The Legend of Saint Catherine of Alexandria

The great martyr of Christ, St. Catherine, lived in the metropolis of Alexandria during the time of the pagan Emperors Maximian, Maxentius and Maximinus (305-313 AD). She was the daughter of the ruler of Alexandria, Konstas (Kestou) and her tall stature, incomparable beauty and kindness warranted the high respect she received from others. Above all, St. Catherine was a very clever and intelligent person and very knowledgeable in the areas of poetry, philosophy and medicine.

Catherine had mastered many languages and easily surpassed all others in the art of using words impressively, especially in public speaking. On numerous occasions, many of the wealthy and leading men of the Senate approached Catherine’s mother and earnestly requested her daughter’s hand in marriage. However, Catherine cherished her virginity and protested, for she had no desire to wed. Her mother, a Christian in secret, constantly counselled her to marry so her father’s estate would not fall to unwanted hands. After many persistent requests, Catherine conditionally agreed to such a proposal.

The beautiful Catherine made it quite clear that she would only take a young man as her husband if he was like her in virtue, that is, having the characteristics which made her distinctive amongst other women. She refused to consider any man who was unworthy or inferior, for he would be deemed unsuitable.

The young maiden’s mother and relatives soon realised the impossibility of finding such worthy husband. After many unsuccessful attempts, Catherine’s mother decided to seek the help of her spiritual confessor who lived in hiding outside the city. She took her daughter to visit the elder. The ascetic, noticing this young girl's modesty, firmly decided to convey to her his knowledge of Christ, the heavenly King.

Catherine was soon overwhelmed by the attributes of this potential groom and assumed that the elder was referring to an earthly prince. She questioned the elder and asked to see the Youth. The old man gave her an icon of the most holy Theotokos holding the divine Child. He then instructed her to close herself in her bedchamber and pray all night with reverence to Mary, so that she might reveal her Son. Catherine did as the elder directed and exerted herself in prayer and humbleness and as result fell asleep. All of a sudden she had a vision of the Queen of the Angels, as portrayed in the icon, holding the holy Child. His face was turned towards His Mother and so Catherine could only see His back. Three times Catherine attempted to see the face of Christ but He would only turn the other way. The Theotokos begged for her sweet Child to look upon Catherine but eventually Christ advised her to return to the elder, who gave her the icon, and follow his instructions. It was clear that the young bride was not yet worthy to meet her groom.

The next morning, Catherine wasted no time and immediately hurried to the old man’s cell and fell at his feet in tears. She informed him of her vision and begged for more advice. The blessed one thoroughly explained to her the sacraments and mysteries of the true faith (Orthodoxy). Catherine’s intelligence and wisdom allowed her to quickly grasp the fine points of the faith so she believed with all her heart and through holy baptism was accepted into the faith. The elder then instructed the holy maiden to again ask the Most Holy Theotokos to appear once again.   After praying with tears and fasting, she was overcome by sleep. The heavenly Queen with her divine Child again appeared to Catherine. This time, the Master Christ was pleased as her ignorance had now turned to enlightenment. She was now possessed with many good blessings and graces and in Christ's eyes she had become noble and eminent. Upon His Mother’s request, the Lord then gave Catherine a beautiful ring as a token of His eternal betrothal to her ad she was now worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. The following morning the young bride woke to find a ring on her right finger and her heart was now filled with the love of Christ.

Meanwhile, the Emperor Maximinus, who was obsessed with lifeless gods, ordered all the people in the surrounding cities and villages to assemble in the capital to give thanks, and worship his supreme gods. Many animals were sacrificed for burnt offerings and anyone who did not participate was punished. These events greatly distressed Catherine, as she witnessed souls escaping temporal death only to be led to eternal condemnation by forcibly committing acts of Idolatry. As a result, she confronted the emperor and accused him of worshipping such abominations. She confessed to him her love for the true God who is One, Unchangeable, Infinite, and Immortal before all ages. This greatly angered the emperor and furthermore, could not counter such powerful words. Having placed Catherine under heavy guard, he invited many educated and wise people to debate her beliefs with the intention of converting her to idolatry.

The young saint was then brought forward to face the elite and pompous orators who had gathered in the amphitheatre. After much discussion and disputation, Catherine, with Christ in her heart, overwhelmed the congregation and persuaded them to renounce their false gods and follow in the footsteps of the true God, the Origin, Source and Foundation of all good things. The orators fell at the feet of the saint begging for forgiveness for their sins. They desperately sought the mystery of baptism and the grace of the Holy Spirit.

This again enraged the emperor as defeat was staring at his face. The soldiers were ordered to cast these traitors into the fire but their repentance, and Catherine’s action of sealing them individually on the forehead with the sign of the Cross, sent them to their martyrdom full of jubilation and thanksgiving. Their holy remains were gathered later that day by a group of Christians and miraculously they were still intact, not one hair singed by the fire. Maximinus still had the problem of luring Catherine away from her Christian beliefs and exhausted all means to do so. After withstanding the torturous pain, which was inflicted on her virginal body, the young bride was cast into prison so Maximinus could devise another deadly method.

Now Faustina, the emperor’s wife, admired the holy Catherine as she had heard much about her virtue and courage. She recently had a vision of Catherine who was amongst many youths and virgins, arrayed in white garments. Therefore, in order to find rest, Faustina knew she had to meet the young bride. With the help of Porphyrius (the Emperor’s military commander) and two hundred soldiers, she managed to find Catherine in the dungeon whose appearance bloomed with freshness. Faustina openly expressed her love for Christ and after listening to the sweet words of the holy Catherine, Porphyrius and his soldiers wholeheartedly embraced Christianity.

In the meantime, Maximinus had come up with a sadistic way to overpower Catherine. An instrument of torture, made of four wooden wheels from which steel blades and other sharp spikes protruded, was constructed. However, to the bewilderment of the Emperor it proved to be unsuccessful as an angel of God freed Catherine from this dreadful contraption. Those who witnessed this event became Christians. The Emperor was filled with fury but his foolishness was not going to let him stop here.

Maximinus became even more enraged when his wife, Faustina, confessed her love for the Master Christ. Having no pity on his own wife, Maximinus ordered her immediate execution. The Emperor then gave the holy Catherine one last chance to renounce Christ but it was to no avail. After uttering a small prayer to herself, she signalled for the executioner to carry out the sentence of cutting off her precious head. This bride of Christ gave up her life on November 25, around 305 AD. To the amazement of all the bystanders, milk began to flow from her sacred head instead of blood. This is how God so desired to honour his beloved saint and martyr.

It was during that hour, that the precious relics of St. Catherine were taken to a secret place in Mount Sinai by the Holy angels. About three centuries later, according to tradition, monks of the monastery built by Justinian, found her body through the guidance of a dream and placed it in a golden casket in the church belonging to the Monastery of St. Catherine, on Mount Sinai.

Dismissal Hymn
Plagal of the First Tone

Let us sing the praise of the renowned bride of Christ, Catherine, the divine protectress of Sinai, our help and succour; for she hath brilliantly silenced the refinements of the impious by the power of the Spirit, and since she hath been crowned as a witness of the Lord, she craveth for all the Great Mercy.