History of the Maronites
The Last Ten Centuries
1900 in our Days
Antioch has always been a city of openness, dialogue, and bold initiative. It was converted to Jesus Christ by the preaching of certain of his disciples, and the believers were strengthened in their faith, thanks to the labors of the apostles Paul and Barnabas. The apostle Peter himself, the head of the Christian Church, was its bishop until he set out for Rome. Subsequently, the Church of Antioch prospered and extended its territory, finally becoming one of the great original patriarchates, namely Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.
In the year 518, the Patriarch of Antioch, Severius, was deposed from his see for having denied the two distinct natures in Christ and for rejecting the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon. A Catholic Patriarch succeeded him, by the name of Paul. However, not all the Christians approved his appointment, and in consequence the Church split into two groups, the Chalcedonians and the anti-Chalcedonians. Every since that time, there has always been a Catholic Patriarch holding to the faith as defined at Chalcedon and a non-Catholic Patriarch rejecting it.
A century later, another division affected the Church of Antioch, leaving three groups of Christians, the Syriacs, the Maronites, and the Melkites, and this division has continued down to the present day. As from the seventh century, we find that the original Church had given rise to five district communities, the Melkites, the Maronites, the Syriacs, the Assyrians, and the Armenians, each of which had its own Patriarch. In the twelfth century yet another Patriarch was added in the person of the Latin Patriarch.
The Church of Antioch had
originally been one church encompassing the whole of Asia and the East, but
finally became several churches. Where there had been one Patriarch, now
there are several. One day, God’s mercy will bring it together again as one
flock under one shepherd.
The Maronites and Lebanon
The Maronites are those Christians who gathered round a certain priest by the name of Maron and adopted his pattern of life.
Maron left the city and made his abode on a mountain, intending thereby to leave behind the theological strife and to worship God in solitude. But in his retreat, Maron found that his true vocation was to live with others, so he resumed his parish duties and set about teaching the true doctrine. His disciples increased in number, and they began to call themselves Maronites after their teacher.
Maron died in the year 410, but his disciples carried on his mission. In 451 at the Council of Chalcedon, they held to the clear teaching that Christ was both God and man, having two natures, one divine and one human. Afterwards the Maronites were loyal defenders of the decrees of the Council. In the upshot, the opponents of Chalcedon showed themselves bitter enemies of the Maronites, who started moving to Lebanon in successive waves after 350 of them had been martyred.
Near the end of the fifth century of the Christian era, the inhabitants of Mount Lebanon had been converted by the disciples of St. Maron and had become Maronites themselves. These now welcomed their brethren arriving from Antioch and the two groups, now mingled, pursued their mission together. When the Arabs finally dominated the area, and any regular contact with the patriarchate of Constantinople became impossible, the Maronites had to appoint in 687 their own Patriarch, who was Saint John-Maron.
The Emperor of Byzantium acted as if his royal authority extended over the Church. He appointed Patriarchs and in many ways interfered in ecclesiastical matters. The Christians for their part got into the habit of turning to him to solve their problems. When the Maronites chose a Patriarch for themselves, the authorities at Byzantium withheld their consent. While invading the region, the imperial army attacked the Maronites, and a battle was fought at Amioun, which resulted in a victory for the latter. The Patriarch established himself at Kfarhay, where he made the episcopal palace his seat.
A number of Patriarchs
resided at Kfarhay, among whom are John-Maron, Cyr, and Gabriel. They watched
over their flock and ensured the purity of their faith. The Anaphora of St
John- Maron, in daily use, is a brilliant testimony to the faith of the
Maronites in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The lure of the riches of the
world, which they had left, could not shake their firm belief, nor could the
assaults of their enemies disperse them. They loved their Creator and cherished
his Holy Word.
The Patriarchs of Kfarhay
At Kfarhay the Patriarchs
lived through hard times. Numbers of their spiritual children flocked about
them, trudging to Kfarhay on weary feet, carrying in their arms their infant
children and staggering under the burden of such simple belongings as they had
been able to bring when driven from their houses, their lands, and their
property in Syria and the Bekaa. They now came to wrest a living from a rocky,
densely forested land, lacking every amenity. However, the district of Batroun
opened its arms to them like a mother welcoming her children.
Now the Maronites put behind them the years of plenty and prepared for the years of hunger. They transformed rock into fertile soil in which they grew wheat and other grains, planted olive trees, grapevines and mulberry trees, and added to their traditional prayers a beautiful one: ”By the intercession of your Mother, O Lord, turn your wrath from the land and its inhabitants. Put an end to trouble and sedition, banish from it war, plunder, hunger and plague. Have pity on us in our misfortunes. Console those of us who are sick. Help us in our weakness. Deliver us from oppression and exile. Grant eternal rest to our dead. Allow us to live in peace in this world that we may glorify you”. In their prayers the Maronites spoke of their hardships, hunger, disorders, and injustice, for these were things they were familiar with.
Finally, after 251 years spent by the Patriarchs in the region of Batroun, they had to find a new refuge, facing new difficulties on new soil.
The thoughts of the Patriarch kept turning to the city of Antioch, where he yearned to remain with his flock during its days of torment.
Patriarch John II imagined
that he could fulfill this ambition. Once he had reached Antioch he made every
endeavor to bring all the Maronites together, but without any success.
Recurring difficulties and disorders obliged him to relinquish his plan and to
”take refuge in the heart of Mount Lebanon in 938” as Patriarch DOUAIHY wrote
of him. Finally, he settled in the vicinity of Aakoura. (The Annals, 50)
The Patriarchs and Akoura
The sojourn of the Maronite Patriarchs in the district of Jbeil lasted for 502 years, that is to say, from 938 to 1440 A.D. Thirty-four Patriarchs resided there, whose names are to be found in a list compiled by Patriarch DOUAIHY and published in 1902 by Rashid SHARTOUNI.
John-Maron II, Gregory, Stephen, Mark, Eusebius, John, Joshua, David, Gregory, Theofelix, Joshua, Dumith, Isaac, John, Simon, Joseph EL GERGESSI (1110-1120), Peter (1121-1130), Gregory of Halate (1130-1141), Jacob of Ramate (1141-1151), John (1151 -1154), Peter (1154-1173), Peter of Lehfed (1173-1199), Jeremiah of Amshit (1199-1230), Daniel of Shamat (1230-1239), John of Jaje (1239-1245), Simon (1245-1277), Daniel of Hadshit (1278-1282), Jeremiah of Dmalsa (1282-1297), Simon (1297-1339), John (1339-1357), Gabriel of Hjula (1357-1367), John (1367- 1404), John of Jaje (1404-1445).
What was the activity of these prelates, and what did they achieve?
Of this, history has
nothing to record. They lived in inaccessible and trackless mountain fastness.
They lacked all means for the acquisition and storing of knowledge and
considered themselves happy if they were able to live in peace among their
faithful people, treasuring the Christian teaching that had been handed down to
They did not even have any fixed Patriarchal seat. They went from Yanuh down to Mayfuq, then to Lehfed, to Habil, back to Yanuh, to Kfifan, to Kfarhay, to Kafre, to Yanuh again, and to Hardine, and to Mayfuq again. If they accepted to live an austere life and to be like Abraham ever on the move, it was because it was their will to follow in the footsteps of St Maron, their master, and to say Yes to Jesus Christ.
Their dwellings were extremely humble, and deprived of all show of riches and pomp, but magnificent in their simplicity and detachment from the world. However, ”the devoted inhabitants of Yanuh, being pious and good Apostles, insisted on building a residence for the Patriarch, in green stone, very attractive and solidly constructed”. (DOUAIHY, The Annals 50)
The Patriarchal seat at
Mayfuq, which still exists, is a true work of art. If the greater part of the
construction is devoted to the church, as was the case of the other residences
vestiges of which are scattered about, this was because the Patriarchs were
above all men of prayer and so wanted their places of residence to be in the
first place retreats for prayer.
The Years of Difficulties
After the departure of the Crusaders, the Maronites came under attack from the Mamlouks. They suffered every humiliation, while their Churches were set of fire, their villages plundered, and their vineyards destroyed.
”On Monday, the second day
of Muharram, Akush Pasha, governor of Damascus, marched at the head of a
military force into the mountains of Kesrouan. The soldiers invested these
mountains and, having dismounted scaled the slopes from all sides.
”The governor invaded the hills, and his soldiers trampled underfoot a land whose inhabitants had believed it impregnable. The enemy occupied the heights, destroyed the villages, and wreaked havoc in the vineyards. They massacred the people and made prisoners of them. The mountains were left deserted.” (The Annals, 288)
The Patriarchs themselves had their share of the general misfortune, suffering as much as any. One was tortured, another harassed, another compelled to flee, another put on trial, and yet another burnt alive.
”In 1283 Patriarch Daniel of Hadshit in person led his men in their defence against the Mamlouk soldiery, after the latter had assaulted the Jubbeh of Bsharri. He succeeded in checking their advance before Ehden for forty days, and the Mamlouks captured Ehden only after they had seized the Patriarch by a ruse. ”In 1367, patriarch Gabriel was conveyed from Hjoula, his home district where he had taken refuge during the persecutions, down to Tripoli, where he was burnt alive at the stake. His tomb still stands in Bab el Ramel, at the gates of Tripoli.” ”In 1402, there was great hardship. Many of the dead remained without burial, many of which died of hunger. It was a tragedy without parallel.” (DOUAIHY, The Annals, 338).
However, the Maronites bore their trials patiently. They looked on the district of Jbeil, which had sheltered their Patriarchs, as a fertile land which by its bounty and situation invited them to meditation and prayer. They had drawn from its rough roads patience in adversity, from its high mountains the ability to rise above the outrages inflicted on them, and from the vastness of the sea reflecting the azure vault of heaven the habit of turning their vision to distant horizons. For them Jbeil was the Garden of Gethsemane, impressing on them its pure spirit and endowing them with courage, wisdom and peace of mind. They read the Holy Gospel, and in this way they were brought together again.
For they did not give up hope. They put in the balance what they had gained and what they had lost as a result of their alliance with the Crusaders and realized that God was their only resort. In Him they placed all their trust and gathered round their Patriarch as their leader, both spiritual and civil. After passing their situation in review, they called on the civil chiefs of the villages, the muqaddams, to act according to the instructions emanating from the Patriarch, and for their part these notables accepted minor orders as sub-deacons to put themselves at his disposition.
These initiatives bore good fruit. The country knew some tranquillity and order. When they had invaded Kesrouan, the main purpose of the Mamlouks, who were Sunni Muslims, had been to eliminate the Shiites. But this gave the Maronites the opportunity to act as mediators. To a considerable degree they reconciled the opposing points of view of the two rival communities, acting as Apostles of peace and harmony in all the villages where Sunnites and Shiites dwelt together, interposing between them.
The Churches that have survived from this period are small, but they testify to the renewal in our mountains of the mission in Our Lord Jesus Christ, which began when he trod the soil of Lebanon. The priests administered the sacraments and preached the word of God. Miracles followed: wounds were healed, tears were wiped away, vendettas were settled, and unity was restored.
The unity of the Maronites
owes much to their parochial life. It was this, which led them to enter into
relationships with the Shiites and the Druzes, serving the Sunnites Shehabi
dynasty, and working with all for the common good. All were united when it was
a matter of facing a common enemy. When finally they found themselves in a
situation, which knew no other solution, the Maronites moved into the valley of
The Maronites and Rome
Pope Innocent III saw with his own eyes what men of prayer the Maronite Patriarchs were on the day when Patriarch Jeremiah of Amshit came to see him during the proceedings of the Latran Council of 1215, in which the latter participated. ”The Pope ordered that the Patriarch be depicted in a painting to be made for St Peter’s. When over the centuries the painting had lost much of its radiance, Pope Innocent XIII ordered that it be retouched. This painting represents the Patriarch raising the host that had frozen in his hands while he was celebrating Mass, with the Pope attending”. (DOUAIHY, Chronologie des Patriarches Maronites, 24).
These Patriarchs did not leave behind them great works, such as fine Churches or castles or universities. Nevertheless, they succeeded like the Apostles in watching over their flocks as mothers and fathers do over their children, and to pass on to them the teachings of Our Lord. They formed a people full of the faith, blessing when insulted and enduring when persecuted. When at last they had completed their labors in one place, they carried the torch and went elsewhere.
For three centuries the Maronites were cut off from the rest of the world, blockaded with in their mountains; and when the Crusaders swarmed into the East, their discovery of the Maronites came as a surprise. The Holy See itself was astonished to learn of their continued existence when their disappearance had been taken for granted. Subsequently there were strong ties formed between the Maronites and the Crusaders, particularly after the arrival in the East of St Louis, King of France.
During the thirteenth
century, Lebanon knew some decades of relative peace. The Maronites were even
able to undertake the construction of a number of Churches, an activity which
Patriarch DOUAIHY recorded as follows: ”At that time, Christianity spread
throughout the East and was openly proclaimed. Bronze bells were rung to summon
the faithful to prayer and to the sacred services. Those who received the
outpourings of God’s grace founded convents and built Churches, for the people
yearned to serve the Almighty and to perform good deeds. Father Basil of
Bsharri had three daughters: Mariam, Thecla, and Salomeh. Mariam constructed
the shrine of St Saba in Bsharri in Mount Lebanon; Salomeh, that of St Daniel
in Hadath; and Thecla, that of St George in Bkerkasha as well as two churches
in Koura...” (The Annals, 104)
Although he had received an invitation from Pope Eugene IV to attend the Council of Florence in person, ”the Maronite Patriarch sent Fra Juan as his delegate, being motivated by concern about the risks of the voyage. Fra Juan had an audience with the Pope, at that time presiding the works of the Council, after which he returned to Lebanon bearing the Pallium.
”When the worthy friar
reached Tripoli, there was a large crowd who came to greet him; unfortunately
however, there were also soldiers sent by the governor to arrest him, the
official in question being persuaded that the Christians had met in Florence to
prepare the launching of another crusade against the Muslims of Syria. On
learning of the envoy’s misfortune, the Patriarch sent emissaries to reassure
the governor about Fra Juan’s intentions. After having pocketed a substantial
bribe, the governor set his prisoner free after the latter had promised to
return after completing his mission. Fra Juan made his way up to Our Lady of
Mayfuk, which was then the seat of the Patriarch, and delivered him the Pallium
together with a letter from Pope Eugene IV. But he then set off for Rome again,
this time passing through Beirut and ignoring his earlier promise to the
governor of Tripoli, who naturally enough flew into a rage and sent his
soldiers to arrest both the Patriarch and other leading personalities. Finding
nobody at the patriarchal residence, he plundered and set fire to the houses
around and even killed a number of the local inhabitants. Those of his men who
continued the search for the Patriarch destroyed the monastery, killing some of
the monks and taking the others in chains to Tripoli.” The Patriarch was
obliged to leave the monastery of Mayfuk and from then on lived under the
protection of Jacob, Mukaddam of Bsharri.” (DOUAIHY, The Annals, 210).
As one advances into the deep-cut valley of Kannoubine, one is surrounded by mountains towering over the gorge, leaving only a patch of the sky visible overhead. If one looks down from the shoulder of one of the great mountains into the three-thousand-foot depths of the gorge below, one is overwhelmed by a sense of power, and one wants to seize some twisted tree- trunk or jutting crag so as not go falling into the vast space between plunging cliffs. One European traveler recounted how the Patriarch, like a second Moses risen from the pages of the Old Testament, guided his people from his austere retreat among the rocks. Our Lady of Kannoubine was the seat of 24 Patriarchs between 1440 and 1823. They were:
John of Jaj (1440-1445), Jacob of Hadeth (1445-1468), Joseph of Hadeth (1468-1492), Symeon of Hadeth (1492-1524), Moussa AKARI of Barida (1524-1567), Michael RIZZI of Bkoufa (1567- 1581), Sarkis RIZZI of Bkoufa (1581-1596), Joseph RIZZI of Bkoufa (1596-1608), John MAKHLOUF of Ehden (1608-1633), George OMAIRA of Ehden (1633-1644), Joseph HALIB of Akoura (1644-1648), John Bawab of Safra (1648-1656), George Rizkallah of Bseb’el (1656- 1670), Stephen DOUAIHY of Ehden (1670-1704), Gabriel of Blaouza (1704-1705), Jacob AWAD of Hasroun (1705-1733), Joseph DERGHAM Khazen of Ghosta (1733-1742), Symeon AWAD of Hasroun (1743-1756), Toubia EL KHAZEN of Bekaata Kanaan (1756-1766), Joseph STEPHAN of Ghosta (1766-1793), Michael FADEL of Beirut (1793-1795), Philip GEMAYEL of Bikfaya (1795-1796), Joseph TYAN of Beirut (1796-1808), John HELOU of Ghosta (1808-1823).
All of those named above were God-fearing men, servants of their people. The valley stands witness to their holiness and the sincerity of their quest for God through austerity and frugality. People said of them, ”Their crosses are of wood, but their hearts are of gold.”
If must be said here that
the hardships endured by the Maronites were not entirely to their disadvantage.
Their sufferings united the people under their leaders, in turn under the
authority of the Patriarch. The Mukaddam of Bsharri was the chief of his whole
region. In this way some semblance of peace and order was established.
But even the times of peace were not without trouble, as may be seen from this report made by a traveler who visited Kannoubine in 1475: ”The Maronite nation has lived under occupation enduring continuous oppression and tyranny. All over Lebanon one finds ruin, tears, and terror. Under the pretext of gathering a certain tax called the ”Gezia”, the authorities strip the peasants of all their belongings and beat them with sticks, and torture them in order to extract from them all that they possess. Many would have perished had not their aged patriarch, Peter son of Hassan, come to their rescue. Terrified by the perils that threatened his people, the Patriarch gave away all the revenues of the Church to satisfy the rapacity of the tyrants. "The door of the patriarchal monastery was sealed, and the Patriarch sometimes had to hide in caves as did Popes Urban and Sylvester." (Marcellin de Civezza, Histoire universelle des missions franciscaines, Paris 1858, vol. 3, p. 209)
In Wadi Kannoubine, the Maronites heard the Gospel and lived by it. Theirs was a life of sacrifice inspired by the true faith and by hope, and so their lives were directed. They were an example of unity and love. In Wadi Kannoubine the Maronites had no need to be urged to pray. Wadi Kannoubine is in itself an invitation to the forgetfulness of self, to meditation, and to prayer, an invitation that the Maronites did not refuse. ”They spent their time as the first Christians did, learning from the Apostles”. (Acts II:42) Some of them felt the need to live a life more fully devoted to prayer; many men and women sought God away from the haunts of men, and soon the caves in the valley became the retreats of hermits devoted to the inner life of union with the Creator.
The Maronites at that time
were always under the threat of famine through failure of the crops. They were
also under the threat of attack on their persons whenever they went out to
their fields. But they lived without hate towards any, anxious only to fulfill
their mission in this world. They were the Apostles of Jesus Christ. They
labored in patience and in hope. They looked on their enemies as people for
whom Jesus had died, people to whom they must convey the message of the Gospel.
They made such progress in virtue that in 1515 Pope Leo could write them a
letter of encouragement in which he said: ”You have acted without allowing the
persecutions and the hardship inflicted on you by the infidels, enemies of Our
Savior, and from the heretics and schismatic, to turn you away from the faith
The Maronite College of Rome
On July 5th, 1584, Pope Gregory inaugurated the Maronite College in Rome, satisfying the aspirations of the community and opening to its students the way to success. In his bull the Pope declared:
“We hope that the students of this college during the days ahead, after being formed in piety and the true religion, which are of the tree of Sion and of the teaching of the Roman Church, head of all the Churches, will return home to the cedars of Lebanon to serve their community, renewing in their country faith in God.
”This is why, with full knowledge of the facts and by virtue of our apostolic authority, we establish the Maronite College, where the students of this community may learn good behavior, devotion, the true doctrine, and all the virtues which every Christian must have.”
With the arrival of the first students in Rome, the dreams of the Pope became a reality, and the whole Maronite community began to emerge from the shadows. More than that, the Maronite community now had means of access to Europe and to the world beyond, and was able to play its role as an intermediary between East and West.
Many eminent clerics were trained in the Maronite College, the most famous being Patriarch DOUAIHY, ”who visited every diocese to choose holy and educated priests. He examined the liturgical books, corrected the errors introduced into them by the copyists, read and adapted the works of historians, both eastern and western, and wrote books some of which are still unpublished.” (Patriarch Jacob AWAD) Others worthy of note include Joseph Assemani, appointed archivist in the Vatican Library, Gabriel SIONITE, professor first in Rome and then in Paris in the Royal College as well as interpreter to King Louis XIII, Echellensis, whose career exactly paralleled that of Gabriel SIONITE, and Mirhej Ben Namroun, also professor and interpreter.
The Patriarchs were now in a position to encourage the education of their people. As the famous Lebanese Synod said:
”In the name of Jesus Christ we urge you all, the ordinaries of the dioceses, of the towns, villages and hamlets, and of the convents, to work together to encourage this undertaking, which will bear much fruit. The chiefs of the people must find teachers wherever they can, and take the names of all the children able to learn, and order the parents to bring their children to school even against their will. If they are orphans or if they are poor, let the church or the monastery feed them, and if it cannot, let it contribute one half of the cost and the parents the other.” (The Lebanese Synod, 529)
Now western religious communities began to settle in Lebanon. The Capuchins were the first in 1626, followed in 1635 by the Carmelites and in 1656 by the Jesuits. The process went steadily ahead.
These religious orders came in order to serve the Lebanese. They opened schools in which the youth of the country were formed, schools whose academic level was on a par with those of Europe itself.
Schools were opened one
after the other, until there was one adjoining every Maronite Church. Some,
such as those of Ain Warka, Mar Abda, and Haouka, flourished and gained a
reputation for themselves. Once the Lebanese, at that time mostly Maronites,
had acquired a good education, they were at the forefront of Arab intellectual
progress, and played a leading role in the cultural Renaissance of the Middle
First Maronite Order
”In 1694, Gabriel HAWA,
Abdallah BEN ABDEL-AHAD Qara’li, and Youssef BEN ALBETEN, approached Patriarch
DOUAIHY to request his permission to establish a religious community that
follows a religious rule and constitutions under the authority of superiors who
would be under a superior general. The members would take vows of poverty,
chastity, and obedience, under the patronage of St Anthony, the father of
hermits. The Patriarch looked favorably on their demand, thanked them, and
blessed their enterprise.” (Debs, 253)
The beginning of the
eighteenth century found the Maronites divided by two currents. One group
wanted to preserve the Maronite traditions, while the others were in favor of
the Latinization. The holding of a synod became necessary to heal the divisions
and to restore to
the community its previous luster. This synod opened at Louaizeh in 1736 and was the most comprehensive to be held in modern times.
It was useful to the community, as it provided guidelines for the ending of chaos and the healing of divisions. But it also limited the authority of the Patriarch and favored the liberal Latinizing tendency. It did not provide definitive solutions and left the community in a condition that was by no means entirely healthy. In the region of Jbeil, the Maronites suffered from famine, hardship, and privation, bearing with their lot in patience and silence. When pursued by enemies, they took to flight, and history speaks of no protest on their part, as if they had acknowledged their guilt. Their wretched condition was accepted as a punishment for sin. When the Mamlouks vented their wrath on the Maronites, no murmur rose from their victims. Their muqaddams received the subdiaconate as a way of turning a page on the past and accepting the authority of the Patriarch.
In Wadi Kannoubine, too,
the Maronites endured famine and privation, and were pursued by enemies. But
here they made themselves heard. In Jbeil they had kept silence, but in Wadi
Kannoubine they did not accept to be downtrodden. Was this because something
around them had changed? Was it because they were in a place of surer refuge,
unlike Jbeil? Wadi Kannoubine was indeed their last stronghold, and it was lost
all would be lost. Now the Maronite people reacted with vigour and initiative.
Men and women devoted to prayer, and particularly to the life of the hermitage,
increased in number. Schools were opened and the pupils flowed in. Religious
orders were founded, and after division a synod was held.
Such a brief summing-up is not without truth. The fact is that Nature has a force of its own. Jbeil is a region of serenity and a school of wisdom, where the Maronites learnt peace of mind. The adjoining sea extended in tranquil vastness. Wadi Kannoubine, however, is all crag and mountain rock, soaring heights and plunging depths. It is a land still bearing the imprint of its Creator, and is a source of revelation and inspiration to action. There the Maronite has been schooled in forcefulness and obstinacy, to become a man of bold initiative.
In Wadi Kannoubine one feels a force conducive to prayer and meditation, to thought and to action. There, a man can realize that he is both dust and spirit. He feels the force of the soil and its attraction, and remembers the words to Holy Scripture: ”Dust and ashes art thou, O man, and to dust and ashes thou shalt return”. He feels also the force of the spirit, and again recalls the words of Holy Scripture: ”In the beginning God created heaven and earth. And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved over the waters”. (Genesis I, 1, 2) At Wadi Kannoubine the poet is a poet, the husbandman is a husbandman, and the Christian is a Christian. At Wadi Kannoubine, a man is known for what he is, either cold or hot, as is said in the Apocalypse of St John: ”I know what you have done; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were either one or the other. But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am going to spit you out of my mouth”. (Apocalypse III: 15 -16). The Maronites of Wadi Kannoubine had not been at all cold. Their difficulties and their sufferings had marked them. They mourned but they took stock of themselves, and entered on a new life. As Jbeil was the Maronites’ Garden of Olives, so Wadi Kannoubine was their road to Golgotha, and there remained for them only the triumph of the Resurrection. In 1823 the patriarchal seat was transferred to Dimane for the summer and Bkerke for the winter. The Maronites stood now in expectation of finding glory after their long history of suffering and tribulation. Wadi Kannoubine was where the Patriarch took refuge during the period of great hardship, which lasted 383 years, from 1440 to 1823. As peace slowly returned, the Patriarchs envisaged the transfer of their seat to Dimane. The first Patriarch to consider such a move was Youssef HOBAISH, who occupied a house overlooking the valley and belonging to a partner in ownership of a farm west of the village. But the first to act on the idea was Patriarch Hanna EL HAJJ, who built the Patriarchal residence in Dimane now known as the Old Residence, in the center of the village, while near it he erected the church of St John-Maron, now the parish Church. The present residence was the work of Patriarch Elias HOAYEK, who laid the foundation stone on September 28, 1899. The architect was the Lazarist Brother Leonard, who had previously planned the residence at Bkerke
The Patriarch had no winter residence, and therefore considered the construction of one at Bkerke.
In 1703, cloister of Bkerke
was built by Sheikh Khattar EL KHAZEN. It had a little Church with a presbytery
alongside. In 1730, it was taken in charge by the Antonine order. In 1750,
Bishop Germanos SAKR and Sister Hindyieh Oujaymeh took it as a house for the
Congregation of the Sacred Heart. In 1779, an apostolic decree was issued dissolving
the Congregation of the Sacred Heart and putting the house at the disposition
of the Maronite community for any useful purpose. In 1786, the Maronite Synod
of Bishops declared that Bkerki should be a dependency of the residence at
Kannoubine. In 1890, Patriarch Hanna EL HAJJ restored it, adding part of the
ground floor and the whole of the upper story. Brother Leonard, the Lazarist,
was the architect. In 1970, Patriarch Paul MEOUSHI had various repairs made.
In 1982, Patriarch Anthony KHORAISH had the main gate made. In 1995, patriarch Nasrallah SFEIR enlarged the residence with a new building for the archives and for the patriarchal exhibition. He also made a cemetery for the Patriarchs and embellished the church with fine stained-glass windows. Nine Patriarchs have used Dimane as a summer residence and Bkerki as a winter one: Youssef HOBAISH of Sahel Alma (1823-1845), Youssef EL KHAZEN ofAjaltoun (1845-1854), Boulos MASSAD of Ashkout (1854-1890), Hanna EL HAJJ of Dlebta (1890-1898), Elias HOAYEK of Hilta (1898-1931), Antoun Arida of Bsharri (1932-1955), Boulos MEOUSHI of Jezzine (1955-1975), Anthony KHORAISH of Ain Ibl (1975-1986), Nasrallah SFEIR of Reyfoun (1986)
All these Patriarchs bore a heavy burden of responsibility, working for the unity of their flock. Their main concern has been the independence of Lebanon.
In fact, despite the
Mamlouk occupation and the especially redoubtable Ottoman occupation, the
Maronites have always managed to preserve a certain degree of autonomy. Their
Patriarch refused the decree by virtue of which the Sublime Porte used to
recognize the Patriarch, and so they have always been leading their country
towards total independence and seeking to preserve all that they achieved.
Events followed in rapid succession. After the troubles of 1860 between the Maronites and the Druzes, there came massive emigration, World War I, and then conflicts with brother against brother. The tragedy of 1860 resulted in the death of some ten thousand Maronites, and in a deep division between the Maronites and the Druzes. Many Maronites were forced to leave their homeland and seek their fortune abroad. The coexistence of the communities was called into question.
Then during World War I a
blockade was imposed on the Lebanese Mountains and hundreds of thousands
starved. The Church opened its doors to the poor. Patriarch Anthony ARIDA set
up a cement-making factory and also the Kadisha Electricity Company. These
provided jobs for hundreds of young men. Such initiatives had a positive effect,
helping forward the process of reconciliation to strengthen national unity.
After the war, there was a return to the traditional pattern of life. Now that
the Maronites had a more normal existence, there were two tendencies dividing
them. Conflict was renewed, and the enemy outside entered the house. Coming to
the most recent part of the contemporary history of our community, we find
selfishness as the dominating force driving the hearts of the faithful.
Division reached the point where members were finally at each other’s throats
and carrying out massacres. This egoism has inevitable repercussions on the lives of the faithful.
There was a moral collapse, and many people went abroad, as their predecessors
had done after the events of 1860.
The Independent Lebanon
Independence was not easy to achieve. After the Ottoman withdrawal, the diverging political orientations of the seventeen Lebanese communities made agreement among them difficult. However, every one of the Maronite Patriarchs knew his mission as an Apostle of peace. His presence could be felt everywhere, supporting every effort for the public good and opposing injustice. All the Lebanese would trust him, for they knew he could be relied on as working for national unity and independence. In 1919, patriarch Elias HOAYEK as delegated by the Lebanese people to go to the Peace Conference at Versailles, and to demand independence on their behalf. The Patriarch went to Versailles explained the problems of Lebanon, negotiated effectively, and accomplished his mission. He thus put the future of Lebanon on a firm footing and obtained satisfaction for the national aspirations.
The Patriarchs who succeeded Elias HOAYEK all followed his example. ”No to monopolies!” said Patriarch ARIDA. ”No to injustice!” said Patriarch AFEOUSHI. ”No to fratricidal strife!” said Patriarch KHORAISH. ”No to hegemony!” said Patriarch SFEIR. But it was always ”Yes!” For sovereignty and freedom of decision. The Patriarchs looked beyond narrow confines and worked not only on behalf of their community but on behalf of all the Lebanese. Acting in this spirit, they helped strengthen national unity and mutual understanding among the communities. This proved to be a source of wealth for the country, as Lebanon swung into an era of development.
When the worst period of
trial came to an end, the Patriarch moved to Dimane in summer and to Bkerke in
winter. The Maronites thought that glory now awaited them and happiness
unalloyed. However, they were to learn that they had a long road to tread
before they could achieve their ambitions.
The Maronite Diaspora
Did this mark the end of all the aspirations of the Maronites? Let us turn back to the very beginnings of the Church. ”That very day the Church in Jerusalem began to suffer cruel persecution. All the believers, except the Apostles, were scattered throughout the provinces of Judea and Samaria... The believers who were scattered went everywhere, preaching the message”. (Acts Vlll. 1/4).
A similar movement in the history of the Maronites in Lebanon paralleled this development in the early history of the Church in Jerusalem. The Maronites set out for foreign parts and in doing so spread the message of St Maron throughout the world. The Maronites of the Diaspora, estimated to number some four million, played a humanistic role wherever they went, and wherever they went they succeeded, the most famous among them being Khalil GIBRAN. However, they did not forget the suffering land of Lebanon, which they had once left; they helped it financially and politically with a view to their future return. Emigration meant no setback for the community, and the Maronites were by no means doomed to extinction.
At the same time, the papal
bulls, received by the Patriarchs over many hundreds of years and jealously
kept in the Patriarchal archives in Bkerke, the manuscripts written by bishops,
priests, and hermits in the valley of Kannoubine, in the Churches of the
mountains of Lebanon and elsewhere, kept the historical documents numbering over
a million, all these are a testimony to the achievements of the Maronites in
passing their message down the ages and to the witness they have borne for
Christ down generations of cruel suffering. Their mission has been clearly
fulfilled despite the challenges they faced.
The New Maronite Saints
Saint Charbel Makhlouf, whom Pope Paul Vl canonized on October 9th, 1977, and Blessed Rafca Rayess, whom Pope John-Paul II beatified on November 17th, 1985, may help us as examples of that multitude of Maronites who followed Jesus Christ in silence, doing his will, and forgetting themselves for the sake of their Savior and of His Gospel. Charbel and Rafca represent those Maronites who said ”No!” to evil and who incarnated that Maronite spirituality whose youth is ever renewed. Self- seeking has hampered this mission, assumed by the Maronites down the centuries. It may be thought to have been enfeebled to the point where it appears non-existent. However, there can be no doubt that it will revive, that love will prevail, and that the Maronites will once again play their leading role.
The Pastoral Synod called for by Pope John-Paul II on June 12th, 1991, is a ray of hope. If the whole Maronite nation has suffered decline, in the same way this nation, if it listens to the call of the Pope, will triumph over its sins and continue on the road to success. Will triumph over its sins and continue on the road to success. This initiative comprises, among many other proposals, an educational project the effectiveness of which is certain. All efforts are to be coordinated and with good will on all sides there can be no doubt concerning the results. The teaching, which formed the Maronite nation in the days of Yanuh and Mayfuk, will sanctify it during the days of Dimane and Bkerke. It has become apparent to many that the cause of the evils which have come upon us, the fratricide, the expulsions, the ruin and the devastation, has been the failure to give adequate instruction, with the tragic consequence of a turning away from God. What we must demand from Dimane and Bkerke is encouragement for this task of Christian education. Instruction is the doorway to salvation. The more vigorously they follow the path marked by their ancestors in following the apostolic teaching, in leading the common life, in breaking bread, and in prayer, the better the Maronites will surmount their failure, and the sooner they will pass from Golgotha to the glory of the Resurrection. Dimane and Bkerke are the sheet anchor. They point the way to Christ. They are the windows to the glory of Resurrection.