St. Helena (Soorp Heghiné in Armenian)
Queen Helena was the mother of Constantine the Great. Constantine himself is a saint of the church, whose name is mentioned during the Divine Liturgy: “of the Christian kings, the saints Abgarius, Constantine, Tiridates and of Theodosius and of all holy and pious kings and God-fearing princes, to be mindful in this holy sacrifice we beseech the Lord.”
Helena was born in c. 255 at Drepanum in Bithynia (the territory opposite side of Istanbul on the Asiatic continent) of humble parentage. As a young person she was originally an innkeeper, but she ultimately became a Roman Empress as the wife of the Emperor Constantius Chlorus, Constantine the Great’s father. In 292 she suffered the great indignity of being abandoned by her husband, as political reasons forced him to marry another princess of imperial stock. She persevered and when in 306 her son Constantine became emperor, she was given the honor Augusta due to the mother of a Roman Emperor.
Queen Helena embraced Christianity after Constantine’s victory over his rival in A.D. 312. According to tradition, Constantine attributed this event to a supernatural occurrence that he associated with Christ. Her son’s inclination towards Christianity obviously had a very great influence on Helena. She became such a very devout and faithful member of the Church, and took her faith so seriously, that a contemporary historian states: “One might believe her to have been from her very childhood a disciple of the Redeemer of mankind.”
St. Helena stood by her son and encouraged him in all of his pious deeds. She is particularly well known for her pilgrimage, at an advanced age, to the Holy Land in the year 326. During that time she commissioned people to search for the cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified. The leading personality among those searching was a man of Jewish extraction called Judas. He pointed out where he thought the cross was buried under piles of debris, namely at a base of the rocky hill known as Golgotha. The excavations there actually unearthed three crosses. The actual cross of the Lord was finally identified by a miracle. Our Church commemorates that event on the seventh Sunday after the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
During her sojourn in the Holy Land St. Helena had many chapels, churches and convents erected. She is said to have built the basilicas on the Mount of Olives and at Bethlehem. She was also reputed to have made many charitable donations to the poor and to have served as a handmaid in the convents in Palestine, despite her rank, age and position. Having earned the respect of her fellow Christians because of her pious life as a true disciple of Christ, she died in A.D. 330. She is greatly venerated by the Armenians for her Christian piety, charity, and devotion. The name Heghiné has been and is still used by Armenians of all classes.