Meletius of Antioch

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St. Meletius of Antioch

Our father among the saints Meletius of Antioch (Greek: Μελέτιος) was the Orthodox bishop of Antioch from 361 until his death in 381. His staunch support of the Orthodox Nicene faction of the church led to his exile three times under Arian emperors. One of his last acts was to preside over the Second Ecumenical Council in 381. His feast day is February 12.


Meletius was born at Melitene in Lesser Armenia, an area now part of northeast Turkey, of wealthy and noble parents. Meletius apparently began an ascetic life in his youth. He was the bishop of Sebaste, the capital of Armenia Prima, from about 358, but he did not remain there very long as his predecessor who had been deposed, Eustathius of Sebaste, had been a strong Nicene advocate and very popular.

Through the years following the Council at Nicea, the Church of Antioch was rented by disputes between and among the various sects of the Arians and the Orthodox with the see often controlled by Arians. In 360, when Eudoxius, an Arian, became the Bishop of Constantinople, the succession to the see of Antioch was reopened. Meletius, who had been a personal friend of Acacius, an Semi-arian of the Homoean sect, was elected to the see of Antioch. His election apparently was due to Meletius' promises to both parties were such that Orthodox and Arians thought he was on their side.

Meletius apparently believed that truth lay in delicate distinctions, yet his formula was so indefinite that even today it is difficult to define it with precision. He was not dogmatically a Nicene nor a Arian, such that to an Anomean, Homoiousian, Homoian, or Neo-Nicene, he remained outside any inflexible classification. In a time when men became weary of interminable debate, the mild temper of Meletius seemed to have shown promise of a desired peace.

Meletius was not an Athanasius in temperament. His qualities were genuine, a life of simplicity, morality, and a sincere piety. When he entered Antioch, he began to reform various abuses, not arousing enmity by avoiding all questions in dispute. To force his hand, the emperor Constantius II, a strong Arian, convened a meeting of bishops for Meletius to explain himself. In a presentation that avoided technical language and vain discussion, he ended in a summary wherein he extended three fingers and then closed two saying "Three Persons are conceived in the mind but it is as though we addressed one only", and thus established his orthodoxy.Through this profession of faith he dealt a severe blow to the Arians.

Constantius and the Arians took quick revenge. In 361, Constantius exiled Meletius to his native Armenia, having occupied his see for less than a month. With his exile the religious life in Antioch became in chaotic. The churches were largely in Arian hands. The Arians placed Euzoius, who earlier had been deposed and expelled from the church with the heretic Arius by St. Alexander of Alexandria, as head of the see of Antioch. The Orthodox were divided between supporters of Eustathius led by Paulinus and those for Meletius led by Flavius and Diodorus. This schism remained unhealed until 415.

Later in November 361, Constantius died suddenly and was succeeded by Julian the Apostate, who immediately revoked the the decrees of banishment. The next year, Meletius returned to Antioch, but to an atmosphere of schism with the Eustathians, who would not recognize Meletius as his election occurred with the help of the Arians. A further estrangement occurred when attempts at mediation by Eusebius of Vercelli were negated by the consecration of Paulinus as bishop of Antioch by Lucifer, Bishop of Cagliari. Thus, Meletius became the leader of one of three factions in Antioch that accepted the Nicene Creed. In 365, emperor Valens exiled Meletius again, to Armenia. The date of his return is uncertain although he may have returned to Antioch in 367.

During the decades of the 360s and 370s, support for Meletius' orthodoxy increased as the number of bishops supporting him increased. In 370, St. Basil became the bishop of Caesarea and became a strong supporter of Meletius. The decade of the 370s became period of long distance negotiations among the Nicene factions. With the rise of Gratian to the imperial throne, peace was restore to the Church. In late 378, Meletius was restored in Antioch and exiled bishops were recalled to their sees. In 379, Emperor Theodosius I came to the Roman throne in the East. An ardent Nicene Orthodox, he expelled the Arian, Demophilus, as bishop of Constantinople and restored Meletius as bishop of Antioch. In October 379, Meletius presided at a council in Antioch of the bishops to assure the restoration of orthodoxy in the East. In May 381, Meletius and Theodosius convened what became the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople to bring harmony to the divided church. The council, opening with Meletius as its presiding officer, began by electing Gregory of Nazianzus as the Bishop of Constantinople, who was then enthroned by St. Meletius, before continuing on to confirmation of the Nicene creed. During these sessions in 381, St. Meletius died suddenly.

The funeral services for St. Meletius were held in the Church of the Apostles after which his body was transferred to Antioch for a second funeral service before he was laid to rest alongside his predecessor, St. Babylas.

Succession box:
Meletius of Antioch
Preceded by:
Bishop of Sebaste
Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
Bishop of Antioch
Succeeded by:
Flavian I
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