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The Man who Baptized Europe

The famous act officialized religious tolerance in the empire, prohibited persecution of the heterodox and the Christian church was given the right to go public. It is one of the most significant dates in the entire history of the Christian church and Christian civilization. Throughout this year, the eyes of more than two billion Christians will be directed at Niš, the formerly Naisus, birthplace of the emperor who adopted this law and who was gaining victories under Christian insignia, because the official centre of the celebration will be located exactly there. And what have Niš and Serbia prepared for this occasion?
By: Daša Marjanović Photographs: Archives and reporters of „Serbia - National Review”
A lot of time has passed. Empires were created and destroyed, wars broke out and ended in peace, old wounds healed and new were inflicted, conquests and defeats, building and destruction alternated. Naisus has grown into Niš, Mediolanum has grown into Milan, with magnificence and beauty giving way to plan functionality. Everything has changed, but the essence remained the same. For more than two millennia, the refined philosophy of Christianity – written in the trinity of Faith, Love and Hope – has been honing the sharp edges of existence, imparting value and meaning to it. 1700 years have passed since Christianity, through approval from the top of the Roman Empire, entered Europe through the main door. We could say that exactly this was the first and complete baptizing of Europe. It was done by a ruler who had sufficient lucidity and wisdom to recognize the Heavenly Sign, and enough courage to say an „unconditional Yes to his own destiny”.

Gaius Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus, later called the Great, was a Roman emperor, who became the holy and isapostolic emperor for the Orthodox Christians. According to historical accounts of the time, he was a dedicated leader and, as contemporary analysts would say, a skilful one.
Imperial SummerhouseMediana, formerly a magnificent imperial summerhouse in the suburbs of Naisus, is today an archaeological site located five kilometers to the East of the centre of Niš. The luxurious imperial residence with villas and other buildings was built in the early 4th century by Constantine the Great, and it was later used as a residence by other Roman emperors who were coming to Naisus.
On the eve of the great jubilee, necessary restorations and conservations were conducted on the site, the structure called „Doors of Constantine’s Mediana” was built with a box office, souvenir shop, information desk and a sanitary block. The goal is that the major part of this archaeological treasure becomes available to visitors.

He led battles to strengthen the shaken empire. Before the battle against the Roman tyrant-usurper Maxentius, on October 28, 312, waiting for a favorable sign from heaven, Constantine had a mystical experience. Eusebius, contemporary historian, noted: „In bright daylight, the Emperor saw a shining cross, ornamented with stars, flashing the inscription: By this win!. The Emperor then ordered a large cross to be forged, similar to the one in his vision, to be carried at the head of the army.” With the power of the cross, he won victory over the more numerous enemy, triumphantly entered Rome and became the ruler of the entire Western world.
Since the cross gave the wise emperor and his troops new strength, leading him to victory, he soon started another battle. In order to put an end to religious persecutions and to ensure peace of mind for Christians, exactly seventeen centuries ago, Constantine in Mediolanum (today’s Milan) Constantine adopted the law on religious tolerance, today known as the Edict of Milan. This Edict prohibited the persecution of the heterodox, gave the Christian church the right to go public, increased privileges of the clergy, and divided the government into lay and spiritual. Although Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire some time later, during the reign of emperor Theodosius, Constantine released the first spark, maybe not even sensing that 1700 years later its flame would still be alive.

There are more than two billion Christians in the world today. Two billion sparks that make the shine of Constantine’s halo resistant to centuries. Exactly for this reason, the centre of the celebrations of this great jubilee, the 1700th anniversary of the adoption of one of the most important documents in the history of Christianity, is located in Niš, the birthplace of the great emperor Constantine.
It is a flattering and demanding task for the citizens of Niš. They will have to show that they are worthy successors of Constantine and use this unique opportunity to impress the world with the beauty of the Serbian south. At least two billion pairs of eyes will be looking at them. Roads were repaired, bicycle lanes, pedestrian zones, tourist signboards, a monument to emperor Constantine was built, the building of the Old Officer’s House was reconstructed, Mediana is regaining its former glory, monographs of the imperial city are in print, and various spiritual and cultural manifestations are being prepared. Passers-by and pilgrims in Niš will encounter liturgies, performances, concerts, exhibitions, music and folklore events, numerous lectures and scientific gatherings on the Edict of Milan, conferring of the prestigious annual awards of the city of Niš for the study, protection, presentation and affirmation of monumental cultural and historical heritage...
The celebration will last throughout the year, and therefore the list of activities and events is constantly being updated. In December, the Office for the Edict of Milan was opened in Niš, where citizens, with their proposals and good ideas, can fill possible gaps in the dense jubilee calendar.

The generally temperamental southern spirit will have to be accelerated even more, in order to successfully synchronize 1700 years of the jubilee with one year of its celebration. Pompous ceremonies and small celebrations alternate, writing the pages of the ceremonial journal. And during the breaks, there is the South, hearty and full of flavor. There is history embedded in the remains of Mediana. And the history that is yet to unwind the tangle of time under the steps of thousands visitors of the emperor’s Niš.
Celebration of the jubilee covered with gold for 17 times began exactly on the 17th day of January. It was opened with a concert of spiritual chanting of the choir of Russian Candlemas Monastery at the National Theatre in Niš.
Signs of an AngelOn the occasion of the 1700th anniversary of the adoption of the Edict of Milan, the National Theatre from Niš is preparing the production Constantine: Signs of an Angel, written by Dejan Stojiljković, author of bestseller Constantine’s Crossroads and an associate of Serbia - National Review. The audience will be able to see on the stage the most important moments from the emperor’s life – the Battle at the Milvije Bridge, vision of the cross on the Roman sky, the First Ecumenical liturgy, adoption of the Edict of Milan, construction o Constantinople... The story is based in historical facts, but also Christian accounts and legends. Constantine is shown as a warrior and holy emperor, but also as a man of flesh and blood, who suffers, loves and errs.
A major celebration was held on February 27, the birthday of Constantine the Great. The emperor’s birthday was celebrated with the premiere of production Constantine: Signs of an Angel, written by Dejan Stojiljković, an writer from Niš. The performance was presented by the ensemble of the National Theatre of Niš, with Tanasije Uzunović in the lead role. On the same day, a public lecture dedicated to the life of the great emperor was held in all schools.
In mid May, at Viminacium, the site of the fortress through which a great many Roman emperors have passed, the exhibition Constantine and His Time was opened, presenting the best artworks of Constantine’s era which held in Serbian museums. In the same place at the same time, performance of Verdi’s Aida was presented.
On 3 June, on the day of the Holy Emperor Constantine and Empress Jelena, the Saint’s Day of the city of Niš, Sanja Ilić and „Balkanika” had a concert of neoclassical music of Konstantinus Magnus. On 15 June, at the Niš Fortress, the Belgrade Philharmonic played Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and two weeks later, on Vidovdan, the same place was filled with the sounds of Verdi’s Il Trovatore. The last in the series of musical events will be the première of the opera In hoc signo in „Arena” in Belgrade.
In addition to the cultural one, an important aspect of the celebration of the jubilee is the spiritual and liturgical aspect. Exactly because of the liturgy, it is expected that Niš will host more than one hundred thousand people. A liturgy is announced for September 21, which will most probably be held on the runway of the Niš Civil Airport „Constantine the Great”, in order to provide sufficient space for all pilgrims that were invited by the Roman Catholic Church.
As the final part of the ceremony, the holy liturgy which will be conducted by the heads of all Orthodox churches, is planned for October 6, as the crown of all other events.
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