|Published by Michael Topple on Fri, 22 May 2020 09:42|
|Church Without Walls|
Yesterday, the 21st May, the church celebrates the feast day of St. Helena, patron saint of Colchester. She was born in Asia Minor to an ordinary family in about 255 CE and later married the Roman general Constantius, who subsequently became emperor. They had a son, Constantine, who was the first Christian emperor – making it the official religion of the empire in 312 after he received a miraculous vision of the cross just before going in to battle. It is not clear when Helena became a Christian herself but she devoted much of her later life to promoting Christianity in an empire where until only a few years previously it had been illegal. She was by all accounts quite a formidable person – forthright, strong willed and energetic. Her husband had disowned her but her son treated her with great respect and gave her the title Dowager Empress. In old age she made a lengthy visit to the Holy Land where she did a lot for the relief of the poor and sick, and founded many churches. Constantine also gave her considerable resources from imperial funds to find holy relics.
There are many legends about Helena. One that she was born in Britain and was the daughter of Old King Cole (which may explain why many medieval churches in England are dedicated to her). Another that she discovered near the hill of Calvary a piece of the original cross on which Jesus died (a church was later built on that site). What is clear, however, is that she shared with her son a great zeal for her faith, anxious to do all she could to make everyone know about Jesus.
We commemorate saints not necessarily for their extraordinary deeds, as if they were somehow superhuman. Saints were and are ordinary people of faith who follow God’s call. In following they often achieve remarkable things. Helen had considerable determination which she always attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit working in her. She is, therefore, and example to us all. Someone who by faith overcame difficulty and disadvantage and then used what she had to good effect. Perhaps in these challenging times we can draw some lessons from this. We can do very little on our own strength – it is only with God that we can really go forward.
Helen had a particular devotion to the cross – the prime symbol of God’s sacrificial love for us, of his giving of himself for the whole human race. No wonder she found it so powerful, as we still do today. She is often depicted in art with a cross, and on the top of Colchester town hall there is a statue of her holding a cross. So on what is probably the highest point in the town there is the supreme sign of our faith – quite a reminder to us.
Who called Helen to be ruler among her people
And gave her grace to be their servant:
Help us, following our Saviour Christ
In the path of humble service,
To see his kingdom set forward on earth
And to enjoy its fullness in heaven;
Who is alive and reigns with you,
In the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and for ever. Amen.