THE TWENTY-FOURTH DAY
OF THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER
The Life and Passion of the
Holy Great-martyr Catherine,
the Wise Virgin
From The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, Volume 3: November,
compiled by St. Demetrius of Rostov
During the reign of the impious Emperor Maxentius, there lived in the city of Alexandria a maiden named Catherine. She was of royal lineage, very beautiful and tall, and had reached the age of eighteen. She was also most learned, having studied all the writings of the Hellenes, and had acquainted herself with the authors of antiquity: Homer, Virgil, Aristotle, Plato, and others. It was not, however, only the philosophers that she had read: she knew well the books of the physicians Asclepius, Hippocrates, and Galen. Moreover, she had entirely mastered the arts of rhetoric and dialectic and knew many languages, so that all were amazed at her learning. Numerous rich men of noble birth came to ask her hand of her mother, who held the Christian faith secretly because of the great persecution raised up against the faithful at that time by Maxentius. Catherine’s mother and relatives often counselled the maiden to marry so that the royal inheritance passed down from her father would not fall into the hands of strangers and thus be lost to her family, but the wise Catherine loved virginity greatly and did not wish to be married. She answered those who urged her, "If you wish me to enter into wedlock, find me a youth who possesses the four things which I have (as you well know) in greater measure than all other maidens, not one that is inferior to me and unworthy of my hand. Look about for a young man who is of noble lineage, wealthy, handsome, and learned; if he is lacking in one of these things, he is not worthy of me."
Unable to find such a youth, Catherine’s relatives said, "Although the sons of emperors and great princes are highborn and wealthier than she, not one is as handsome or as wise."
Said Catherine, "1 do not desire a bridegroom who is uneducated."
Now the spiritual father of Catherine’s mother, a holy man who ever sought to please God, lived in a secret place outside the city. Taking her daughter with her, Catherine’s mother went to visit him and to receive good counsel concerning this matter. Seeing that the maiden was beautiful and modest and that she spoke with prudence and wisdom, he made it his purpose to bring her to know Christ, the King of heaven. He said, "I know a wondrous Youth Who is infinitely greater than you in every way. His countenance is brighter than the rays of the sun, and it is by His wisdom that all things are governed, both in the material world and the spiritual. His riches are spread throughout the whole world yet never fail, and He is unimaginably ifiustrious."
Thinking that the elder was speaking of some earthly prince, the maiden’s heart was troubled. The expression on her face changed, and she asked him if what he had said was true. He assured her that he had spoken the truth and that the Youth possessed so many other gifts that it was impossible to tell of them all.
"Whose Son is the Youth Whom you praise thus?" asked the maiden.
The elder replied, "He has no father on earth, for He was born in a manner surpassing nature, from the most noble, holy, and pure of virgins. It was because of her surpassing purity and holiness that she was deemed worthy to bear Him as her Son. Immortality has been bestowed upon both her soul and body, and she has been translated above the heavens, where the angels revere her as the Queen of all creation."
"Is it possible for me to see the Youth of Whom you relate such wondrous things?" asked Catherine.
"If you do as I say," the elder replied, "you will be deemed worthy to behold His radiant countenance."
Then Catherine said to him, "I see that you are a wise and venerable elder; therefore, I believe that you speak the truth. I am prepared to do whatever you say, if only I may see Him Whom you praise."
The elder gave Catherine an icon of the most holy Theotokos holding the divine Infant in her embrace, and said, "This is the image of the Virgin Mother of the Child of Whom I have told you such marvellous things. Take it to your home, lock the doors of your room, and fervently pray till dawn to her who is depicted on it, beseeching her to permit you to behold her Son. Her name is Mary. I believe that if you call upon her with faith, she will hearken unto you and grant you the desire of your heart."
The maiden took the holy icon and returned home. That night, she shut herself in her room and prayed as the elder had instructed her. While praying, she fell asleep from weariness and beheld in a dream the Queen of the angels holding the holy Child as on the icon. He shone with light brighter than the rays of the sun, but Catherine could not see His face, which He turned away toward His Mother. Wishing to behold His countenance, Catherine moved to the other side of the room, but Christ again turned His face away. After He had done this thrice, the holy Virgin said to Him, "Behold, my Child, how fair and virtuous is Your handmaiden Catherine!"
To this He replied, "No, she is black and unsightly. I cannot bear to look upon her."
"Is she not more learned than any scholar, wealthy, and of exceedingly noble birth?" asked the most holy Theotokos.
"I say to you, Mother, that she is a foolish pauper and baseborn, and I will not look at her until she forsakes impiety," said Christ.
Then the Lord’s most blessed Mother said to Him, "I beseech You, sweetest Child, do not disdain her whom You have created. Show her what she must do to delight in Your glory and to see Your most radiant face, which angels desire to behold."
"Let her return to the elder who gave her the icon," said Christ, "and do as he says. Then she will see Me, and find grace in My sight."
Catherine awoke, marvelling at what she had seen and heard in the dream. The next morning, she went with a number of her maids to the cell of the holy elder and fell down in tears at his feet. She told him what she had seen in the dream and asked him what she must do to gain the love of Him Whom she so desired. The godly elder spoke to her at length of the mysteries of the true Christian faith, beginning with the creation of the world and our forefather Adam and continuing up to the Second Coming of the Master Christ. He told her of the ineffable glory of paradise and the terrible and eternal torments of hell, and she, being a learned and wise maiden, straightway understood and believed with her whole heart. Then she received Holy Baptism at the elder’s hands, and he instructed her to pray fervently to the most holy Theotokos as before.
Having thus put off the old man and clothed herself with the robe of the renewal of the spirit, Catherine returned home and passed the night in fasting and tearful prayer until she again fell asleep. Once more, she beheld the Queen of heaven holding the divine Infant, Who looked upon Catherine calmly and with great compassion. The Mother of God asked her Son, "Is this maiden acceptable to You, my Son?"
Christ answered, "She pleases me greatly, for she is now as fair and delightful as she once was black and unsightly, as wealthy and wise as she was formerly poor and foolish. I truly love her, and wish to take her as My bride forever."
Catherine fell to the floor and cried, "0 most glorious Master, I am unworthy to behold Thy kingdom! I ask Thee only to number me among Thy servants!"
Offering her hand to the maiden, the most holy Theotokos said to her Son, "Give her, my Child, a ring as a token of Your betrothal to her, granting her a place in Your kingdom."
The Master Christ then gave Catherine a most beautiful ring, saying, "Lo, today I choose you to be My betrothed for all eternity. Take care to keep this trust inviolate, and promise yourself to no earthly bridegroom." With this, He became invisible, and the vision came to an end. When the maiden awoke, she saw on her right hand a wondrous ring and felt such joy and gladness that from that hour her heart was a prisoner of divine love. So great was the change which came upon her that she gave heed no more to worldly things, thinking only of her beloved Bridegroom day and night. For Him alone did she long, and her thoughts were ever with Him, whether she was awake or asleep.
At that time the impious Emperor came to Alexandria. Full of blind zeal for his lifeless gods, he was himself, as it were, without heart or mind. Wishing to celebrate a splendid feast in honor of the gods, he sent word to every nearby city and land, commanding the people to bring sacrifices and to come worship together. A multitude of people assembled, some bringing oxen, others sheep, while the poor among them brought birds or something else of the kind. When the morning of the vile festival dawned, the foolish Emperor offered 130 bullocks in sacrifice, his princes and nobles less, and the common folk whatever they could. The whole city was filled with the sound of animals being slaughtered and the stench and smoke of sacrifice. All the people were restless and disturbed, and the air itself was utterly defiled. The right-believing and virtuous Catherine saw how the souls of men were being deceived and led to perdition, and her heart was grievously wounded, because she felt deep compassion for them. Stirred up by divine zeal, she took some of her servants and went to the temple where the useless oblations were being offered. As she entered it, the gaze of all was caught by her indescribable beauty, which testified to the comeliness of her soul. "Tell the Emperor," she said, "that I have something of great importance to say to him."
The Emperor commanded that Catherine be brought before him. Entering his presence, she prostrated herself, rendering him due homage. Then she said boldly, "Know, 0 Emperor, that you have been led astray by the demons, for the idols you serve are lifeless and subject to corruption. Great is the shame of the blind, foolish men who worship such vile things! Accept the words of your wise philosopher Diodorus, who says that your gods were once impious men and that because of the notable deeds they worked during their lifetime, the people raised up pillars and statues in their honor. Later generations were unaware of the intention of their forefathers, who erected these things only as memorials. Counting the statues as worthy of reverence, the people began to worship them as gods. Know also that the famed Plutarch of Cheronea considered that your gods were not divine, and reviled them. Believe the words of your teachers, O Emperor, and do not make yourself guilty of the perdition of many souls. In this way you may escape the eternal torment that awaits you. Come to know the one, true God, Who is ever-existent, unoriginate, and immortal, and became man in the last times for our salvation. By Him kings reign and nations are ruled, and the whole world is sustained. He created and upholds all things by His word, for He is the almighty and all-good God, Who has no need of your sacrifices and takes no delight in the slaughter of innocent beasts but commands only that we steadfastly keep His commandments."
Hearing this, the Emperor was greatly enraged, remaining speechless for a long time. Unable to reply to Catherine’s words, he said only, "Leave us now to offer sacrifice, and we will hear you at another time."
After his vile festival had come to an end, the impious Emperor commanded that Catherine be brought to his palace. He said to her, "Tell us, maiden, who you are, and repeat what you said before."
"I am the daughter of one of the previous emperors," the saint replied, "and my name is Catherine. Formerly I was engaged in the study of rhetoric, philosophy, geometry, and the other sciences, but now I have abandoned these things as vain and useless and have betrothed myself to the Master Christ, Who said through the prophet, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and do away with the understanding of the prudent."
The Emperor marvelled at Catherine’s wisdom, and seeing how fair she was, imagined that she was not the daughter of mortal parents but some goddess born to the deities whom he worshipped. He could not believe that a maiden of such indescribable loveliness could be the child of earthly parents, and wounded by her beauty, began to speak lustful words to her. The saint perceived that the Emperor’s thoughts had turned to iniquity, and said to him, "The demons whom you revere as gods lead you astray and tempt you with foolish desires. But I know that I am mere dust and earth. God has created me in His image and likeness, adorning me with comeliness so that the people might marvel at the bounty of the Creator, Who has deigned to bestow wisdom and beauty upon what is corruptible and worthless."
Catherine’s words annoyed the Emperor, who said, "Say no evil of the gods, for their glory is immortal!"
"If you wish to dispel the darkness and gloom of the deception that has ensnared you, understand that your gods are nothing, and come to know the true God. The mere sound of His name or the sight of His Cross traced in the air suffice to drive away and destroy your gods. If you wish, I shall prove to you the truth of my words," declared Catherine.
Afraid to be overcome and put to shame by the maiden’s bold and wise words, the Emperor replied, "It is not proper for the Emperor to dispute with women. Instead, I will assemble learned philosophers to debate you. Thus you will learn how groundless are your speculations and accept our beliefs."
The Emperor commanded that the holy virgin be kept under close guard and immediately sent the following decree to every city in his dominions: "The Emperor Maxentius to all the learned philosophers and orators in the lands under my rule: Hail! Come to me, all you who serve the most wise god Hermes and call upon the Muses as patrons of erudition, and stop the mouth of a certain learned maiden who has appeared as of late and mocks our gods, calling their histories myths and fables. Come, that you may display your knowledge of the wisdom of the ancients, be acclaimed by men, and receive from me gifts as rewards for your labors!"
Fifty chosen rhetoricians, skilled in debate and mighty in declamation, assembled in Alexandria. The Emperor addressed them thus: "Prepare yourselves diligently and carefully to contend with the maiden and to prevail in dispute with her concerning the gods. Do not be slack in your efforts because it is with a woman that you debate, but make every effort to overcome her as though she were the mightiest of opponents and the wisest of orators. Display all your learning, for I have tried her and found her to be wiser than Plato; strive your best in debate against her, sparing no exertion. If you prevail over her, I will bestow upon you rich gifts, but if you are vanquished, you shall be rewarded only with a bitter death."
One of the most learned and renowned of the orators answered the Emperor, saying, "Have no fear, 0 Emperor, for although the maiden may possess a keen mind, it is not possible that she has attained the highest degree of learning or perfection in rhetoric. Command her to stand before us, and you will see her quickly put to shame by the mere sight of such an assembly of philosophers and rhetoricians."
Hearing the philosopher’s declaration, the Emperor grew calm and was filled with joy, hoping that the vile, boastful tongues of his orators would prevail over the divine wisdom of the meek maiden. He straightway ordered that the saint be brought before him, and a great multitude of people assembled in the arena, eager to witness the debate. Before the messengers arrived, the archangel Michael came from heaven and said to the saint, "Fear not, 0 maiden chosen by the Lord! The Lord shall add to your wisdom even greater wisdom, and you will prevail in debate over fifty orators. Through you they and many others shall come to believe and receive the crown of martyrdom."
When the messengers arrived, they took Catherine and led her before the Emperor and the philosophers, to be made a spectacle unto all. The vainglorious philosopher who answered the Emperor immediately began to boast before Saint Catherine and asked, "Is it you who shamelessly and foolishly reviles our gods?"
"It is I," the saint answered meekly. "But I do not revile them shamelessly and foolishly as you say. I speak the truth gently and lovingly, proclaiming that your gods do not exist."
"The great poets refer to our divinities as ’the most high gods,’" said the orator. "How then can you insolently blaspheme the deities that have bestowed upon you wisdom and permitted you to taste of their sweet gifts?"
Catherine replied, "It was not your gods but my God, Who alone is true, that vouchsafed me wisdom; for He is Himself Wisdom and Life. He who fears Him and keeps His divine commandments is indeed a true philosopher. However, the deeds of your gods and the stories that are told of them are truly worthy of laughter and ridicule, and are full of deceit. But tell me, which of your great poets called your deities gods, and what did they say concerning them?"
The orator answered, "First of all, the most wise Homer prayed to Zeus, exclaiming, ’0 most glorious Zeus, thou great god, and ye other immortal gods!’ The renowned Orpheus likewise gave thanks unto Apollo, crying, ’0 son of Leto, thou who loosest thine arrows from afar! Mighty Phoebus, who lookest down upon all and rulest over mortals and immortals, 0 sun that soarest on wings of gold!’ Thus do the most eminent and celebrated of the poets refer to the gods, speaking of them as immortal. Therefore, do not be deceived, nor worship the Crucified One as God, for the wise men of old never called Him a god, nor indeed did they know of Him."
"But did not your Homer say in another place that Zeus, the greatest of your deities, was a liar and a wicked deceiver, and that other gods, Hera, Poseidon, and Athena, would have bound him had he not fled?" said Catherine. "Your books are full of similar things which show your gods to be disreputable. Although it is not fitting that vain, disrespectful enquiry be made concerning the Crucified One (since He is the true God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, sun, moon, and stars, and the whole race of man), yet because you say that none of the teachers of antiquity confess Him to be God, I shall bring forth testimony to refute you, thus confirming the truth. Hear how the most wise Sybil witnesses to His divine Incarnation and saving Crucifixion: ’In the latter times One shall come Who will take on flesh, but without sin. He shall destroy the corruption of the incurable passions by the boundless omnipotence of His divinity, and the unbelieving people will hate Him. Upon a high place shall He be hung, as though He were worthy of such a death.’ Hear also how your Apollonius, compelled by Christ’s power, speaks the truth, although unwillingly, confessing Him as the true God. He says, ’He Who dwells in the heavens constrains me to speak. He is the triune light, the God Who undergoes suffering (although His divinity does not suffer), for He is both mortal according to the flesh and a stranger to corruption. He is at once God and a man Who endures all things at the hands of mortals: the Cross, revilement, and burial.’ Thus spoke Apollonius concerning the true God, Who is coeternal and of one essence with Him Who begot Him. He is the source, the root, the fount of every blessing; He it is that brought the world from nothingness into being and continues to uphold it. Consubstantial with the Father, He became man for our sake and walked on the earth, instructing, teaching, and benefiting men. He also submitted to death for us, to abolish our former condemnation and to vouchsafe us the sweetness and blessedness that were once ours. Then, having opened for us the gates of paradise, closed by evil, He rose on the third day and ascended into heaven, from whence He came. He sent down the Holy Spirit upon His disciples, and they went about preaching His divinity, in which you also, 0 philosopher, ought to believe, so that you may become His true servant. For He is merciful and summons all who have sinned, saying, Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Believe, then, your own teachers and gods, Plato, I say, Orpheus, and Apollonius, who although unwillingly, plainly confessed Christ to be God."
Hearing the wise Catherine say these things and much else besides, the philosopher was amazed and fell silent. The Emperor saw that his champion had been vanquished and left speechless, and commanded the other rhetoricians to enter into dispute with the holy virgin, but they refused, saying, "We are unable to withstand the truth. If the most learned of our number was overcome and silenced, what can we hope to accomplish?"
The Emperor was moved to wrath and ordered that a great fire be prepared in the middle of the city to burn alive all the philosophers and orators. When they learned of the sentence pronounced upon them, they fell at the saint’s feet, beseeching her to pray for them to the one true God so that He might forgive them the sins they had committed in ignorance and deem them worthy of Holy Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The saint responded joyfully, "Truly you are blessed, for you have abandoned darkness and come to know the true Light! Having forsaken an earthly emperor, subject to corruption, you have come unto the King of heaven, Who knows no corruption. Believe firmly that the fire with which the impious threaten you shall serve as your Baptism and be a ladder leading you up to heaven. In that fire you will be cleansed of every defilement of flesh and spirit, and you will be presented pure and radiant as the stars before the Lord of glory, Whose beloved friends you shall become."
While saying this, Saint Catherine traced over each of the philosophers and orators the sign of Christ’s sacred Cross. Full of hope and gladness, they went joyfully to their martyrdom. It was the seventeenth day of the month of November when the soldiers cast them into the fire. That evening, pious Christians collected their bodies, which remained whole: even their hair was untouched by the fire. Many turned to the truth because of this miracle, and the relics were reverently buried in a fitting place.
The Emperor could think of nothing but how he might bring Saint Catherine to accept his impious beliefs. Unable to accomplish this through philosophic debate, he sought to lead her astray by flattery and deceit, saying, "Hear me, my good daughter. As a loving father I counsel you to worship the great gods, especially Hermes, the patron of eloquence, who has bestowed upon you the gift of understanding the mysteries of philosophy. The gods are my witnesses that I will divide my empire with you and you shall live with me in unceasing happiness."
But the wise saint understood his deceit and wicked intentions and said to him, "Lay aside your wiles, 0 Emperor, and cease to play the fox. I have already told you that I am a Christian and have betrothed myself to Christ. He alone is my Bridegroom, Guide, and the Adornment of my virginity. I prefer the robe of martyrdom to the imperial purple."
"You compel me to dishonor you and to cover your fair body with many wounds even against my will," warned the Emperor.
"Do as you wish," the saint replied, "for fleeting dishonor will gain for me glory eternal. Moreover, it is my hope that a great multitude of people will come to believe in Christ through me, and that many will abandon your palace for the mansions of heaven."
God looked down from the heights as the saint said these things, and brought her prophecy to pass.
The Emperor became very angry and commanded that Catherine be stripped of her purple robe, left naked, and beaten mercilessly with leather straps. For two hours the servants lashed the martyr upon the shoulders and belly until the whole of her virginal body was covered with stripes. The wounds left her as unsightly as she was fair and comely before, and the ground was dyed red with blood that flowed like a river from them, but the saint endured with such bravery that those who beheld her could only marvel. After this, that beast ordered that Catherine be cast into prison, permitting her neither food nor drink while he pondered how to put her to death.
Augusta, the Emperor’s wife, conceived a strong admiration for Saint Catherine and greatly desired to meet her, having heard report of Catherine’s virtue, wisdom, and courage. After she saw Catherine once in a dream, her heart was so filled with love for her she could no longer sleep. When the Emperor was compelled to leave the city because of some matter and was not to return for several days, a convenient opportunity was presented the Empress to achieve her desire. Augusta told her secret to one of the great princes, a general by rank and faithful friend of the Emperor named Porphyrius, who was a prudent man. She said, "Several nights ago, I beheld in a dream Catherine, who was seated in the midst of a multitude of youths and fair virgins clad in white garments. Such was the radiance of her face that I could not bear to gaze upon her. She sat me down beside her and placed on my head a golden crown, saying, "The Master Christ sends you this crown." Since that time I have been filled with such desire to see her that my heart can find no rest. Therefore, I entreat you to help me find a way to meet her secretly."
Porphyrius answered, "I will do as you say, my lady."
When night fell, the General took two hundred soldiers and went to the prison with the Empress. They gave money to the guard and were permitted to enter the saint’s cell. The Empress was amazed by the radiance of Catherine’s face, which shone with divine grace, and straightway falling at her feet, tearfully said to the martyr, "I count myself truly fortunate and blessed, because I have been deemed worthy to see you! With boundless desire I wished to behold you, and to hear your sweet tongue speak. Now that I have satisfied my longing, I shall not grieve if I am deprived of my life and the Empire of which I am mistress. How my heart and soul rejoice, illumined by the light of your fair countenance! You are blessed and deserving of praise for having cleaved unto a Master Who has bestowed upon you such gifts!"
"You also are blessed, 0 Empress," said Catherine, "for I see angels holding a crown above your head. This crown will be given you in three days, after you endure only a few torments, and you shall depart unto the true King to reign forever."
"But I fear torture, and I especially fear my husband, since he is a cruel, heartless man," exclaimed Augusta.
The saint replied, "Take courage, for Christ will dwell in your heart and come to your aid. No torment will touch your soul, and your body will suffer pain merely for a short time. Then you will rest forever."
Porphyrius asked, "What gifts does Christ bestow upon those who serve Him? I also wish to believe in Him and to become His soldier."
Said the saint, "Have you never read or heard what is written in the Christian Scriptures?"
"From my youth I have served in the army," answered Porphyrius. "Military affairs have been my sole concern."
The saint declared, "No tongue can tell of the good things the most blessed God, Who loves men, has prepared for those who love Him and keep His commandments."
Porphyrius was filled with boundless joy, and he, the two hundred soldiers, and the Empress believed in Christ. All reverently kissed the martyr and then departed.
The merciful and man-loving Christ did not forsake His holy bride but took thought for her like a father concerned for his child. Every day He sent a dove that brought her food. The Judge of the contest also appeared to her Himself in great glory, accompanied by all the hosts of heaven. He urged her to take courage and filled her with boldness, saying, "Fear not, My beloved bride, for I am with you, and no torment shall overcome you. By your patience you will lead many to Me, for which you shall be deemed worthy of numerous crowns."
Having consoled her with these words, the Lord departed.
The next morning, the Emperor sat upon his judgment seat and commanded that Catherine be brought before him. She shone with such spiritual grace and sweet light that all those present were astonished by the radiance of her beauty. The Emperor also marvelled greatly and supposed that her body had not grown feeble and her face remained beautiful after so many days because someone had given her food while she was imprisoned. He wished to punish the guard, but Saint Catherine, who did not desire that anyone suffer unjustly for her sake, confessed the truth, saying, "Know, 0 Emperor, that it was not the hand of man that gave me food. My Master Christ, Who cares for His servants, fed me."
The Emperor again sought to tempt Catherine with flattery, saying, "0 maiden fair as the sun, more beautiful than Artemis herself, you were born to reign, my daughter! Come, I entreat you, and sacrifice unto the gods so that you may rule with us, living out your days in great felicity. I do not wish to destroy your beauty with torments."
"I am earth and dust," answered the saint. "Beauty wilts like a flower, vanishing like a dream before some slight illness or old age, or destroyed utterly by corruption after death. Therefore, 0 Emperor, take no thought for my beauty."
As the saint was speaking, the Eparch Khursaden, a cruel man and a merciless persecutor, wishing to gain Maxentius’ good will, said, "I know a torture, 0 Emperor, that will enable you to prevail over this maiden. Command that four wooden wheels be fixed to a single axle, and have spearheads and other sharp weapons of iron driven through their rims. Order two wheels turned to the right and two to the left. Have the maiden tied down beneath them, and the turning wheels will tear apart her flesh. But first show the wheels to her! Having seen them, I believe she will consent to obey you. If she refuses, then deliver her to a cruel death."
The Emperor was pleased with the Eparch’s counsel and ordered that the wheels be prepared. The saint was led to the place of torture, and the wheels were spun before her with great force so that she would be frightened. The persecutor said to her, "Do you see the torments prepared for you? Bitter will be your death, if you do not worship the gods!"
"I have told you many times that I intend to remain a Christian. Waste no more time and do as you wish," the saint replied.
Seeing that he could neither frighten her nor turn her from Christ, the Emperor commanded that Catherine be tied down and the wheels turned vigorously, so that her members would be severed by the sharp instruments and she would perish cruelly. But as soon as the torture began, an angel descended from heaven and loosed the saint from her bonds, preventing her from being injured. The wheels he broke into pieces, which flew in every direction from the force of the blows, killing numerous unbelievers. Seeing this glorious rescue, the crowd cried out, "Great is the God of the Christians!"
Anger darkened the Emperor’s mind, and he became crazed, unable to think of anything but new torments for the martyr.
Learning what had occurred, the Empress came out of her chamber and began to revile the Emperor, saying, "Truly, you are a fool, imagining you can do battle with the living God and torturing His handmaiden unjustly!"
The Emperor was not accustomed to hear his wife say such things and became furious, more like a beast than a man. Leaving Saint Catherine, he turned his wrath upon his wife, forgetting the natural bonds of love for her. He commanded that a large crate be brought and filled with lead so that it could not be moved, then had his wife’s breasts placed over the edge of the crate and its top nailed down. The Empress’ breasts were pressed down with such force that they were torn off, but the blessed Augusta was happy to bear for the true God the indescribable pain. As she endured this mutilation, she prayed to the Lord, asking that He send her help from on high. Her blood flowed like a river, and all who stood nearby were filled with pity: they could not help but feel compassion for their Empress as she suffered such bitter, unendurable torment. However, the merciless blood-drinker had no pity on his spouse and ordered that her head be cut off with the sword. Augusta rejoiced upon hearing the sentence and begged the saint, "Pray for me, handmaiden of the true God!"
"Go in peace to reign with Christ forever!" Catherine answered.
The blessed Empress was beheaded outside the city on the twenty-third day of November. General Porphyrius took her body by night and buried it reverently. The very next morning, Porphyrius and his soldiers, who had come to believe in Christ, went before the Emperor and declared, "We also are Christians, soldiers of the great God!"
Plunged into grief, the Emperor sighed from the bottom of his heart and lamented, "Woe is me! I have perished, for I have lost the wondrous Porphyrius!" Then he turned to the soldiers and said, "Have you also gone astray, my beloved soldiers, abandoning the gods of your fathers? What evil have the gods done you that you have forsaken them?"
They answered him not a word, and only Porphyrius replied, saying, "Why do you remain silent before the head and converse with the feet? Address yourself to me!"
"You, wicked man, are the cause of their perdition!" cried the Emperor.
Unable to speak any longer because of his anger, the Emperor commanded that Porphyrius and his soldiers be beheaded. Thus they fulfilled the prophecy Saint Catherine made before the Emperor, saying that many from his palace would believe in Christ God.
The Emperor had Catherine returned to the judgment seat, and entreated her, "You have brought much sorrow and bitterness upon me, leading astray my wife and causing my brave General, the main strength of my army, to perish. Many other evils have befallen me through you, and I ought to show you no mercy and put you to death. But I forgive you, since it would be a pity to slay so fair and wise a maiden. Do my will, beloved: sacrifice unto the gods, and I will make you my Empress. I will never cause you to grieve or do anything without taking counsel with you. You will live with me in joy such as no empress before has known."
The liar said much more, hoping to lead astray Christ’s chosen bride, but his deceitful words failed to sunder her from Christ, to Whom she was firmly bound with the bonds of true love. Seeing that neither flattery, nor promises, nor threats and tortures could prevail over her whose will was stronger than adamant, the Emperor pronounced his sentence, condemning her to be beheaded outside the city. The soldiers led her to the place of execution, and many people followed her, men and women alike lamenting the approaching death of the fair and wise maiden. Noblewomen cried after her, weeping, "0 most lovely and radiant maiden! Why are you so hard of heart, preferring death to sweet life? Why do you bring to an untimely and needless end the bloom of your youth? Would it not be better to obey the Emperor and to enjoy the good things of this life, rather than to die a wretched death?"
"Cease your useless weeping," the saint replied. "You should rejoice instead, for I will soon behold my beloved Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, my Creator and Saviour. He is the adornment of martyrs, their crown and glory, and summons me to reign with Him and to rejoice for endless ages amid the ineffable good things of paradise. Do not weep for me but for yourselves: because of your unbelief, you shall be condemned to unending tortures in the fires of hell."
When she reached the place of execution, Catherine prayed thus: "0 Lord Jesus Christ my God, I thank Thee that Thou hast set my feet upon the rock of patience and hast guided my steps. Stretch forth now Thy hands, which Thou didst once stretch out upon the Cross, and receive my soul, which I have offered in sacrifice for the sake of Thy love. Remember, 0 Lord, that I am flesh and blood, and do not permit the cruel inquisitors to bring to light before Thy dread judgment seat the sins I have committed in ignorance, but do Thou wash them in my blood. Make my body, wounded by torments and condemned to beheading, invisible to the eyes of Thine enemies who persecute me. Look down also from the heights, 0 Lord, upon the people who stand here, and guide them to the light of Thy knowledge. Grant whatever they request to those who, through me, come to call upon Thy holy name, if their petitions would be to their benefit, that they may hymn Thy majesty unto the ages."
Completing her prayer, Catherine said to the executioner, "Do as you have been commanded."
He raised his sword, and when he cut off the martyr’s head, milk flowed from her neck instead of blood. Such of the faithful as were worthy beheld how an angel came at that moment and reverently took her relics away, leaving them on Mount Sinai. Unto Christ God, Who reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit in one godhead, be glory unto the ages. Amen.