Signs and WondersSaint Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to embrace the Christian faith, was the son of the Emperor Constantius Chlorus and the Empress Helen. When he came to the throne, Constantine fought two great battles : one against Maxentius, a tyrant in Rome, and the other against Licinius not far from Byzantium. At the battle against Maxentius, when Constantine was in great anxiety and uncertainty about his chances of success, a shining cross, surrounded by stars, appeared to him in the sky in full daylight. On the cross were written the words: 'In this sign, conquer!' The wondering Emperor ordered that a great cross be put together, like the one that had appeared, and be carried before the army. Although his army was outnumbered, by the power of the Cross, he gained a glorious victory over his enemies. Immediately after this, Constantine issued the famous Edict of Milan, in 313, to put an end to the persecution of Christians. Conquering Byzantium, he built a beautiful capital city on the Bosphorus, which from that time was named Constantinople. It has been said that Constantine the Great turned to Christianity for political convenience, but an Emperor had little to gain from currying the favor of the Christians, which were of minor importance to the community and had little political impact. Constantine told of having seen a cross of light in the sky just prior to his successful campaign against Maxentius and from that moment forward embraced the Truth, becoming a servant of God chosen to protect the Christian faith.
Divisive ActionThe doctrine of Arianism that so divided the Christian family was met with firm action by Constantine, who called for an ecumenical council at Nicaea, held 325. It was attended by 318 church leaders from throughout the East, who had survived the bloody persecutions suffered under the reigns of Maximus and Diocletian. Emperor Constantine personally welcomed the delegates, and was deeply moved upon seeing the wounds of those who had been tortured for Christ. The triumph of the Council, perhaps more than his other works, is the legacy of Constantine, who so piously gave the Christian faith the great strength that in later years enabled it to survive the onslaughts of such as Julian the Apostate. St. Helen (or Helena), the Emperor's devout mother, was very zealous for the Christian faith. She visited Jerusalem and found the Precious Cross of the Lord, and built at the sites of the Nativity, the Holy Sepulcher, and the Ascension and many other churches in the Holy Land. Because of her lineage she is as much revered in Great Britain, as in evidenced by the many churches, principally of the medieval era, dedicated to her memory. For this and her son's equally pious work, the mother and son have been recognized as equal to the apostles and are so commemorated in the Orthodox Church. Saint Helen went to the Lord in 327, at the age of eighty. The Emperor Constantine outlived his mother by ten years and entered into rest at the age of about sixty in 337. The feast day of Saints Constantine and Helen is celebrated on May 21st.
Constantine, who is Thy apostle among kings, O Lord; Received his calling like Paul, not from man For he saw the sign of Thy cross in the heavens; And placed his royal city into Thy hands. Preserve both it and us in safety for all time, Through the prayers of the Theotokos, Thou Who art the lover of mankind.