Eight Orthodox Christian leaders, dignitaries from other faiths, politicians, and thousands of others today (October 6, 2013) celebrated the anniversary of the Edict of Milan, which established toleration for Christianity in the Roman Empire 1,700 years ago, according to the Reuters website.
Roman Catholic Pope Francis was not present at the liturgy in the Serbian city of Nis -- his absence reflecting centuries-old divisions between Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox branches of Christianity -- despite significant progress in recent years by both toward reconciliation and dialogue.
The city of Nis -- located about 125 miles south of Serbia's capital of Belgrade -- was selected as the venue for the celebration because the emperor Constantine the Great, who proclaimed religious tolerance in 313, was born in the then Roman city of Naissus in 272.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was flanked by patriarchs Theophilos of Jerusalem, Kiril of Russia, Irinej of Serbia, and their counterparts from Albania, Cyprus, Poland, Slovakia, and other smaller Orthodox churches, as he called in a sermon for more religious freedom and reconciliation.
"Many Christians are being persecuted these days in the Middle East, in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Nigeria and other places, only because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus," Patriarch Bartholomew said.