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Posts Tagged ‘Helena’

It’s a shame that so many women from the Patristic Age have been overlooked or forgotten. The world would not be the same without the influence of these women. Some of these women were born poor, others renounced great wealth to follow in the steps of Christ. Martyrs, Mothers, Theologians, Writers, Queens, Empresses, Pilgrims, and Monastery founders are among them. They showed great piety, fortitude, and courage.

We began this series on Patristic women in our first post, February 5, 2019 “Thecla – 1st Century Disciple and Missionary”. Thecla was a disciple of Christ and Paul and her life was to influence many men and women for the next few centuries.

In our last post, we continued with the stories of women who gave their lives as martyrs rather than deny their Lord Jesus. There were many men and women who suffered persecution and death, but 2 whose stories have come down to us thanks to the preservation of early manuscripts are Blandina (martyred 177 AD) and Perpetua (martyred 203 AD – along with her servant Felicitas).

This week we will continue with the stories of two famous Mothers – Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine and Monica the mother of Augustine.

Helena (248 AD to 328 AD)

Also known as Flavia Iulia Helena Augusta, Helena began life as an innkeeper’s daughter in Drepanum, a seaport in Bithynia, Asia Minor. She met an aristocrat, Constantius Chlorus, a soldier. It is not clear whether or not they legally married, but their son, Constantine was born about 272 AD.

Later Constantius married Theodora, the daughter of the Emperor Maximian, and Helena was cast aside. We don’t know much about the next thirty years of her life, until her son Constantine became Emperor and then her status was restored magnificently.

Constantius ruled with his father-in-law Maximian, who was the Augustus, or chief ruler in the Roman Empire. In 305, Maximian passed the title of Augustus to Constantius. Only a year later as Constantius lay dying in 306, he chose his son by Helena, Constantine as his successor.

A story of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity is well known. On October 28, 312, Constantine was doing battle with his rivals in Rome. Constantine apparently had a vision of the words in hoc signo vinces (“in this sign you will conquer”) upon a cross. He vowed that, should he win even though there were great odds, he would become a Christian. Wearing a sign of a cross, Constantine did win the battle, and the following year he made Christianity legal throughout the Empire.

A number of historians suggest that it was actually Helena who converted her son to Christianity. It is not improbable that the innkeeper’s family became Christians. Bithynia was a place where many Christians had gone to live to escape the persecutions. Helena seems to have had a devout faith already when her son had his vision.

When Constantine became Augustus, his mother Helena became an important noble lady. She was granted the title Augusta in 324. With this title Helena received a large fortune and much land around Rome.

After a family tragedy, Helena decided to visit the Holy Land. Around 326 or 327, she visited Palestine where she inspected the new churches that were being built after her son’s conversion to Christianity.

During her travels Helena collected many relics including what was alleged to be the nails from the crucifixion and a tunic worn by Jesus before His crucifixion. Later historians credited her with finding the “True Cross” that Jesus was crucified on. Helena also tore down a pagan temple that was dedicated to Venus (Jupiter) and replaced it with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where the cross was supposedly found. The royal palace in Jerusalem was converted to the Basilica of the Holy Cross. Helena also built a shrine to the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Helena died in Trier around 328 or 329 AD. She was buried in the mausoleum near the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Marcellinus near Rome on lands that had been granted to her by Constantine. Helena remains an example of a good Christian mother and ruler in the Church.

Monica (332 AD to 387 AD)

The effective prayer of a righteous man  (or woman) can accomplish much. James 5:16

One special woman in history who shows us how we ought to pray fervently, consistently, and continually is Monica.

Many have heard the story of the miraculous conversion of St. Augustine. By all accounts he was a very hard-hearted and profligate man. Had we known him when he was a young man, we probably would have said that there was no hope of his ever turning to God. But his loving mother believed that God could save him. She never gave up during many long years, praying for his salvation with earnestness and tears.

Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, was born in 332.  She was raised to be a pious and devout Christian.

When she was old enough to marry, she was given to a man named Patritius, who was a pagan. She at once devoted herself to his conversion. She spent her life always praying for him. She was rewarded for her efforts when he became a Christian and was baptized only a year before his death.

Of course we know that Monica was also devoted to prayer for her son Augustine, who led a very irreligious life. He especially struggled with the sin of lust, preferring to have mistresses rather than get married.

Monica tried to get a learned Christian bishop to talk to her son in order to teach him the right way to live, but the bishop declined. He knew Augustine well and he didn’t think he could have any success with a man who was so headstrong.

However, on witnessing Monica’s prayers and tears, he told her to be of good courage; for it might be that God would spare the child of those tears. And so Monica devoted every day of her life to entreating God for her son.

One day, when Augustine went to Italy, he thought he was getting away from his mother’s constant well-meaning encouragements. But he could not escape from her prayers, which God heard and was ready to answer.

Monica followed him to Italy, and there Augustine was marvelously converted. Monica’s sorrow was turned into joy.

At a town called Ostia, on their homeward journey, as Augustine and his mother sat at a window talking about the Christian life, she turned to him and said, “My son, for my part I find no further pleasure in this life. What I am still to do or why I am here in the world, I do not know, for I have no more to hope for on this earth. There was one reason, and one alone, why I wished to remain a little longer in this life, and that was to see you a Christian before I died. God has granted my wish and more besides, for I now see you as his servant, spurning such happiness as the world can give. What is left for me to do in this world?”

A few days afterwards, she had an attack of fever, and died in the year 387. She was 56 years old. She has lived long enough to see the answer to her prayers for both her son and her husband.

Upon reflecting on this, we remember that It is impossible to set any bounds to what persevering prayer may do. Augustine’s soul seemed bound for hell due to his heresy and impurity, both of which were very strong because of his many years of practicing sin. These chains were broken when God graciously answered his mother’s prayers. Monica is a wonderful example to us of a devout, persevering, praying, Christian mother.

 

 

 

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