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"Uniate" Maronite Church

The Maronites are the largest Uniate or Eastern church in Lebanon and represent an indigenous church. The Maronite nation occupies the southern slopes of the Lebanon, from Tripoli in the north to Tyre and the sea of Galilee in the south - an area of about 3,000 square miles. Their origins are uncertain. It is uncertain whether they were originally a political nation or a Christian sect. They number about 320,000 souls in a pretty compact mass, especially in the districts of Kesrwan and Bsherreh near Tripoli, where they form the main part of the population. One version traces them to John Maron of Antioch in the seventh century A.D.; another points to John Maron, a monk of Homs in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. Their name may be derived from a monastery of St. Maron (our lord) or Mari (my lord) in the Lebanon. The words maron or marun in Syriac mean "small lord."

In the late seventh century, as a result of persecutions from other Christians for the heterodox views they had adopted, the Maronites withdrew from the coastal regions into the mountainous areas of Lebanon and Syria. Their ecclesiastical history is somewhat wrapped in darkness, but it appears certain that they joined the Monotheletic party in the eighth century.

Maronite communion with the Roman Catholic Church was established in 1182, broken thereafter, and formally reestablished in the sixteenth century. In accordance with the terms of union, they retain their own rites and canon law and use Arabic and Aramaic in their liturgy as well the Karshuni script with old Syriac letters.

During the time of the Crusades (in 1182) they went over to the Roman Church, but whether only their leaders at first, and the mass of the people in later centuries, is not to be ascertained. This is the only case of the seceding of an entire Oriental Church to Rome. Strangely enough, only the following authentic, and yet much contested, report of William of Tyre, the historian of the Crusades, concerns this important event in Church History (Bongart, Oest. Dei per francos, I, xxii, cap. 8. Realeno. 3d Ed., xii, p. 358): "In that year (1182), a Syrian nation (natio qucedam Syrorum) living in the neighbourhood of the city of Byblus in Phoenicia at the Lebanon suffered a great change in its condition (plurimam passa est mutationem). For after they had followed for nearly five hundred years the false teaching of a certain heresiarch, named Maron, from whom they derived the name Maronites, and had separated themselves from the Church of Believers, retaining their special forms of worship, they now, led by divine inspiration, came to the Latin Patriarch, Aimerich of Antioch, renouncing their error and accepting the orthodox faith and, with their Patriarch and certain bishops, joined the Roman Church again. There were more than 40,000 of them, all brave men, practiced in war, who did good service in the war with the Saracens."

Ever since that time Rome endeavored to effect the spiritual assimilation of this proud, warlike mountain race. The Synods held in the monastery of Kannobin in 1596, and in the nunnery of Luweiz in Kesrwan in 1736, were important and successful steps in this policy of unification which was pursued for centuries. The Maronites, apart from the use of the Syrian ecclesiastical language and the enjoyment of some ancient national privileges, were thoroughly Romanized.

As in the case of the Maronite Church, Rome has ever, especially since the time of the Crusades, made it a point to increase her influence over all the Oriental Churches, and eventually to win over to herself larger or smaller portions of them. The story of this wooing is an interesting and checkered, though not very edifying, chapter in church history. Rome often thought she had succeeded in bringing this or that Church into union with herself, only to be disappointed at the very moment of apparent success.

During the Ottoman era (1516-1914) they remained isolated and relatively independent in these areas. In 1857 and 1858 the Maronite peasants revolted against the large landowning families. The revolt was followed by a further struggle between the Druzes and Maronites over land ownership, political power, and safe passage of community members in the territory of the other. The conflict led France to send a military expedition to the area in 1860. The disagreements diminished in intensity only after the establishment of the Mandate and a political formula whereby all sects achieved a degree of political representation. The Maronite sect has been directed and administered by the Patriarch of Antioch and the East. Bishops are generally nominated by a church synod from among the graduates of the Maronite College in Rome. In 1987, Mar Nasrallah Butrus Sufayr was the Maronite Patriarch.

Besides the Beirut archdiocese, nine other archdioceses and dioceses are located in the Middle East: Aleppo, Damascus, Jubayl-Al Batrun, Cyprus, Baalbek, Tripoli, Tyre, Sidon, and Cairo. Parishes and independent dioceses are situated in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Côte d'Ivoire, and Senegal. There are four minor seminaries in Lebanon (Al Batrun, Ghazir, Ayn Saadah, and Tripoli) and a faculty of theology at the University of the Holy Spirit at Al Kaslik, which is run by the Maronite Monastic Order. The patriarch is elected in a secret ceremony by a synod of bishops and confirmed by the Pope.

In 1986 it was estimated that there were 356,000 Maronites in Lebanon, or 16 per cent of the population. Most Maronites have historically been rural people, like the Druzes; however, unlike the Druzes, they are scattered around the country, with a heavy concentration in Mount Lebanon. The urbanized Maronites reside in East Beirut and its suburbs. The Maronite sect has traditionally occupied the highest stratum of the social pyramid in Lebanon. Leaders of the sect have considered Maronite Christianity as the "foundation of the Lebanese nation." The Maronites have been closely associated with the political system of independent Lebanon; it was estimated that in pre-Civil War Lebanon members of this sect held 20 percent of the leading posts.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:53:08 ZULU