Prologue entry for 11/24/23 (read on 12/07/23 on the Old Calendar)
1. The Holy Great-Martyr Catherine
Catherine was the daughter of King Constus. After the death of her father, she lived with her mother in Alexandria. Her mother was secretly a Christian who, through her spiritual father, brought Catherine to the Christian Faith. In a vision, St. Catherine received a ring from the Lord Jesus Himself as a sign of her betrothal to Him. This ring remains on her finger even today. Catherine was greatly gifted by God and was well educated in Greek philosophy, medicine, rhetoric and logic. In addition to that, she was of unusual physical beauty. When the iniquitous Emperor Maxentius offered sacrifices to the idols and ordered others to do the same, Catherine boldly confronted the emperor and denounced his idolatrous errors. The emperor, seeing that she was greater than he in wisdom and knowledge, summoned fifty of his wisest men to debate with her on matters of faith and to put her to shame. Catherine outwitted and shamed them. In a rage, the emperor ordered all fifty of those men burned. By St. Catherine’s prayers, all fifty confessed the name of Christ and declared themselves Christians before their execution. After Catherine had been put in prison, she converted the emperor’s commander, Porphyrius, and two hundred soldiers to the true Faith, as well as Empress Augusta-Vasilissa herself. They all suffered for Christ. During the torture of St. Catherine, an angel of God came to her and destroyed the wheel on which the holy virgin was being tortured. Afterward, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared to her and comforted her. After many tortures, Catherine was beheaded at the age of eighteen, on November 24, 310 A.D. Milk, instead of blood, flowed from her body. Her miracle-working relics repose on Mount Sinai.
2. The Holy Great-Martyr Mercurius
When Emperor Decius once waged war against the barbarians, there was in his army the commander of an Armenian regiment called the Martenesians. This commander was named Mercurius. In battle, an angel of the Lord appeared to Mercurius, placed a sword in his hand, and assured him of victory over his enemies. Indeed, Mercurius displayed wonderful courage, mowing down the enemy like grass. Following this glorious victory Emperor Decius made him chief commander of his army, but envious men reported Mercurius to the emperor for being a Christian, a fact which he did not hide but openly acknowledged before the emperor. Mercurius was tortured harshly and at length; he was cut into strips with knives and burned with fire. An angel of God appeared to him in prison and healed him. Finally, the emperor proclaimed that General Mercurius be beheaded in Cappadocia. When they beheaded him, his body became as white as snow and emitted a most wonderful incense-like fragrance. His miracle-working relics healed many of the sick. This most wonderful soldier of Christ suffered for the Faith sometime between the years 251 and 259 A.D. and took up his habitation in the Kingdom of his King and God.
3. The Holy Virgin Mastridia
Mastridia lived in Alexandria and led a solitary life of prayer and handiwork. A young man, burning with bodily passion toward her, constantly harassed her. Not wanting to sin before God, and since she could not easily be rid of this unrestrained youth, St. Mastridia once asked him what attracted him most to her. He replied: “Your eyes!” Mastridia then took the needle with which she was sewing and put out her eyes. Thus, Mastridia preserved her peace and the young man’s soul. The young man repented deeply, and became a monk.1
- This Mastridia apparently is not the same as the one who is commemorated on February 7. That Mastridia was from Jerusalem, while this one is from Alexandria. The former fled from scandal to the wilderness, while the latter put out her eyes.
Hymn Of Praise
The Holy Great-Martyr Catherine
The wise Catherine, an earthly princess,
Became a martyr for Christ the Savior.
Foolish Maxentius offered her life:
If she would consent to become his wife!
The holy Catherine, pure as gold,
Replied to the emperor thus:
"My betrothed is the Risen Christ,
And I desire not the love of a corrupt man.
You seek my body: the rotten seeks corruption,
Even as the incorrupt spirit seeks immortality.
The physical covering must wither away,
The true man takes care for his immortal soul.
Do what you wish, and torture me—
Burn me in the fire, turn me on a wheel;
I cannot renounce my own soul,
Nor worship any but Christ as God.
Remember, O Emperor, soon you will die,
And worms will erupt from your corpse—
Worms will glorify you, worms will eat you,
A curse will accompany you, and a curse will meet you:
For you dare wage war against Christ, Who is mightier than death.
You stand under the Rock, and He will crush you."
Holy Catherine, Christ's virgin,
You despised the throne for eternal truth's sake;
And thus now reign in the Kingdom without end,
And sing with the angels, in the midst of sweet Paradise.
A tale of Elder Barlaam to Ioasaph: The citizens in a certain town had a custom of choosing as king a stranger who did not know their laws and customs. After they had crowned him king, they clothed him in beautiful robes, fed him abundantly and surrounded him with every luxury. However, as soon as one year had elapsed, they deposed their king, stripped him of all his goods and his clothes, and drove him completely naked to a distant island, where he had neither bread nor roof nor companions, and where he would die in misery and humiliation. The citizens of this town would then choose another king, also a stranger and also for one year; then a third, then a fourth, then a fifth and so forth. But it once happened that they chose a very wise and cautious man. He learned from his servants what had happened to the kings of this town after their year. Therefore, over the course of the whole year he zealously gathered food and goods and daily sent them to that island. When the year had run out and when he was stripped of his clothing and cast onto the island, he found himself amidst an enormous quantity of food, silver, gold and precious stones, and continued to live there even better than he lived as king in that town. The interpretation is this: The town represents the world; the citizens represent the evil spirits; the kings are men, either foolish or wise. The foolish men think only of the pleasures of this life, as if it were eternal; but in the end, death cuts everything off and they, naked of all good works, go to hell. The wise, however, perform many good works, and send these good works ahead of them to the other world. At their repose, the wise kings—the good men—depart to that world where their accumulated riches await them, and where they reign in greater eternal glory and beauty than they reigned here on earth.
Contemplate the wondrous creation of the world (Genesis 2):
- How God brought all animals, birds and beasts before Adam, to see how he would name them;
- How Adam gave a name to every animal and every bird and every beast.
on Him Who descended and ascended
He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things (Ephesians 4:10). In His love for man, the Lord Jesus Christ lowered Himself so low that He could go no lower; and then raised Himself so high that, in truth, He could go no higher. He descended into the lower parts of the earth (Ephesians 4:9): into hades itself, where He freed the forefathers, prophets and righteous ones, and led them into the Kingdom of Heaven. Completing His work both on earth and in hades, He ascended far above all heavens. The same One Who ascended is the very same One Who descended without any change, except that He descended without a body, and ascended with a body. Therefore, there are not both a Son of God and a Son of Man as heretics have said, but Christ is both the Son of God and the Son of Man—one and the same Person—one and the same God-man, our Savior Jesus Christ. As He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, so He is the same in the depths and in the heights: on earth, in hades, and in the heavens. He abased Himself lower than all men, and raised Himself above all the angelic powers, to show by example the truthfulness of His words: And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted (Matthew 23:12). If we are not humbled by virtues, then sin will humble us. Virtue leads to voluntary and temporary abasement, but sin leads to irreversible and eternal abasement. O Lord Jesus, Who fills all by Thy power, fill us with the spirit of true humility. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.