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The Beginning of the Epistle of the Bishops.
Hesychius, Pachomius, Theodorus, and Phileas, to Meletius, our friend and
fellow-minister in the Lord, greeting. Some reports having reached us concerning
thee, which, on the testimony of certain individuals who came to us, spake of
certain things foreign to divine order and ecclesiastical rule which are being
attempted, yea, rather which are being done by thee, we, in an ingenuous manner
held them to be untrustworthy, regarding them to be such as we would not
willingly credit, when we thought of the audacity implied in their magnitude and
their uncertain attempts. But since many who are visiting us at the present time
have lent some credibility to these reports, and have not hesitated to attest
them as facts, we, to our exceeding surprise, have been compelled to indite this
letter to thee. And what agitation and sadness have been caused to us all in
common and to each of us individually by (the report of) the ordination carried
through by thee in parishes having no manner of connection with thee, we are
unable sufficiently to express. We have not delayed, however, by a short
statement to prove your practice wrong.
There is the law of our fathers and forefathers, of which neither art thou
thyself ignorant, established according to divine and ecclesiastical order; for
it is all for the good pleasure of God and the zealous regard of better things.
By them it has been established and settled that it is not lawful for any bishop
to celebrate ordinations in other parishes than his own; a law which is
exceedingly important and wisely devised. For, in the first place, it is but
right that the conversation and life of those who are ordained should be
examined with great care; and in the second place, that all confusion and
turbulence should be done away with. For every one shall have enough to do in
managing his own parish, and in finding with great care and many anxieties
suitable subordinates among these with whom he has passed his whole life, and
who have been trained under his hands. But thou, neither making any account of
these things, nor regarding the future, nor considering the law of our sainted
fathers and those who have been taken to Christ time after time, nor the honour
of our great bishop and father, Peter, on whom we all depend in the hope which
we have in the Lord Jesus Christ, nor softened by our imprisonments and trials,
and daily and multiplied reproach, hast ventured on subverting all things at
once. And what means will be left thee for justifying thyself with respect to
But perhaps thou wilt say: I did this to prevent many being drawn away with the
unbelief of many, because the flocks were in need and forsaken, there being no
pastor with them. Well, but it is most certain that they are not in such
destitution: in the first place, because there are many going about them and in
a position to act as visitors; and in the second place, even if there was some
measure of neglect on their side, then the proper way would have been for the
representation to be made promptly by the people, and for us to take account of
them according to their desert. But they knew that they were in no want of
ministers, and therefore they did not come to seek them. They knew that we were
wont to discharge them with an admonition from such inquisition for matter of
complaint, or that everything was done with all carefulness which seemed to be
for their profit; for all was done under correction, and all was considered with
well-approved honesty. Thou, however, giving such strenuous attention to the
deceits of certain parties and their vain words, hast made a stealthy leap to
the celebrating of ordinations. For if, indeed, those with thee were
constraining thee to this, and in their ignorance were doing violence to
ecclesiastical order, thou oughtest to have followed the common rule and have
informed us by letter; and in that way what seemed expedient would have been
done. And if perchance some persuaded you to credit their story that it was all
over with us,—a thing of which thou couldest not have been ignorant, because
there were many passing and repassing by us who might visit you,—even although,
I say, this had been the case, yet thou oughtest to have waited for the judgment
of the superior father and for his allowance of this practice. But without
giving any heed to these matters, but indulging a different expectation, yea
rather, indeed, denying all respect to us, thou hast provided certain rulers for
the people. For now we have learned, too, that there were also divisions,
because thy unwarrantable exercise of the right of ordination displeased many.
And thou wert not persuaded to delay such procedure or restrain thy purpose
readily even by the word of the Apostle Paul, the most blessed seer, and the man
who put on Christ, who is the Christ of all of us no less; for he, in writing to
his dearly-beloved son Timothy, says: “Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be
partaker of other men’s sins.” And thus he at once shows his own anxious
consideration for him, and gives him his example and exhibits the law according
to which, with all carefulness and caution, parties are to be chosen for the
honour of ordination. We make this declaration to thee, that in future thou
mayest study to keep within the safe and salutary limits of the law.
After receiving and perusing this epistle, he neither wrote any reply nor
repaired to them in the prison, nor went to the blessed Peter. But when all
these bishops and presbyters and deacons had suffered martyrdom in the prison at
Alexandria, he at once entered Alexandria. Now in that city there was a certain
person, by name Isidorus, turbulent in character, and possessed with the
ambition of being a teacher. And there was also a certain Arius, who wore the
habit of piety, and was in like manner possessed with the ambition to be a
teacher. And when they discovered the object of Meletius’s passion and what it
was that he sought, hastening to him, and looking with an evil eye on the
episcopal authority of the blessed Peter, that the aim and desire of Meletius
might be made patent, they discovered to Meletius certain presbyters, then in
hiding, to whom the blessed Peter had given power to act as parish-visitors. And
Meletius recommending them to improve the opportunity given them for rectifying
their error, suspended them for the time, and by his own authority ordained two
persons in their place, namely, one in prison and another in the mines. On
learning these things the blessed Peter, with much endurance, wrote to the
people of Alexandria an epistle in the following terms.
Letter to the Church at Alexandria.
Peter, to the brethren beloved and established in the faith of God, peace in the
Lord. Since I have found out that Meletius acts in no way for the common
good,—for neither is he contented with the letter of the most holy bishops and
martyrs,—but, invading my parish, hath assumed so much to himself as to
endeavour to separate from my authority the priests, and those who had been
entrusted with visiting the needy; and, giving proof of his desire for
pre-eminence, has ordained in the prison several unto himself; now, take ye heed
to this, and hold no communion with him, until I meet him in company with some
wise and discreet men, and see what the designs are which he has thought upon.
Fare ye well.
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