Although our church in Colchester is dedicated to St John, we also venerate the Empress St Helena as a local saint. This is because it is said that in the early fourth century, she came to the then major Roman military town of Colchester – the capital of Roman Britain before London.
It is quite possible that she did walk Colchester’s Roman streets, since her husband, Constantius, died in York on 25 July 306, their son Constantine at his side. Now known as St Constantine the Great, the latter was born in what is now Nish in Serbia, between 271 and 273. (Perhaps one day the municipal authorities of Nish and Colchester will twin their towns). On his father’s death in 306, Constantine was immediately proclaimed Augustus, or Emperor, by the Roman soldiers in York. It would seem highly likely therefore that the whole family visited Colchester in 306 or a little before.
Consequently, on entering St John’s church, there is a large enshrined icon of St Helena on the left hand side. The following troparion is also sung to St Helena on Sundays:
The Empress Helena, mother of Constantine, /
Was with us before she sought the Cross in Jerusalem. /
Thus, becoming like unto the apostles, /
She calls us also to honour the Cross, /
For in this sign, the standard of victory over the enemy. /
We are granted salvation and resurrection /
And the triumph of the Heavenly Jerusalem. //
Wherefore, O holy Helena, pray to Christ our God that our souls may be saved.