Commemoration of Constantine and His Mother Helena
O Lord, our God, King of the universe, who raises up earthly rulers to work Your will in this life, You called Constantine to the imperial throne and ended wide-spread persecution of Your Son’s Church; grant that as he served You by fulfilling his vocation, so we would continue to receive from You rulers who allow the Church to proclaim the saving Gospel of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Almighty God, who called your servant Helena to an earthly position of authority so that she might advance your heavenly kingdom, filling her with zeal for your Church and love for Your people, grant that we may be fruitful in good works and steadfast in our faith in Your Son, and finally by your mercy attain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus served as Roman Emperor from AD 306 to 337. During his reign the persecution of Christians was forbidden by the Edict of Milan in 313, and ultimately the faith gained full imperial support.
Constantine took an active interest in the life and teachings of the church and. He called the First Council of Nicaea in 325 at which Saint Athanasius and others defended and defined orthodox Christianity. Among the fruits of this council was one of Christendom’s major confessions of faith, the Nicene Creed.
His mother, Helena (ca. 255-329), strongly influenced Constantine. Her great interest in locating the holy sites of the Christian faith led her to become one of the first Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. Her research led to the identification of Biblical locations in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and beyond, which are still maintained as places of worship today. One of Christianity’s annual festivals, Holy Cross Day, has its origin in her explorations of Palestine.
Some argue that Constantine may not have been true believer since he wasn’t baptized until his death bed. However, he actively supported Christianity in his later life and even preached upon occasion. Other scholars speculate that he delayed baptism for the same reason as did many others during portions of the Church’s history, that of a general misunderstanding of Holy Baptism.
Constantine the GreatMany theologians spoke of the need for “satisfaction” — making amends for sins committed during one’s life — and warned about time that would be spent in Purgatory by those who didn’t make full satisfaction while still living. Indeed, some even taught that unless proper penance was done, one might find himself forever barred from Heaven!
Since Baptism truly washes away all sin — both that of our birth nature and any transgressions committed later — some thought the best way to avoid Purgatory (or Hell) was to be baptized when one was at death’s door. In so doing, people believed that there would be no unrepented, unsatisfied sins remaining that would leave one waiting for eternal bliss or forever denied its blessings.
I’ll not argue here the reasons why Lutherans reject the notion of satisfaction or the idea of Purgatory. I’ll merely say that if Constantine had such worries, he wasn’t alone during his day, and his decision to delay would be understandable in light of such teaching.