Friday, August 18, 2017

The deeds of Saint Helena, as described by Eusebius a few years after her death

Today, August 18, is the feast of Saint Helena Augusta, mother of Constantine the Great. A long lived and active woman, even in her old age, Saint Helena died ca. AD 330 and was greatly mourned by her son.

Please enjoy this short video taken from The Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine, written about the year AD 340 by the bishop Eusebius Pamphilus, detailing some of the works of Saint Helena. It also includes some lovely images of Helena and her son from antiquity and later art.

If you prefer reading to watching, here’s the text of the video:
For this empress, having resolved to discharge the duties of pious devotion to the Supreme God, and feeling it incumbent on her to render thanksgivings with prayers on behalf both of her own son, now so mighty an emperor, and of his sons, her own grandchildren, the divinely favored Caesars, with youthful alacrity (though now advanced in years, yet gifted with no common degree of wisdom), had hastened to survey this venerable land; and at the same time to visit the eastern provinces, cities, and people, with a truly imperial solicitude. As soon, then, as she had rendered due reverence to the ground which the Savior’s feet had trodden, according to the prophetic word which says “Let us worship at the place whereon His feet have stood,” she immediately bequeathed the fruit of her piety to future generations.

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For without delay she dedicated two churches to the God whom she adored, one at the grotto which had been the scene of the Savior’s birth; the other on the mount of His ascension. For He who was “God with us” had submitted to be born even in a cave of the earth, and the place of His nativity was called Bethlehem by the Hebrews. Accordingly the pious empress honored with rare memorials the scene of her travail who bore this heavenly child, and beautified the sacred cave with all possible splendor. The emperor himself soon after testified his reverence for the spot by princely offerings, and added to his mother’s magnificence by costly presents of silver and gold, and embroidered curtains. Once more, his imperial mother raised a stately structure on the Mount of Olives also, in memory of His ascent to heaven who is the Savior of mankind, erecting a sacred church or temple on the very summit of the mount. And indeed authentic history informs us that in a cave on this very spot the Savior imparted mysterious and secret revelations to His disciples. And here also the emperor testified his reverence for the King of kings, by diverse and costly offerings. Thus did Helena Augusta, the pious mother of a pious emperor, erect these two noble and beautiful monuments of devotion, worthy of everlasting remembrance, to the honor of God her Savior, and as proofs of her holy zeal: and thus did she receive from her son the countenance and aid of his imperial power. Nor was it long ere this aged lady reaped the due reward of her labors. After passing the whole period of her life, even to declining age, in the greatest prosperity, and exhibiting both in word and deed abundant fruits of obedience to the divine precepts, and having enjoyed in consequence an easy and tranquil existence, with unimpaired powers of body and mind, at length she obtained from God, an end befitting her pious course, and a recompense of her good deeds even in this present life.

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For on the occasion of a circuit which she made of the eastern provinces, with circumstances of royal splendor, she bestowed abundant proofs of her liberality as well on the inhabitants of the several cities collectively, as on individuals who approached her, at the same time that she scattered largesses among the soldiery with a liberal hand. But especially abundant were the gifts she bestowed on the naked and friendless poor. To some she gave money, to others an ample supply of clothing: she liberated some from imprisonment, or from the bitter servitude of the mines; others she delivered from unjust oppression, and others again, she restored from exile to their native land.

While, however, her character derived luster from such deeds as I have described, she was far from neglecting personal piety toward God. She might be seen continually frequenting His Church, while at the same time she adorned the houses of prayer with splendid offerings, not overlooking the churches of the smallest cities. In short, this admirable woman was to be seen, in simple and modest attire, mingling with the crowd of worshippers, and testifying her devotion to God by a uniform course of pious conduct.

And when at length, at the close of a long life, she was called to inherit a happier lot, having arrived at the eightieth year of her age, and being very near the time of her departure, she prepared and executed her last will in favor of her only son, the emperor and sole monarch of the world, and her grand-children, the Caesars his sons, to whom severally she bequeathed whatever property she possessed in any part of the world. Having thus disposed of her earthly affairs, this thrice blessed woman breathed her last in the presence of her illustrious son, who was in attendance at her side, and clasped her hands: so that, to those who rightly discerned the truth, she seemed to experience a real change and transition from an earthly to a heavenly existence, since her soul, remolded as it were into an incorruptible and angelic essence, was received up into her Savior’s presence.

Her body, too, was honored with special tokens of respect, being escorted on its way to the imperial city by a vast train of guards, and there deposited in a royal tomb. Such were the last days of our emperor’s mother, a person worthy of being had in perpetual remembrance, both for her own practical piety, and because she had given birth to so extraordinary and admirable an offspring. And well may his character be styled blessed, for his filial piety as well as on other grounds. He rendered her through his influence so devout a worshipper of God (though not previously so), that she seemed to have been instructed from the first by the Savior of mankind: and besides this, he had honored her so fully with imperial dignities, that in every province, and in the very ranks of the soldiery, she was spoken of under the titles of Augusta, and empress, and her likeness was impressed on golden coins. He had even granted her authority over the imperial treasures, to use and dispense them according to her own will and discretion in every case; for this enviable distinction also she received at the hands of her son. Hence it is that among the qualities which shed a lustre on his memory, we may rightly include that surpassing degree of filial affection whereby he rendered full obedience to the Divine precepts which enjoin due honor from children to their parents. In this manner, then, the emperor executed in Palestine the noble works I have above described: and indeed in every province he raised new churches on a far more imposing scale than those which had existed before his time.

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