Saint Maroun is considered the Founder of the Maronites. Other modern day saints who are well loved include Saints Charbel, Hardini and Rafqa. There are also many earlier saints and there are recent religious figures who have been raised to the blessed status by the Holy See.

Saint Maroun is considered the Father of the spiritual and monastic movement now called the Maronite Church. Maroun, born in the middle of the 4th century was a priest who retired as a hermit, to a mountain in the region of Cyrrhus in Syria. His holiness and miracles attracted many followers, and drew attention throughout the empire. Maroun was able to convert a pagan temple into a Christian Church. This was to be the beginning of the conversion of Paganism to Christianity in Syria, which would then influence and spread to Lebanon.

His hermetical way of living attracted disciples who formed the nucleus of the Maronites. These disciples consecrated themselves to worship and austerity, in a life of seclusion and silence.

Saint Maroun was deeply monastic with emphasis on the spiritual and ascetic aspects of living. He embraced the quiet solitude of the mountain life where he freed himself from the physical world by his passion and fervour for prayer and entered into a mystical relationship of love with God. Accompanying his deeply spiritual and ascetic life, he was a zealous missionary. After his death in the year 410 CE, his spirit and teachings lived on through his disciples.

In the fifth century this community, which had become known as the Maronites, had left Syria, due to the Arab invasion there, to seek refuge in the mountains of North Lebanon.

Christianity in Lebanon began with Christ who addressed the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon in South Lebanon (refer to Matthew 15:21). Following on from Jesus, Paul the Apostle visited Tyre around 58 CE and stayed with the disciples (refer to Acts 21:3-6).

As Antoine Harb notes, significant events in the history of Lebanon’s Christians included the building of the first Christian cathedral and the participation of the Bishops of Lebanon in the early Church Councils that laid the foundation of Christianity. Yet the faith was still to reach to the heartland of Lebanon, the mountains and deep valleys. This was the undertaking of the followers of Saint Maroun.[1]

The Maronite movement reached Lebanon when St Maroun’s first disciple Abraham of Cyrrhus who was called the Apostle of Lebanon, set out to convert the pagans to Christians by introducing them to the way of St Maroun.

Since the fourth century, the hermitic life has been an uninterrupted chain in the Maronite Rite and hermits have always been held in great esteem. By the fifth century the Maronites left Syria to seek refuge in the mountains of North Lebanon. Many retreated to caves and hermitages, particularly in the Qadisha Valley, where its natural serenity and ruggedness, offered the hermits and recluses an ideal setting for contemplation, asceticism and prayer.

The Maronite people led a daily eremitical life in work, prayer, obedience and devotion to spiritual authorities. They became known as monastic people as it was around the monasteries that the Maronite community continually re-formed.[2]

The Maronites elected their first Patriarch John Maroun, who was consecrated by the Papal Legate and later in Rome confirmed by the Pope, as the first Maronite Patriarch and 63rd Patriarch of Antioch. From this time the Maronites became a self-governing Church of the Antiochene Tradition.

The full name of the Maronite Church is the ‘Antiochian Syrian Maronite Church.’ The Maronite Synod (2003-2006) distinguished aspects of the Maronite Catholic Church.

 

…she is firstly, an Antiochene Syriac Church, with a special liturgical heritage; secondly, a Chalcedonian Church; thirdly, a Patriarchal Church with an ascetic and a monastic aspect; fourthly, a Church in full union with the Apostolic Roman See; fifthly, a Church incarnated in her Lebanese and Eastern environment, and the Countries of Expansion.[3]

 

The Maronite Catholic Church has a Syriac tradition which is the closest continuous Christian representative of the cultural background of the Bible and it belongs to the same historical and geographical milieu as did Jesus Christ.

Maronite spirituality has distinguished itself from other Eastern Churches in elements acquired throughout history. These include attachment to the land, ecumenical openness, and emphasis on a spirituality of the suffering, crucified and risen Christ, while awaiting his second coming. It is a spirituality which has remained faithful to its monastic character.[4]

Maronite spirituality has an ecumenical character, stemming from its belonging to the universal Catholic Church, a fact which distinguishes it from other Syriac Churches. Its universalism has also been manifested through a dialogue with the Arab-Muslim world, a result of Lebanon’s situation as the only Middle Eastern country where Christians hold some degree of political power.[5]

The cross is at the centre of Maronite spirituality. The crucified Christ allows Maronites to understand and internalize the persecutions they have endured. It gives meaning to their suffering, transforming their weakness into strength, persecution into victory and death into Resurrection.[6]

In the Eastern Catholic celebration of the Eucharist, the liturgy is replete with prayers, gestures and music, which reflect the glory and loving mercy of God. The Eastern Rites particularly focus on the call of worshippers to forgiveness and rebirth.

The Maronite Liturgy has two main sections involving the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Narrative of the Eucharistic Institution (Consecration), the Memorial of the Plan of the Son (Anamnesis) and the Invocation of the Holy Spirit (Epiclesis) do not vary.

Eastern Catholic Churches perform the sign of the Cross not only to praise the Trinity and to revere the cross but also to symbolize the sacredness of their bodies as temples of God. Incense is used to reverence the interior of the church building, the offertory gifts, the icons, and the faithful. They affirm the body as the Temple of God by anointing it with holy oil both sacramentally and on feast days.

God’s plan of salvation plays an important role in the Maronite Liturgy as does the recollection of the past events, the present time and the future second coming. The Church recalls the past saints, the present people and those who have passed away.

The greatest emphasis placed on the Maronite Divine Liturgy is the maintenance of Aramaic (Syriac). This was the language that Jesus used and is retained and repeated in the Narrative of the Eucharistic Institution. It is also heard in the entrance prayer the priest recites and in the triple invitation to the greatness of God known as Trisagion (Qadishat) which is chanted in Syriac.

The Maronite Church has from the beginning, claimed a special devotion to the Mother of God. In villages, homes, mountains and the streets of Lebanon, one finds shrines to Our Lady. On all Marian feasts, particularly the feast of the Assumption, Maronites throughout the world gather in prayer at Churches named in honour of her. Mary is often referred to as Our Lady of Lebanon. Hymns, feast days and the liturgical life of the Maronite Church also express this devotion.

Mary has a prominent role in the Maronite Church and she plays a role in the theology of Salvation. Christ became human to make us divine. For Christ to become human Mary was chosen. Mary is called blessed among women, because it was her ‘yes’ in faith, which brought forth Jesus, the Saviour of the world.

Mary, being perfectly redeemed, has already attained perfection of soul and body and her assumption into heaven assures us of our own bodily resurrection, our own journey of divinisation. Mary is the Cedar of Lebanon, a strong and firm believer and follower of God’s loving transformation.

[1] Antoine Harb, The Maronites and History Constants (Centre Libanis  D’Information, 1985), 24, 26, 34.

[2] Guita G. Hourani and Antoine B. Habchi, ‘The Maronite eremitical tradition: a contemporary revival,’ Heythorp Journal 45(2004): 452, 455.

[3] Maronite Patriarchal Synod, ‘Identity, Vocation and Mission of the Maronite Church,’ Text 2, 2006: paragraph 5.

[4] Hourani and Habchi, ‘The Maronite eremitical tradition: a contemporary revival,’ 452.

[5] Hourani and Habchi, ‘The Maronite eremitical tradition: a contemporary revival,’ 453.

[6] Hourani and Habchi, ‘The Maronite eremitical tradition: a contemporary revival,’ 453.