Balkan Insight reports:
A year-long celebration marking 1,700 years since the Roman Empire granted Christians religious freedom will start on January 17 in the Serbian city of Nis, where Roman emperor Constantine the Great was born. …
On the opening day of the celebrations a concert of spiritual music performed by the choir of Sretenjski Monastery from Russia will be held at the National Theatre in Nis in the presence of Serbian Patriarch Irinej and President Tomislav Nikolic.
Planned events include an exhibition on Christianity in Niš through the Ages, a play about the Emperor called Constantine: The Sign of Angels, and public lectures on a variety of related topics. In preparation for the jubilee, the Serbian Orthodox Church hosted a conference on the Edict of Milan and religious freedom this past May, an English write-up of which can be read here.
Constantine is sometimes mistakenly thought to be the Emperor who made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire; while the Edict did protect Christians from persecution, it wasn’t until the reign of Theodosius sixty-seven years later that Christianity became the legitimate imperial faith.
There has been some controversy about whether Pope Benedict will attend any of the planned events. Orthodox Christianity is by far the majority religion in Serbia (as of 2002, roughly 85% of the population is Orthodox, with Catholics in a distant second at 5%), and memories of recent Orthodox-Catholic hostilities remain fresh in many minds:
The patriarch [of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Irinej], however, reiterated that there were problems that could make the pope’s visit to Serbia problematic, such as security issues, “bearing in mind the still fresh memories of World War II and also of the recent wars that had taken place in the Western Balkans”.
Whether the pope makes it to Niš or not, Catholic faithful are expected to turn out in droves:
It’s expected that more than 100,000 believers will join the liturgy due to be held by the Catholic Church on September 21st. Because of the large numbers, the organisers are considering whether it might be possible to hold it on the runway of Nis’s Constantine the Great Airport.
The official English language website for the jubilee can be found here.