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Saints Constantine and Helena

On June 3rd (May 21st by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the great Saints Constantine and Helena.

On the border between the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D., the Roman Emperor Diocletian divided the huge Roman Empire into two halves, in order to govern it more easily. He himself ruled the eastern half of the Empire, assisted by Caesar Galerius. As ruler of the western half he appointed Emperor Maximian, and as his assistant Caesar Constantius Chlorus, who governed Gaul and Britain. Constantius Chlorus, though officially a pagan because of his position, in his heart, together with all his family members, worshipped the One God. In 303 A.D. Diocletian issued a decree concerning the extermination of Christianity from the Roman Empire. Although Constantius Chlorus was unable to openly disobey the elder emperor, nevertheless he continued to protect the Christians in all possible ways, especially after his wife, Queen Helena, converted to Christianity.

Saints Constantine and Helena
Saints Constantine and Helena

St. Constantine, the only son of Constantius Chlorus and Queen Helena, was born in 274, and although officially he grew up a pagan, he was reared at home in a Christian atmosphere. While being a direct witness to the terrible persecution of Christians instituted by Diocletian, at the same time Constantine saw the triumph of the Christian faith, which manifested itself in countless miracles and Gods help to the holy martyrs. Constantine was tall, handsome and physically strong, and at the same time good-natured and modest, for which he was loved by the people and the army. This provoked envy of him on the part of other court officials, especially Caesar Galerius, who even plotted to bar Constantine from ruling his part of the Empire. Seeing this, Constantine fled to Gaul, where after the death of Constantius Chlorus in 306 the army proclaimed Constantine emperor of Gaul and Britain. Constantine was then 32 years old. After coming to power, his first act was to declare freedom for Christianity in all his provinces.

In 311 the cruel tyrant Maxentius became ruler of the western half of the Empire, and he decided to get rid of Constantine and reign alone. In 312 Constantine himself embarked upon a military campaign against the Roman emperor, in order to rid Rome of the evil tyrant. This campaign was extremely difficult, since the enemys army greatly outnumbered Constantines; moreover, Maxentius used the help of evil forces by shielding himself and his army with sorcery and magic. Constantine realized that relying on human powers was not enough, and he then remembered the one true God and began praying to Him, asking for help from above.

And the Lord sent an extraordinary omen to His chosen one. On the eve of a decisive battle, Constantine and his whole army saw in the sky the sign of a cross, made up of light and spread across the sun, with the inscription: With this you shall vanquish (NIKA in Greek). Constantine was perplexed, since the cross, being an instrument of shameful execution, was considered by the Romans to be a bad omen. However, the very next night Jesus Christ Himself appeared to Constantine with a cross in His hand and told him that with this sign he would vanquish his foe; and He commanded him to make a banner with the image of the holy Cross. Constantine followed the Lords command and defeated the enemy, becoming the ruler of the entire western half of the Empire.

With his first decree the new emperor proclaimed full religious tolerance among his subjects; at the same time, he became the protector of Christians, repealed the penalty of death by crucifixion, and enacted laws favorable to the Church of Christ.

Meanwhile, the ruler of the eastern half of the Empire, the pagan Licinius, also a cruel and perfidious tyrant, went to war against Constantine. Armed with the power of the cross, Emperor Constantine stood against Licinius and roundly defeated him, becoming the new sovereign of the entire Roman Empire. The victory over Licinius instilled in Constantine an even greater realization of Gods help, and he worked at spreading the Christian faith among his subjects, decreeing Christianity to be the state religion in the Empire.

Of great assistance to Constantine in the spreading of Christianity was his mother, Queen Helena. When Constantine decided to build churches in the Holy Land on the sacred sites of Christs birth, crucifixion and resurrection, and also to find the Lords Cross, Queen Helena joyously undertook this task herself. In 326 she traveled to Jerusalem and worked hard to find the Lords Cross, which had been deliberately buried by Christs enemies. After discovering the true and Life-giving Cross, Queen Helena made sure that the people could venerate it. The Church commemorates this event in the major feast of the Elevation of the Cross. Part of the original Cross, together with the nails and some thorns, Queen Helena brought back to Rome for her son Constantine, while the other part remained in Jerusalem. Afterwards Constantine and Helena erected a huge and magnificent church over the sites of Christs crucifixion, burial and resurrection. This church, which comprises the hill of Calvary and Christs Tomb, is the major holy site in Jerusalem even to this day. For their labors in spreading Christianity, Emperor Constantine the Great and Queen Helena have been named equal-to-the-apostles by the Church. St. Constantine died on the very day of Pentecost in 337 A.D.

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