Inexhaustible Interest in Life: Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Queen Helena

We had a discussion with friends over tea the other day about how interesting it is to be alive. This interest – not quite the same as that of young children – is not characteristic of all people. I remember with horror and regret how I used to live a year ago with a feeling of permanent fatigue, and looked at life as a constant burden and unnecessary torment. My conviction that life is a gift was in constant conflict with the desire to send that gift back. The idea that life would continue like that until I was eighty sounded scary, to be honest. It wasn’t even about age.

When a person ceases to be afraid and accepts everything that happens in his life as a gift, as an opportunity to learn new things or as an experience, with curiosity and attention, without running away from problems and changes, he becomes truly alive. After all, life is not only good, it has another side, too. I think that people have never been so afraid to be alive as they are now. Especially in the circumstances that the whole world faces today.

I remember how Father Andrew, the spiritual leader of the Convent, said in one of his sermons about a woman of eighty who lives with great interest, studying new things carefully, constantly takes courses. He emphasized that this is evidence of the life of the Spirit in a person.

My grandmother started working at the age of forty (before that she was in charge of the house and children). Before she retired, she managed to get all the possible Soviet awards for her hard work.

After my grandfather died, my grandmother had just started going to church (she was sixty years old), and she managed to do a lot during those twenty years. It is thanks to her that there is a temple in my native village, which grew out of a church opened in the administrative building of the sanatorium which had already been closed at that time. 

I recalled my grandmother instantly when I read the life of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Queen Helena. She was left alone (her husband divorced her and married another woman for political reasons) at the age of just over forty years, and it seemed unlikely that anything new could happen in her life. However, this final point of her old life was the starting point of a new life. A life in Christ. It will be another twenty years before Christianity is adopted countrywide, though.

It is hard to imagine what life was like for people in the fourth century.  Hagiographies do not offer much information. Perhaps it was normal for a ruler at that time to marry the daughter of a man who kept a stable yard, but now it resembles a fable. After all, as present-day historians believe, Helena helped her father at a horse station, poured wine for the travelers who were waiting for the harness and repositioning of horses, or simply worked as a maid in an inn, where she met her husband. This indicates that the marriage of Constantius Chlorus and Helena was out of love. What a romantic story, isn’t it? 

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Alas, life is not a fairy tale, and, as mentioned above, when Helena was already forty years old, she was left alone. According to historical data, she had no children, except Constantine. We do not know what was happening over the course of twenty years. It is known that when Helena converted to Christianity, she was already in her sixties. According to her contemporary Eusebius of Caesarea, a Roman historian of the 4th century, it happened thanks to the influence of her son Constantine, who loved and honored his mother.

The Empress devoted the following years of her life to the cause of spreading and establishing Christianity, for which she was glorified among the Equals-to-the-Apostles. By the way, only five holy women have been granted this title. Helena was a woman of remarkable intelligence and wisdom, and Constantine even entrusted his mother to dispose of the royal treasury at her discretion.

But the most amazing thing for me was that St. Helena, at the age of about eighty, went to the Holy Land to clear and clean up the places associated with the earthly life and death of Christ. She may have had a dream or a prophetic vision, and the eighty year old woman embarked on a very difficult journey, which was also a very important and exciting one.

While on the way, she helped the poor and destitute, clothed the naked, fed the hungry, founded and built many churches. Of course, Queen Helena herself did not do the construction, but the management of affairs and arrangements require a lot of effort, too.

How lively this woman was! In addition to excavations and the improvement of important places, St. Helena herself arranged meals for the poor, and, apparently, in memory of what her life had been before, she dressed in poor clothes and served dishes to visitors.

After finding the Life-Giving Cross, St. Helena returned home, where she soon died. The veneration of Queen Helena as a saint began soon after her death, and was widespread in the Byzantine Empire and beyond.

Queen Helena is an example of inexhaustible enthusiasm and wise use of the opportunities available to a person in certain circumstances of his or her life. It is not for nothing that they say that those who know how to live, also know how to die.

About the author

Daria Chechko
A philologist; an author and designer of St. Elisabeth Convent's website.

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