Erika Kjendal Column Writer Set to Appear in the November 2021 Issue
“They that put their trust in Him shall understand the truth; and such as be faithful in love shall abide with Him; for grace and mercy is in His Saints, and visitation among His elect” (The Wisdom of Solomon 3:9).
In the great city of Alexandria, in the reign of the emperor Maximian, there lived the most beautiful maiden, who possessed the highest intellect of her time. Her name was Katherine, and she was the daughter of the governor of Alexandrian Egypt. She had received the best education, studying the great philosophers, and quickly surpassed her teachers in knowledge. And as she blossomed into maturity, young men from all over the empire sought her hand in marriage. Much to the dismay of her parents, she refused them all, declaring that she would only marry the one who could surpass her in nobility, wealth, beauty, and wisdom.
But there was no such man to be found. Her mother was secretly a Christian and, faced with the dilemma of her daughter, sent Katherine to her spiritual father, a saintly elder who lived in a cave outside of the city. After hearing Katherine’s resolution, the elder told her of a Youth who was far her superior in all ways. “His countenance is more radiant than the shining of the sun, and all of creation is governed by His wisdom. His riches are given to all the nations of the world, yet they never diminish. His compassion is unequaled.” Upon hearing this description of the Heavenly Bridegroom, Katherine burned with desire to see Him. So the elder gave her an icon of the Theotokos holding the Christ child, instructing her, “Pray with faith to the Queen of Heaven, the mother of the Heavenly Bridegroom, and she will grant your heart’s desire.”
Katherine returned home and prayed in front of the icon all night. A vision appeared to her of the same woman in the icon, holding the Lord in her arms, but the Lord buried his face in His mother’s shoulder and would not look at Katherine. “Behold your handmaiden Katherine,” the Mother entreated. “Look how fair and virtuous she is.” Christ replied, “She is ugly and unbelieving, a foolish pauper. I cannot bear to look at her until she renounces her impiety.”
Katherine returned to the elder in deep sadness and told him her dream. He lovingly instructed her in the faith, told her to preserve her purity and integrity, and to pray without ceasing. She absorbed his teachings the same way she had quickly grasped earthly wisdom and soon was baptized into Christ and put on Christ, Alleluia! That night, she had another vision of the Theotokos and her Child. This time the Lord looked at her tenderly and gave her a shining ring as a token of her betrothal.
At that time, there was a grand pagan festival taking place in Alexandria, and the emperor himself was present. Amidst the crowds and smoke, sacrifices of all kinds were being offered. The highlight of these were the human sacrifices: the valiant men and women who refused to renounce Christ. Katherine was filled with love and admiration for these martyrs and confronted the emperor himself to try and relieve their sufferings. The saint confessed her faith in the One True God and explained to Maximian the error of the pagans. He was captivated by her beauty and ordered fifty of the greatest philosophers in the empire to convince her of the superiority of pagan wisdom. During the discussion, the exact opposite happened as the true wisdom of Christ was revealed through her mouth, and the philosophers themselves came to believe in Christ. Strengthened by Katherine, they bravely accepted martyrdom.
Maximian now turned to other tactics and enticed the saint with promises of riches and fame. She staunchly refused all, so the emperor ordered her tortured and thrown into prison. The Empress Augusta, hearing about the wisdom and courage of this woman, visited her in her cell with the military commander, Porphyrius. Katherine greeted them, her face shining with Divine Grace, and explained the faith to them. The next day, she was brought to judgement where she was faced with the wheel of torture. She continued to remain steadfast in her fidelity to Christ, but before she could be tortured, an angel of the Lord broke the wheel into a thousand pieces. Seeing this miracle, Empress Augusta with Porphyrius and his 200 soldiers stepped forward and announced that they too believed in Christ. They were all beheaded. Once more, Maximian tried to entice Katherine—this time promising his hand in marriage!—if only she would deny her Christ. “I will never forsake my Heavenly Bridegroom,” the faithful handmaiden declared, and with that, she lay her head on the executioner’s block.
St. Katherine, intercede with your Heavenly Bridegroom for us, that we may be filled with the radiant grace of Christ so that we may stand strong in courage and true wisdom, and always remain faithful to Christ.