Saint Catherine was born in Alexandria, the daughter of Cinstus or Cestus. A virgin with great beauty and wisdom, she was famous for her wealth, noble origin, and education. By her remarkable knowledge, she conquered the passionate and untamed soul of Emperor Maximin. By the strength of her discourses, she reduced to silence rhetors who wished to dispute with her. She obtained the crown of martyrdom about the year 305.1
It is believed that Saint Catherine was martyred in her late teens or early twenties. As a young person, she dedicated her life to learning about Christ and using that knowledge to bring her, and others, closer to Him. How many of us can truly say that we understand our pure Faith, and that, if necessary, we could share the Light of Christ and explain the foundations of our Faith with others? They say knowledge is power—but so often we are swimming against the tide in a time where having faith without knowledge is the norm.Saints of the Church are uniquely special—they were real people, with real struggles and joys, who willingly chose to direct their lives toward Christ. Saint Catherine is no exception. Life circumstances aside, we all have things we can define in our lives as blessings. Saint Catherine was indeed blessed—as the daughter of an Alexandrian governor she was wealthy, beautiful, and highly intelligent. However, as it goes with blessings, when they are given, we are entrusted to not abuse or neglect them. Saint Catherine did neither.
With forced exposure to pagan celebrations and many men seeking her hand in marriage, Saint Catherine quickly came to discover that she desired something greater. Her mother, a secret Christian, sent her to her own Spiritual Father for guidance. It was here that Saint Catherine experienced a conversion, was baptized in the Faith, and became a pillar of Christian wisdom. As an educated person to begin with, Catherine’s ability and thirst to articulate the beauty of Orthodoxy was unparalleled. Her love for Christ led to many conversions, including that of fifty of the most learned philosophers and rhetoricians of the Empire, and it also led to her martyrdom.
Let us follow the example of Saint Catherine—study the Faith, love the Church, and become a pillar of Christian wisdom, just as she did at your age. Pair the power of knowledge with your love for Christ and see where it takes you in your journey towards Him.
The marble chest containing the relics of Saint Catherine is located at the south side of the sanctuary in the catholicon of the holy monastery. It is the construction of Procopius the stonecutter, who took nine years to complete the shrine in honor of Saint Catherine. This shrine replaced the earlier marble chest, which is preserved today in the monastery’s treasury. Inside are to be found two precious reliquaries given by the Russian Empire for this purpose, the one enshrining the precious head of the martyr, and the other her left hand. The relics of Saint Catherine are brought out for the veneration of the faithful on special occasions, at which time each pilgrim is given a silver ring bearing the monogram of the saint, in honor of the ring that Saint Catherine received from Christ. These are preserved by pilgrims as a blessing from the saint.2
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the First Tone:
Let us praise the most auspicious bride of Christ, the divine Katherine, protectress of Sinai, our aid and our help. For, she brilliantly silenced the eloquence of the impious by the sword of the spirit, and now, crowned as a martyr, she asks great mercy for all.
If you wish to learn more about the life of Saint Catherine the Great, visit oca.org.
1. Orthodox Eastern Church., Hieromonk, M. S. P., Hookway, C., Rule, M., Burton, J., & Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady. (1998). The Synaxarion: The lives of the saints of the Orthodox Church. Ormylia, Chalkidike, Greece: Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady.↩
2. Found at The Holy Monastery of Mount Sinai.↩