Why Helen?

It was my second time in an Orthodox Church.

A week before, Courtney and I had visited St. Ignatius (now our home parish) for Vespers with one of my brothers and a few of Courtney’s siblings. I knew right away that I wanted to go back. There were so many connections I made during the service to the Old Testament sanctuary and to various New Testament verses. I experienced a sense of spiritual peace that I had never experienced in church prior to that. There were about 40 people there for vespers that evening, and a third to half of the women were veiled. We were Sabbatarians at the time, and were visiting a number of Seventh-day Adventist and Seventh Day Baptist churches in the area, trying to find a church home. I remember on the car ride home saying that I wanted to keep coming to St. Ignatius—my idea at the time was that we would go to an SDA or SDB church Saturday morning, and then close out the day with vespers at St. Ignatius.

Now, a week later, my plan was falling apart.

I was in Sturgeon Bay for the weekend for drill, and Courtney was staying with my parents in Neenah for the weekend. So we met at St. Matthew in Green Bay Saturday evening for vespers. We did not know that St. Matthew was without a priest at the time. We were 2 out of the 4 people that were there for Reader’s Vespers that evening. That was not the cause of my trouble, though. My trouble came from one of the readings.

As the reader read the below, I found myself thinking it was a bunch of fairy-tale hocus pocus:

Although the holy empress Helen was already in her declining years, she set about completing the task with enthusiasm. The empress gave orders to destroy the pagan temple and the statues in Jerusalem. Searching for the Life-Creating Cross, she made inquiry of Christians and Jews, but for a long time her search remained unsuccessful.

Finally, they directed her to a certain elderly Hebrew by the name of Jude who stated that the Cross was buried where the temple of Venus stood. They demolished the pagan temple and, after praying, they began to excavate the ground. Soon the Tomb of the Lord was uncovered. Not far from it were three crosses, a board with the inscription ordered by Pilate, and four nails which had pierced the Lord’s Body.

In order to discern on which of the three crosses the Savior was crucified, Patriarch Macarius alternately touched the crosses to a corpse. When the Cross of the Lord touched the dead one, he came to life. Having beheld the raising of the dead man, everyone was convinced that the Life-Creating Cross was found.

I was a little sad as I walked out of the church. Only one week since my first visit, and I still felt a longing to go back. But, I told myself, I couldn’t take my wife and future children to a place where such ridiculousness was taught.

The question hit me as I put the car in gear. It wasn’t a voice, just a question: Do you believe that the dead man who touched Elisha’s bones was resurrected? The answer was immediate and obvious: Yes, I fully and completely believed this. If you believe that touching the bones of Elisha made a dead man come to life, why can’t you believe that touching my cross would? I wrestled with this as I drove north. My first answer was that the story about Elisha’s bones was in the Bible, and the story about St. Helen, St. Macarius, and the Life-Giving Cross was not. But I instantly recognized this was a cheap cop-out. Yet I couldn’t change the fact that I believed the one and disbelieved the other.

I don’t know exactly how long I struggled with this, but I know that before I got to Sturgeon Bay I had reached that inevitable conclusion that my reaction to the story was a result of a lack of faith on my part. A lack of faith I could not overcome. I had nothing to fall back on but the prayer of Mark 9:24: ““Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” I repeated that prayer as I finished my drive, and I arrived at my hotel with more humility than I’d begun the day with.

I look back on that drive as the most pivotal moment on my path to Orthodoxy, although it would be another two years before I was accepted into the Church by Chrismation. And that is why, when my 3rd child was born, she was baptized with the name “Helen.”

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