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Saint Helena

Queen and Widow.  

Helena came on a pilgrimage to the holy places. For the Holy Ghost had inspired her to seek the Wood of the Cross. Wherefore she came to Golgotha; and there she spake within herself on this wise: Behold the battlefield! Where is the sign of victory? I seek the Standard of Salvation and I find it not. Am I, saith she, upon a throne, and the Lord's Cross in the dust? Am I in kingly halls, and Christ's triumph in ruins? There it must needs be lying hid, and therefore in this place there lieth hid the palm of life eternal. Why should I think myself redeemed if the means of redemption itself is unseen? I see what thou hast done, O Satan, to hide the sword wherewith thou hast been slain. But Isaac digged again the wells of water which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them, after the death of Abraham; and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them. And Isaac's servants digged in the valley and found there a well of living water. Therefore let the ruins be cleared away, that the Staff of Life may be seen. Let the sword wherewith the true Goliath's head hath been cut off be drawn from its sheath. Let the earth be opened that salvation may flash forth. Hast thou not hid the Tree, O Satan, merely to be conquered once again?

Mary conquered thee! even Mary who brought forth the Victor! Mary who, remaining always Virgin, brought forth him who was to conquer thee by his crucifixion, and crush thee by his death! And thou shalt be conquered this day also, to the end that a woman may detect thy tricks. Mary in her holiness bore the Lord, I will search out his Cross! She carried him when he was born; I will carry him now that he is risen from the dead! She caused God to be seen among men; I will raise up his Standard from these ruins for the healing of sinners. Whereupon Helena openeth the ground; she putteth away the dust; she findeth lying heaped together the three crosses which the enemy had hidden and the ruin had covered. But the triumph of Christ cannot be obscured. As a mere woman she is at a loss, but the Holy Ghost inspireth her to a search that can leave no doubt.

And then she seeketh for the nails wherewith the Lord had been crucified, and she findeth them. With one nail she commandeth to make a horse's bit, another she hath worked up into a crown; of the one she taketh an ornament, of the other an object for godliness. Mary was visited to set Eve free. Helena was visited to redeem Emperors. She sendeth unto her son Constantine the crown set with gems, wherewith she (who was precious as a gem in God's sight) had joined the more precious iron of the nails, surmounted by the Sign of the Cross, whereof was God's redemption of man. She sendeth the bit also. Constantine used them both; and he hath bequeathed his Faith unto the Monarchs that have followed him. As saith the Greek version of Zechariah in Chapter 14, verse 20: In that day what is upon the horse's bit shall be holy unto the Lord Almighty: so did it now come to pass. Thus, in that day of Helena's time, the beginning of the believing Emperors was set forth by the horses' bit which was holy; and from him began the time of believing, whereby persecution ended and godliness took its place. Wisely hath Helena done in setting the Cross above kings' heads, that on kings, Christ's Cross may be adored. For to bow down to the holy sign of Redemption is not a novelty but an act of godliness. God therefore is the nail of the Roman Empire which ruleth the whole globe, and clotheth the brows of princes, that they who once were persecutors may now be preachers.

From a sermon by Saint Ambrose the Bishop


O LORD Jesus Christ, who in the Finding of the Cross didst suffer blessed Helena to enrich thy Church with a treasure most precious: grant us the help of her prayers; that by the ransom paid upon the Tree of life, we may attain unto life eternal. Who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Anglican Breviary, Frank Gavin Liturgical Foundation, Inc., New York, 1955, pages 1887-1888

Additional Information:

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