February 12, 2018

Saint Meletios, Archbishop of Antioch (+ 381)

St. Meletios of Antioch (Feast Day - February 12)


As the Lord grasped the hands of Meletios,
"I surrender my soul into Your hands" he said.
On the twelfth Meletios entered the all-nourishing earth.

This holy Father, who was from Meletine of Armenia, was a blameless man, just, reverent, sincere, and most gentle. Because he was exceedingly virtuous and possessed pure love in Christ, he was consecrated Bishop of Sebaste in 357. He was later banished from his throne by the Arians and departed for Beroea of Syria (this is the present-day Aleppo). After the Arian bishop of Antioch had been deposed, the Orthodox and the Arians each strove to have a man of like mind with themselves become the next Archbishop of Antioch. Meletios was highly esteemed by all, and since the Arians believed him to share their own opinion, they had him raised to the throne of Antioch in 360.

As soon as Meletios entered Antioch and consecrated Archbishop, every Christian, holding him in such high regard, began inviting him into their home, thinking that just by his entrance he would sanctify it. Having taken the helm of the Church of Antioch, however, he began preaching the Son's consubstantiality with the Father. Then a test was issued by the emperor, as the historian Theodoret writes:

'Now the emperor had charged both Meletios and the rest who were able to speak to expound to the multitude the text "The Lord formed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old" (Proverbs 8:22, Septuagint), and he ordered skilled writers to take down on the spot what each man said, with the idea that in this manner their instruction would be more exact. First of all George of Laodicea gave vent to his foul heresy. After him Acacius of Caesarea propounded a doctrine of compromise far removed indeed from the blasphemy of the enemy, but not preserving the apostolic doctrine pure and undefiled. Then up rose the great Meletios and exhibited the unbending line of the canon of the faith, for using the truth as a carpenter does his rule he avoided excess and defect. Then the multitude broke into loud applause and besought him to give them a short summary of his teaching. Accordingly after showing three fingers, he withdrew two, left one, and uttered the memorable sentence, "In thought they are three but we speak as to one."'

Shortly after, he was banished by the Arian Emperor Constantius, son of Saint Constantine the Great. He did not even last a month as Archbishop in Antioch.

Saint John Chrysostom cites the following example from the life of Saint Meletios, which demonstrates the immense nobility of this great hierarch. "It would be unjust to omit that which occurred during the banishment of Meletios from Antioch. When the governor sat in the coach, and with the Saint seated beside him, he began to drive with great speed through the square. From all sides, the citizens hurled stones as hail at the head of the governor, for they could not be parted from their hierarch easily and were prepared to part with life rather than part with this Saint. But what did this blessed man do? Seeing the stones flying, he covered the head of the governor with his cloak. Thus, he shamed his adversaries by his enormous meekness and, by this, he taught a lesson to his followers as to what kind of forgiveness we should show toward those who offend us; that it is not enough to refrain from doing them any evil but rather, with all our power, to remove any danger that threatens them."

After the passage of time, he was recalled to his throne, but was banished again the third time by Valens to Armenia near Cappadocia. There he communicated with Basil the Great and ordained him to the diaconate. He returned again to Antioch in 379 and summoned a Synod in which the Nicene Faith was affirmed. It was Saint Meletios who ordained Saint John Chrysostom reader and deacon in Antioch in 381. Meletios was then summoned to Constantinople where he presided over the Second Ecumenical Synod in 381 (which was convoked against Macedonius, Patriarch of Constantinople, the enemy of the Holy Spirit), being held in great honor as a zealot of the faith and a venerable elder hierarch.

Some time before, when the Emperor Gratian had made the Spanish General Theodosius commander-in-chief of his armies in the war against the barbarians, Theodosius had a dream in which he saw Meletios, whom he had never met, putting upon him the imperial robe and crown. Because of Theodosius's victories, Gratian made him Emperor of the East in Valens's stead in 379. When, as Emperor, Saint Theodosius the Great convoked the Second Ecumenical Synod in Constantinople two years later, he forbade that anyone should tell him who Meletios was; and as soon as he saw him, he recognized him, ran to him with joy, embraced him before all the other bishops, and told him of his dream.

At this Synod, Meletios confirmed Gregory the Theologian on the patriarchal throne in Constantinople. While at the Synod, Saint Meletios fell ill and reposed a short while after. Saint Gregory of Nyssa, among others, gave a moving oration at his funeral; bewailing the loss of him whom all loved as a father, he said, "Where is that sweet serenity of his eyes? Where that bright smile upon his lips? Where that kind right hand, with fingers outstretched to accompany the benediction of the mouth?" And he lamented, "Our Elijah has been caught up, and no Elisha is left behind in his place." The holy relics of Saint Meletios were returned to Antioch and were buried beside Saint Babylas the Martyr (Sept. 4), in the Church dedicated to the Martyr which Meletios, in his zeal for the Martyr's glory, had helped build with his own hands.

Concerning the external appearance of Meletios, Chrysostom says: "In truth, the greatest satisfaction was to see his holy face. Not only when he taught or preached but also when men simply looked at him, he was in such a position to instill into the soul of the spectators every virtue."

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
Thou didst shine on the Church with thy heavenly knowledge, O venerable Hierarch Meletios, wise in the law; thou didst preach the equal honour of the Persons of the Trinity, and disperse the assembly of heretics. Entreat Christ our God to grant us His great mercy.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
All-blessed Meletios, adorned with Orthodoxy in thy life, thou wast a protector and guardian of the Church. Thy doctrine shines like a fiery beacon even to the ends of the world, O most radiant light of the Church.