June 8, 2018

Venerable Melania the Elder (+ 410)

St. Melania the Elder (Feast Day - June 8)


Melania turned her spirit towards the future,
With a bright spirit she withdrew to God the Word.

By Palladius

(Lausiac History, Chs. 46 & 47)

Melania, the holy woman who is worthy of all blessings, was of Spanish origin, and she grew up in Rome, for she was the daughter of Marcellinus, a man who had held consular rank. Now her husband was a man who performed a large number of duties under the Government, and she became a widow when she was twenty-two years old. Now this woman, having been held worthy to be seized upon by divine love, revealed the matter to no man, for she would not have been permitted to perform her own will, because she lived in the time of the rule of Valens (A.D. 364–378); and having arranged that he should be named the procurator of her son’s affairs, she took everything which she possessed which could be easily moved and carried off, and placed it in a ship with tried servants, both men and women, and sailed hastily to Alexandria, where she sold her property and changed it into gold. And she went into the mount of Nitria, and saw the fathers, that is to say, Pambô, and Arsenius, and Serapion the Great, and Paphnutius of Scete, and Isidore the Confessor and Bishop of Hermopolis, and Dioscurus; and she remained with them for half a year, and she went round about through all that desert, and saw all the holy men and was blessed by them. And when Augustus, who was in Alexandria, sent into exile to Palestine and Caesarea, Isidore, and Pissimius, and Adelphius, and Fîsânîs, and Paphnutius, and Pambô (now with these also was Ammonius, that is to say, twelve holy bishops), this blessed woman clave to them, and she ministered unto them of her own possessions. And when the servants whom she used to send unto them were stopped, this brave woman (according to what the holy men Pîsânîs, and Paphnutius, and Isidore, and Ammonius related unto me, for I used to hold converse with them) used to clothe herself in the garment of one of her servants, and carry unto them late in the evening the food which they needed.

Now when the governor of Palestine learned this thing, wishing to fill his purse, and hoping and expecting to make profit by her, he seized her and cast her into prison, being unaware that she was a woman of noble rank. Then she sent unto him a message, saying, “I am the daughter of such and such a man, [and the wife of such and such a man], and I am the handmaiden of Christ. Do not treat lightly my poor garb and estate, for I have the power to exalt myself if it pleaseth me to do so, and thou hast no authority either to hamper me in this fashion or to carry off any of my property. Now, in order that thou mayest not dare to do anything in ignorance, and so fall under condemnation, behold, I send thee [this] message; for it is meet that towards senseless and foolish men we should act in a masterful manner, and with pride, even as our noble rank enableth us to do, and should treat them as fools and men of no understanding.” And when the governor learned this thing he apologized to Melania, and entreated her to forgive him, and he fell down and did homage unto her, and gave orders that she should have the power to visit holy men without hindrance.

And after the return of these blessed men from exile, this holy woman built a house in Jerusalem, wherein she dwelt for twenty-seven years, and wherein she had a congregation of sisters, who were in number about fifty; and moreover, the honourable nobleman Rufinus, who came from Italy and belonged to the city of Aquileia, clave unto her her whole life long, and he led a life of glorious works, and finally he was held to be worthy of the office of elder. Now among men one would not quickly find one who was more understanding, and gracious, and pleasant than he. And Rufinus and Melania during the whole of that period of twenty-seven years received and relieved at their own expense all those people who came unto Jerusalem to pray, bishops, and dwellers in monasteries, and virgins, and they edified and benefited all those who thronged to them. Now they healed the schism of the Paulinists, who were in number about four hundred monks, and they all were heretics who fought against the Holy Spirit; and having made entreaty unto them they turned them back unto union with the Church. And they loaded with their gifts all the clergy who were in the cities, and they provided with food all those who were strangers and needy [therein]. In this manner they ended their lives, and they never became a stumbling-block unto [any] man. Now as concerning the possessions of which she stripped herself, and the things (i.e., money) which she distributed, being hot as fire with divine zeal, and blazing like a flame with the love of Christ, I alone am not able to recount, for it belongeth also unto those who dwell in the country of the Persians [to declare it]; for there was no man who was deprived of her alms and gifts [whether he came from the] east, or the west, or the north, or the south. She lived in exile for thirty-seven years, and her possessions sufficed for her to give alms to churches, and to religious houses, and to strangers, and to those who were in prison. And meanwhile her relatives and her kinsfolk were sending [money] unto her continually, and her own son, and those who had charge of her property also sent some of their own money unto her; and she never lacked anything, and during the whole of the time in which she was in exile she never consented to the acquisition of a span of land. And she was never drawn to long for her son, and the love for her only child neither parted her nor divided her from the love of Christ, but through her prayers her son attained unto perfect discipline and unto the ways and habits of excellence; and he became the son-in-law of honourable and noble people, and there also came upon him much power and divers positions of great honour; now he had two children, one boy and one girl.

Now after a long period of time had elapsed, when she heard that the daughter of her son and her husband wished to be sanctified, and fearing lest they should fall into the hands of the heretics who would sow in them evil doctrines, and lest they should grow up in a life of dissolute luxury, that old woman, who was then sixty years old, embarked once again in a ship, and sailed from Caesarea, and after twenty days arrived in Rome. And whilst she was there she converted and made to become a Christian a man called Apronianus, who was of exceedingly high rank and was also a pagan; and she moreover persuaded him by means of most perfect admonition and exhortation to become sanctified, and also his wife, who was her own sister and whose name was Avita, to receive the garb of the followers of the ascetic life, and to become prosperous in all patience in the labours of the life of abstinence and self-denial. And she also strengthened by means of her excellent counsels the daughter of her son, whose name was Melania, and her husband, whose name was Pinianus, and she also converted her daughter-in-law, whose name was Albînâ; and she persuaded all these to sell everything which they possessed and to give [the money] to the poor; and she brought them out from Rome, and led them into the quiet and peaceful haven of the life and labours of asceticism.

And she contended with all the women of senatorial rank and with the women of high degree, and strove with them as with savage wild beasts, for the men tried to restrain her from making the women do even as she had done, that is to say, to prevent her from converting them and making them to forsake their worldly rank and position. And she spake unto them thus, “My children, four hundred years ago it was written that that time was the last time (1 St. John 2:18). Why do ye hold fast thus strenuously to the vain love of the world? Take ye heed lest the day of Antichrist overtake you, and keep not fast hold upon your own riches and the possessions of your fathers”; and having set free all these she brought them to the life of the ascetic and recluse. As for her [grand] son Publicola, who was a child, she converted [him] and brought [him] to Sicily; and she sold the whole of the residue of her possessions and taking the price [thereof] came to Jerusalem, and, having distributed it in a wise fashion and arranged all her other affairs, after forty days she died at a good old age, being crowned with an abundance of gratification and happiness; and she left in Jerusalem a house for religious folk and money for the maintenance thereof.

Now therefore when all those who clave unto her had gone forth from Rome the great barbarian whirlwind, which had also been mentioned in ancient prophecies, came upon the city, and it did not leave behind it even the statues of brass which were in the market-places, for it destroyed by its barbaric insolence everything whatsoever; and it so thoroughly committed everything to destruction that the city of Rome, which had been crowned and adorned for twelve hundred years with edifices and buildings of beauty, became a waste place. Then those who without contention had been converted by means of her admonition, ascribed glory unto God Who, by means of a change in temporal affairs, had persuaded those who did not believe her; for whilst the houses of all the latter were plundered, the houses of those only who had been persuaded by her were delivered, and they became perfect burnt-offerings unto the Lord, through the care and solicitude of the blessed woman Melania. And it happened by chance that I and they once travelled together from Aelia to Egypt, and we were accompanying on our journey the gentle virgin Sylvania, the sister of Rufinus, a man of consular rank, and Jovinianus was also with us; now he was at that time a deacon, but subsequently he became bishop in the Church of God of the city of Askelon, and he was a God-fearing man and was exceedingly well versed in doctrine. And it came to pass that a fierce and fiery heat overtook us on the way, and we came into Pelusium that we might rest therein; and Jovinianus, who is worthy of admiration, came by chance upon a trough for washing, and he began to wash his hands and his feet in a little water that by means of the coolness thereof he might refresh himself after the intensity of the blazing heat. Then having washed himself he threw on the ground a sheep-skin whereon he might rest from the labour of the journey. And behold, the mighty one among women stood up over him like a wise [mother], and in her simplicity rebuked him by her words, saying, “Seeing that thou art still in the heat of youth how canst thou have confidence that by means of carefulness [on thy part] thou wilt be able to resist the [natural heat of] the constitution of the body which still burneth in thy member[s]? And dost thou not perceive the injurious effects which will be produced in thee by [this washing]? Believe me, O my son, for I am this day a woman sixty years old, from the time when I first took upon myself this garb water hath never touched more of my body than the tips of the fingers of my hands, and I have never washed my feet, or my face, or any one of my members. And although I have fallen into many sicknesses, and have been urged by the physicians, I have never consented nor submitted myself to the habit of applying water to any part of my body; and I have never lain upon a bed, and I have never gone on a journey to any place reclining on a cushioned litter.”

Now this wise and blessed woman also loved learning, and she turned the nights into days in reading all the books of the famous Fathers, I mean to say the works of the blessed Gregory and of the holy man Stephen, and of Pierius and of Basil also, and of other [writers], more than two hundred and fifty thousand sayings; and she did not read them in an ordinary fashion or just as she came to them, and she did not hurry over them in an easy and pleasant manner, but with great labour and with understanding she used to read each book seven or eight times. And because of this she was enabled, being set free from lying doctrine, to fly by means of the gift of learning (or doctrine) to great opinions, and she made herself a spiritual bird, and in this wise was taken up to Christ her Lord. And may He in His mercy grant unto us through her prayers the power to act mightily, even as she did, and may we see her with all the saints who love Him, and with them may we lift up praise to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.

Apolytikion in the Plagal of the First Tone
Scorning riches that perish and worldly dignity, thou soughtest heavenly glory through self-denial and toils, making noble rank more noble by humility; and thou didst build a holy house in Jerusalem, where thou didst guide souls unto salvation. And now, O Mother Melania, grant us the alms of thy rich prayers to God.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Thou didst use thine earthly wealth, O wise Melania, to console and help the poor; and with the riches of thy mind, thou leddest many of noble rank with joy to be poor in spirit for Jesus' sake.