Meletius of Lycopolis was the bishop of Lycopolis in Thebais, Egypt, at the turn of the third to fourth century who was among those bishops who maintained a rigorous stance on return to communion against Christians who had lapsed during the persecutions. While subordinate to the Bishop of Alexandria, he formed a group of supporting clergy that was known as the Church of the Martyrs. While the First Ecumenical Council terminated his authority to consecrate bishops, the Council allowed him to remain a bishop.
Nothing is known of his early life including his early clerical life. He is known mainly as the founder of a group known now as Meletians that formed about the year 305. Accounts of his early life during the Diocletian persecutions are conflicting, although apparently, at an early date in the persecutions, he began to refuse to receive back into communion those Christians who had renounced their faith. His stance contrasted with the practice of bishops who followed earlier practices that dated back to the Decian persecution, of fifty years earlier, of accepting back into communion those who seemed to truly to have repented.
During the absence of Peter, the Bishop of Alexandria from Alexandria due to persecutions, Meletius encroached on Peter’s prerogatives by performing such actions as ordinations, consecrations, and excommunications, Peter objected to Meletius’ actions and warned his people against Meletius. After returning from his exile, Peter deposed Meletius for his disturbance of the peace of the church, an action he was not able to enforce. Peter’s action did not end the controversy, as Meletism spread throughout Egypt. Meletius has also been alleged to have ordained as a priest Arius who had been excommunicated by Peter.
After Peter’s martyrdom in 311, his successor as bishop of Alexandria, Achillas inherited the controversy with Meletius. A group of supporters developed around Meletius that included twenty eight bishops, some who were consecrated by him, and which as a group made common cause with the followers of Arius.
The controversy finally reached the First Ecumenical Council which attempted to create peace with the Meletians. Meletius was allowed to remain bishop of Lycopolis, but could no longer consecrate bishops outside his region. The bishops he had already consecrated were accepted under certain restrictions including having to be re-consecrated. But, the Council’s actions to bring unity were not successful as the Meletius’ followers sided with Arius in the controversy over Arianism.
Meletius died shortly after the Council had adjourned, and a sect of his followers continued to exist until the fifth century.