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 St. Catherine


St. Katherine of Alexandria


Man's important invention, the wheel, has come to symbolize every form of advancement and often we refer to the wheels of progress or the wheel of fortune or fate. For a martyred saint of Egypt in the fourth century, however, the wheel became the symbol of death as stark as the guillotine of France. When St. Katherine died in agony on a spiked wheel - devised to make her  death a protracted process of pain - her lifelong radiance, as a brilliant Christian continued to glow and is still manifest in the shrines that have been erected in her memory.


Lacking the forms of communication that were to develop mankind's  intellectual and spiritual interests, the society of the early centuries relied on  the public forum, for this sole source of information and stimulation of  thought. This accounts for the great popularity of this form of expression, which brought to the public's attention great figures of the time that might  otherwise have gone unnoticed. Into this atmosphere of public discourse  came one of the brightest minds of Christianity, that of a mere girl named  Katherine, who early in life displayed the wisdom of ages and championed the cause of Christianity with an eloquence unsurpassed by her male      counterparts.


The presence in the city of Alexandria, Egypt, of the pious and astute  Katherine was unknown until she made her debut at the age of eighteen in  the public forum in defense of the Christian faith. The defenders of  Christianity has fared badly in the public debates, principally because the most powerful orators of the day espoused the pagan beliefs and had little  difficulty in making sport of Jesus, the Son of God, whose followers were long on faith but short in numbers. But the pagan philosophers were a Goliath against the David who appeared in the form of a wisp of a girl called Katherine.


With the quiet dignity that stemmed from her noble birth, the beautiful  Katherine impressed the forum audience from the moment she strode forth  to speak. When she had parried every pagan in a torrent of rhetoric  that routed her opponents, the public was virtually spellbound. In the process of throwing the haughty pagan thinkers into a state of confusion, she captured the hearts of the listeners. Those who had welcomed her to the forum hoping that she would be driven from it in derision were' themselves driven in angered frustration to seek out a means of silencing this frail creature whose Christian sagacity was winning converts as fast as they could assemble.


Katherine’s enemies made an appeal to the Emperor Maxentius, who  authorized the tyrant Maximus Daia (A.D. 36) to mete out whatever  punishment deemed necessary for the crimes against the State enumerated  by sycophants of the pagan ruler. Her friends looked on helplessly as the  devout woman who had labored for Christ was led away to face the stern  justice handed down to the so-called enemies of the state. The courageous Katherine denied the customary offer of clemency in exchange for a disavowal of the Savior. They therefore decided that she be put to death in a manner so cruel as to discourage any other Christian, man or woman, from exposing himself to the wrath of pagan justice.


The example they sought to make of Katherine, fiendish as it was, turned     instead into an example of the superhuman courage of the Christian martyr, the kind of Christian who could endure excruciating pain in the name of Jesus Christ. The redoubtable girl was placed on a wheel of spikes which was revolved; the centrifugal force of the wheel produced an inhuman torture on the body until at last death came as an escape from the harsh world of the  flesh to the arms of the Savior. The lovely Katherine died on 25 November 311 and eventually her remains were brought to the monastery of Mt. Sinai  which bears her name and where thousands of pilgrims annually pay homage  to one of the sweetest Christians in history. An icon of St. Katherine  invariably depicts her impaled upon the wheel on which she rolled to Heaven.


From the book of Fr. George Poulos "Orthodox Saints"

Holy Cross Orthodox Press

Brookline, Massachusetts, 02146

ISBN 0-917651-67-4 (v.4)


History of the Patriarchate      List of The Patriarchs      The library 

St. Mark      St. Peter of Alexandria      St. Catherine      St. Nectarios