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1700th Anniversary of Edict of Milan

Message to Serbian church leaders on 1700th anniversary celebrations of Roman Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan, 3 October 2013.

03 October 2013

Message to Serbian church leaders on 1700th anniversary celebrations of Roman Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan

Your Holiness,

First of all, please allow me to warmly thank Your Holiness for the kind invitation to attend the celebration of the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan that will take place between 4-9 October 2013. The commitment of the Serbian Orthodox Church to dedicate several ceremonies over the entire year of 2013 in order to celebrate 1700 years since the Edict of Milan, which was issued by Emperor Constantine the Great, is much appreciated by the fellowship of the World Council of Churches. Indeed, Emperor Constantine the Great who was born in Nis (old city of Naissus) influenced the history of the Christian church more than any other Roman Emperor. As the main initiator and promoter of the famous Edict of Milan (313) which granted freedom to Christianity and an equal status with other religions of the Roman Empire, and through the entirety of his position regarding religion, Constantine the Great determined the religious policy of most of his successors as Roman emperors and beyond, becoming a model for many Christian European kings and emperors, both from East and West. His legacy is still helping to determine the Church-state relationships in Europe and elsewhere.

The main features of Constantine the Great`s legacy are religious freedom, peace and harmony between people and nations, a fruitful collaboration between church and state for the good of the entire society, tolerance, love and peace within humankind. All these and many others are values inspired by the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and by our common humanity through which we, as Christians, are called to promote and stand for the other and the neighbour. As Emperor, Constantine the Great promoted these values, humanizing the society of the Roman Empire. His edicts like those in favor of religious freedom, for the improvement of the marginalized of Roman society, for the establishment of greater freedom, or those against facial mutilation and other inhuman legal penalties, were measures which brought a real change for all members of Roman Empire society, both Christians and non-Christians.

We, as Christians living at the beginning of the 21st Century and having a tremendous legacy of more than two thousand years of Christian history, are called today to stand for peace as a universal value and to call the people of all religions to join our efforts for promoting a just peace. As Your Holiness stated in the recent speech at the United Nations in New York, for us Christians peace does not mean only the absence of war, but also the presence of spiritual values like acceptance and respect of others with their God-given freedom and dignity. The 10th WCC Assembly which will begin at the end of this month will offer to the entire constituency of the WCC an opportunity to reflect more deeply on values like justice and peace as gifts of the God of Life whose worshipers in the Roman Empire were granted freedom 1700 years ago by Constantine the Great.

For these reasons and many others, the celebration of the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan is a celebration of the whole of World Christianity. The way in which the Serbian Orthodox Church, under the guidance of Your Holiness, has organized this year's ceremonies in Nis and other parts of Serbia clearly highlights the fact that Constantine the Great and his legacy belong to all Christians. We all recognize and value his legacy. The Orthodox tradition honours Emperor Constantine as a Saint while Western Christianity appreciates his courage in granting freedom to a small and often persecuted minority, the Christians in his time, and we recognize his pioneering and prophetic role in improving Roman society. An important dimension of the celebrations organized by the Serbian Orthodox Church this year is the publication of valuable studies which offer research and expert analysis of Constantine the Great`s legacy, in a critical way, from several perspectives: theological, political, social, cultural etc.

Unfortunately, due to many commitments related especially with the 10th WCC Assembly which will take place in Busan, Korea, between 30 October – 10 November 2013, I am unable to attend the ceremonies dedicated to the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan organized by Your Church in Belgrade, Nis, Podgorica and other places. I have delegated Archpriest Dr. Daniel Buda, Programme Executive for Church and Ecumenical Relations in the World Council of Churches and the executive responsible for relationships with the Orthodox Churches, to represent me in the ceremonies and to convey this message to Your Holiness.

Yours in our common God and Saviour Jesus Christ,

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
WCC general secretary