Saints Constantine and Helen the Co-Apostles
Date of celebration: 21/05
Both Tarsus in Cilicia and Drepano in Bithynia are mentioned as the birthplace of Constantine the Great. However, the prevailing view is that Constantine the Great was born in Naiso, Upper Moesia (today’s Nis, Serbia). The exact year of his birth is not known, but it is believed that he was born between the years 272-288 AD.
His father was Constantius, who because of the paleness of his face was called Chloros, and was a relative of the emperor Claudius. His mother was Agia Eleni, daughter of an innkeeper from Drepano in Bithynia.
In 305 AD Constantine is in the court of the emperor Diocletian in Nicomedia with the office of milarch. In the same year the two Augustus, Diocletian and Maximian, resign their positions and retire. Constantius Chlorus in the West and Galerius in the East are promoted to the highest office of Augustus. Constantius Chlorus died on July 25, 306 AD. and the army proclaimed Constantine the Great as Augustus, but this was not accepted by Galerius. After a series of various historical events, Constantine the Great clashed with Maxentius, son of Maximian, who had a strategic advantage because he had four times the army and Constantine’s army was already exhausted.
For his part, Constantine the Great had every reason to feel restrained. he had no choice but to invoke the power of God. He wanted to pray, to ask for help, but as the historian Eusebius recounts, he did not know which God to turn to. Then he mentally brought to his mind all those with whom he co-ruled the empire. All of them, except his father, believed in many gods and all of them met a tragic end. So he began to pray to God, raising his right hand and begging Him to reveal Himself to him. While he was praying, an unprecedented divine sign appeared in the sky. Around the midday hours of the sun, that is, at dusk, he saw in the sky the trophy of the Cross, which read “to this victory”. And while he was trying to understand the meaning of this mysterious spectacle, the night overtook him. Then the Lord appeared in his sleep together with the symbol of the Cross and urged him to make an imitation of it and use it as a talisman for more wars.
With the Christian banner as his flag, he begins to advance towards Rome, annihilating all resistance.
When he arrives in Rome he is interested in the Christians of the city. But his interest is not limited to them only. Very soon he is informed about the poor state of the Church of Africa and he supports the works of this ministry from the public fund.
In February 313 AD, in Milan, where Licinius and Constantia, sister of Constantine the Great, were married, a historic agreement was reached between the two men that established the principle of secularism.
The problems that Constantine the Great had to face were many. The heretical teaching of Arius, an elder of the Alexandrian Church, came to disturb the unity of the Church. This teaching, called Arianism, effectively destroyed the doctrine of the Trinity of God.
As soon as Constantine the Great was informed of what was sadly happening in Alexandria, he sent a letter with his spiritual advisor Osios, Bishop of Cordoba in Spain, to the Bishop of Alexandria Alexander (313 – 328 AD) and Arius. The attempt to resolve the matter did not succeed. Thus was decided the convergence of the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea, Bithynia in 325 AD.
The description of the opening ceremony by the historian Eusebius is admittedly interesting. all the delegates had come to the middle house of the palaces. There was complete silence and everyone was waiting for the entrance of the emperor, who most of them would see for the first time. Constantine entered humbly, with modesty and meekness. in his speech to the Synod he characterizes inter-church conflicts as the most painful even of wars. His speech was direct and clear. He did not want to deal with anything other than matters related to the orthosection of the faith. His crucial phrase, “about faith we study”, is preserved by almost all historical writers.
After the work of the Synod, the emperor took initiatives to consolidate its decisions. He sent a circular letter to the Church of Egypt, Libya, Pentapolis, Alexandria, in which he notified the decisions of the Synod. He informs the entire territory of the empire of the condemnation of Arius and forbids the acquisition and concealment of his writings. But his impressive action is his letter to Arius. He reviles the heretic and severely condemns him for his misdeeds.
But around the end of 327 AD Constantine the Great summons Arius to the palace. The heretic, of course, does not miss the opportunity and submits a confession full of artful theological inaccuracies, even convincing Constantine the Great that it does not differ substantially from what the First Ecumenical Council had decided. Finally, the emperor convenes a new Synod, in November 327 AD, which recalls Arius from exile and restores the exiled Bishops of Nicomedia Eusebius and Nicaea Theognius. The revocation of the Arius and the restoration of those related sparked new quarrels further within the Church. The Bishop of Alexandria Alexander and then his successor Athanasius the Great refuse to accept Arius in Alexandria. Constantine the Great threatens to depose Athanasius the Great, while in a Synod that met in Antioch in 330 AD. St. Eustathius, Bishop of Antioch, is deposed and exiled by the heretics (celebrated on February 21). The Synod of Tire in Syria, which convened in 335 AD, condemns Athanasius the Great in absentia with the penalty of demotion, who leaves to meet Constantine the Great.
It is a fact that Constantine the Great did not appear to accept Athanasius the Great’s request for a hearing. But he was persuaded to listen to him, when Athanasios the Great addressed him with the saying: “May the Lord judge between me and you.” Constantine the Great understood the gross injustice and the wretched schemes against Athanasius the Great and accepted his request that all the councilors of Tire be invited and that the process take place before him.
Eusebius of Nicomedia ignored the imperial order. He took only a few of the councilors and appeared before the emperor. He forgot all the other accusations and for the first time raised the issue of the alleged obstruction of the shipment of wheat to Vasilevousa. The emperor is enraged and exiles Athanasius the Great to Trier in France. Despite this, it does not ratify the decision of the Synod of Tire to depose, nor does it order the replacement of the episcopal throne of Alexandria.
The last period of Constantine the Great’s life is the one that establishes him in the ecclesiastical consciousness and leads him to the peak of his spiritual path. Agios, during April 337 AD, feels the first serious symptoms of an illness. The sources inform us that Constantine the Great took refuge in thermal baths. But seeing that his health was deteriorating, he thought it appropriate to go to the city of Helenopolis in Bithynia, which had been named so because of his Holy Mother. There he remained in the temple of the Martyrs, where he sent supplications and litanies to God. Constantine the Great realizes that his earthly life is coming to an end. The memory of death is cultivated in his heart and leads him to the sacrament of repentance and baptism. After that he takes refuge in a suburb of Nicomedia, summons the Bishops and addresses them with the following speech: “This was the time that I longed for and thirsted for and wished to attain salvation in God. The time has come for us to enjoy the immortal seal, the time has come for us to participate in the saving sealing, which I once desired to do in the kennels of the Jordan, in which, it is said, our Savior received baptism in the humble type. But God, who knows the interest, requires us to receive baptism here. So let there be no doubt. Because even if it is still the will of the Lord of life and death that our earthly life continues and that I co-exist with the people of God, I will frame my life with all those rules that are appropriate to God”.
After his baptism, Saint Constantine did not wear the imperial robe again, but remained dressed in the white garment of his baptism, until the day of his sleep in 337 AD. It was the day of Pentecost, writes the historian Eusebius.
The way in which Eusebius describes the events that followed the Saint’s sleep is typical. All the emperor’s bodyguards, having torn their clothes and fallen to the ground, wept and shouted loudly, as if they were not losing their king, but their father. Brigadier generals and captains mourned their benefactor. The municipalities were saddened and every inhabitant of Constantinople mourned, as if they were losing the common good.
After the soldiers placed the body of the Saint in a golden urn, they took it to Constantinople and placed it on a pedestal in the royal house. His holy relic was buried in the church of the Holy Apostles.
History justly called him Great and the Church called him Equal Apostle.
Note: According to other sources, Saint Constantine was catechized and baptized by Saint Sylvester, Pope of Rome (see January 2). Read here the very nice analysis of Saint Nicodemus of Agiorites on this subject.
Saint Helen was born in Drepano, Bithynia, Asia Minor, around 247 AD. He seems to have been of humble origin. in historiography there is a relative dichotomy as to whether the mother of Saint Constantine was the wife or legal concubine of Constantine the Great.
Between the years 272 – 288 AD she gave birth to Constantine in Naisos, Moesia. When, five years later, Constantine Chlorus was made Caesar by Diocletian, he was forced to remove her, in order to marry Theodora, stepdaughter of the emperor Maximian, and thus have that kinship bond which would ensure the solidity of the Diocletian tetrarch systemic. Despite this fact, Constantine the Great honored his mother in particular. He awarded her the title of Augustus, put her image on coins and named a city in Bithynia after her.
The Saint showed her piety with many favors and the rebuilding of new Churches in Rome (Holy Cross), in Constantinople (Holy Apostles), in Bethlehem (basilica of the Nativity) and on the Mount of Olives (basilica of Gethsemane). Saint Helen went in 326 AD. in Jerusalem, where “with great effort and much expense and intimidation they saw the holy cross and the other two crosses of the robbers”, as the Cypriot Chronographer Leontios Macheiras writes. Returning to Constantinople, a year after finding the Holy Cross of the Lord, Saint Helen also passed through Cyprus.
Saint Helen slept in peace probably in 327 AD. at the age of eighty. The historian Eusebius writes that the Saint had a premonition of her death and in a will left her property to her son and her grandchildren.
As was natural, her son took her holy remains to Constantinople and buried her in the church of the Holy Apostles.
Their meeting was held in the Great Church, in the church of the Holy Apostles and in their holy church in the cistern of Vonos.
The Byzantines especially honored Constantine the Great and Saint Helen. Proof of this is the fact that during the Middle Ages the depiction of the first Christian king with his mother, held in the middle of the Cross, was very popular among the Byzantines. This tradition is preserved to this day with the Constantinates.