St. Katherine of Alexandria


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Commemorated on November 24

The Holy Great Martyr Katherine was the daughter of Constus, the governor of Alexandrian Egypt during the reign of Emperor Maximian (305-313). Living in the capital and possessing a rare beauty and intellect, Katherine received an excellent education, studying the works of the greatest philosophers and teachers of antiquity. Young men from across the empire sought her hand, but she was not interested in any of them. She told her parents that she would enter into marriage only with someone who surpassed her in nobility, wealth, and wisdom.

Katherine’s mother, who was secretly a Christian, sent her daughter to her own spiritual Father, a saintly Elder living in a cave outside the city, for advice. After listening to Katherine, the Elder said that he knew of a Youth who surpassed her in everything. “His countenance is more radiant than the shining of the sun, and all of creation is governed by His wisdom. His riches are given to all the nations of the world, yet they never diminish. His compassion is unequaled.” This description of the Heavenly Bridegroom produced in Katherine’s soul an ardent desire to see Him. “If you do as I tell you,” said the Elder, “you will gaze upon the countenance of this illustrious man.” In parting, the Elder handed Katherine an icon of the Theotokos with the divine Child Jesus on Her arm and told her to pray with faith to the Queen of Heaven, the Mother of the Heavenly Bridegroom, and She would hear Katherine and grant her heart’s desire.

Katherine prayed all night and was permitted to see the Most Holy Virgin, who said to Her Divine Son, “Behold Thy handmaiden Katherine, how fair and virtuous she is.” But the Child turned His face away from her saying, “No, she is ugly and unbelieving. She is a foolish pauper, and I cannot bear to look at her until she forsakes her impiety.”

Katherine returned again to the Elder deeply saddened, and told him what she had seen in the dream. He lovingly received her, instructed her in the faith of Christ, admonished her to preserve her purity and integrity and to pray unceasingly. She then received holy Baptism from him. Again, Katherine had a vision of the Most Holy Theotokos with Her Child. Now the Lord looked tenderly at her and gave her a beautiful ring, a wondrous token of her betrothal to the Heavenly Bridegroom (the ring is still on her hand).

About this same time, Emperor Maximian was visiting Alexandria for a pagan festival. Human victims who refused to deny Christ were brought before him and were condemned to death in the fire. Katherine’s love for the Christian martyrs and her fervent desire to ease their sufferings compelled her to speak to the pagan priest and to the emperor. Introducing herself, she confessed her faith in the One True God and with wisdom exposed the errors of the pagans.

Katherine’s beauty captivated the emperor. In order to show the superiority of pagan wisdom, the emperor ordered fifty of the most learned philosophers in the empire to dispute her claims, but the saint got the better of the wise men, so that they came to believe in Christ themselves. St. Katherine made the Sign of the Cross over the martyrs, and they bravely accepted death for Christ, being burned alive by order of the emperor.

Maximian then tried to entice Katherine with the promise of riches and fame. Receiving an angry refusal, the emperor gave orders that she be tortured and then thrown in prison. The Empress Augusta, who had heard of Katherine, asked to see her, and prevailed upon the military commander to accompany her to the prison. The empress was impressed by the strong spirit of St. Katherine, whose face was radiant with divine grace. The holy martyr explained the Christian teaching to the empress, and she was converted to Christ.

On the following day, Katherine was again ordered before the judgment court where, under the threat of being broken on the wheel, she was urged to renounce the Christian Faith and offer sacrifice to the gods. She steadfastly confessed Christ and approached the wheel, but an angel smashed the instrument of execution, which shattered into pieces.

Having witnessed this event, Empress Augusta and Imperial Courtier Porphyrius with 200 soldiers confessed their faith in Christ in front of everyone. Upon her husband’s orders, Empress Augusta and the others were beheaded. Maximian again tried to entice Katherine, proposing marriage to her, but again she refused. St. Katherine firmly confessed her fidelity to the heavenly Bridegroom Christ, and with a prayer to Him, she herself lay her head on the block beneath the executioner's sword.

The relics of St. Katherine were taken by the angels to Mt. Sinai. In the sixth century, the venerable head and left hand of the holy martyr were found and transferred with honor to a newly-constructed church for the Sinai Monastery, built by Emperor Justinian.

St. Katherine is called upon for relief and assistance during a difficult childbirth. Pilgrims to her monastery on Mt. Sinai are given souvenir rings as a remembrance of their visit.

Troparion (Tone 4) –

By your virtues as by rays of the sun you enlightened the unbelieving philosophers,

and like the most bright moon you drove away the darkness of disbelief from those walking in the night;

you convinced the queen, and also chastised the tyrant,

God-summoned bride, blessed Katherine.

You hastened with desire to the heavenly bridal chamber of the fairest fairest Bride-groom Christ,

and you were crowned by Him with a royal crown;

standing before Him with the angels, pray for us who keep your most sacred memory.

Kontakion (Tone 2) –

Let all of us who love to honor the martyrs

form a great choir in praise of the most wise Katherine,

for she preached Christ and trampled the serpent,

despising the knowledge of the orators!

By permission of the Orthodox Church in America (www.oca.org)

Icon located at St. Michael the Archangel Orthodox Church, Louisville, KY