December 31

Our Holy Mother Melania the Younger of Rome (c. 2383-439)

 St. Melania was born in 383 in Rome, to a very wealthy family with large estates in Italy, Africa, Spain and even Britain. She was the granddaughter of St. Melania the Elder and a pious disciple of Christ from a young age. She was married against her will at the age of fourteen, to a relative named Pinion. They had two children, both of whom died in early childhood. Henceforth Melania and her husband dedicated themselves entirely to God. They had both dreamt of a high wall that they would have to climb before they could pass through the narrow gate that leads to life, and soon began to take measures to dispose of their wealth. This aroused opposition from some of the Senate, who were concerned that the selling of such huge holdings would disrupt the economy of the State itself. 

With the support of the Empress, though, Melania was able to free 8000 of her slaves and give each a gift of three gold pieces to begin life as freedmen. She employed agents to help fund the establishment of churches and monasteries throughout the Empire, donated many estates to the Church, and sold many more, giving the proceeds as alms. When Rome fell to the Goths under Alaric in 410, Melania and Ninian moved to Sicily, then to Africa, where they completed the sale of their property, donating the proceeds to monasteries and to aiding victims of the barbarians.

Because of her wealth and status, Melania was connected to the courts in the Eastern and Western Roman Empire.  Female aristocrats like Melania who undertook the ascetic life were more influential in their renunciation of wealth and privilege than they would have been had they remained devoted wives and mothers of the next generation of government officials.  St. Melania is a near-perfect example of the ascetic cause for aristocratic women of her time.

Her reputation as a holy woman and patron of Christians brought her into contact with the important religious figures of her day, including Augustine of Hippo, Cyril of Alexandria, Paulinus of Nola and Palladius.

In Africa Melania, now aged about thirty, took up a life of the strictest asceticism: she kept a total fast on weekdays, only eating on Saturday and Sunday; she slept two hours a night, giving the rest of the night to vigil and prayer. Her days were spent in charitable works, using the remainder of her wealth to relieve the poor and benefit the Church. After seven years in Africa, Melania, her mother and her husband left on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There they founded a monastery on the Mount of Olives, which grew to a community of ninety nuns. Melania's mother died in 431, then her husband Pinion; she buried them side by side.

Save for one visit to Constantinople, Melania continued to live in reclusion in a small cave on the Mount of Olives; she became an advisor to the Empress Eudocia, who sought her expert counsel on her gifts to churches and monasteries.

Melania fell ill keeping the Vigil of Nativity in 439, and fell asleep in the Lord six days later; her last words were 'As it has pleased the Lord, so it has come to pass.' Her monastery was destroyed in 614 by the Persians, but her cave hermitage on the Mount of Olives is still a place of pilgrimage and veneration to this day.

 

Like a lamp with two flames you illumine Christ’s Church

With mystical radiance.

And you, O Melania, were resplendent in asceticism.

You were found worthy of the incorruptible life of the blessed!

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