Born at Drepanum (later renamed Helenopolis in her honor) in Bithynia, possibly an innkeeper’s daughter, about the year 270 Flavia Iulia Helena became the wife or concubine of the Roman general Constantius Chlorus. When he became co-emperor (Caesar) in the West in 292 he repudiated her in order to marry the stepdaughter of his patron, the Western Augustus Maximianus Herculius. But her son, who became the emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome, greatly honored and respected her, bringing her to the imperial court on his accession in 308 and conferring on her the title Augusta. In about 312, when over the age of sixty, she became a Christian under Constantine’s influence. She was so devout that contemporaries thought that she had been a Christian since childhood. She dressed modestly and gave generously to churches, to the poor, and to prisoners. In 326 she made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where she provided the wherewithal for the building of a basilica on the Mount of Olives and another at Bethlehem. According to Ambrose of Milan, she had a part in the finding of the True Cross, the cross on which Jesus was crucified, though this is generally thought a pious legend rather than history. Constantine was with her when she died in the Holy Land about the year 330. Her body was taken to Constantinople and buried in the imperial vault in the Church of the Apostles.
In the Eastern (Orthodox) Church, she is commemorated on this day, together with her son Constantine. She is also commemorated on this date in the Calendar of the Church of England. The traditional date of her commemoration in the West in August 18.
prepared from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Celebrating the Saints,
and The New Book of Festivals and Commemorations
Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one with your saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy. We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.