable head and left hand of the holy
martyress were found and transferred with honour to a newly-constructed church
of the Sinai monastery, built by the holy emperor Justinian (527-565; Comm. 14
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.