Elias Bejjani/Text& Video: Saint Helena: A Pillar of Christian Legacy

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Text& Video: Saint Helena: A Pillar of Christian Legacy
Elias Bejjani/May 21/2024

Click Here to read and listen to the Arabic version of this piece/اضغط هنا لقراء المقالة ومشاهدة الفيديو بالعربية

On May 21 each year, the Church remembers Saint Helena on Her Remembrance day.
Who was Saint Helena

In the tapestry of Christian history, few figures shine as brightly as Saint Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine the Great. Born around 250 AD in the modest town of Drepanum in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), Helena’s life and legacy have left an indelible mark on the Christian world. Her contributions during the pivotal era of the Roman Empire not only fortified the foundations of Christianity but also transformed the religious landscape of the time.

A Journey from Modesty to Majesty
Helena’s early life was unremarkable; she hailed from a humble background and married Constantius Chlorus, an ambitious Roman officer. Together, they had one son, Constantine, who would later become one of Rome’s most significant emperors. Despite her divorce from Constantius, Helena remained a profound influence on Constantine, whose rise to power in 306 AD paved the way for Christianity to flourish within the Roman Empire.

Embrace of Faith
It is widely believed that Helena converted to Christianity following Constantine’s historic Edict of Milan in 313 AD, which granted religious tolerance throughout the empire. Her conversion marked the beginning of a fervent devotion to her faith that would guide her actions and endeavors for the rest of her life.

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
In 326 AD, driven by her profound faith and an insatiable desire to uncover the roots of her religion, Helena embarked on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This journey, undertaken in her late seventies, was more than a personal quest; it was a mission to discover and preserve the sacred sites of Christianity. Her pilgrimage is legendary, particularly for her search for the True Cross, the very instrument of Christ’s crucifixion.

The Search for the True Cross
Helena’s dedication bore fruit when, according to tradition, she discovered three crosses at a site believed to be Golgotha. To identify the True Cross, she brought a dying woman to touch each one; upon touching the third cross, the woman was miraculously healed. This event cemented Helena’s place in Christian lore and significantly bolstered the veneration of the cross in Christian worship.

Architectural Contributions
Saint Helena’s legacy is also immortalized in the numerous churches she commissioned in the Holy Land, which stand as testaments to her faith and vision. Among the most renowned are:
*The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem: Constructed on the site where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, buried, and resurrected, this church remains a focal point of Christian pilgrimage.
*The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem: Built over the cave that tradition holds as the birthplace of Jesus, this church is a vital link to the Nativity story.
*The Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives: Commemorating the site where Jesus is said to have ascended into heaven, this church reflects the culmination of Christ’s earthly ministry.

A Saintly Status
Helena’s devout actions and her patronage of Christianity earned her sainthood in both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. Celebrated on May 21, her feast day honors her unwavering faith, her pivotal role in discovering Christianity’s most sacred relics, and her contributions to the spread and institutionalization of the Christian faith.

Legacy Through Constantine
Helena’s influence extended through her son, Emperor Constantine, whose own conversion and support for Christianity were undoubtedly shaped by his mother’s profound faith. Constantine’s reign marked the beginning of Christendom as a powerful force in the Western world, a transformation significantly credited to Helena’s guidance and devotion.

Conclusion
Saint Helena’s life is a beacon of faith and perseverance. Her contributions during a transformative era for Christianity laid the groundwork for the religion’s future growth and reverence. As we reflect on her legacy, we honor a woman whose devotion not only uncovered the sacred relics of the Christian faith but also built enduring monuments that continue to inspire and draw pilgrims from around the world. Helena’s story is a testament to the power of faith to move mountains, both literal and metaphorical, and to leave an everlasting impact on the world.

The author, Elias Bejjani, is a Lebanese expatriate activist
Author’s Email: Phoenicia@hotmail.com
Author’s Website: http://www.eliasbejjaninews.com

Elias Bejjani
Canadian-Lebanese Human Rights activist, journalist and political commentator
Email phoenicia@hotmail.com & media.lccc@gmail.com
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Additional Information
Saint Helena’s  Annual Remembrance Day
Saint Of The Day site/May 21 2024
St. Helena was the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great and an Empress of the Roman Empire. Very little is known about Helena’s early life, but it is believed she is from Drepanum (later known as Helenopolis) in Asia Minor and born into a poor family and lower class in the Roman culture of the day. St. Ambrose described Helena as a “good stable-maid.”Despite her background, Helena married Constantius Chlorus. With him she birthed her only son, Constantine. around the year 274. Nearly two decades later in 292, Constantius, now co-Regent of the West, got swept up in his rising stature and divorced Helena for Theodora, the step-daughter of Emperor Maximinianus Herculius. It is believed he did this to advance his own reputation and advance his standing in the Roman society. Constantine was forever loyal to his dear mother, whom he loved very much. As he grew and became a member of the inner circle, he never left Helena’s side. Following the death of Constantius in 308, Constantine became Emperor and summoned his mother back into inner circle and the imperial court. Helena received the title of Augusta. Constantine ordered all to honor his mother. He even had coins minted, bearing her image. Through her son’s influence, Helena began to embrace Christianity.
With her title of Augusta Imperatrix, Helena was given free reign over the imperial treasury. She was tasked with locating relics of Christian tradition. Between the years 326-328, Helena took a trip to the Holy Places in the Middle East. During her journey, Helena had many churches constructed, including the one at the site of Jesus Christ’s birth – the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem and another at the site of his ascension – Church of Eleona on the Mount of Olives.During this time Jerusalem was still being rebuilt after Titus’ destruction. Around the year 130, Emperor Hadrian had a temple built over the site of Jesus’ death. This temple was believed to be dedicated to Venus. Helena had this temple destroyed and chose a site in this location to be excavated. This led to the discovery of three crosses. Tradition says Helena brought a woman near death to the crosses. There she had the woman place a hand on all three crosses. Nothing happened when she touched the first two crosses, but when she placed her hand on the third cross she suddenly recovered. Helena declared the third cross to be the True Cross. At this site, Constantine ordered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to be built. Theodoret of Cyrus, an influential theologian, wrote that that during her search, Helena also discovered the nails of the crucifixion. She had one of the nails placed in Constantine’s helmet and one in the bridle of his horse to aid him with their miraculous powers. Churches were built at these sites, as well. Several of the relics believed to be found by St. Helena are located in Cyprus.
Among these are parts of Jesus’ tunic, pieces of the holy cross, and pieces of the rope used to tie Jesus to the cross. When Helena returned to Rome from Jerusalem in 327, she brought parts of the True Cross back with her. She stored these in her palace’s chapel. They can still be seen to this day, though her palace has been converted to the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. St. Helena died around 330 with her dearly devoted son by her side. She was then buried in the Mausoleum of Helena outside of Rome. Her sarcophagus can be seen in the Pio-Clementine Vatican Museum.St. Helena was renowned for helping not only individuals, but entire communities through her works of charity. She often sought out to help the poor and destitute. She would visit churches and leave them with rich donations. St. Helena was a very devout servant of God, so much so that one would easily believe her to have been a follower of Jesus Christ from birth. Through her influence and work, Christianity continued to spread throughout the known world.