His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America
Homily for the Liturgy of Saints Constantine & Helen
Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church
Jackson Heights, New York
May 21, 2021
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Χριστὸς Ἀνέστη! [and in response: Ἀληθῶς Ἀνέστη!]
Christ is Risen! [and in response: Truly He is Risen!]
Today, we celebrate a mother and her son – an image and a true icon of the Panagia and our Lord. Today, we celebrate how the love of a mother shaped the son she bore, and turned his life from the kingdoms of this world to the Kingdom of God. Today, we celebrate how faith transformed an empire, from the oppressor of truth to its ultimate witness.
Today, we celebrate the Equals-to-the-Apostles, Constantine and Helen! Your celestial patrons are the most marvelous exemplars of how faith can bend history to the arc of righteousness.
It is a fact that it was Saint Helen’s commitment to the Gospel that prepared her son, the Great Constantine, for his role in history. Like the Holy Virgin Mary, who was never truly the “wife” of Joseph (she was only his betrothed), Saint Helen was never the wife of Constantine’s father, the Caesar, Constantius.
Constantius was one of the four who ruled the Roman Empire in the system known as the “Tetrachy,” which consisted of two Emperors – each called an “Augustus,” with one in West and one in the East, and two junior Emperors, each called a “Caesar.” In the days of Constantine’s father’s power, the most mighty Augustus was Diocletian, who was a great persecutor of Christians. Under the reign of Diocletian, Great Martyrs like Saint Demetrios the Myrrh-streamer and Saint George the Trophy-bearer gave their final witness to our Lord Jesus Christ. You can imagine how difficult it was to be a Christian in the upper echelons of the Empire, much less to be the son of one of the Four Tetrarchs.
Yet, the young Constantine was much more the son of his mother than of his father. An attentive and loving mother is always a powerful influence in the life of any child. Saint Helen bravely lived and confessed her Christian Faith openly, and gave an example of real courage to her son – the future “one and only” Emperor of Rome, both of the West and of the East. For it was her son who would establish the New Rome, the City of Constantine, or Constantinople as we know it, at the ancient Greek town of Byzantion – flanked by the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn.
Therefore, we should never underestimate the power of our mothers; just as we should never underestimate the role of our Panagia with Her Only-Begotten Son. The prayers of our mothers and grandmothers are strong and steady, and by their intercessions, many children are saved. For the Christian, every day is “Mother’s Day,” because we always have the Theotokos.
And surrounding the Theotokos are Saints like the Holy Helen. She strengthened her son to become an earthly ruler, and to imitate the Παντοκράτωρ of all – our God Who reigns in Heaven.
Long before Saint Constantine convened the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea, which gave to us the Symbol of our Faith – the Creed that we recite every Sunday – he used his military victories to put an end to Christian persecution throughout the Empire.
From the City of Milan, in modern Italy, Saint Constantine issued the famous “Edict of Milan,” which legalized Christianity throughout the Empire and ended the persecutions. He did this just months after his decisive victory at the Milvian Bridge in Rome, where he overcame all opponents by the fiery words he saw in the night sky: Ἐν Τούτῳ Νίκα!
This was nothing less than a miraculous turnaround for the Church – one that was just as much unexpected as it was welcome. And it was due to these two Saints – both mother and son – whom we celebrate today.
Therefore, my beloved in the Lord:
Let us praise their names – Constantine and Helen – and give thanks to Almighty God that He inspired them to perform wondrous acts for the Church, from which we continue to benefit today – seventeen hundred years later!
By their holy intercessions, may we all be saved, and may our Mother Church of Constantinople ever thrive and succeed in Her Ecumenical mission of love, leadership and the sanctification of the world.
Χριστὸς Ἀνέστη! [Ἀληθῶς Ἀνέστη!]