St. Meletius was born in Meletene of a noble family in Lesser Armenia. He was known for his good nature, kindness and cheerfulness. Both Catholics and Arians (individuals who did not believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ), admired him. He was thus appointed to serve as the Bishop of Sebastea. Nevertheless, he met with violent opposition from the Arians, finding it necessary to flee into the desert. He eventually became the Bishop in Beroea in Syria..
By way of background, Arianism began in the third century started by Arius, a priest in Alexandria, who denied the Holy Trinity, three distinct and divine persons in one God. In fact, Arius taught that there was only God the Father. Arianism also maintained that Jesus was created, maintaining, “There was a time when he was not.” Accordingly, Christ was a son of God, but only because of adoption and grace. Logically, then, the Incarnation never happened. If God did not become man, then we have not been redeemed and there is no salvation. In 325, the early church fathers at the Council of Nicaea condemned Arianism, formulating and promulgating the Nicene Creed. Remarkably, Arianism persisted in many areas of the world for over 100 years. And various early church fathers, including St. Meletius and the great St. Athanasius of Alexandria, fought it.
The Arians oppressed the church in Antioch, with several bishops fostering the heresy of Arianism. The last such bishop, Eudoxus, even though he was an Arian, was banished because he was accused of sedition; but thereafter, he usurped the see of Constantinople. A number of Arians and Catholics agreed to raise Meletius to the chair of Antioch, with the emperor confirming this choice in 361, even though some Catholics refused to acknowledge him, because the Arians were involved in this said choice.
The Arians had hoped that Meletius would become an Arian, but this did not occur. When he arrived in Antioch, the Emperor Constantius ordered Meletius to expound upon the text in the Book of Proverbs concerning the wisdom of God: “The Lord hath created me in the beginning of His ways.” Meletius interpreted and expounded it in the Catholic manner, connecting it with the Incarnation. This angered the Arians, and Eudoxus persuaded the emperor to banish Meletius to Lesser Armenia. Meletius was replaced by Euzoius, an Arian.
The Arian persecution ended in 378, and St. Meletius was reinstated.
In 381, the second ecumenical council assembled at Constantinople, and St. Meletius presided. Sadly, this long-suffering bishop died during the council. The Emperor Theodosius and the early fathers of the Church grieved his passing, since they were so thankful to have him re-instated and presiding at the council. His funeral was held in Constantinople, which was attended by the fathers of the council and the faithful of the city. Indeed and in fact, the great St. Gregory of Nyssa delivered his funeral address.
This man refused to bow or concede to the Arian heresy, which literally eliminated the divinity of Jesus Christ from the doctrine of the church. He stood up to this heresy consistently, suffering exile and banishment. But justice was done and this great man was given back his position. Let us remember him as an example to us to always stand for what is true and right in this world, accepting any and all consequences, for if we do this, then we truly love Our Lord and His people.
St. Meletius, pray for us!
Sources: Vatican website; Butler’s Lives of the Saints, edited by Michael Walsh