The Maronite Church
The Maronite Church dates back to the early Christians of Antioch where “they were called Christians for the first time” (Acts 11:26). She still uses as Her liturgical language, Syriac, a dialect of the Aramaic that Jesus Himself spoke, and takes Her name from the hermit-priest, Saint Maron, who died in 410 AD.
Within a few years after Saint Maron’s death, over 800 monks adopted his way of life and became known as the Maronites. Later, the Muslim invasions during the 7th – 10th Centuries, coupled with conflicts from within the Byzantine Empire, caused the Maronites to flee the plains of Syria and their churches and monasteries, to the natural protection of the mountains of Lebanon where they first lived in caves and grottos, and then later built small churches and monasteries. By 687, Maronites organized themselves around Saint John Maron, whom they elected Patriarch of the vacant See of Antioch, and thus developed as a distinct Church within the Catholic Church.
The Maronite Church has been enriched by three centers of learning and culture:
- Antioch – A city in West Syria (now Turkey) that served as a center of commerce and education and was known for its Greek and Syriac culture. Antioch gave the Maronite Church much of her unique liturgical life.
- Edessa – A prominent city in ancient Mesopotamia, which had a Semitic culture and influenced the prayers and hymns of the Maronite Church. It was also the home of Saint Ephrem, Doctor of the Church, who gave the Maronite Church much of Her poetry and prayer.
- Lebanon – The land that provided a safe haven to establish a stable monastic and parish life, as well as schools to educate the children of the close knit and devout Maronite families.
Maronites have been a positive force for the development of Lebanon as a country of peaceful coexistence for all peoples. Maronites now live in many cultures, their Mother Church is in Lebanon and daughter communities exist throughout the world.
FIVE DISTINGUISHING MARKS OF THE MARONITE CHURCH
The Maronite Patriarchal Assembly (2003-2004), made up of over 500 Maronite participants – clergy, religious and laity – from throughout the world, described the identity of the Maronite Church by five distinguishing marks:
First and foremost, Maronites are Antiochene – where Christ’s followers “were called Christians for the first time” (Acts 11:26). Maronites share an historical, liturgical, and spiritual heritage with all the other Catholic and Orthodox Antiochene Churches. Maronites are also heirs of Syriac cultural and religious heritage, whose language, poetry, and hymnody were the means used to express the mystery that God is beyond all descriptions yet has come close to us in Christ.
Second, Maronites are Chalcedonian, meaning they were staunch supporters of the Council of Chalcedon, convened in 451 A.D., which taught that Jesus was true God and true man. In this formula, Maronites found a balance and way of life that placed them forever in the communion of the universal Church.
Third, the Maronite Church is Patriarchal and Monastic. Saint Maron was a hermit-priest. The first Maronites were monks, priests, and laity associated with the monasteries of Saint Maron in the 5th through 8th centuries. Her first Patriarch, Saint John Maron, was chosen from among the monks. Maronites have a cherished history known for an ascetical life of sacrifice and devotion.
Fourth, the Maronite Church is known for her love and devotion to the See of Peter in Rome. This relationship has allowed Maronites to fully express the Catholic faith held from the beginning, and at the same time be part of the balance between East and West.
Fifth, the Maronite Church is tied to Lebanon, her spiritual homeland and the land of her Patriarch and people.
Are We Catholic?
Yes, we are Catholic! As all Catholics are in communion with the Pope (Bishop of Rome) we are all Roman Catholics. Many people forget or are unaware of the fact that the Catholic Church is a communion of Eastern and Western churches within it. Each Church or “Rite,” contains its own unique traditions, cultures, languages, architecture, as well as music. While Eastern and Western Christians express the same basic truths of their Catholic faith handed on to them from the apostles, they live these truths in unique ways as well as in different worship forms.
It is important to remind ourselves that the early Church started in the East. Our Lord Jesus Christ lived, died and resurrected in the Holy Land. As Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Mary, commissioned the apostles to go into the world and make disciples of all nations, the early Church with its foundation in Jerusalem spread throughout the known world. The first Christians were Jews and entire communities came to accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah. As a result, the early church was influenced by its Jewish culture and its Christian heritage.
To this day, the Maronite Church retains its Jewish roots more than any other Catholic rite as evident by the use of Syriac/Aramaic (the language of our Lord Jesus Christ) recited during the liturgy.
The name Maronite evolved from Saint Maron, a priest and hermit known to Saint John Chrysostom. Saint Maron walked the land once traveled by Saints Peter and Paul. Converting an old pagan temple into a church and spending his life teaching about the Catholic Faith according to his spiritual vision and spirituality, he ministered to many people with the gifts of healing and counsel. Shortly after his death some 800 monks followed in his footsteps: his way of thinking, speaking and acting – as believers of Jesus Christ. These believers gradually came to inherit the name Maronites.
From its monastic origins to today the Maronite Community of Faith includes several religious orders of monks and sisters whose important ministries to the Church provide continued nourishment, growth and maturity. Maronites, described as “a nation chosen from among the nations,” are Catholics of many countries and diverse cultures. Presently, the Mother Church is in Lebanon, and daughter communities exist in many nations of the world, including Africa, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, Europe, Mexico, Syria, and the United States. Often, the daughters and sons of Saint Maron are referred to as Beit Maroun, the House of Maron.