Saints Constantine & Helen
Saint Constantine was the son of Constantius Chlorus, emperor of the western half of the Roman Empire in the year 274 AD. His mother, Helen was a Christian, of humble birth. In 294, Constantius divorced Helen in favor of a woman of nobility, so as to further his political ambitions. Upon the death of Constantius in 306, Constantine was proclaimed emperor of Gaul and Britain and subsequently led his army against co-rulers of the empire. On the eve of the Battle of Milvain, Constantine saw in the sky above the sign of the Cross with the words “In this, conquer.” Ordering his troops to paint a cross on their shields, Constantine lead his army to victory, effectively uniting the Roman Empire and become sole emperor of East and West.
Although he was only baptized on his deathbed, Constantine ensured the freedom of Christians to worship openly [Edict of Milan, 313 AD] and supported the work of the Church, building new churches, and supporting its clergy. He transferred the capital of the Empire to Byzantium to the East, and the city was renamed Constantinople in his honor.
The emperor-saint came to the aid of the newly emancipated Christian Church in 325 AD when he convened the 1st Ecumenical Council in the city of Nicea, to settle quarrels provoked throughout the Empire by the Arian Heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ, teaching that He was a mere creature. The Council soundly condemned Arius and his teachings, producing the Symbol of Faith [Creed] still recited by the Church today [I believe…’].
After the Council of Nicea, Constantine remained deeply committed to overseeing the welfare of the Church. He was ever-reverent of the Sign of the Cross of Christ and wished to find the actual Cross. For this purpose he sent his mother Helen to Palestine, giving her both the money and authority to search for the Cross and places connected with the earthly life of Jesus. In 326 AD, the Cross was miraculously discovered in Jerusalem in 326 AD. Helen gave the Cross to the Patriarch of Jerusalem for safe keeping, taking a piece of it with her back to Constantinople. Emperor Constantine subsequently ordered a magnificent church be built over the site of the Crucifixion, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
In the year 337, knowing that death was imminent, Constantine accepted Baptism, having prepared for the moment his entire adult life. He died on the Feast of Pentecost and was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles in a crypt which he had prepared for himself.
Saint Helen was the mother of St Constantine the Great, and was probably born at Drepanum (Helenopolis) in Asia Minor to parents of humble means.
After Constantine became the sole ruler of the Western Roman Empire in 323 AD, he extended the provisions of the Edict of Milan to the Eastern half of the Empire. After three hundred years of persecution, Christians could finally practice their faith without fear. It was shortly after this that St. Helen led an expedition to the Holy Land in search of Christian relics. The party located the Cross of Christ as well as numerous sites of interest to pilgrims and the Church.
After distributing generous alms at Jerusalem and feeding the needy (at times she even served them herself), the holy Empress Helen returned to Constantinople, where she died in the year 327.
Because of her great services to the Church and her efforts in finding the Life-Creating Cross, the empress Helen is called "the Equal of the Apostles."