The Holy Great-Martyr Katherine of Alexandria
We celebrate the Holy Great-Martyr Katherine of Alexandria (Catherine of Alexandria) on November 24th. Her father was the governor of Alexandrian-Egypt. Icons of her therefore include the saint wearing a crown and royal robes.
St. Katherine lived a life worthy of a princess. Her wealthy parents invested in her education, and she grew in all the major fields of knowledge of antiquity. She also read the writings of philosophers and studied Hellenistic works. Records of her life also note her incredible beauty. Katherine therefore possessed wealth, beauty, and rare intelligence. And many men offered themselves as suitors to marry her.
When her parents inquired her feelings about a spouse, Katherine replied that she required a young man who surpassed her in beauty, wisdom, wealth, and nobility.
The Conversion of St. Katherine
When Katherine delivered this ultimatum, her mother had an idea. She was secretly Christian, and knew of a wise monk, (her own spiritual father), living in a cave near Alexandria. The mother sent her daughter to this holy man, to seek advice on such a match.
The monk heard Katherine’s story, and informed her that he did know of a man who not only surpassed her in beauty, wisdom, weath, and nobility, but in every way possible. For indeed, we know of one whose countenance radiates more than the shininging sun, and whose wisdom governs all creation. We know His compassion and mercy is boundless, and His justice is perfect and unparalleled. He shares His riches with all the world, and yet His own wealth is never diminished.
Katherine, eager to meet this man, begged the monk to aid her in making His acquaintance, that she may be His bride.
The spiritual father provided her with an icon of the Theotokos. He then instructed her to pray to the Mother of the Bridegroom, the Queen of Heaven. “For she will hear and answer the desire of your heart.”
That night Katherine prayed and received a vision of the Theotokos holding her divine Son. However, Christ was facing away from Katherine. And though the Theotokos asked her Son to look upon the fair and beautiful Katherine, Christ said that he could not look at Katherine, for she could not be wise, virtuous, or beautiful while she clung to her pagan ways.
The next day, Katherine returned, distraught, to the monk in the cave. After relating her vision, the holy man instructed Katherine in the faith and baptized her. After this, Katherine received another vision of the Theotokos, and this time was able to look upon Christ the Bridegroom. Not only that, but Christ gave her a ring, which tradition suggests remains on her hand. Some Byzantine icons of St. Katherine depict this vision. We call these icons “The Betrothal of St. Katherine.”
The Martyrdom of St. Katherine
Sometime after Katherine’s conversion, Emperor Maximillian came to Alexandria for a pagan festival. Many steadfast Christians were rounded up, tortured, and then offered as a sacrifice. Katherine, desiring to ease the suffering of these Christians, approached Maximillian to plead on their behalf.
Apparently, Maximilian was taken in by Katherine’s beauty, and so desired to dissuade her from belief in God. Maximilian therefore ordered fifty of his most educated pagan philosophers to debate with her.
Here God proved the virtue of Katherine’s own intellect. For she was able to persuade all the emperors’ philosophers to convert to Christianity. The errors of pagan thought could not withstand the scrutiny of Katherine and her proclamation of the true faith. These men were so convicted of the Truth of the One God, that they were willing to die then for Christ. Katherine was able to say a prayer for them all before they died.
When the newly Christian philosophers failed to disude Katherine from the faith, Maximilian attempted to enamour Katherine with wealth and power. Of course, neither of these mattered to Katherine either.
Her Last Hours
When these last attempts did not dissuade Katherine, Maximilian ordered his men to torture her. However, Maximillian’s wife, Empress Augusta, took an interest in Katherine and sought to visit her in the Alexandrian prison. Accompanied by Maximillian’s military commander and some soldiers, the empress spoke to her. All those who visited Katherine also converted to the faith.
When it came time to follow the emperors order’s to torture the saint, an angel of God came and broke the torture wheel, with pieces of it spreading everywhere and even killing some of the pagans present.
Icons of Katherine often include a wheel to represent this aspect of her martyrdom.
Finally, the emperor ordered his men to behead Katherine. She approached the block willingly, still confessing the wisdom of the true faith. Some accounts suggest that the empress, military commander, and the soldiers were converted at this point in time, rather than prior to her martyr’s death. Either way, they too were martyred.
Prayers and an Akathist
Let us praise the most auspicious bride of Christ, the holy, pure, and wise Katherine. For she proclaimed Christ, silencing the knowledge of the pagan orators. And now, crowned as a martyr, she asks great mercy for all.
Troparion: (tone 8)
O Christ, your bride Katherine cries out to You in love. “O Bridegroom, I desire you with great pains. I am crucified with You. And am buried with You in baptism. I suffer for Your sake, that I may die in order to live in You.” O Merciful One, through her intercession, save our souls!”
Try Praying the Akathist!
The Byzantine Life
Don’t forget to follow us on social media. On our Pinterest we have boards full icons and faith activities! New posts are always shared to Facebook, and my husband runs our Twitter (@LifeByzantine) and Instagram accounts (username: thebyzantinelife)! And if you want to support our work at TheByzantineLife.com, consider joining us on Patreon. For as little as $5 a month you can get exclusive access to special posts, photos, and updates from our family! https://www.patreon.com/thebyzantinelife