Lebanon | U.S.
Maronite history is colored with the romance that attaches itself to a struggle of a determined people. Most nations in their history often have to make a choice between confrontation or cooperation and time has shown us that minorities usually pay for their continued existence through deformation of character or out right collaboration. The Maronites through perpetual resistance and the preservation of a precarious independence have escaped this fate. Not only have they survived, but they have survived uncowed. Maronite Coat of ArmsThe remarkable nature of their history lies hand in hand with that of Lebanon, for centuries being their retreat and fortress. Lebanon and the Maronites are inseparably attached. The Maronites have survived the storms of invasion, occupation, repression and suppression for over 1600 years, preserving their religion, traditions and state. Through the ages they refused to bow to their occupiers, at the height of the Umayyad dynasty the Maronites even exacted tribute as a price for their good behavior, in due course their Christian neighbors all succumbed to Islam but not Lebanon, holding a Maronite majority well into the 20th century, even their Syriac (Christian Aramaic) language was widely spoken well into the late 18th century and still survives today in their liturgy and in some of their villages. The mountain Maronites remain much as the earliest travelers found them, not having lost the virtues for which they have been admired. The ingenuity and perseverance with which they have tamed the hillsides is remarkable, striving for soil, capturing it from rocks laboriously, foot by foot. Their terraced vines, piled vertically one above the other, climb to the snows.
Their minute orchards are often wedged in the faults and crannies of precipices. Such industry has its reward, the very rocks have grown fertile. Their long political struggle and the effort to squeeze a livelihood from the rocks and precipices have made them independent, courageous and provident. The Birth of the Maronites Early Christianity in the region focused in and around the city of Antioch. The conversion of Antioch was carried out by the disciples of Jesus and the faith of its inhabitants was further strengthened by the work of the apostles Paul and Barnabas. The church of Antioch itself was founded by Saint Peter who was bishop there before moving on to Rome, and it was in this church where the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians. Along with Alexandria in Egypt and Constantinople, Antioch was one of the most important spiritual centers of the east. It outranked the others in biblical scholarship. Two factors, however, led to the gradual decay of the church of Antioch: its political position as a buffer state between the Byzantine Empire and its antagonistic powers; and its ecclesiastical division by schisms and heresies. Branches of the original ethnic branches of the Apostolic Churches. Click to view a large version.
One of the most serious divisions of the early church was a result of a conflict over the nature of the divinity and humanity of Christ himself. It was maintained by the Monophysites that in the person of Christ there was but one nature which was primarily divine but had human attributes. A second school of thought held that in Christ there was both a divine nature and a human nature and that these were perfectly united. A certain priest probably wishing not be distracted divisions of the early church retreated to the wilderness of the mountains not far from Antioch where he could completely dedicate himself to God. This hermit's name was Maroun in Syriac and Maron in Greek. Saint Maroun found however, that his true vocation lay in the preaching of the word of God and he began to attract people from far and near who were drawn by his godliness and wisdom and who desired to live under his spiritual guidance. As his disciples increased in number, they began to be called Maronites after their teacher. The earliest known source of 'Maron the monk' who 'planted the garden of ascetic life' in the region was by the powerful patriarch of Constantinople, John Chrysostom who solicited St. Maroun's prayer and news was in an epistle in the year 404. Our principal historical source on the life of Maroun is Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrr, who wrote, some thirty years later the Religious History of Syriac Asceticism. Theodoret tells us that the mountain Maron chose for his retreat had been sacred to pagans and that he converted a pagan temple that he found there into a church which he dedicated to 'the true God'.
In his description of the beginning of Maroun's life, Theodoret states that Maroun had 'already increased the number of saints in heaven' and that St. Maroun 'cured not only infirmities of the body, but applied suitable treatment to soul as well, healing this man's greed and that man's anger, to this man supplying teaching in self-control and to that providing lessons in justice, correcting this man's intemperance and shaking up another man's sloth'. If it were not for these references, the only indication of the saint's existence would be the oral tradition of the Maronite community itself.Lebanon, the New Home Maron is said to have died in the year 410 but some date his death later, in 423. It would seem that after his death, possibly to avoid persecution from the Monophysites, the disciples of St. Maroun relocated south, following the Orontes upstream towards Lebanon taking St. Maroun's body with them. A Maronite monastery called Beth-Maroun, was then built near Saint Maroun's tomb and Theodoret described the profound devotion which the monks of the monastery Beth-Maroun had to their departed spiritual father Maroun. The monastery became the nucleus of a community where men and women, under the guidance of the monks, could find material and spiritual happiness. The monastery was probably situated at Qal'at al-Madiq, in Northern Phoenicia, on the banks of the Orontes not far from Mount Lebanon, the monastery belonged juridical to the venerable patriarch church of Antioch. As the hardships of the early Christian church continued more and more the faithful set all their hopes on the Maronite community where, in spite of persecutions and devastating wars, the spiritual leaders guided and protected their faithful with moderation and wisdom. This is the reason why, even today, the liturgy and the organization of the Maronite community has strong monastic characteristics. It is also the reason why for centuries the spiritual leaders of the Maronites have kept watch over the political and social rights of their flocks.
Some years earlier, Saint Maroun's first disciple Abraham of Cyrrhus (350-422), who is called the Apostle of Lebanon, realized that, despite having some of the oldest Christian communities, paganism was thriving in Lebanon. In around 402 AD Abraham set out with some companions to convert the Lebanese pagans to Christianity by introducing them to the way of St Maroun. According to Theodoret, Abraham 'repaired to the Lebanon, where, he had heard, a large village was engulfed in the darkness of impiety'. He lived in that village and served as its priest for three years. Theodoret then tells us that 'after spending three years with them and guiding them well towards the things of God, he got another of his companions appointed in his place'. AbouZayd in his Study of the Life of Singleness in the Syrian Orient, From Ignatius of Antioch to Chalcedon 451 AD states that Abraham 'founded an eremitic community on Mount Lebanon. It was probably located in Aqura near the river Adonis', and that from Theodoret's account it would appear that 'Abraham founded an ascetic community with his companions in the Lebanese village'. Legend has it that the Adonis River, named after the Phoenician god, was renamed the Abraham River after that village and the region was converted to Christianity by Abraham and his companions. The relocation of the Maronites to Beth-Maroun, so close to Mount Lebanon, enabled Maronite monks to regularly follow the example of Abraham and do their work not only in Mount Lebanon, but in the Lebanese coastal cities and the Beqaa valley as well. As conflict over the nature of the divinity and humanity of Christ raged, in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon, it was decreed that Christ was both God and man, having two natures, one divine and one human in unity. The Maronites were loyal supporters of the decrees of the Council in the region, and as a result, the opponents of Chalcedon showed themselves bitter enemies of the Maronites and began to brutally persecuted them. As a result of the dangers they faced, the following years began to witness a migration of Maronites into Lebanon and an increase in the rate of conversion of its population to Maronite Christianity. Attacks on Maronites continued into the sixth century. In a letter addressed to Pope Hormisdas in 517, monks of St. Maroun inform him that they are being constantly attacked.
They single out Antiochian Patriarchs Severus and Peter, who, they say, anathematize the Council of Chalcedon and Pope Leo, whose formula the Council had adopted. The Emperor Anastasius had sent an army against the Maronites closing monasteries and expelling the monks. Some had been beaten, others were thrown into prison and some killed. The Maronites also appealed to the Emperor in Constantinople, but to no avail. In one incident, while on the way to the monastery of St. Simon Stylite, Maronites were ambushed and 350 monks were put to the sword, even though some of them had taken refuge at the altar. The monastery was burned. This incident forced those Maronites that were living outside of Lebanon to take refuge there in larger and successive waves. Throughout the sixth century of the Christian era, the disciples of St. Maroun continued to convert the inhabitants of Lebanon and its surrounding areas turning the population into Maronite Christians. For over a hundred and fifty years the Maronites and worked the land, terraced the mountains and built their villages.Read more: Phoenicia: The Maronites and Lebanon, A Brief History