Saint Katherine of Alexandria
St. Katherine lived during the 4th Century in Alexandria, Egypt, the political and intellectual center of Roman and Byzantine Egypt. She was renowned for her beauty and intellect, and received the best education available, studying the works of the finest philosophers and teachers of antiquity. Young men from notable families of the empire sought her hand in marriage, but none of them was chosen. She declared to her parents that she would be agree to marriage only if she found a man who surpassed her in illustriousness, wealth, comeliness, and wisdom. So Katherine's mother, a secret Christian, sent her for advice to her own spiritual father—a saintly elder pursuing prayerful deeds in solitude in a cave not far from the city.
Having listened to Katherine, the elder said that he knew of a youth who surpassed her in everything, with beauty "more radiant the sun," "wisdom that governed all creation," and "riches spread throughout all the world." The elder, of course, was describing Christ. Katherine developed an ardent desire to see Him.
The elder handed Katherine an icon of the Mother of God with the Jesus on her arm, and told Katherine to pray with faith to the Queen of Heaven—the Mother of the Heavenly Bridegroom. Katherine prayed all night, resulting in a vision of the Most Holy Virgin, who sent her divine Son to look upon the kneeling of Katherine before Them. But the Child turned his face away from her saying, that he was not able to look at her because she was ugly, of shabby lineage, and mindless like every person—all because she was not washed with the waters of holy Baptism and not sealed with the seal of the Holy Spirit.
Troparian to St. Katherine, Tone 4
Your virtue, shining like rays of the sun, illumined the unbelieving philosophers; as the moon gives light to those who walk by night.
You drove away the darkness of unbelief.
Condemning the tyrant, you brought the Empress to faith, O blessed Katherine,
divinely chosen bride.
You hastened to the heavenly bridal chamber, to stand with the angels before the Bridegroom.
He has bestowed upon you a royal crown.
Pray for us who keep your most honored memory.
Kontakion to St. Katherine, Tone 2
All who love the martyrs raise up a divine and worthy hymn,
honoring the most wise Katherine, for she preached Christ in the arena;
and treading upon the serpent, she destroyed the knowledge of the philosophers.
Katherine returned to the elder with a deep sadness. He lovingly received her, instructed her in the faith of Christ, admonished her to preserve her purity and integrity and to pray unceasingly. He then baptized her. Saint Katherine again had a vision of the Mother of God with her Child. This time, however, the Lord looked tenderly at her and gave her a ring—a wondrous gift of the heavenly Bridegroom.
At this time the emperor Maximinus was in Alexandria for a pagan feast day. There were huge crowds, the cries of sacrificial animals, smoke and the smells of the sacrifices, blazing fires, and the bustling crowds. Human victims also were brought; they were people who believed in Christ, and refused to deny their Lord, even under torture. Katherine's love for the Christian martyrs and her fervent desire to lighten their fate inspired her to go directly to the emperor.
Introducing herself, the saint confessed her faith in the one true God and denounced the errors of the pagans. Maximinus was captivated by the beauty and intelligence of the woman standing before him. To demonstrate the superiority of pagan wisdom, the emperor gave orders that 50 of the most learned men of the empire debate her. Katherine got the better of the wise men, such that they themselves came to believe in Christ.
Maximinus, no longer hoping to convince the saint, tried to entice her with the promise of riches and fame. Upon her refusal, the emperor ordered the saint to be tortured and thrown in prison. The Empress Augusta, who had heard much about the saint, went to see Katherine in prison. The empress was impressed by Katherine who, with her face aglow with Divine grace, explained Christian teaching.
Katherine was brought to a court where, under the threat of being broken on the wheel, she was urged again to recant her faith and offer sacrifice to the gods. Katherine steadfastly confessed Christ and she herself approached the wheel, a hideous device used to break a victim's bones and ligaments. But an angel smashed the instrument, which broke up into pieces. Having beheld this wonder, Empress Augusta and the imperial courtier, Porphyry, with 200 soldiers in attendance, confessed their faith in Christ in front of everyone. For this they were beheaded.
Maximinus again tried to entice Katherine, proposing marriage to her, and again he received a refusal. Katherine firmly confessed her fidelity to the heavenly Bridegroom, Christ, and with a prayer to Him she laid her head under the an executioner's sword.
In the 9th or 10th century, through a revelation, the incorrupt relics of St. Katherine were found and transferred to the church of Sinai monastery, built by the holy emperor Justinian the Great in the 6th century. To this day, the Great Martyr's venerable head and left hand are presented for veneration by the Fathers of the Holy Monastery for the veneration of the faithful.
Reprinted in part from the article about St. Katherine at orthodoxwiki.org.