WHO ARE THE MARONITES?
The Maronites are Roman Catholics in full communion with
the Holy See of Rome. The Roman Catholic Church is made up of several Eastern and Western Rites and the Maronites belong to
the Syro-Antiochene rite of the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The immediate head of the Maronite Church under
the Pope of Rome is the Maronite Patriarch who bears the title of 'Patriarch of Antioch and All the East'. The Maronite Church
is the only Eastern Catholic Church that does not have an Eastern Orthodox equivalent.
Historically, the origins of
the Maronite Church are to be found amongst those monastics and lay people who gathered around the saintly hermit, Maroun.
These Christians who accepted his way of life and worship were soon identified as "those of St Maroun" - the Maronites.
Our spiritual father, St Maroun was born around AD 350. He was ordained a priest and later withdrew as
a hermit to a mountain of Taurus, near Antioch, above the banks of the Orontes River. It was at this chosen hermitage that
he rededicated an old pagan temple as a shrine to the True God. Here he was joined by many disciples who formed a community.
Maroun passed his life in prayer, penance and the defence of the Catholic faith. He was a renowned miracle worker
and healer. The great Archbishop of Constantinople, St John Chrysostom, was his friend.
St Maroun died in 410. After
his death, a church was built over his grave. His feast day is kept on 9th February.
A Ceaseless Struggle
of the Maronites has been a ceaseless struggle to preserve their Catholic faith and to maintain the greatest possible freedom
within the political and religious circumstances of the times.
The Maronite people have a strong emotional attachment
to the mountainous regions of Lebanon. It was to these mountains that they fled in the seventh and eighth centuries to escape
violent religious persecutions. It was in these blessed mountains of Lebanon that they were able to remain virtually independent
of the various powers that sought to control the region. The Maronite Patriarch was the only Christian religious leader who
did not require a decree from the Sultan to validate his election as head of a Church within the Ottoman Empire.
Even a cursory survey of the intellectual movements of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries will reveal names
of Maronite scholars prominent of Paris, Rome, Florence and Padua. There is hardly a seat of learning in Italy, France or
Spain that does not boast a Maronite scholar amongst its great alumni. The revival of Arabic literature and culture during
the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was in large part the work of Christian writers and academics. An indispensable role
in this Renaissance of Arabic Literature was played by Maronite thinkers - both clergy and lay people.
It is not possible
to consider the Maronite people apart from that particular religious experience which has nurtured them throughout the centuries.
The Maronites follow a rich liturgical observance at the heart of which is the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
Maronite Liturgy belongs to the Antiochene Tradition and is a West Syro-Antiochene Rite. During the history of the Maronites
there was much contact with the Western Church especially through the Crusades and from the sixteenth century heavy latinisation
occurred. The traditional anaphoras of Saint Peter (Sharar) and Saint James were replaced by the anaphora of the Roman Church.
The Maronite College in Rome and the missionaries (Franciscan and Jesuit) in Lebanon continued the latinisation of the Maronite
Rite and they were opposed to any reform so as to maintain their strong tie with the See of Rome.
Following the Second
Vatican Council in the 1960's, the Eastern Churches, such as the Maronites, were encouraged to reform their Liturgy in line
with their authentic tradition. But due to the tragic war in Lebanon, it was not possible to make thes reforms until recently.
Under the guidance of the Patriarchal Liturgical Commission and the Institut of Liturgy at Kaslik these reforms in reviving
the authentic Maronite Liturgy have begun to be realised in the revision of the Divine Liturgy (1992) and the Lectionary (1993).
It is through the institution of the Patriarchate that the Maronite Church maintains communion
with the Pope in Rome. Saint John Maroun, a disciple of Saint Maroun, is traditionally believed to be the first Maronite Patriarch
of Antioch in 685-707 and thus the father of the Maronite nation.
Throughout the centuries, the Maronite Patriarchs
of Antioch have been renowned for their exemplary lives, devotion to their people, their unfailing loyalty to the Catholic
faith and their learning in all disciplines.
The names of many Patriarchate has been instrumental in preserving the
Maronite Community throughout the long centuries of persecution and occupation. One European traveller wrote of these saintly
and heroic Patriarchs, "their staffs may be of wood, but they, themselves, are of gold".
During the modern period,
the Patriarchate has continued a courageous ministry of service to the Lebanese people, regardless of their religion or ecclesiastical
affiliation. Even in the midst of the most tragic of circumstances, the Patriarchate has responded to the needs of the Nation
without the slightest hint of sectarianism.
Today, as ever before, the Patriarchate is conscious that to him who has
been called to Peter's Throne at Antioch, the Church and the Nation have entrusted The Glory of Lebanon.