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September 13, 2016

Saint Meletios Pegas, Patriarch of Alexandria (+ 1601)

St. Meletios Pegas (Feast Day - September 13)

One of the greatest ecclesiastical personalities of the sixteenth century, Saint Meletios was born in Candia (Heraklion) on the Venetian controlled island of Crete in 1549. He studied classical philology, philosophy, and medicine in Padua, in Italy, and then later in Venice, before returning to Crete. There he entered a monastic life and eventually was abbot of Agarathos Monastery. Later, he stayed for a short time at the Monastery of Sinai and eventually, in 1579, entered into the service of the Orthodox patriarchal courts at Alexandria and Constantinople, and served as Chancellor of the Patriarch of Alexandria Sylvester.

On 5 August 1590, Meletios was enthroned Patriarch of Alexandria and became involved in maintaining the position and prestige of Orthodoxy in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. This he did through theological debates and ecclesiastical diplomacy. He participated in a number of synods including those of Constantinople in 1593 and 1597. At the 1593 synod, Meletios was among those who ratified the formation of the Patriarchate of Moscow. He vigorously opposed the negotiations by Orthodox with the Roman Catholic Church in the Polish held areas bordering Russia that led to the Union of Brest-Litovsk. In correspondence with King Sigismund III of Poland, he denied the claims of papal supremacy. He also wrote against the Catholic formulation of the filioque.

In 1593, Patriarch Meletios ordained the promising twenty-one year old Saint Cyril Loukaris (June 27) as deacon and then as priest. Without resigning as Patriarch of Alexandria, he served as locum tenens of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople between December 1596 and February 1597, and from the end of March 1597 to March or April 1598, when he resigned to go on dealing only with his Egyptian see.

At the time, Catholic Jesuits in the Middle East asserted a strong influence on the Coptic Church to recognize the primacy of the Pope of Rome, drawing the Coptic Patriarch Gabriel VIII and one of his Chorepiscopi to this belief. Through his persuasive arguments, Patriarch Meletios was able to bring the Coptic Christians to change their mind and break off all contact with the Catholic Church. Meletios had also endeavored to bring about a rapprochement between the Coptic, Ethiopian and the Orthodox communities, but was unsuccessful.

Patriarch Meletios was also a scholar with a complete command of the Greek, Latin, and Italian languages, who also left thousands of letters and many important theological works. Meletios reposed at the age of fifty-two on September 14, 1601 in Alexandria and was succeeded by his protege Cyril Loukaris who was elected his successor as Cyril III.

Saint Meletios has left us a rich amount of his writings, which primarily focused on teachings of the Orthodox Church in opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church, though he also wrote a work against Luther and Calvin, as well as one against the Jews. More than three hundred of his letters also survive, which are of particular historical value. Many of his homilies have also survived, which he preached in the demotic language.