It is the 18th of August 2021 Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The 18th of August is the Feast Day, or Day of Remembrance for St. Helena, the mother of Constantine.
Her story is interesting- Constantine was her only son with Emperor Constantinus. Constantinus divorced Helena for his own imperial designs and she was exiled. When Constantine became emperor he called for his mother to return to the court. She would become known for her piety, pilgrimages, service to the poor, and one particular story about finding the “true cross”.
Let’s remember Helena today by recounting the story of the true cross- which predates Helena and is a fantastical story worthy of what was one of the most important relics in the early church.
1. While this show will focus on the story of the cross and Helena, it is good to point out one more very significant woman in the history of the early church- and a woman who was disgraced and exiled. When we looked at Mary we noted the importance of women in the church. And of course, many critics of the early church complained that it was a religion for the women, the weak, and the poor.
2. Was the “true” cross really found? Do all the people who claim to have a piece of the “true cross” actually have it?
3. The story I am telling you comes from Jacob Voragine’s The Golden Legend. Is this a “true” story? I don’t know, is pro wrestling real? This was a book written as entertainment, not history in the von Rankian post-enlightenment sense. As a historian and not a philosopher I am interested in what people thought was true. That is often an important part of the story.
Here it goes:
The story is told that Seth, the son of Adam went to the guarded gates of earthly paradise when Adam was deathly ill. He asked the angels for oil from the tree of mercy.
The Angel gave him a piece of the tree and told him to plant it by Adam’s grave (or in Lebanon, or maybe it’s the same place?).
The tree grew in the time of Solomon and Solomon used the wood from the tree in his palace. When the Queen of Sheba came to visit she saw the wood and knelt at it and worshipped. She told Solomon that a man would hang from this wood and that would be the end of the Jewish kingdom.
So Solomon destroys the wood and has it buried deep underground.
The place where he buried it eventually became the site of a bathing pool, but the power of the wood made it a healing bath. The wood eventually made its way to the surface of the pool and was thrown into a common pile from whence it was collected and turned into the Cross of Our Lord.
After Constantine became a Christian and made Christianity legal, Helena wanted to find it.
(Part of the story has to do with a Jewish man named Judas who is in league with the devil to keep the cross hidden but Judas ends up becoming a convert [and a bishop of Jerusalem] and shows Helena where the location was)
It was said that it was buried under the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which had been destroyed by Emperor Hadrian and a temple to Venus was put in its place.
destroyed the temple and dug deep until she found three crosses. Unsure as to which one was Our Lord’s they brought a sick woman (or a dead man?) to the Cross to see which one could do the healing. Bingo.
The cross would become a key prize during the various incursions into the Holy Land. Ultimately it was said to have been broken into many pieces such that it could never be completely destroyed.
Ironies abound in the story of the True Cross. Moderns like me might chuckle at the stories, but the lesson of St. Helena is of more than supposedly finding the cross. Hers is the story of a queen in exile who is brought back to the kingdom by means of her son. Her life from then was one of service.
The story of the Cross tells us about the development of the veneration of relics. A story we will continue to tell, but today we remember old Constantine’s mom, St. Helena.
The last word for today comes from the Gospel of John- this is from the story of the crucifixion
25 Jesus’ mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stood near the cross. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
28 After this, knowing that everything was already completed, in order to fulfill the scripture, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was nearby, so the soldiers soaked a sponge in it, placed it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. 30 When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed.” Bowing his head, he gave up his life.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 18th of August 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite pro Wrestlers have included but are not limited to Koko B. Ware, The Big Boss Man, and Isaak Yankem DDS. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who still says “WWF” (because I am old). I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.