ܕܡܪܥܝܬܐ ܕܐܘܚܕ̈ܢܐ ܡܥܪ̈ܒܝܐ ܕܐܡܝܪܟܐ
|The Empress St. Helena (Helen), May 21|
Mort Helena (d. 327/30)
The Syrian mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, She was born in the Phegy village near Edessa (Urhoy, Urfa, now in Turkey) for Syrian priest about the year 247/50 A. D. Her Parents brought her up in a Christian manner, taught her the doctrine of the Syrian Orthodox Church and the religious ethics. She was very beautiful, and of humble parentage.
When Emperor Constantius the First, Emperor of Byzantium, came to the city of Edessa, and heard about Helena, he sought her out for marriage, and so she became the lawful wife of Constantius Chlorus. Her first and only son, Constantine, was born in Naissus in Upper Moesia, in the year 274. She departed about 327/30.
In the year 292 Constantius, having become co-Regent of the West, gave himself up to considerations of a political nature and forsook Helena in order to marry Theodora, the step-daughter of Emperor Maximianus Herculius, his patron, and well-wisher. But her son Constantius remained faithful and loyal to his mother Helena. On the death of Constantius Chlorus, in 308, Constantine, who succeeded him, summoned his mother to the imperial court, conferred on her the title of Augusta, ordered that all honor should be paid her as the mother of the sovereign, and had coins struck bearing her effigy.
Her son embraced Christianity after his victory over Maxentius. It is also clear from the declaration of the contemporary historian of the Church that Helena, from the time of her sonís conversion had an earnestly Christian life and by her influence and liberality favored the wider spread of Christianity. Tradition links her name with the building of Christian churches in the cities of the West, where the imperial court resided, notably at Rome and Trier, and there is no reason for rejecting this tradition, for we know positively through Eusebius that Helena erected churches on the hallowed spots of Palestine. Despite her advanced age she undertook a journey to Palestine when Constantine, through his victory over Licinius, had become sole master of the Roman Empire, subsequently. It was in Palestine, as we learn from Eusebius (loc. cit., xlii), that she had resolved to bring to God, the King of kings, the homage and tribute of her devotion. She lavished on that land her bounties and good deeds, she "explored it with remarkable discernment", and "visited it with the care and solicitude of the emperor himself". Then, when she "had shown due veneration to the footsteps of the Savior", she had two churches erected for the worship of God: one was raised in Bethlehem near the Grotto of the Nativity, the other on the Mount of the Ascension, near Jerusalem. She also embellished the sacred grotto with rich ornaments. This sojourn in Jerusalem proved the starting-point of the legend first recorded by Rufinus as to the discovery of the Cross of Christ.
Her princely munificence was such that, according to Eusebius, she assisted not only individuals but entire communities. The poor and destitute were the special objects of her charity. She visited the churches everywhere with pious zeal and made them rich donations. It was thus that, in fulfillment of the Saviorís precept, she brought forth abundant fruit in word and deed. If Helena conducted herself in this manner while in the Holy Land, which is indeed testified to by Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, we should not doubt that she manifested the same piety and benevolence in those other cities of the empire in which she resided after conversion of her son. Her memory in Rome is chiefly identified with the church of S. Croce in Gerusalemme. On the present location of this church formerly stood the Palatium Sessorianum, and near by were the Thermae Helenianae, which baths derived their name from the empress. Here two inscriptions were found composed in honor of Helena. The Sessorium, which was near the site of the Lateran, probably served as Helena's residence when she stayed in Rome; so that it is quite possible for a Christian basilica to have been erected on this spot by Constantine, at her suggestion and in honor of the true Cross.
Helena was still living in the year 326, when Constantine ordered the execution of his son Crispus. When, according to Socrates account (Hist. eccl., I, xvii), the emperor in 327 improved Drepanum, and decreed that it should be called after his motherís name Helenapolis, it is probable that the latter returned from Palestine to her son who was then residing in the Orient. Constantine was with her when she died, at the advanced age of eighty years or thereabouts (Eusebius, "Vita Const.", III, xlvi). This must have been about the year 330, for the last coins which are known to have been stamped with her name bore this date. Her body was brought to Constantinople and laid to rest in the imperial vault of the church of the Apostles. It is presumed that her remains were transferred in 849 to the Abbey of Hautvillers, in the French Archdiocese of Reims, as recorded by the monk Altmann in his "Translatio". She was revered as a saint, and the veneration spread, early in the ninth century, even to Western countries. Her feast falls on 21 May (East) and 18 August (West). In liturgical art Helena is depicted as an empress holding a cross.
Regarding the finding of the Holy Cross by Empress Helena. The pagan Roman emperors tried to completely eradicate from human memory the holy places where our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and was resurrected for mankind. The Emperor Adrian (117-138) gave orders to cover over the ground of Golgotha and the Sepulcher of the Lord, and upon the hill fashioned there to set up a pagan temple of the pagan goddess Venus and a statue of Jupiter. Pagans gathered on this place and offered sacrifice to idols there. Eventually after 300 years, by Divine Providence, the great Christian sacred remains -- the Sepulcher of the Lord and the Life-Creating Cross were again discovered and opened for veneration. This occurred under the Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337) after his victory in the year 312 over Maxentius, ruler of the Western part of the Roman Empire, and over Licinius, ruler of its Eastern part, becoming in the year 323 the sole-powerful ruler of the vast Roman empire. In 313 he had issued the so-called Edict of Milan, by which the Christian religion was legalized and the persecutions against Christians in the Western half of the empire were stopped. The ruler Licinius, although he had signed the Milan Edict still fanatically continued the persecutions against Christians. Only after his conclusive defeat did the 313 Edict about toleration extend also to the Eastern part of the empire. The Emperor Constantine, having with the assistance of God gained victory over his enemies in three wars, had seen in the heavens the Sign of God -- the Cross and written beneath: "By this you shall conquer."
Feast of the Cross, September 14th. In the year 326, ardently desiring to find the Cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, Constantine fulfilled his motherís desire and sent her pious Empress Helen to Jerusalem, having provided her with a letter to the Jerusalem bishop Macarius. Although the holy empress Helen was already in her declining years, she set about completing the task with enthusiasm. The empress gave orders to destroy the pagan temple and idol-statues overshadowing Jerusalem. Searching for the Cross, she made inquiry of Christians and Jews, but for a long time her searching remained unsuccessful. Finally, they directed her to a certain elderly Hebrew by the name of Jude who stated, that the Cross was buried there, where stands the pagan-temple of Venus. They demolished the pagan-temple and, having made a prayer, they began to excavate the ground. Soon there was detected the Sepulcher of the Lord and not far away from it three crosses, a plank with inscription having been done by order of Pilate, and four nails, which had pierced the Body of the Lord. In order to discern on which of the three crosses the Savior was crucified, Bishop Macarius alternately touched the crosses to a corpse. When the Cross of the Lord was placed to it, the dead one came alive. Having beheld the rising-up, everyone was convinced that the Life-Giving Cross was found. Christians, having come in an innumerable throng to make veneration to the Holy Cross, besought Saint Macarius to elevate, to exalt the Cross, so that all even afar off, might reverently contemplate it. Then the Bishop and other spiritual chief personages raised up high the Holy Cross, and the people, saying "Lord have mercy," reverently made prostration before the Venerable Wood. This solemn event occurred in the year 326. During the discovery of the Life-Giving Cross there occurred also many miracles, the elder Jude and other Jews there believed in Christ and accepted Holy Baptism. Jude received the name Kuriakos (i.e., lit. "of the Lord") and afterwards was ordained Bishop of Jerusalem. During the reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363) he accepted a martyr's death for Christ (commemoration of Priest-Martyr Kuriakos is 28 October). The holy empress Helen journeyed round the holy places connected with the earthly life of the Savior -- the reason for more than 80 churches -- raised up at Bethlehem the place of the Birth of Christ, and on the Mount of Olives from whence the Lord ascended to Heaven, and at Gethsemane where the Savior prayed before His sufferings and where the Mother of God was buried after the falling-asleep. Saint Helen took with her to Constantinople part of the Life-Creating Wood and nails. The Emperor Constantine gave orders to raise up at Jerusalem a majestic and spacious church in honor of the Resurrection of Christ, including in itself also the Sepulcher of the Lord, and Golgotha. The temple was constructed in about 10 years. Saint Helen did not survive until the dedication of the temple; she died in the year 330. The church was consecrated on 13 September 335. On the following day, 14 September, the festal celebration of the Exaltation of the Venerable and Life-Giving Cross was established. It has become a day for recognizing the Cross as a symbol of triumph, as a sign of Christ's victory over death, and a reminder of His promise, "And when I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me." (John 12:32).