We shall speak about saint Catherine whose feast day is today.
Saint Catherine lived in the third century after Christ. She was born in Alexandria. Her father Constas, a representative of the emperor, and her mother were idolaters. Thus she too was an idolater. Now the small daughter had a great inclination for learning. She studied all the sciences and read the writings of the Greeks and Latins. At the age of 18 she was the most educated daughter of Alexandria.
In her demeanor she was a beautiful woman full of grace. With such gifts, physical and intellectual, she was the most sought after bride. Prominent young men proposed to her. But she would say that she didn’t want to marry, despite all the pressures of her own people.
If someone wants to marry, it is a sin to obstruct him. But if this is a sin once, it is a sin a hundred-fold to obstruct a person, man or woman, who wants to give his or her heart to God. Marriage is silver; virginity is gold. Choose and take. In all the years that I have served the Lord, I never, ever obstructed a person from entering marriage. But I also supported women and men who wanted to devote themselves to God and to become missionary and monastic persons. God gave freedom; compulsion is prohibited, especially when it comes to these issues.
So they pressured, badly so, saint Catherine. She didn’t hate marriage, but as a superior intellect she wanted to be without distraction. And there is not only this marriage, the usual one. Others marry the fatherland, others science, others religion.
St. Catherine, in order to escape the pressures, used an ingenious pretext. For the Christian is smart; he must have intelligence not of this world but of God. So she says to her parents: – since you pressure me so much, I accept marriage, but on one condition. – What condition, my child? – If a young man is found to be superior to me in beauty, in riches, in knowledge and science, I’ll take him.
They began to search; and many presented themselves. Others were rich, but not handsome. Others were rich and handsome, but not cultivated. It is a rare thing for wealth and beauty and cultivation to be found in a single person. Thus not a single man could be found, and the parents were inconsolable.
They sent her to some philosopher ascetic, who lived in a cave outside of Alexandria. She went and sought his advice. He said to her: – My daughter, I now a young man. There is no other like him in the world. Handsome, rich, powerful, wise as no one else. Catherine got enthused and said: – I would like to see him. The ascetic tells her: – Will you do whatever I tell you? – I’ll do it. – Listen then (said the ascetic, and he took out from his chest pocket an icon of our All-Holy Mary with our Lord Jesus Christ). Take this icon, go to your home, close yourself in your room, and pray. And the All-Holy Mary will reveal to you what you will do.
Truly Catherine took the icon, closed herself in her house, and prayed a great deal, beyond midnight. Tired, she fell asleep. She sees then a vision. She saw the All-holy Mary shining like the moon and the Divine infant in her bosom shining like the sun; but the face of Christ was turned away so as not to see Catherine. Says the All-holy Mary:
- My child, look at this young girl. She came from so far away; she is looking for someone who will love her and be devoted to her.
- The Divine infant responded in anger:
- I don’t want to look at her.
- Why not, my child? She is the most beautiful daughter of Alexandria.
- No Mother of God: she’s ugly (she was ugly because she was not yet baptized).
Catherine left weeping. She went to the ascetic and told him the vision.
- He spoke correctly, he says. That’s why, if you want to see Christ, believe in him and be baptized.
In a few days that great figure of Alexandria was baptized and finally became Christian. Then she saw a vision again. This time the Divine child looked at her and heaven came into her heart. From that moment on, Catherine became completely devoted to Christ. She became a missionary.
The king Maximinus learned of this and called her to dialogue. In the end, he was forced to say: I can’t compete with you, but I’ll call the wise men and scientists, the mathematicians and physicists and astronomers, so you can converse with them.
The next day, 150 wise men were at the palace of Maximinus. Opposite them was saint Catherine standing alone. The conversation began and lasted all day. The proofs of the sages were toppled. The holy Spirit enlightened saint Catherine and she reduced them to silence. Each of them, one after the other, said: I agree with Catherine, I believe in Catherine’s God. The king? He became wilder and ordered all the heads of the wise men to be cut off. Thus those 150 wise men confessed Christ and martyred.
After this, Maximinus threw saint Catherine in jail. And even when she was jailed, she had new victories. There she brought to the faith many who came to visit her. Among them was the wife of Maximinus, the queen Faustina, and her bodyguard Porphyrios together with 200 of his soldiers. All these people, upon hearing her words, believed in Christ. But Maximinus, with a satanic stubbornness, not only remained unpersuaded, but even ordered that all these people, too, be decapitated. He didn’t even feel sorry for his wife! 150 souls were caught by the preaching of Saint Catherine!
After a short while finally her end approached. I won’t narrate the details to you. The series of tortures she suffered was long, of which the most fearful was her being tied to a wheel. And if you’re even a rock, you will be moved if you read the end of saint Catherine. Having kneeled down, she raised her hands and prayed for the whole world. Then she bent her head and was decapitated. Thus she gave up her holy soul, which like a white dove flew to the heavens.
Her holy relic is saved incorrupted. Those who don’t believe, let them go and see it. It is at Mount Sinai. This nest of Christ through the centuries is held by Greek monks. Let’s thank God for that. Perhaps these are the last monks; for the children of Greece no longer go to become monks at Sinai or at Mount Athos: they prefer other pursuits…
Israelies, Egyptians, Venoudies, Germans and Russians as pilgrims go there to venerate the sacred relic of the saint, whom God crowned with three crowns: that of virginity, of martyrdom, and of wisdom and science.
If we look at her icon, she has a ring. What does this mean? In the second vision that she saw, Christ gave her a ring, that is, became engaged. An engagement that differs from earthly engagements. The moment that a girl becomes devoted to God, she now already becomes devoted to Christ, who is the “bridegroom who is the most beautiful among men.” (From aposticha hymns of Great Tuesday).
Saint Catherine, my beloved, is a rebuke of our generation. A rebuke, in the first place, to women, because they have their mind only on physical beauty and are indifferent towards spiritual beauty, or beauty of the soul. In the second place she a rebuke to men, because they are shown to be inferior to woman. AND THIRD, SHE IS A CENSURE AND REBUKE TO US CLERICS BECAUSE WE DO NOT BRING SOULS TO CHRIST LIKE SHE DID, BUT INSTEAD WE CHASE THEM AWAY!
I finish and wish that from women there may come mothers who will raise their heroes, and from men may come martyrs. This miracle I hope to be realized by the mother, from woman. Amen.
+ Bishop Augustine