February 12, 2015

Saint Meletios of Antioch as a Model for our Lives

St. Meletios of Antioch (February 12)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Meletios was born in Melitene (modern Malatya) of Lesser Armenia at around 310 A.D. He was ordained Bishop of Sebastia and then was made Archbishop of Antioch in 360. He was pious, gentle, candid and educated. Because of his Orthodox mindset, he was exiled by the Arians thirty days after his enthronement. But during the short period while he was Archbishop of Antioch he managed to strengthen and make firm his flock in the Orthodox faith, so as to enable them to survive the test of the coming of the heretics.

Fanatic Orthodox succeeded in enthroning Paulinus in Antioch, thus creating a schism between two Orthodox Bishops, which lasted forty years. The Archbishop of Rome and most of the Bishops in the West, as well as the Bishops of Egypt, supported Paulinus and his successors. Conversely, the majority of the Bishops in the East recognized Saint Meletios. Basil the Great, aided by Eusebius the Bishop of Samosata, undertook the arduous struggle to impose the recognition of Saint Meletios and his return to Antioch, but also to settle Bishop Paulinus in other ways, which is why he wrote letters to Saint Athanasius, Archbishop Damasus of Rome and the Bishops of the West, as well as Count Terence. In these letters he calls Saint Meletios a man of God, a most wonderful Bishop, and he stresses that "according to faith he is above reproach, and according to life there is no comparison with anyone else ... so in all respects it is necessary, as well as in the interest of all that everyone join this man, like a small river does with a larger one."

Saint Meletios, who notably was ordained Deacon by Saint John Chrysostom, chaired the Second Ecumenical Synod that gathered in 381 in Constantinople, but before it closed he "reposed in the Lord". His funeral service, according to the synaxaria, reminded all of a festival, since many Holy Fathers of the said Synod were in attendance.

His life and disposition give us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, those who create schisms and divisions in the Church have an enormous responsibility before God and men because, among other things, they scandalize those who are weak in faith, paralyze their disposal for spiritual struggle and lead many to be lost. Also, such liability is possessed by those who with authority and power encourage and support those who break the unity of the Body of Christ. They will certainly give an account to God, but when people of God endure sorrows, injustices and all kinds of trials while thanking and praising God, they benefit spiritually and are sanctified.

This is what Basil the Great says to the Christians of Antioch, who suffered because they lacked for many years their exiled pastor. "I should like you to feel this comfort and, rejoicing in the hope of consolation, to submit to the present pain of your afflictions...Let us, therefore, not flinch from fighting a good fight on behalf of the truth, nor, in despair, fling away the labors we have already achieved. For the strength of the soul is not shewn by one brave deed, nor yet by effort only for a short time; but He Who tests our hearts wishes us to win crowns of righteousness after long and protracted trial. Only let our spirit be kept unbroken, the firmness of our faith in Christ be maintained unshaken, and ere long our Champion will appear; He will come and will not tarry. Expect tribulation after tribulation, hope upon hope; yet a little while; yet a little while. Thus the Holy Ghost knows how to comfort His nurslings by a promise of the future. After tribulations comes hope, and what we are hoping for is not far off, for let a man name the whole of human life, it is but a tiny interval compared with the endless age which is laid up in our hopes" (Letter 140).

Second, communication with persons who are carriers of genuine love, is always pleasant, but more so in a time of suffering and pain, because it becomes a source of true consolation and spiritual elation. Especially in a time like ours, where human communication, in its original form, has been included in the list of endangered species. That is why it is very important to have genuine friends, especially in the difficult moments of our life. Of course, it is most important for someone to find a way to "stand on one's feet", according to the common expression, and for consolation to emanate from within, but one does not preclude the other and certainly one feels pleasure, sweetness of heart and truly comforted by communicating with real people, such as the saints.

Anyone who studies the lives and words of the saints admires the way they supported and comforted the afflicted, and they understood the value of communication with loved ones. As Basil wrote to Meletios: "If your holiness only knew the greatness of the happiness you cause me whenever you write to me, I know that you would never have let slip any opportunity of sending me a letter; nay, you would have written me many letters on each occasion, knowing the reward that is kept in store by our loving Lord for the consolation of the afflicted... When, therefore, I take your letter into my hand, first of all, I look at its size, and I love it all the more for being so big; then, as I read it, I rejoice over every word I find in it; as I draw near the end I begin to feel sad; so good is every word that I read, in what you write. The overflowing of a good heart is good" (Letter 107).

The greatest consolation during temptations and sorrows results from our contact with the Triune God and His friends, the saints, living and deceased. Besides, there are no more genuine friends than the saints. One of them is Saint Meletios, whose prayers and intercessions may we have.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΑΓΙΟΣ ΜΕΛΕΤΙΟΣ ΑΝΤΙΟΧΕΙΑΣ", February 2005. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.