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Maronite Church

Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch
The saying "The glory of Lebanon is given to him" (Isaiah 35:2) has been applied to the Maronite Patriarch.
Founder Maron, AD 410; John Maron, 7th century
Recognition Catholic Church, Eastern Catholic Churches
Primate Bechara Boutros al-Rahi
Headquarters Bkerké, Lebanon
Territory Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, Canada, USA, Israel, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico
Possessions approx one third of Lebanese territory ;
Language Arabic (Lebanese Arabic  · Cypriot Maronite Arabic); liturgical: Aramaic (Syriac)
Members 3,198,600[1]

The Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch (Template:Script/Serto ʿīṯo suryoiṯo morunoiṯo d'anṭiokia; Arabic: الكنيسة الأنطاكية السريانية المارونية al-Kanīsa al-Anṭākiyya al-Suryāniyya al-Mārūniyya; Latin: Ecclesia Maronitarum) is an Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the Pope of Rome. It traces its heritage back to the community founded by Marun, a 4th-century Syriac monk venerated as a saint. The first Maronite Patriarch, Saint John Maron, was elected in the late 7th century.

Although reduced in numbers today, Maronites remain one of the principal ethno-religious groups in Lebanon, and smaller minorities of Maronites are also found in western Syria, Cyprus, Israel, Jordan.The Maronite Church asserts that since its inception, it has always remained faithful to the Church of Rome and the Pope.[2] In November 2012, Pope Benedict appointed Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi as a Cardinal.[3]

Before the conquest by Arabian Muslims reached Lebanon, the Lebanese people, including those who would become Muslim and the majority who would remain Christian, spoke a dialect of Aramaic.[4][5][6] Syriac (Christian Aramaic) still remains the liturgical language of the Maronite Church.[7] The members of the Maronite Church are part of the Lebanese people, who are the present day descendents of the Phoenicians, a Canaanite people. The cultural and linguistic heritage of the Lebanese people is a blend of both indigenous Phoenician elements and the foreign cultures that have come to rule the land and its people over the course of thousands of years. In a 2013 interview the lead investigator, Pierre Zalloua, pointed out that genetic variation preceded religious variation and divisions:"Lebanon already had well-differentiated communities with their own genetic peculiarities, but not significant differences, and religions came as layers of paint on top. There is no distinct pattern that shows that one community carries significantly more Phoenician than another." [8] A number of Maronite historians assert that their people, along with their non-Christian countrymen, are also the descendants of the Arameans, Ghassanids, Assyrians, and the Mardaites; though they have, over time, developed a distinctive Maronite character, this has not obscured their Antiochene and Syriac Christian origin.[9][10]


The followers of Jesus Christ first became known as "Christians" in Antioch (Acts 11:26), and the city became a center for Christians - especially after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. According to Catholic tradition, the first Bishop was Saint Peter before his travels to Rome. The third Bishop was the Apostolic Father Ignatius of Antioch. Antioch became one of the five original Patriarchates (the Pentarchy) after Constantine recognized Christianity.

Maron, a fourth-century monk and the contemporary and friend of St. John Chrysostom, left Antioch for the Orontes River in modern day Syria to lead an ascetic life, following the traditions of Anthony the Great of the Desert and Pachomius. Many of his followers also lived a monastic lifestyle. Following the death of Maron in 410 AD, his disciples built a monastery in his memory and formed the nucleus of the Maronite Church.

The Maronites held fast to the beliefs of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. When the Monophysites of Antioch slew 350 monks, the Maronites sought refuge in the mountains of Lebanon. Correspondence concerning the event brought the Maronites papal and orthodox recognition, which was solidified by Pope Hormisdas (514-523 AD) on February 10, AD 518. A monastery was built around the shrine of St. Maro (Marun) after the Council of Chalcedon.[11]

The martyrdom of the Patriarch of Antioch in the first decade of the seventh century, either at the hands of Persian soldiers or local Jews,[12] left the Maronites without a leader, a situation which continued because of the final and most devastating Byzantine–Sassanid War of 602–628. In the aftermath of the war, the Emperor Heraclius propagated a new Christological doctrine in an attempt to unify the various Christian churches of the east, who were divided over accepting the Council of Chalcedon. This doctrine, the unity of Christ's will with God's, was meant as a compromise between supporters of Chalcedon, such as the Maronites, and opponents, such as the Jacobites. The doctrine was endorsed by Pope Honorius I to win back the Monophysites but problems soon arose (see his anathematization).

Instead, the uniity of Christ's will with God's (mia-thelitism) was misunderstood as Monothelitism (that Christ and God have only one will) which caused even greater controversy, and was declared a heresy at the Sixth Ecumenical Council in 680-681. Contemporary Greek and Arab sources misrepresented the miathelite Maronites as having accepted monothelitism,[13] thereby rejecting the sixth council and that the miathelites in fact maintained monothelitism for centuries, only moving away from it in the time of the crusades in order to avoid being branded heretics by the crusaders. The modern Maronite Church, however, rejects the assertion that the Maronites were ever monothelites or apart from the Roman Catholic Church; and the question remains a major controversy to this day.[14]

In 687 AD, the Emperor Justinian II agreed to evacuate many thousand Maronites from Lebanon and settle them elsewhere. The chaos and utter depression which followed led the Maronites to elect their first Patriarch, John Maroun, that year. This, however, was seen as a usurpation by the Orthodox churches. Thus, at a time when Islam was rising on the borders of the Byzantine Empire and a united front was necessary to keep out Islamic infiltration, the Maronites were focused on a struggle to retain their independence against imperial power. This situation was mirrored in other Christian communities in the Byzantine Empire and helped facilitate the Muslim conquest of most of Eastern Christendom by the end of the century.

Muslim rule

After they came under Arab rule following the Muslim conquest of Syria (634-638), the Maronites experienced an improvement in their relationship with the Byzantine Empire. The imperial court, seeing its earlier mistake, saw an advantage in the situation. Thus the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IV (reigned 668-685) provided direct ecclesiastical, political, and military support to the Maronites. The new alliance soon coordinated devastating raids on Muslim forces, providing a welcome relief to besieged Christians throughout the Middle East. Some of the Maronites relocated to Mount Lebanon at this time and formed several communities that became known as the Marada - according to the 17th-century Patriarch Estephan El Douaihy (also known as Stephane Al Doueihi Arabic: أسطفان الدويهي, "The Father of Maronite History" and the "Pillar of the Maronite Church").

Another view, that of Ibn al-Qilaii, a Maronite scholar of the 16th century, proposes that Maronites fled Muslim persecutions of the Umayyads in the late 9th century AD.

The most widely accepted theory postulates that the Maronites fled Jacobite monophysite persecution, because of Monothelite heresy as advanced by Sergius of Tyr, a scholar of the 10th century AD. It is most probable, because nearly all the denominations became Monothelite after Patriarch Sergius I of Constantinople (in office: 610-638) introduced Monothelitism. The Maronite migration to the mountains took place over a long period, but its peak must have been during the 7th century.[citation needed]

Around AD 1017 a new Muslim sect, the Druze, emerged. At that time the Maronites, as dhimmis, were required to wear black robes and black turbans, so as to be easily identified; they were also forbidden to ride horses.

Following the Muslim conquest of Eastern Christendom outside Anatolia and Europe and after the establishment of secured lines of demarcation between Islamic Caliphs and Byzantine Emperors, little was heard from the Maronites for 400 years. Secure in their mountain strongholds, the Maronites were re-discovered in the mountains near Tripoli, Lebanon only by the crusader Raymond of Toulouse on his way to conquer Jerusalem in the Great Crusade of 1096-1099. Raymond later returned to besiege Tripoli (1102-1109) after the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, and relations between the Maronites and European Christianity were re-established.


Late in the 11th century the crusaders made their way to the lands of the Levant to overthrow Islamic rule; on their way, they passed through mount Lebanon, where they came across the Maronites. The Maronites had been largely cut off from the rest of the Christian world for around 400 years. The Church in Rome had been unaware that the Maronites still existed. The crusaders and Maronites established ties and from this point provided each other mutual assistance.

During the Crusades in the 12th century AD, Maronites assisted the crusaders and affirmed their affiliation with the Holy See in 1182 AD. Consequently, from this point onwards, the Maronites have upheld an unbroken ecclesiastical orthodoxy and unity with the Catholic Church. To commemorate their communion, Maronite Patriarch Youseff Al Jirjisi received the crown and staff marking his patriarchal authority, from Pope Paschal II in 1100 AD. In 1131, Maronite Patriarch Gregorios Al-Halati received letters from Pope Innocent II in which the Papacy recognized the authority of the Patriarchate.

In a letter from Jacques de Vitry, Bishop of Acre, in 1216 or 1217, to the Parisian masters and to Ligarde of St. Trond and the Convent of Aywieres, Jacques writes of the Maronites as having renounced all their errors and becoming subjects of the Catholic Church. What those errors are, Jacques de Vitry doesn't say. It's possible they rejected the list of errors from the list of different Christians named by de Vitry in the Middle East at the time.[15]

For a long time Maronites had been effectively isolated from Christians of the Byzantine Empire and Western Europe. As a result, they appointed their own Patriarch, starting with John Maron, who had been a bishop of Batroun, Mount Lebanon. Through him, the Maronites of today claim full apostolic succession through the See of Antioch. Nonetheless, controversy surrounds this claim as some Maronites had been accused of having fully adopted the Monothelite heresy; this led to a number of civil wars (e.g. 1282 and 1499 AD).

Ottoman rule

Following the defeat of the Mamelukes by the Ottoman Empire, and to reward their new Druze ally who fought with them in the battle of Marj Dabek (1516), the Ottomans rewarded Prince Fakher el Din al Maani I, with the Principality of Lebanon, where he established a Druze-Maronite alliance lasting for hundreds of years; this prosperous principality became the base of the modern Lebanese Republic.

The Maronites were partners in governing the new principality; often the post of Moudabbir (roughly Prime Minister) and the post of Army Commander were given to a Maronite, usually a Khazen or a Hobeich of Keserwan. During this period (1516-1840), the Maronites started returning to southern Mount Lebanon, where they had lived before they were almost exterminated by the Mamelukes in 1307. Thus, the historic Keserwan and all the Druze mountains were repopulated. It was this love and affection between the Maronites and Druze that helped establish the Lebanese identity.

On July 15, 1584, a Maronite college was established in Rome; Pope Gregory hosted the grand opening.

Fakhr-al-Din II, who was said to have been brought up by the Khazen family, fought for Lebanese independence for over 50 years. In the mid-16th century, 25,000 Ottoman troops launched an attack on Lebanon. During the ensuing battles, Fakhr and three of his sons were captured; they were subsequently executed in Istanbul on April 13, 1635.

In 1638, France declared it would protect all Catholics within the Ottoman Empire, including the Maronites.

In the 17th century AD, Western religious groups started settling in Lebanon. The migration began in 1626 with the Capuchins, followed by the Jesuits. The groups moved at this time to serve the Lebanese, opening schools for the Maronite people until there was a school next to each church. This made it possible for the Maronites to acquire formal educations. The Maronites were on the forefront of the cultural Renaissance in the Middle East.

1779 painting of a Maronite nun from Mount Lebanon, with brown jilbab, blue khumur and black hijab.

However, connection to Rome was arduously maintained; and through diplomacy and maneuvering, European powers helped keep the Maronite community from destruction. Eventually, a Maronite College was established at Rome on July 5, 1584. This college provided the Maronite community valuable assistance in maintaining its Christian identity. In 1610, the Maronite monks of the Monastery of Saint Anthony of Qozhaya imported one of the first printing presses in what is known as the Arabic-speaking world; however, that press printed in the Syriac language, not Arabic. The monasteries of Lebanon would later become key players in the Arabic Renaissance of the late 19th century as a result of developing Arabic, as well as Syriac, printable script.

In 1856 the Maronites' uprising against Governor (Dawood Pasha) took place. Youssef Bey Karam was the son of Sheikh Boutros Karam, who was at that time Lord of Ehden and the surrounding district.

French rule

Independent Lebanon


Throughout the history of the Maronite Church, starting shortly after the Council of Trent, the Church has undergone substantial theological and liturgical Latinization. Beginning after the Council of Trent, the Maronite Synod began to adopt Latin practices at the behest of the Latin Church. The culmination of this period of Latinization occurred at the Synod of Mount Lebanon of 1736 when exclusively Latin practices were formalized as the only proper means of ritual and theology. Examples include the replacing of the various Words of Institution of each Anaphora with a standardized, Tridentine version, the mandated use of the Roman rite formula of baptism (as well as all the other six sacraments) and a penalty of automatic suspension to any priest who communed an infant, a practice common among all the Eastern Churches.[16] Essentially, no aspect of Maronite liturgy or theology was left unmodified.

These Latinizations persist until today, despite Papal exhortation since Pope Leo XIII to desist from Latinization and return to the ancient patrimony of the Church.[17] The long lasting implications have been damaging for the Maronite Church as a coherent liturgical and theological identity no longer exist. The current ordo of the Maronite Qurbono Qadisho is almost indistinguishable from the Mass of Paul VI. Patriarch Bechara Rai justifies continued latinization in his encyclical of the liturgy[18] and Patriarch Sfeir in the promulgation of the 2005 missal claiming that Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Roman liturgical changes following Vatican II apply to the Maronite Church, despite Sancrosanctum Concilium stating directly in the foreword, "The practical norms which follow, however, should be taken as applying only to the Roman rite."[19]


The Peshitta is the standard Syriac Bible, used by the Maronite Church, amongst others. The illustration is of the Peshitta text of Exodus 13:14-16 produced in Amida in the year 464.

The head of the Maronite Church is the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch, who is elected by the Maronite bishops and resides in Bkerké, close to Jounieh, north of Beirut (the Maronite Patriarch resides in the northern town of Dimane during the summer months). The current Patriarch (since March 2011) is Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros Rahi, while Cardinal Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir is Patriarch Emeritus. When a new patriarch is elected and enthroned, he requests ecclesiastical recognition by the Pope, thus maintaining their communion with the Holy See. As an Eastern patriarch, the patriarch is usually created a Cardinal by the Pope in the rank of a Cardinal Bishop; he does not receive a suburbicarian see because he is a head of a sui iuris Church.

Maronites share the same doctrine as other Catholics, but they retain their own liturgy, theology, spirituality, discipline and hierarchy. Strictly speaking, the Maronite church belongs to the Antiochene tradition and is a West Syro-Antiochene Rite. Syriac is the liturgical language. Nevertheless, they are considered to be among the most Latinized of the Eastern Catholic Churches, although there have been moves to return to Eastern practices.

Cardinal Sfeir's personal commitment accelerated liturgical reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, bearing fruit in 1992 with the publication of a new Maronite Missal. This represents an attempt to return to the original form of the Antiochene Liturgy, removing the liturgical Latinization of past centuries. The Service of the Word has been described as far more enriched than in previous missals, and it features six Anaphoras (Eucharistic Prayers).

Celibacy is not strictly required for Maronite deacons and priests outside of North America with parishes; monks, however, must remain celibate, as well as bishops who are normally selected from the monasteries. The bishops who serve as eparchs and archeparchs of the eparchies and archeparchies (the equivalent of diocese and archdiocese in the Latin Catholic Church) are answerable to the Patriarch. Due to a long-term understanding with their Latin counterparts in North America, Maronite priests in that area have traditionally remained celibate. However, in February 2014, it was announced that Wissam Akiki had been granted permission to be ordained into the priesthood by Pope Francis. The St. Louis father will be the first married man to be ordained to the Maronite priesthood in North America and will not be expected to uphold a vow of celibacy.[20]


The church has twenty six eparchies and patriarchal vicariates as follows:[21]

In Lebanon: Zahleh, Tyre, Tripoli, Sidon, Sarba (vicariate), Jounieh (vicariate), Zgharta (vicariate), Joubbeh (vicariate), Jbeil, Beirut, Batroun, Baalbeck and Deir el Ahmar and Antelias

In Israel: Haifa, Holy Land and the Patriarchal Vicar

Elsewhere: Cyprus, Cairo, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Sydney, Montreal, Mexico, Los Angeles and Brooklyn


The exact worldwide Maronite population is not exactly known, being estimated at more than 3 million, according to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

Based on a 2007 report, there are approximately 930,000 Maronites in Lebanon, where they constitute up to 22 percent of the population.[22] Syrian Maronites total 51,000 and they follow the archdioceses of Aleppo and Damascus and the Diocese of Latakia.[23] There is also a Maronite community in Cyprus of about 10,000,[23] which speaks Cypriot Maronite Arabic.[24][25] A noticeable Maronite community exists in northern Israel (Galilee), numbering 7,504,[23] being famous for its preservation attempts of the Aramaic language and Aramean ethnic identity.


The two residing eparchies in the United States have issued their own "Maronite Census", designed to estimate how many Maronites reside in the United States. Many Maronites have been assimilated into Western Catholicism as there were no Maronite parishes or priests available. The "Maronite Census" was designed to locate these Maronites. There are also eparchies at São Paulo in Brazil, as well as in Argentina, France, Australia, South Africa, Canada and Mexico.[23]

The history of the Lebanese community in South Africa goes back to the late 19th century, when the first immigrants arrived in Johannesburg, the biggest city in the Transvaal coming from Sebhel, Mesyara, Becharre, Hadath El-Joube, Maghdoushe and other places. It is recorded that in the year 1896 the first Maronite and Lebanese immigrants arrived in Durban, Cape Town and Mozambique, and congregated around their local Catholic Churches.

See also


  1. ^ "There are 3,198,600 Maronites in the World". 1994-01-03. Retrieved 2015-01-03. 
  2. ^ "The Eastern Catholic Churches". 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Review of Phares Book". Retrieved 2009-03-31. 
  5. ^ The Precarious Republic: Political Modernization in Lebanon. By Michael C. Hudson, 1968
  6. ^ Lebanon: Its Stand in History Among the Near East Countries By Salim Wakim, 1996.
  7. ^ "St. George Maronite Church". Retrieved 2009-03-31. 
  8. ^ Maroon, Habib (31 March 2013). "A geneticist with a unifying message". Nature. Retrieved 3 October 2013. 
  9. ^ "Identity of the Maronite Church". 
  10. ^ "Identity of the Maronite Church - A Syriac Antiochene Church with a Special Lit. Heritage". 
  11. ^ Attwater, Donald; The Christian Churches of the East
  12. ^ J. D. Frendo, "Who killed Anastasius II?" Jewish Quarterly Review vol. 72 (1982), 202-4)
  13. ^ Matti Moosa, The Maronites in History (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1986), 195-216.
  14. ^ Matti Moosa, The Maronites in History (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1986), 195-216.
  15. ^ Barber 2013, pp. 108
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Church website, accessed 2011-03-20
  22. ^ Lebanon - International Religious Freedom Report 2008 U.S. Department of State. Retrieved on 2009-09-04.
  23. ^ a b c d Annuario Pontificio : The Eastern Catholic Churches 2008. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  24. ^ Maria Tsiapera, A Descriptive Analysis of Cypriot Maronite Arabic, 1969, Mouton and Company, The Hague, 69 pages
  25. ^ Cyprus Ministry of Interior : European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages : Answers to the Comments/Questions Submitted to the Government of Cyprus Regarding its Initial Periodical Report. Retrieved 25 January 2010.

Further reading

  • Moosa, Matti, The Maronites in History, Gorgias Press, Piscataway, New Jersey, 2005, ISBN 978-1-59333-182-5
  • R. J. Mouawad, Les Maronites. Chrétiens du Liban, Brepols Publishers, Turnhout, 2009, ISBN 978-2-503-53041-3
  • Kamal Salibi - A House of Many Mansions - The History of Lebanon Reconsidered (University of California Press, 1990).
  • Maronite Church. New Catholic Encyclopedia, Second Edition, 2003.
  • Riley-Smith, Johnathan - The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995)
  • Suermann, Harald, Histoire des origines de l'Eglise Maronite, PUSEK, Kaslik, 2010, ISBN 978-9953-491-67-7
  • Barber, Malcom Letters from the East: Crusades, Pilgrims and Settlers in the 12th-13th centuries, Ashgate Press, Reading, United Kingdom, 2013, ISBN 978-1472413932

External links

Maronite hierarchy


Church organizations