If we trace our history back we can find Christians being persecuted. The first half of the fourth century was a turning point in the history of the Church. It is here St. Constantine rose to power which brought freedom, acceptance, and likeness by the state to the Christians. He was the first Christian Emperor, and ascribed his life’s success to his conversion to Christianity and the support of the Christian God. He fought the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in the name of the Christian God and believed that it was the God who gave him Victory.
The age of St. Constantine the Great as the Roman Emperor from 312 A.D. to 337 A.D. can be seen as the development of both inward and outward strength of the Christian Church. The famous Edict of Milan (agreement with Emperor Licinius), by which Christianity – along with all forms of religious expression – is granted legal protection, and the terrible ten years of persecution come to an official end. This edict also provided for the restoration of all property confiscated during the years of persecution from the Church as an institution, or from individual Christians.
Saint Constantine the Great is generally agreed to be an important figure. St. Constantine the Great is always quoted as “Equal-to-the-Apostles” in the Eastern Church. However, Rome and the Protestant denominations often retain a negative image of Constantine, and often point to his delayed baptism as a non-saintly event. Particularly in Protestantism, he is often seen as the prime mover in the appropriation of Christianity by the state, the first major step to the ritualistic and legalistic church from which Christians needed to be rescued by the Reformation. He is also seen as having kidnapped Christianity for political ends, and enforcing worldly structures on Christianity.
Constantine’s late Baptism is a sound reminder of the possibility of the renewal in Christ for each one of us at any given point of time in our lives, even if we sense that we are late! Remembering the promise of ‘Paradise’ to the thief on the Cross, we must be encouraged to come in the presence of God irrespective of the baggage we have been carrying for how much ever long a duration of time. Let us always remember that “now” is a perfect time ‘to repent.’
Emperor Constantine’s inclination towards Christianity opened up for the first time, the possibility of an entire society becoming Christian. The West was afraid because of many non-believing Christians walking into the Church, also especially in the absence of any hardship or persecution. The West will never forget the decision made by St. Constantine of moving the capital from Rome to Nikomedia, which left Rome stranded and seriously affected by economic and social pressures. Whereas, the East respects his decision as it had a positive impact on the Eastern half of the Empire. The East was more culturally advanced and posed potential profits with other Empires.
Saint Constantine is a noble representative of Christians who with his power did a good work for the church. As a human being he might have made mistakes but we need to recognize the holiness in whatever he did which ended up good for the Christians. One of the highlighting points about him is that he took decisions within the existing structure of the Church. To conclude, according to Fr. Schmemann “the conversion of the Emperor Constantine resulted in the greatest change that the church had ever undergone.”
May God Bless Us All.