Saint Meletius, Archbishop of Antioch, was Bishop of Sebaste in Armenia (ca. 357), and afterwards he was summoned to Antioch by the emperor Constantius to help combat the Arian heresy, and was appointed to that See.
Saint Meletius struggled zealously against the Arian error, but through the intrigues of the heretics he was thrice deposed from his cathedra by the Emperor Constantius who had become surrounded by the Arians and had accepted their position. In all this Saint Meletius was distinguished by an extraordinary gentleness, and he constantly led his flock by the example of his own virtue and kindly disposition, supposing that the seeds of the true teaching sprout more readily on such soil.
Saint Meletius was the one who ordained the future hierarch Saint Basil the Great as deacon. Saint Meletius also baptized and encouraged another of the greatest luminaries of Orthodoxy, Saint John Chrysostom, who later eulogized his former archpastor.
After Constantius, the throne was occupied by Julian the Apostate, and the saint again was expelled, having to hide himself in secret places for his safety. Returning under the emperor Jovian in the year 363, Saint Meletius wrote his theological treatise, “Exposition of the Faith,” which facilitated the conversion of many of the Arians to Orthodoxy.
In the year 381, under the emperor Theodosius the Great (379-395), the Second Ecumenical Council was convened. In the year 380 the saint had set off on his way to the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople, and came to preside over it.
Before the start of the Council, Saint Meletius raised his hand displaying three fingers, and then withdrawing two fingers and leaving one extended he blessed the people, proclaiming: “We understand three hypostases, and we speak about a single nature.” With this declaration, a fire surrounded the saint like lightning. During the Council Saint Meletius fell asleep in the Lord. Saint Gregory of Nyssa honored the memory of the deceased with a eulogy.
Saint Meletius has left treatises on the consubstantiality of the Son of God with the Father, and a letter to the emperor Jovian concerning the Holy Trinity. The relics of Saint Meletius were transferred from Constantinople to Antioch.
This holy Father, who was from Melitene of Armenia, was a blameless man, just, reverent, sincere, and most gentle. Consecrated Bishop of Sebastia in 357, he was later banished from his throne 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 Bishop of Antioch. Meletius 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. As soon as he had taken the helm of the Church of Antioch, however, he began preaching the Son’s consubstantiality with the Father. At this, the archdeacon, an Arian, put his hand over the bishop’s mouth; Meletius then extended three fingers towards the people, closed them, and extended one only, showing by signs the equality and unity of the Trinity. The embarrassed archdeacon then seized his hand, but released his mouth, and Meletius spoke out even more forcibly in defense of the Council of Nicaea. Shortly after, he was banished by the Arian Emperor Constantius, son of Saint Constantine the Great. After the passage of time, he was recalled to his throne, but was banished again the third time by Valens. It was Saint Meletius who ordained Saint John Chrysostom reader and deacon in Antioch (see Nov. 13). He lived until the Second Ecumenical Council in 381 (which was convoked against Macedonius, Patriarch of Constantinople, the enemy of the Holy Spirit), over which he presided, 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 Meletius, 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’ stead in 379. When, as Emperor, Saint Theodosius the Great convoked the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople two years later, he forbade that anyone should tell him who Meletius 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.
While at the Council, Saint Meletius 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?” (PG 46:8-6). And he lamented, “Our Elias has been caught up, and no Elisseus is left behind in his place.” (ibid., 860). The holy relics of Saint Meletius were returned to Antioch and were buried beside Saint Babylas the Martyr (see Sept. 4), in the Church dedicated to the Martyr which Meletius, in his zeal for the Martyr’s glory, had helped build with his own hands.
Meletius, this great and holy man, was an exceptional interpreter and defender of Orthodoxy. His entire life was dedicated to a struggle against the Arian heresy, which did not recognize the Son of God as God and blasphemed the Holy Trinity. On three occasions, Meletius was banished and exiled from his archiepiscopal throne to Armenia. The struggle between the Orthodox and the heretics was waged so bitterly that, on one occasion, when St. Meletius was preaching to the people in church concerning the Holy Trinity in unity, his own deacon, a heretic, ran over to him and covered his mouth with his hand. Not being able to speak with his mouth covered, Meletius spoke in signs.
He raised his clenched hand in the air, opening at first his three fingers and showing them to the people. After that, he closed his hand and raised up one finger. He participated in the Second Ecumenical Council [Constantinople, 381 A.D.], where Emperor Theodosius showed him special honor. At this Council, God revealed a miracle through His hierarch. When Meletius was propounding the dogma of the Holy Trinity to Arius, at first he only raised three fingers, separately one by one, and after that folded them into one. At that moment, before all those present, a light shone like lightning from his hand. At this Council, Meletius confirmed Gregory the Theologian on the patriarchal throne in Constantinople. Earlier Meletius had ordained Basil the Great to the diaconate and baptized John Chrysostom. After the close of the Council, St. Meletius completed his earthly life in Constantinople. His relics were translated to Antioch.