She lived in the fourth century AD and is remembered as the greatest church philanthropist. One of the richest women in the world at her time, she gave up all of her wealth to live an ascetic life. She also presented an outstanding example of withstanding great personal tragedies and blows of fate and finding new meaning to life in the service of God.
She was born into the family of a distinguished Roman senator. As she grew up, she strengthened in her desire to dedicate herself to God, yet her parents had arranged a marriage for her to pass on their wealth to their descendants. They married her off to a man named Apiniaus, eventually venerated by the Church. She asked her husband to let her live in chastity or release her from the marriage. Finally, they both reached a compromise – that they first have two children who would become heirs to their property.
Their firstborn was a girl. Their second child, a boy was born very weak and died soon after baptism. Soon, their daughter died as well. Melania’s health deteriorated, as well. Fearing for her life, her husband promised to the Lord that they would both dedicate their lives to Him if He lets Melania live.
Melania recovered, and the couple turned a new page in their lives. Melania was twenty at the time, and Apinuaus was twenty-four. Together, they cared for the infirm and wanderers and helped the poor, and donated money to churches, monasteries, widows and orphans all across the Christian world. On their way from their native Rome to Africa, they were shipwrecked on an island where barbarians had besieged a Roman city demanding ransom. They saved the city from destruction by paying the ransom.
When her husband died, Melania settled in the Holy Land where she established a convent. She desired to build a men’s monastery on the mount of the ascension of the Lord and managed to do so in less than a year when she found a philanthropist. From the Holy Land, she travelled to Constantinople for a time, where she took part in fighting off the Nestorian heresy, keeping multiple faithful in the true faith. She departed to the Lord in Jerusalem at age 56.