The Life of Our Holy Father Meletius, Archbishop of Antioch
Whose memory the Holy Church celebrates on February 12 (o.s.)
The holy Meletius was a member of one of the noblest families of Lesser Armenia
and was born in the city of Melitene. Renowned for his piety and meek demeanor,
he was elected to the see of Sebastea in the year 357, but met with such violent
opposition that he departed his diocese and made his abode in the desert, later
retiring to the town of Beria in Syria.
Eudoxus, Archbishop of Antioch,  a proponent of the Arian heresy, was attracted
by the wealth of the see of Constantinople and wished to transfer thither. His opportunity
came when the infamous heretic Macedonius,  who had hitherto held the position
of archpastor in Constantinople, was expelled. During the reign of Constantius,
 son of the holy Emperor Constantine the Great, the Church of Constantinople
abounded in great treasures and was far richer than the Church of Antioch and the
others. Hence, Eudoxus, disdaining the see of Antioch, began to covet the see of
Constantinople. But the inhabitants of Antioch, learning of the intrigues of their
archbishop, were greatly offended, incensed against him because he had spurned his
own Church, and for this cause they drove him from their midst. And betaking himself
to Constantinople, Eudoxus indeed did manage to obtain the cathedra of that city.
But the inhabitants of Antioch, gathering in assembly, took counsel together as
to whom to elect to take the place of Eudoxus. The greater portion of those present
at this council were Arians who were then in strength; the number of Orthodox was
small indeed, and they were looked down upon and referred to as “Eustathians,” after
St. Eustathius  who, when archbishop of Antioch, had suffered banishment for
the Orthodox Faith. At this council the name of St. Meletius was on the lips of
all, and everyone wished to have him as his archbishop. The Arians especially were
desirous thereof, for they held him to be of one mind with themselves and hoped
that he would be able to bring the Eustathians to accept their doctrine and that
he would teach the Arian error to all of Antioch. Thus, Meletius was unanimously
elected to the archepiscopal cathedra at this council. Everyone confirmed the assembly’s
resolution with their own signatures and entrusted the document for safekeeping
to the holy Eusebius, Bishop of Samosata,  an Orthodox man, who was present at
the council. They then sent their petition to the holy Meletius together with an
imperial decree, and with great honor they conducted him to Antioch amid a great
throng of people. Bishop Theodoretus of Cyrrhus  describes the holy man’s arrival
in the city thus:
“When, summoned by the emperor, the great Meletius drew nigh unto Antioch, there
went forth to meet him all the priests and sacred ministers and all the citizenry.
Even the Jews and pagans were amongst them, for all desired but one thing—to behold
the most glorious Meletius.”
Thus St. Meletius was elevated to the archepiscopal throne of Antioch, for he was
a man worthy thereof, most wise and full of sanctity. St. Epiphanius of Cyprus,
 who also was alive at this time, also bears witness concerning Meletius, writing
“This man [St. Meletius] is held in great reverence among us; fitting praise is
everywhere heard spoken of him. In his life he is constant, honorable; his customs
are rightly lauded. The people love him for his blameless life, and all are greatly
amazed by him.”
Thus does the holy Epiphanius speak of Meletius.
How much the people did indeed love him is apparent from the fact that at his consecration
they all strove to invite him to their homes, each believing that the saint’s visit
would be a blessing upon his house.
Having been installed in the see of Antioch, the holy Meletius began zealously to
instruct the people in virtuous living and upright morals, making ready the way
to true and right belief within their hearts, for the holy one believed that he
could sow the seeds of Orthodoxy in the souls of his flock with great success if
he first amended the evil morals of the people, uprooting the thorns and thistles
from the field of their hearts. At that time Meletius ordained to the diaconate
Basil the Great, who was travelling to Jerusalem through Antioch. St. John Chrysostom,
another remarkable man of the time, was then still a young boy. He had been baptized
by the saint and was among the crowd that went forth to meet Meletius; while St.
Basil was sojourning in Antioch, St. John was still in school. Subsequently, in
his panegyric on St. Meletius, he described the thirteen years of deprivation of
his church to which the heretics subjected the holy one. This came to pass in the
All the people wished to know exactly to which manner of confession the archbishop
adhered. Accordingly, when the Emperor Constantius arrived in Antioch, the holy
Meletius and several other hierarchs were ordered to expound publicly the passage
from the Book of Proverbs: “The Lord made me the beginning of His ways for His works”
(Prov. 8:22). George of Laodicea was the first to speak, explaining the text in
an Arian sense; then Acacius of Caesarea spoke, propounding the heresy that the
Son is only like the Father; but finally Meletius rose to speak, maintaining
that what was here spoken of in the passage from Proverbs was not a creation, but
rather a new aspect of God’s economy, in this manner connecting it with the Incarnation
of Christ. Thus he glorified the Faith which had been confirmed at the Council of
Nicaea, professing that the Son of God is co-eternal, consubstantial and equal with
God the Father, that He is not a created Being and that He is the Creator of all
creation. Hence his Orthodoxy became apparent to all present as he openly instructed
the people. But on hearing this, the archdeacon of the Church of Antioch, who was
an adherent of the impious doctrine of Arius, approached his archbishop and audaciously
clapped his hand over the latter’s mouth so that he was able neither to confess
the true Faith nor teach Orthodoxy. Yet though the hand of the archdeacon prevented
Meletius from speaking, he, extending his hand toward the people, confessed the
Holy Trinity with his fingers more clearly than with his tongue. At first he showed
them three fingers, representing thus the three Persons of the Godhead; and then,
withdrawing two, he left one in place, thus demonstrating that there is one Godhead
in three Persons. Seeing this, the archdeacon released the saint’s mouth and laid
hold of his arm which had so clearly represented the Trinity. His mouth freed, however,
the holy one began to confess and glorify the one Trinity with his tongue. He mightily
exhorted the people who were listening to him and held steadfastly to the confession
confirmed at the Council of Nicaea. “Every one who rejecteth the dogmas of the Council
of Nicaea,” said he “standeth far from the truth.”
Thus some time passed, the archdeacon either stopping the holy hierarch’s mouth,
thus preventing him from speaking, or restraining his arm, hindering him from representing
the Trinity with his fingers; but the holy one succeeded nonetheless in preaching
the Orthodox Faith to the people, either with his lips or his hands. Then the Orthodox,
called “Eustathians” by the heretics, rejoiced with great gladness, beholding such
a pious hierarch upon the cathedra of Antioch, and they cried aloud in their exultation,
in support of the true confession of their pastor. But the Arians were greatly grieved,
being deceived in their hope that the holy Meletius was one of their own party.
They drove the holy one from the church and began to revile him whenever they could,
maintaining that he was a heretic, an adherent of the doctrine of Sabellius, 
and Eudoxus at Constantinople and others of his partisans who surrounded the Emperor
Constantius persuaded the emperor to banish the holy Meletius to Lesser Armenia.
At night the saint was arrested and sent back to his native land, and in his place
was elected a certain Euzoius,  a follower of Arius, who had been a deacon when
Meletius was elected to the see of Antioch, and in fact had originally been a deacon
in the Church of Alexandria, but had been excommunicated together with Arius by
St. Alexander of Alexandria.
The holy Eusebius, Bishop of Samosata, seeing the turmoil which had come upon the
Church of Antioch because of the heretics who had expelled their innocent bishop,
St. Meletius, was greatly incensed. Arising, he departed from Antioch, informing
no one thereof, and betook himself to his own city. When the Arians learned of the
departure of Eusebius, they remembered that he had been entrusted with the document
of the election of St. Meletius, which had been drafted and signed by the entire
council; and they feared lest the holy Eusebius should denounce them at any time
at a council for having unanimously elected an archbishop and later driven him out
themselves. Therefore, they approached the emperor, who was then in Antioch, to
send after Eusebius and take the document from him.
The emperor straightway dispatched a horseman for Eusebius, with orders to overtake
the bishop as quickly as possible. When the messenger did overtake Eusebius and
transmitted to him the emperor’s command, the holy bishop replied: “I cannot now
surrender the document; indeed, I shall surrender it only when all who entrusted
it to me are once again gathered together.”
Thus, the messenger returned to the emperor having accomplished nothing. Then the
emperor was greatly enraged and, having written a letter, dispatched it to St. Eusebius.
This epistle stated that if Eusebius did not surrender the document, his right hand
would be cut off. The emperor wrote this only to frighten the saint and he forbade
his messenger to put his threat in effect. When the imperial messenger came again
to the holy bishop and delivered the threatening letter to him, Eusebius, having
read it through, extended both his hands, saying: “You may cut off not only my right
hand, but my left as well, but I will not surrender the document, for it clearly
denounces the wickedness and the iniquity of the Arians.”
Again the messenger had to return empty-handed. But hearing the saint’s reply, the
emperor marvelled exceedingly at the fearless courage and dauntless constancy of
Eusebius, and thereafter spoke of him to others with great praise.
After St. Meletius had been driven from the archepiscopal throne, the Orthodox separated
themselves from the Arians. They took for themselves one of the churches which stood
outside the city’s walls at a place known as Pallea, and in that church a priest
named Paulinus served the services for them according to the rite of the Orthodox
Church. Several years later, the Emperor Constantius died, and Julian the Apostate
 succeeded to the throne in his place. At the outset of his reign, Julian made
a hypocritical display of piety and freed all bishops who had been exiled, commanding
them to return to their sees. Then, on the strength of the emperor’s command, St.
Meletius also returned from banishment to Antioch. He found that the Orthodox Church
in that city had split into two factions: some awaited the return of St. Meletius
to the archepiscopal throne; others, refusing to wait for his return, had elected
as their bishop the above-mentioned priest Paulinus, who was consecrated by a bishop
from Italy, Lucifer of Cagliari, an outspoken defender of the Nicaean Council. The
adherents of Bishop Paulinus  were hence referred to as “Paulinians”; those
of St. Meletius were called “Meletians.” The cause of the division was also that
the Paulinians refused to receive into communion those of the followers of the doctrine
of Arius who had returned to Orthodoxy through the teaching of St. Meletius. This
they refused to do for two reasons: first, because such persons had received baptism
from Arians; second, because St. Meletius himself had been elected to the archepiscopate
of Antioch by Arians, of whom there had been more at the council than Orthodox.
Both of these factions held fast to the Orthodox dogmas; only the circumstances
described were the cause of their division.
On returning, the holy one began zealously to strive to unite the divided flock
of Christ. The archbishop, meek and humble of heart, did not reject the episcopacy
of Paulinus, but recognized it; and he himself shepherded the new flock of those
who returned from Arianism to Orthodoxy, whom the Paulinians would not receive into
Then the impious Julian, having established himself on the throne, openly renounced
Christ and began to worship idols. Throughout the vast empire of Julian a persecution
was raised against the Christians which was especially intense in Antioch. The iniquitous
emperor, leading a campaign against Persia involving his entire army, arrived in
that city. There he offered up many sacrifices to the idol of Apollo which stood
in a grove at Daphne, a suburb of Antioch. There also the relics of the holy martyr
Babylas  and three martyred infants had been enshrined. One day, the emperor
asked his false god Apollo, which at one time used to reply to such questions, whether
he would succeed in conquering the Persians. The idol uttered not a word to him
in response, for from the time the relics of St. Babylas were transferred there
the demon had fled away. Then the idol, which before had uttered many predictions,
had ceased to give replies, for the demon which in fact had prophesied through it
was gone. The emperor was grieved that the idol had ceased to make predictions,
but, on learning from the pagan priests there that the relics of Babylas were the
cause of the silence of Apollo’s idol, he commanded the Galileans (for so he referred
to Christians) to take the relics away. No sooner were they removed than fire fell
from the heavens upon the temple of Apollo and consumed temple and idol both. This
fire grieved and shamed the impious pagan priests, and they decided to wreak vengeance
upon the Christians. To this end they began to say in the presence of the emperor
that out of malice the “Galileans” had set fire to the shrine of Apollo by night.
Then the emperor was filled with wrath against the Christians, and he commanded
that they be persecuted and driven out. It was at this time that the holy Meletius
was also driven from the city. Other Christians, departing voluntarily from Antioch,
hid themselves in secret refuges. It was also at this time that two holy priests
of Antioch, Eugenius and Macanus,  and the holy Artemius  were martyred.
When this God-hating emperor Julian had died a horrible death, the pious and Christ-loving
Jovian  ascended the imperial throne. Then again the holy Meletius became the
pastor and teacher of Orthodoxy in Antioch, and the Emperor Jovian honored and greatly
loved the venerable one. For this cause the Arians began to fear the saint. Certain
of their bishops even began hypocritically to patronize the Orthodox teaching, wishing
thereby to please the emperor and Meletius, Archbishop of Antioch.
At that time a local council was convened at Antioch, called by Sts. Meletius and
Eusebius of Samosata. Thereat the Arians confessed the consubstantiality of the
Son and the Father and acknowledged as correct the Faith as confirmed at the First
Ecumenical Council of Nicaea; but this confession was insincere and false, for soon
after, when Jovian had reposed and Valens  ascended the throne, the heretics
clearly demonstrated that they had not forsaken their pernicious beliefs. They even
converted the emperor to their error, through his consort Domnicia. Then again they
began to drive out the Church of the Orthodox and once more expelled its pastors.
This impious Emperor Valens sojourned long in Antioch, establishing and spreading
the Arian heresy there. Encouraged by the heretics, he banished the most holy Archbishop
Meletius, and the saint remained in exile until the death of Valens.
After Valens, the pious Emperor Gratian  ascended the throne. Then again the
Orthodox hierarchs were summoned from exile by imperial decree and occupied their
sees unhindered. Thus was it that the holy Meletius returned to his cathedra of
Antioch for the third time, but the disagreement among the faithful over which of
the two Orthodox bishops to accept—Meletius or Paulinus—still continued. Some held
the former to be the lawful hierarch; others held to the latter, and both parties
were estranged one from the other. The holy one strove to his utmost to reconcile
both sides. Then the pious and Christ-loving Emperor Gratian issued a decree for
all of the lands under his rule, that all churches must be confiscated from the
Arians and returned to the Orthodox. For the implementation of this decree there
arrived in Antioch a certain high official named Sapor. In the presence of the emperor’s
envoy, the holy Meletius turned to Bishop Paulinus with these words:
“Inasmuch as the Lord hath entrusted to me the care of this flock and thou hast
taken from me a certain portion thereof, to guide them thyself, and the very sheep
do not differ one from another in confession of the Faith, let us unite the flock,
my brother; let us put an end to all controversy over who is first, and together
let us shepherd the rational sheep and care for them jointly. If possession of the
archpastoral throne leadeth to dissent among us, I will strive to put an end thereto:
I shall place the divine Gospel upon it, and I propose thus: that we both sit on
either side of the Gospel and, if I complete the course of my life first, then thou
shalt shepherd the flock alone; but if thou shalt render up thy soul unto God first,
then I shall care for the flock according to my strength.”
Thus did the holy Meletius propose, excelling in his wonted meekness; but Paulinus
would not agree to such a proposal. Then the prince Sapor informed the emperor thereof
and, receiving a letter from him in reply, confiscated the cathedral church and
all the other churches from the Arians and committed them to the most holy Meletius;
but Paulinus continued to shepherd those sheep which he had taken from Meletius.
Thus, the holy archbishop received the throne to which he had been elected unanimously
by the council’s resolution. Zealously and wisely did he govern his flock in peace
and tranquility until his most blessed repose. The Arians were no longer able to
exalt themselves and oppress the Church of Christ or its good pastors; in particular
they could no longer persecute the holy Meletius, who shone forth like the sun,
illumining the Church and dispelling the darkness of heresy. Following his teachings,
many Antiocheans progressed in the virtues and the Orthodox Faith and, like unto
him, became perfect beacons of the Church. Such was Flavian,  who succeeded
to Meletius’s cathedra, and Acacius, later bishop of Beria, and Diodorus of Tarsus,
Elpidius, the domestic of Meletius, who subsequently occupied the episcopal see
of Laodicea. Especially famous was St. John, later known as Chrysostom, who was
ordained to the diaconate by St. Meletius, and St. John’s friend, Basil, not he
of Caesarea, but another of the same name, though much younger, a native of Antioch,
who grew up with St. John. These and many others later adorned and illuminated the
Church of Christ, each in his own place, like candles in a candelabra. At that time
also in the Syrian land, in which Antioch was situated, the holy Symeon began his
ascetical struggle. Though he later mounted a pillar, at first he bound himself
with an iron chain to a lofty hill, as is related in his life. Hearing of this,
the blessed Meletius went to him and, seeing him chained, said: “Man can master
himself without chains. By his will and reason should he bind himself to one place,
not with irons.” And on hearing these words, the venerable Symeon hearkened to his
counsel, removed the chains and bound himself with his own free will, becoming a
voluntary prisoner of Christ Jesus.
Not long before the blessed repose of St. Meletius, the pious Theodosius  came
to the throne. He had at first been a renowned military commander under Emperor
Gratian and was highly respected for his bravery, for he often vanquished barbarian
hordes gloriously. This Theodosius, even before his accession to the imperial throne,
once beheld St. Meletius, Archbishop of Antioch, in a dream. He had never seen him
before in life, but had only heard tell of him. In his dream, Theodosius beheld
the holy Meletius standing next to him and investing him with the imperial mantle
and crown. On awakening, Theodosius related what he had experienced to one of his
servants and pondered what it could mean. Soon afterwards what he had seen was actually
fulfilled. The Emperor Gratian, convinced that it was impossible for him to govern
both the eastern and western portions of the empire by himself because of its vastness,
and perceiving that the barbarians threatened it on every side, chose as his assistant
in government the commander Theodosius, as a virtuous, brave and Orthodox man. To
him he entrusted the entire eastern half of the empire, that which Emperor Valens
had at first governed, while he took the western half for himself.
On receiving this eastern half, and having conquered the Goths who had invaded Thrace,
Theodosius arrived in Constantinople and wished to see the holy Meletius who, as
it had transpired in his dream, had crowned him emperor. At that time, with the
consent of the great fathers, the Orthodox hierarchs, and with the permission of
the pious Emperors Gratian and Theodosius, the Second Ecumenical Council convened
in Constantinople.  Bishops throughout the known world were summoned by imperial
letters to this Council. Then the most holy Archbishop Meletius of Antioch also
arrived in the imperial city. Emperor Theodosius commanded his nobles and the members
of his household not to point the holy Meletius out to him, for he wished to see
for himself if he recognized the face which he had beheld in his dream and to ascertain
definitely whether it was indeed Meletius and not some other hierarch who had crowned
him. When the great Council of bishops entered the imperial palace, the emperor,
examining them, straightway recognized the holy Meletius. Leaving the rest and approaching
him, he fell at the feet of Meletius and kissed the holy one’s hands, shoulders,
eyes, lips and head, just as the most dutiful son greets the father whom he had
long desired to see. Before all, the emperor related how the saint had appeared
to him in a vision, investing him with the imperial crown and purple, and he accorded
him more honor than he did to all the other hierarchs. At the Council, the holy
Meletius astounded all with the following miraculous sign. When the Arians were
reasoning about the Holy Trinity in a non-Orthodox manner and with their wicked
doctrine were corrupting the pious Faith, this godly man, arising, showed the people
who had asked for his teaching three fingers, signifying the three Persons of the
Holy Trinity; then, withdrawing two fingers, and leaving one in place, he blessed
the people. At that moment a fire surrounded him, like unto lightning, and the holy
one cried aloud: “We understand three Hypostases and we speak of a single Essence.”
Thus did St. Meletius astound everyone, put the heretics to shame and strengthen
the Orthodox in the Orthodox Faith. He also confirmed St. Gregory the Theologian
in the patriarchal see of Constantinople. Soon after this, while the Council had
not yet formally convened and not all the bishops had arrived in Constantinople,
the holy Meletius fell ill and peacefully surrendered his soul into the hands of
the Lord. His passing was the cause of great sorrow to the emperor, hierarchs and
all the Orthodox people. His body was conveyed with honor to Antioch, where it was
enshrined near that of the Hieromartyr Babylas, to defend the city for the glory
of Christ our God, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is glorified forever.
Kontakion, in Tone VI
Fearing thy spiritual boldness, the apostate Macedonius fled;
and we, thy servants, celebrating thy service, flee to thee with love, O Meletius,
converser with angels, thou fiery sword of Christ our God which cutteth to pieces
all the godless.
And we hymn thee as a beacon which enlighteneth all.
+ + +
1. Eudoxus—archbishop of Antioch 357-358; archbishop of Constantinople 360-370.
2. Macedonius—heretical archbishop of Constantinople who taught that the Holy Spirit
is a created being who has no part in the divinity and glory of the Father and the
Son. He was deposed hut several times managed to regain his see, reigning thus,
on and off, between 347 and 360.
3. Constantius—reigned over the eastern portion of the empire 337-361.
4. St. Eustathius—archbishop of Antioch 323-340; commemorated by the Holy Church
on 21 February.
5. St. Eusebsius of Samosata—died a martyr’s death in 380; commemorated by the Holy
Church on 22 June.
6. Theodoretus of Cyrrhus—prominent ecclesiastical historian of the 5th century.
7. St. Epiphanius of Cyprus—renowned Church writer (+403); commemorated on 22 May.
8. Sabellius—a heretic who taught that there is but one Person of the Godhead Who
has manifested Himself in three different ways.
10. Julian the Apostate—reigned 361-363.
11. Paulinus—bishop in Antioch 362-388.
12. Hieromartyr Babylas—bishop of Antioch 236-250; martyred during the persecution
of Decius; commemorated by the Holy Church on 4 September.
13. Hieromartyrs Eugenius and Macarius—commemorated by the Holy Church on 19 February.
14. Greatmartyr Artemius—commemorated by the Holy Church on 20 October.
15. Emperor Jovian—reigned over the eastern empire 363-364.
16. Emperor Valens—reigned over the eastern empire 364-378.
17. Emperor Gratian—reigned over the western empire 375-383.
18. Flavian—archbishop of Antioch 381-404; commemorated by the Holy Church on 18
19. St. Theodosius the Great—reigned over the eastern empire 379-395; commemorated
by the Holy Church on 17 January.
20. This took place in the year 381.
From Orthodox Life, No. 1 (1981), pp. 3-10.