The Life and Passion of the Holy Great Martyr Catherine, the Wise One

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

THE TWENTY-FOURTH DAY OF THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER OUR HOLY ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHURCH COMMEMORATES THE LIFE AND PASSION OF THE HOLY GREAT MARTYR CATHERINE, THE WISE VIRGIN

During the reign of the impious pagan Emperor Maxentius, there lived in the city of Alexandria a maiden named Catherine. She was of royal lineage, very beautiful and tall, and had reached the age of eighteen. She was also most learned, having studied all the writings of the Hellenes, and had acquainted herself with the authors of antiquity: Homer, Virgil, Aristotle, Plato, and others. It was not, however, only the philosophers that she had read: she knew well the books of the physicians Asclepius, Hippocrates, and Galen. Moreover, she had entirely mastered the arts of rhetoric and dialectic and knew many languages, so that all were amazed at her learning. Numerous rich men of noble birth came to ask her hand of her mother, who held the Christian faith secretly because of the great persecution raised up against the faithful at that time by Maxentius. Catherine's mother and relatives often counseled the maiden to marry so that the royal inheritance passed down from her father would not fall into the hands of strangers and thus be lost to her family, but the wise Catherine loved virginity greatly and did not wish to be married. She answered those who urged her, "If you wish me to enter into wedlock, find me a youth who possesses the four things which I have (as you well know) in great measure than all other maidens, not one that is inferior to me and unworthy of my hand. Look about for a young man who is of noble lineage, wealthy, handsome, and learned; if he is lacking in one of these things, he is not worthy of me."

Unable to find such a youth, Catherine's relatives said, "Although the sons of emperors and great princes are highborn and wealthier than she, not one is as handsome or as wise."

Said Catherine, "I do not desire a bridegroom who is uneducated."

Now the spiritual father of Catherine's mother, a holy man who ever sought to please God, lived in a secret place outside the city. Taking her daughter with her, Catherine's mother went to visit him and to receive good counsel concerning this matter. Seeing that the maiden was beautiful and modest and that she spoke with prudence and wisdom, he made it his purpose to bring her to know Christ, the King of heaven. He said, "I know a wondrous Youth Who is infinitely greater than you in every way. His countenance is brighter than the rays of the sun, and it is by His wisdom that all things are governed, both in the material world and the spiritual. His riches are spread throughout the whole world yet never fail, and He is unimaginable illustrious."

Thinking that the elder was speaking of some earthly prince, the maiden's heart was troubled. The expression on her face changed, and she asked him if what he had said was true. He assured her that he had spoken the truth and that the Youth possessed so many other gifts that it was impossible to tell of them all.

Whoso Son is the Youth Whom you praise thus? asked the maiden.

The elder replied, "He has not father on earth, of He was born in a manner surpassing nature, from the most noble, holy, and pure of virgins. It was because of her surpassing purity and holiness that she was deemed worthy to bear Him as her Son. Immortality has been bestowed upon both her soul and body, and she has been translated above the heavens, where the Angels revere her as the Queen of all creation."

"Is it possible for me to see the Youth of Whom you related such wondrous things", asked Catherine.

"If you do as I say," the elder replied, "you will be deemed worthy to behold His radiant countenance."

Then Catherine said to him, "I see that you are a wise and venerable elder; therefore, I believe that you speak the truth. I am prepared to do whatever you say, if only I may see Him Whom you praise."

The elder gave Catherine an icon of the Most Holy Theotokos holding the Divine Infant in her embrace, and said, "This is the image of the Virgin Mother of the Child of Whom I have told you such marvelous things. Take it to your home, lock the doors of your room, and fervently pray till dawn to her who is depicted on it, beseeching her to permit you to behold her Son. Her name is Mary. I believe that if you call upon her with faith, she will hearken unto you and grant you the desire of your heart."

The maiden took the holy icons and returned home. That night, she shut herself in her room and prayed as the elder had instructed her. While praying, she fell asleep from weariness and beheld in a dream the Queen of the Angels holding the Holy Child as on the icon. He shone with light brighter than the rays of the sun, but Catherine could not see His face, which He turned away toward His Mother. Wishing to behold His Countenance, Catherine moved to the other side of the room, but Christ again turned His face away. After he had done this thrice, the Holy Virgin said to Her, "Behold, my Child, how fair and virtuous is Your handmaiden Catherine!"

To this He replied, "No, she is black and unsightly. I cannot bear to look upon her."

"Is she not more learned than any scholar, wealthy, and of exceedingly noble birth?" asked the Most Holy Theotokos.

"I say to you, Mother, that she is a foolish pauper and baseborn, and I will not look at her until she forsakes impiety," said Christ.

Then the Lord's Most Blessed Mother said to Him, "I beseech You, sweetest Child, do not disdain her whom You have created. Show her what she must do to delight in Your glory and to see Your Most Radiant face, which Angels desire to behold."

"Let her return to the elder who gave her the icon," said Christ, "and do as he says. Then she will see Me and find grace in My sight."

Catherine awoke, marveling at what she had seen and heard in the dream. The next morning, she went with a number of her maids to the cell of the holy elder and fell down in tears at his feet. She told him what she had seen in the dream and asked him what she must do to gain the love of Him Whom she so desired. The godly elder spoke to her at length of the mysteries of the True Christian faith, beginning with the creation of the world and our forefather Adam and continuing up to the Second Coming of the Master Christ. He told her of the ineffable glory of Paradise and the terrible and eternal torments of hell, and she, being a learned and wise maiden, straightway understood and believed with her whole heart. Then she received Holy Baptism at the elder's hands, and he instructed her to pray fervently to the Most Holy Theotokos as before.

Having thus put off the old man and clothed herself with the robe of the renewal of the spirit, Catherine returned home and passed the night in fasting and tearful prayer until she again fell asleep. Once more, she beheld the Queen of heaven holding the Divine Infant, Who looked upon Catherine calmly and with great compassion. The Mother of God asked her Son, "Is this maiden acceptable to You, my Son?"

Christ answered, "She pleases Me greatly, for she is now as fair and delightful as she once was formerly poor and foolish. I truly love her, and wish to take her as My bride forever."

Catherine fell to the floor and cried, "O Most Glorious Master, I am unworthy to behold Thy Kingdom! I ask Thee only to number me among Thy servants!"

Offering her hand to the maiden, the Most Holy Theotokos said to her Son, "Give her, my Child, a ring as a token of Your betrothal to her, granting her a place in Your Kingdom."

The Master Christ then gave Catherine a most beautiful ring, saying, "Lo, today I choose you to be My betrothed for all eternity. Take care to keep this trust inviolate, and promise yourself to no earthly bridegroom." With this, He became invisible, and the vision came to an end. When the maiden awoke, she saw on her right hand a wondrous ring and felt such joy and gladness that from that hour her heart was a prisoner of divine love. So great was the change which came upon her that she gave heed no more to worldly things, thinking only of her beloved Bridegroom day and night. For Him alone did she long, and her thoughts were ever with Him, whether she was awake or asleep.

At that time the impious Emperor came to Alexandria. Full of blind zeal for his lifeless gods, he was himself, as it were, without heart or mind. Wishing to celebrate a splendid feat in honor of the pagan gods, he sent word to every nearby city and land, commanding the people to bring sacrifice and to come worship together. A multitude of people assembled, some bringing oxen, others sheep, while the poor among them brought birds of something else of the kind...All the people were restless and disturbed, and the air itself was utterly defiled. The righteous-believing and virtuous Catherine saw how the souls of men were being deceived and led to perdition, and her heart was grievously wounded, because she felt deep compassion for them. Stirred up by divine zeal, she took some of her servants and went to the temple where the useless oblations were being offered. As she entered it, the gaze of all was caught by her indescribable beauty, which testified to the comeliness of her soul. "Tell the Emperor," she said, "that I have something of great importance to say to him."

The Emperor commanded that Catherine be brought before him. Entering his presence, she prostrated herself, rendering him due homage. Then she said boldly, "Know, O Emperor, that you have been led astray by the demons, for the idols you serve are lifeless and subject to corruption. Great is the shame of the blind, foolish men who worship such vile things! Accept the words of your wise philosopher Diodorus, who says that your gods were once impious men and that because of the notable deeds they worked during their lifetime, the people raised up pillars and statues in their honor. Later generations were unaware of the intention of their forefathers, who erected these things only as memorials. Counting the statues as worthy of reverence, the people began to worship them as gods. Know also that the famed Plutarch of Cheronea considered that your gods were not divine, and reviled them. Believe the words of your teachers, O Emperor, and do not make yourself guilty of the perdition of many souls. In this way you may escape the eternal torment that awaits you. Come to know the One, True God, Who is Ever-existent, Unoriginate, and Immortal, and became man in the last times for our salvation. By Him kings reign and nations are ruled, and the whole world is sustained. He created and upholds all things by His word, for He is the Almighty and All-Good God, Who has no need of your sacrifices but commands only that we steadfastly keep His Commandments.

Hearing this, the Emperor was greatly enraged, remaining speechless for a long time. Unable to reply to Catherine's words, he said only, "Leave us now to offer sacrifice, and we will hear you at another time."

After the vile festival had come to an end, the impious Emperor commanded that Catherine be brought to his palace. He said to her, "Tell us, maiden, who you are, and repeat what you said before."

"I am the daughter of one of the previous emperors," the Saint replied, "and my name is Catherine...If you wish to dispel the darkness and gloom of the deception that has ensnared you, understand that your gods are nothing, and come to know the True God..." The Emperor commanded that the holy virgin be kept under close guard and immediately sent the following decree to every city in his dominions: "The Emperor Maxentius to all the learned philosophers and orators in the lands under my rule: Hail! Come to me, all you who serve the most wise god Hermes and call upon the Muses as patrons of erudition, and stop the mouth of a certain learned maiden who has appeared as of late and mocks our gods, calling their histories myths and fables. Come, that you my display your knowledge of the wisdom of the ancients, be acclaimed by men, and receive from me gifts as rewards for your labors."

Fifty chosen rhetoricians, skilled in debate and mighty in declamation, assembled in Alexandria. The Emperor addressed them thus: "Prepare yourselves diligently and carefully to contend with the maiden and to prevail in dispute with her concerning the gods...He (the Emperor) straightway ordered that the Saint be brought before him, and a great multitude of people assembled in the arena, eager to witness the debate. Before the messengers arrived, the Archangel Michael came from heaven and said to the Saint, "Fear not, O maiden chosen by the Lord! The Lord shall add to your wisdom even greater wisdom, and you will prevail in debate over fifty orators. Through you they and many others shall come to believe and receive the crown of martyrdom."

After all their arguments and pagan beliefs were refuted by Saint Catherine, the learned philosophers and orators, fell silent. The Emperor saw that his champions had been vanquished and left speechless. They said to the Emperor, "We are unable to withstand the truth. If the most learned of our number was overcome and silenced, what can we hope to accomplish?"

The Emperor was moved to wrath and ordered that a great fire be prepared in the middle of the city to burn alive all the philosophers and orators. When they learned of the sentence pronounced upon them, they fell at the Saint's feet, beseeching her to pray for them to the One True God so that He might forgive them the sins they had committed in ignorance and deem them worthy of Holy Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Saint responded joyfully, "Truly you are blessed, for you have abandoned darkness and come to know the True Light!...Believe firmly that the fire with which the impious threaten you shall serve as your Baptism and be a ladder leading you up to heaven. In that fire you will be cleansed of every defilement of flesh and spirit, and you will be presented pure and radiant as the stars before the Lord of Glory, Whose beloved friends you shall become."

While saying this, Saint Catherine traced over each of the philosophers and orators the sign of Christ's sacred Cross. Full of hope and gladness, they went joyfully to their martyrdom...

As the Saint was speaking, the Eparch Khursaden, a cruel man and a merciless persecutor, wishing to gain Maxendtius' good will, said, "I know a torture, O Emperor, that will enable you to prevail over this maiden. Command that four wooden wheels be fixed to a single axle, and have spearheads, and other sharp weapons of iron driven through their rims. Order two wheels turned to the right and two to the left. Have the maiden tied down beneath them, and the turning wheels will tear apart her flesh. But first show the wheels to her! Having seen them, I believe she will consent to obey you. If she refuses, then deliver her to a cruel death."

The Emperor was pleased with the Eparch's counsel and ordered that the wheels be prepared. The Saint was led to the place of torture, and the wheels were spun before her with great force so that she would be frightened. The persecutor said to her, "Do you see the torments prepared for you? Bitter will be your death, if you do not worship the gods!"

"I have told you many times that I intend to remain a Christian. Waste no more time and do as your wish." the Saint replied. As soon as the torture began, an Angel descended from heaven and loosed the Saint from her bonds, preventing her from being injured. The wheels he broke into pieces, which flew in every direction from the force of the blows, killing numerous unbelievers. Seeing this glorious rescue, the crowd cried out, "Great is the God of the Christians!"

...Seeing that neither flattery, nor promises, nor threats and tortures could prevail over her whose will was stronger than adamant, the Emperor pronounced his sentence, condemning her to be beheaded outside the city. The soldiers led her to the place of execution, and many people followed her, men and women alike lamenting the approaching death of the fair and wise maiden.

"...Cease your useless weeping," the Saint replied. "You should rejoice instead, for I will soon behold my beloved Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, my Creator and Savior. He is the adornment of martyrs, their crown and glory, and summons me to reign with Him and to rejoice for endless ages amid the ineffable good things of Paradise. Do not weep for me but for yourselves: because of your unbelief, you shall be condemned to unending tortures in the fires of hell."

When she reached the place of execution, Saint Catherine prayed thus: "O Lord Jesus Christ my God, I thank Thee that Thou hast set my feet upon the rock of patience and hast guided my steps. Stretch forth now Thy hands, which Thou didst once stretch out upon the Cross, and receive my soul, which I have offered in sacrifice for the sake of Thy love. Remember, O Lord, that I am flesh and blood, and do not permit the cruel inquisitors to bring to light before They dread judgment seat the sins I have committed in ignorance, but do Thou wash them in my blood. Make my body, wounded by torments and condemned to beheading, invisible to the eyes of Thine enemies who persecute me. Look down also from the heights, O Lord, upon the people who stand here, and guide them to the light of Thy knowledge. Grant whatever they request to those who, through me, come to call upon Thy Holy Name, if their petitions would e to their benefit, that they may hymn Thy Majesty unto the ages."

Completing her prayer, Saint Catherine said to the executioner, "Do as you have been commanded."

He raised his sword, and when he cut off the Martyr's head, milk flowed from her neck instead of blood. Such of the faithful as were worthy beheld how an Angel came at that moment and reverently took her holy relics away, leaving them on Mount Sinai. Unto Christ God, Who reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit in one Godhead, be Glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.

(Please note: The ancient Greek Orthodox Monastery at Mount Sinai is dedicated to Saint Catherine, the Bride and Great Martyr of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.)

(Source: The Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints)

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DIVINE SERVICES ON NOVEMBER 25TH

Orthros (Matins) at 9:00 a.m.
Divine Liturgy at 10:00 a.m.

Location: Saint Andrew

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George