Today the Church remembers a ‘physician of souls, captain of the army of Christ and pilot of the ark of the Church buffeted by the storm of heresies’ in the troubled decades following the Council of Nicæa in A.D. 325. St Meletius, a humble and pious man, was elected Archbishop of Antioch, metropolitan see of the East, in 360 when the Arian Eudoxius was deposed.
The see had been racked by a schism ever since the earlier deposition of the orthodox St Eustathius in 330 but both the supporters of Nicæa and the Arians welcomed him, the former sure that his virtues could only be the reflection of purity of faith, the latter misled by his meekness to believe he would tolerate their heresy.
His enthronement took place before the Emperor Constantius, who favoured the Arians. The emperor proposed slyly that the bishops present expound the passage, ‘The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old’ (Proverbs 8: 22), the classic proof text of Arianism. George of Cappadocia, who had been placed on the patriarchal throne of Alexandria on the banishment of St Athanasius, and Acacius of Cæsarea (described by St Gregory the Theologian as the ‘hand’ and ‘tongue’ of the Arians), first gave the Arian interpretation of the passage, by which the Logos was a creature, although before Creation. St Meletius then gave the orthodox interpretation, as declared by St Athanasius, that in this passage ‘created’ could not be taken to mean ‘he was made’ but rather ‘he was begotten.’ An Arian archdeacon attempted to silence the archbishop by putting his hand over his mouth but St Meletius extended his own hand to the people with three fingers together and the thumb and little finger folded over, a gesture that said that the three Persons of the Trinity are equal in nature and one only God.
St Meletius was exiled to Melitene by Constantius but was able to return to his see at the emperor’s death in November 361. However, the orthodox faithful of Antioch had become divided in the year he was absent between those who supported him and those who viewed his election as invalid because of the participation of Arians in it. The latter had elected Paulinus as archbishop, creating a schism that would last eighty-five years, long after the death of both men—the notorious Meletian Schism that weakened the Church in its struggle against Arianism while it lasted.
He was responsible for turning from secular learning to sacred studies one John, born in Antioch in 349, who would earn the epithet Chrysostom and be canonized a saint. He baptized him and later ordained him deacon.
St Meletius was exiled once again by the Arian emperor Valens (reigned 364–378). He went to Cappadocia, where he had the opportunity to meet St Basil the Great, one of the ‘Three Cappadocians’ who clarified the doctrine of the Trinity, the other two being St Gregory of Nyssa, Basil’s brother, and St Gregory the Theologian, Basil’s friend.
The pious Emperor Theodosius the Great (reigned 379–395), just before his accession, had a vision in which St Meletius vested him with the purple and placed the diadem on his head. He determined to put an end to the Arian conflict, summoning the 2nd Œcumenical Council to meet at Constantinople in May 381, with St Meletius presiding. St Meletius gave up his soul to God not long after the council convened. St Gregory of Nyssa preached his funeral sermon, from which comes the quotation opening this entry. He was succeeded as president of the Council by St Gregory the Theologian, who had been made Patriarch of Constantinople by Theodosius shortly before.
Occasional comments by a convert to Orthodoxy.