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November 25, 2022

Homily on the Holy Great Martyr Katherine (St. Luke of Simferopol)

 By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered in 1958)

This year, the Holy Church celebrates the memory of the Holy Great Martyr Katherine on the twenty-seventh week after Pentecost. Therefore, I consider it appropriate to draw your attention to the great life of this Saint.

Why is she called the Great Martyr? Is it because, as many people think, that the Holy Church rewards with this name those holy martyrs who have endured especially grave and terrible tortures and torments and the most cruel death for our Lord Jesus Christ? No, not because of this.

Saint Katherine was only beheaded with a sword, like tens of thousands of other martyrs, and did not endure the unimaginably fierce tortures and torments that were the lot of those great sufferers for Christ who did not receive the title of great martyrs, but only the name of ordinary martyrs. True, for Saint Katherine, the tormentor Emperor Maximin appointed a terrible execution on the wheel, in which her body was to be tied to a terrible wheel revolving over sharp knives, but the Angel of the Lord crushed this devilish wheel. She was thrown into prison, experienced many days of torment by hunger, after which the holy head of Katherine was cut off, who was called to be His bride from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

Who then receives the holy name of great martyrs? First of all, those great Christians about whom the Lord Jesus Christ said: “... whoever breaks one of these least commandments and teaches people to do so, he will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever does them and teaches others to do them, he will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:19).

The ardent faith in Christ of Saint Katherine and the confession of His name before all the people served as a saving example for two hundred Roman soldiers and their commander Porphyry, and even for the wife of Emperor Maximin Augusta, who were all beheaded by the sword along with the Great Martyr Katherine.

I will give one or two more examples to confirm my idea that the names of the holy great martyrs were received by those heroes of the spirit who, by their example, taught the pagans to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and give their lives for Him.

Such were the Great Martyrs Demetrios of Thessaloniki and Theodore the General of Herakleia.

Demetrios was the head of the great city of Thessaloniki or Thessalonica, appointed to this position at the choice of the emperor Maximilian with the order to exterminate all the Christians of this great city, for the emperor considered Demetrios a pagan. But with his fiery preaching about Christ, Demetrios converted the majority of the inhabitants of Thessalonica to faith in Him. He created and taught according to the word of Christ and received for that a great reward in heaven. Terrible suffering, like Saint Katherine, he did not experience, but was only stabbed with spears.

Similar to the Great Martyr Demetrios was the Holy Great Martyr Theodore the General, ruler of the city of Herakleia, who by his preaching about Christ turned the hearts of not only the inhabitants of Herakleia, but also of his native city of Euchaita, to Him.

The Great Martyr Katherine fulfilled not only this word of Christ, but also His other great commandment: “... whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his soul for My sake and the Gospel will save it” (Mk. 8:35).

What does it mean to save your soul? What does it mean to lose your soul?

Your soul is all desires, aspirations, achievements of your own will. To save one's soul means to arrange everything in one's life according to one's own desires.

Katherine had such unusually great opportunities. Her life was arranged in the most favorable way. She was the daughter of the richest prince, she was unusually beautiful and very smart.

At the age of eighteen, she perfectly knew several foreign languages, thoroughly studied all the sciences and philosophy of her time, and not only very many rich and noble people wanted to marry her, but the emperor of Rome Maximin himself was captivated by her beauty and mind when he arrived in the capital of Egypt Alexandria, the homeland of Katherine, and he himself wanted to marry her. And great was the danger to the soul of Katherine.

But our Lord Jesus the Omniscient, who deeply knew the secrets of her heart, as deep as her mind, saved her from perishing in the temptations of the world through her own mother, a secret Christian, and her mother's confessor, a holy hermit unknown to us.

They were able in a very short time to open before the mind and heart of Katherine immeasurably greater riches of the knowledge of the Son of God and the gifts of the Holy Spirit than all the treasures and pleasures of earthly life.

She saved her soul by fervently loving Christ and the way He showed in the Gospel.

Christ Himself loved her and called her His bride.

May all of us, sinners, always remember those words of the Lord Jesus Christ, by the fulfillment of which Saint Katherine acquired the glorious name of the Great Martyr. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.