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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, [1] 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, [2] who had hitherto held the position of archpastor in Constantinople, was expelled. During the reign of Constantius, [3] 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 [4] 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, [5] 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 [6] 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, [7] who also was alive at this time, also bears witness concerning Meletius, writing of him:

“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 following manner.

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, [8] 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, [9] 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 [10] 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 [11] 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 communion.

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 [12] 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, [13] and the holy Artemius [14] were martyred. When this God-hating emperor Julian had died a horrible death, the pious and Christ-loving Jovian [15] 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 [16] 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 [17] 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, [18] 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 [19] 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. [20] 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. Amen.

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.
+ + +

Endnotes

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.

9. Euzoius—+376.

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 February.

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.