The Orthodox Church honors the Emperor Constantine and his mother Helen together with the Holy Confessors of the Christian Faith. Even more, we call them “Equal to the Apostles”, equal to those who saw the Risen Lord and proclaimed Him before the nations.
St. Constantine the Emperor was the son and heir to the throne of Emperor Constantine Chlorus, who reigned over Gaul and the British Isles, a part of the Western Roman Empire. Having been called by Christ to defend the Christian Faith against the pagan emperors Maxentius and Licinius, St. Constantine placed on the banners of his army the sign of the Holy Cross, which had been revealed to him with the promise “in this sign you will conquer”. Like Paul on the Damascus Road, St. Constantine received his call “not from men”, as the troparion of the feast tells us, but directly from the Risen Lord. For the sign of the Holy Cross is the “sign of the Son of Man”; it is the symbol of Christ Who has defeated death on the Cross and has given us life.
With the sign of the Holy Cross, the Emperor Constantine defeated those who brought death upon the Christians who dared to confess Christ. And he transformed a world estranged from God and enslaved to idol worship into a world of freedom gained through worship of the true God. Through the calling and service of the first Christian Emperor, that which had, before St. Constantine, born the seal of mankind’s egoism and his turning away from the face of God, became a world of the brilliance of the image of God reflected on the image of man, through the witness of the Resurrection of Christ.
The Emperor Constantine offered freedom to the Christian Faith through the Edict of Milan in 313, and later he restored the rights of all those who had suffered in the persecutions of the pagan emperors. It was also he who convoked the first Ecumenical Synod at Nicaea in 325. The 318 Church Fathers who gathered at Nicaea re-established the true teaching about the deity of the Son, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, as “Light of Light, very God of very God”. And it was St. Constantine who founded the new city of Constantinople as the Christian capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.
Regarding St. Helen, we know that she desired very much to find the Savior’s Cross, and that her desire was fulfilled. In the place where the Holy Cross was found she built a church in honor of the Lord’s Resurrection, and in it she placed the Cross of Crucifixion, which had become the Cross of the Resurrection.
As we honor Saints Constantine and Helen, we too receive power to be witnesses. Christ has also chosen us, and we too are His witness before the world, and we reveal His Cross in our lives, and defeat sin through the power of His Resurrection. We too have the opportunity to become saints through our deeds and our witness in this world.