The Orthodox church marks May 21st as the feast day of the Great Saints and Equals to the Apostles: Constantine and his mother, Helen.
Troparion Tone 8
O Lord, thy disciple Emperor Constantine, who saw in the sky the Sign of Thy Cross,/ Accepted the call that came straight from Thee, as it happened to Paul, and not from any man./ He built his capital and entrusted it to Thy care./ Preserve our country in everlasting peace, through the intercession of the Mother of God,/ for Thou art the Lover of mankind.
Kontakion Tone 3
Today Constantine and Helena his mother expose to our veneration the Cross,/ the awesome Cross of Christ,/ a sign of salvation to the Jews/ and a standard of victory:/ a great symbol of conquest and triumph.
Constantine the Great was born in Naissus (Nis, Serbia) around the year 274. After his defeat against Emperors Maxentius and Liciniu, Emperor Constantine became the sovereign of the whole Roman Empire. According to the testimonies of historians Eusebius and Lactantiu, on the eve of the battle with Maxentius, Constantine saw in the sky – at daylight – a bright cross above the sun with the inscription: “In hoc SIGNO vinces” („By this sign you will conquer”).
The following night, during his sleep, Constantine had a vision of Christ, asking him to put this sign of the „Holy Cross” on all the flags his soldiers will carry at battle. Been obedient to what it was revealed to him in the dream, Emperor Constantine followed the command given to him by Christ and he came out victorious in the battle with Maxentius.
The Triumphal Arch of Constantine, now preserved in Rome, carries the inscription: “Instinctual divinitatis” = “By divine inspiration”, revealing how this victory over Maxentius was won.
The most important achievement of Emperor Constantine was the Edict of Milan (313) by which Christianity was recognized as one of the religion of the Roman Empire (prior to this year, many Christians were persecuted and died as martyrs for their faith). Christianity will become the state religion (of the Roman Empire) during the reign of Theodosius the Great (379-395).
After the edict of 313, the Emperor exempts the Christian churches from taxes, he grants them the right to receive donations and gives bishops the right to judge those who do not want to be judged by the state law. Constantine will also remove the criminal penalties laws that were contrary to the spirit of Christianity, such as the crucifixion, the crushing of the feet and the stigmatization (to be burn with the red iron), penalties practiced under the pagan Roman law.
The Emperor Constantine convened the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325), where, after long discussions, the heretical teachings of Arius was condemned by all the Holy Fathers present at the Council.
St. Constantine the Great was baptized on his deathbed by Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea. He died shortly (337) in Nicomedia and was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople, church founded by him.
His Mother: Empress Helena
Flavia Julia Helena was born in the province of Bithynia. In the year 293, the Roman general Constantius Chlorus, encouraged by Emperor Diocletian, divorced his wife: Empress Helena. Following this event, Empress Helena does not want to re-marry and withdraws from the public attention, but remains close to her son, Constantine. Empress Helena later discovered on the hill of Golgotha, the Cross that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was crucified on. According to the holy tradition, in the excavations performed at the site of Golgotha, were found three crosses. To identify which one of the three crosses belonged to Christ, they touched each one by the body of a dead man. The man rose up when touched by the Cross of our Lord. On September 14, 326 Bishop Macarius the 1st of Jerusalem took this Holy Cross and erected in front of the crowd of faithful and this day became the day of celebration for the „Exaltation of the Holy Cross”.
St. Helena built many Holy Christian temples and monasteries among which the most important are: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or the Church of the Resurrection, the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, the Church of Nazareth.
The Meaning of Names: Constantine and Helen
The name Constantine originates from Latin – from the words: Constans, Constantis (meaning “constant”, “firm”).
Helen comes from the ancient name Helene which is explained by some as „the Torch”, or “sacred fire” and by others as “the light of the burning sun”.