Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Galatians 3:23-29; 4:1-5 (Epistle for the Feast of St. Katherine)
On November 25, we commemorate St. Katherine. Saint Katherine lived in the third century and was martyred early in the fourth century, in the year 305. She was from a well-to-do family and received a very rich and comprehensive education. She studied the finest philosophers and became known for her wisdom. Her mother was a secret Christian who brought her daughter Katherine to her own spiritual father, for mentoring and eventually to be baptized.
The Emperor Maximinus came to her home city of Alexandria, eager to find Christians to execute. Saint Katherine stepped forward wanting to make a witness for the Christian faith to the many who had come to the pagan festivities that the emperor was attending. The emperor brought the most learned men of the empire to debate with St. Katherine, and she was so well-spoken in her understanding of Christ that many of these philosophers were converted to Christianity and subsequently executed by the emperor.
The emperor tried to convince St. Katherine to disavow Christ by promising her riches. She would not be convinced. Then he threatened to torture her on a wheel, but an angel came and smashed the wheel before St. Katherine could be tortured on it. (This is why a wheel is shown in many icons of St. Katherine). Finally the emperor had her beheaded. Her relics are now interred in the monastery of St. Katherine on Mount Sinai.
The Epistle lesson from her feastday, which is also read on the feastdays of other virgin-martyrs like St. Barbara (December 4) and St. Paraskevi (July 26) is from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. This passage reminds us that before Christ came, it was the Mosaic Law (the Law given to Moses, based on the Ten Commandments) that guided God’s people. It also confined them. The Law became oppressive to God’s people. There were too many commandments and people could not learn all of them, let alone follow all of them. Temple officials and Jewish leaders also oppressed the people, abusing the Law, their knowledge of it and their power of the people to enact difficult and expensive rituals which they would benefit from in a financial way and through abuse of power.
A great orator like St. Katherine would have put them to shame. She did this in her day as pagan philosophers challenged her faith. Her response to them wasn’t academic or legal but was based on faith and love and driven by conviction. Going to the Epistle lesson, she combined knowledge with love. When Christ came, all the knowledge of the Law was summarized into two commandments—to love God and to love our neighbor. Faith therefore is not based primarily on knowledge but on loving God and serving others. One can have all kinds of wisdom and knowledge but without faith and without love, that wisdom and knowledge will gain us nothing in the eyes of God.
In God’s eyes, there is “no longer Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29) However, the inheritance we are to receive is not material but rather spiritual. It is not temporary or fleeting, but it is eternal. And our inheritance is not achieve through knowledge, but through faith and service.
There is no question that St. Katherine was wise. In fact, her title is “St. Katherine the All-Wise” (pan-sophou in Greek). No other saint has been given this title. It was not just her wisdom that made her a saint, but her willingness to use her wisdom to bring others to Christ. Other saints brought people to Christ through healing or writing. Saint Katherine’s witness for Christ was through oratory and debate. The lesson of St. Katherine is that we must not only be wise in the faith, but willing to witness for our faith, willing to live for our faith, and even willing to die for it.
Let us praise and extol the all-lauded Bride of Christ,* the Protectress of Sinai, divine Saint Catherine,* as the one who gives aid and her assistance to us;* for she brilliantly suppressed the impious orators,* with the sword of the Spirit.* And being crowned as a martyr,* she asks that all receive the great mercy. (Apolytkion of St. Catherine, Trans. By Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Saint Katherine was both wise in the ways of God and willing to witness for God, even to death. Through her knowledge, many came to Christ. Through her martyrdom (witness), she attained salvation. May we be wise in the ways of God. May we use our knowledge to bring others to Christ. May our witness bring us to Him as well!