St. Justin Martyr–sometimes called “the Philosopher”–lived in the time when Christianity was first making its mark on the world, figuring out how to express the Truth of Jesus Christ in a world that was not only unfamiliar with the salvation history of the Jews and the new revelation brought through the Messiah, but hostile towards anyone who did not accept the established beliefs of the majority. Christians (and Jews) were misunderstood, at best, and persecuted to the point of death, at worst, by the Roman authorities who saw the new religion as a threat to society and interpreted certain aspects of the Christian faith as disgusting and backwards.
Justin was a highly educated philosopher before and after his conversion to Christianity, and as an educated Christian, he felt it his responsibility to understand the views of those around him and help those outside of the Church understand Christianity as a rational faith and ultimately, as the one true Faith. He wrote two apologies or defenses of Christianity to the Roman authorities in which he explained the beliefs of the Christians, asked that they be treated as equal citizens under the law, and dispelled rumors about the actions of his fellow believers.
But here’s the best part: St. Justin didn’t do this by sending a Bible (there wasn’t one yet, anyway) to the emperor and expecting that he would see things from his perspective. Instead, he took what he knew the Romans knew–pagan cult worship, philosophy, and mythology–and demonstrated how these sources revealed shadows of the Truth that Christians had now come to know fully. While he certainly rejected many of the pagan ideas and especially their practices, Justin believed that all of God’s creation was imbued with his reason, his patterns, his Logos. Therefore, he viewed non-Christians–yes, even those who persecuted Christians–as bearers of the “seeds of the word,” as humans in which God had implanted his Truth who simply needed the right kind of cultivation to help those seeds grow.
And hence there seem to be seeds of truth among all men… –First Apology XLIV
Are we, like St. Justin, looking for the little bits of truth in the world around us? Do we have the discernment of the Spirit to know what from outside the Church can be praised and lifted up as part of God’s intended pattern and which are the distortions that must be rejected? Do we see in every person, especially those who disagree with our Christian faith, the mark of our Maker, His own handiwork, the seeds of His Word? Are we cultivating those seeds with love and gentleness or do we let them lie dormant in our neighbors or worse, try to throw them out as garbage?
Following the Philosopher, we can take away a few principles:
- To engage others, our education should be well-rounded–we have to know what others know and believe to open up a dialogue.
- While recognizing the innate goodness of God’s creation, we should pray for the spiritual discernment to recognize distortions of that truth for what they are, not accepting all things wholeheartedly.
- Every person has been made in the image and likeness of God, and that includes their reasoning. We have to be respectful of the conclusions others have drawn with that reasoning, even if we think it is incomplete or incorrect.
- We should recognize the seeds of the truth in the thoughts of others as a point of reconciliation and agreement and let them be a starting place for dialogue.
And let me add one more, though I’m sure St. Justin would agree…
Love is the water by which the seeds of the Word grow.
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.↩