Milestones In The History Of The Lebanese Maronite Order (Part 1 of 3)

 

 

The Maronite Church witnessed 8 important milestones throughout its history. Father Karam Rizk, Director of the Institute of History at the University of the Holy Spirit, Kaslik, Lebanon and Co-Founder of the Maronite Research Institute wrote a lengthy study on the Maronites (translated from Arabic by Kozhaya S. Akiki). The Khazen family has proudly accompagnied the Maronite Church from its birth till today, and has shown great support and strong loyalty throughout the glorious years as well as  tough times.

 

Here are the milestones:

I.THE ORIGIN OF THE MARONITE ORDER AND THE SYRIAC HERITAGE

II. THE PLACE OF THESE THREE FOUNDERS IN THE MARONITE, SYRIAC AND ANTIOCHIAN MONASTIC LIFE

III. THE CAUSES FOR THE DECLINE IN MONASTIC COMMUNITY LIFE 

IV. THE ORGANIZATIONAL PERIOD (1695-1792)

V. PERIOD OF DIFFICULTIES (1742-1770) 

VI. THE PERIOD OF DEVELOPMENT AND PROSPERITY (1770-1832)

VII. A PERIOD OF TRANSFORMATION (1832-1913)

VIII. A PERIOD OF OPENNESS AND EXPANSION THROUGHOUT THE WORLD (1918-1995)

 

Given their importance, we will split this study into three posts. In the first, we will mention the rise and the origin of the Maronite order, who were the founders and the Maronite Church's heritage.  Moreover, we will go through the causes for the decline in monastic community life.

 

If you wish to read the original article, click [Here].

 

I.THE ORIGIN OF THE MARONITE ORDER AND THE SYRIAC HERITAGE

The four founders of the Lebenase Maronite Order 

surrounding Saint Anthony of the Desert. Photo by MARI, 

Saints Cyprian and Justine's Monastery, Kiffian, Lebanon, 1997

 

The Lebanese Maronite Order [1] was founded in 1695 as a result of a monastic renaissance initiated by three young Maronites from Aleppo, Syria. They were Gabriel Hawwa, Abdallah Qaraalli, and Joseph El-Betn. These young descendants of noble and wealthy Maronite families had a burning desire to follow the Syriac-Maronite monastic life. After discussing their intention with their parents, the three proceeded to Lebanon under the guise of pilgrims and merchants, following the advice of their parents who feared possible failure and disappointment.

When they reached the monastery of Our Lady of Qannoubeen, the seat of the Maronite Patriarchate since 1440, they presented themselves to Patriarch Stephen Duwaihi (1670-1704) and revealed to him their secret ambition. The Patriarch questioned them and warned them about the hardship of monastic life in an unsafe and poverty-stricken area because all three of them had come from an environment of comfort and ease. They assured him of their resolve and firm intent. On August 1, 1695, the Patriarch blessed them and gave his support for their mission. He provided a place for them to live at the monastery of Mart Moura in Ehden. And so, the Order was born!

 

II. THE PLACE OF THESE THREE FOUNDERS IN THE MARONITE, SYRIAC AND ANTIOCHIAN MONASTIC LIFE

 

Monastic and community life was an integral part the Maronite Church from its inception. This way of life flourished and prevailed in the suburbs of Antioch, the political and spiritual "metropolis" of Christians in the East at the time. The monks of Saint Maron were instrumental in the spread of monasticism in the area (see Naaman 1992).

 

Aphrahat (+275) and Saint Ephrem (+373) relate that monastic life was the cornerstone of Christian life as the Maronite Church entrenched itself in Lebanon at the beginning of the seventh century. Aphrahat and Ephrem men are believed to be the first to describe the monastic and community practices which preceded organized monastic life. Shortly afterwards, Bishop Theodore of Cyr (393-460) wrote a detailed history of the monastic trends which were then flourishing around Antioch.

 

Some of those monastics in search of Christian perfection preferred to isolate themselves in hard-to-reach cave dwellings. Others lived without privacy in the open air atop pillars, while still others settled in monasteries. Those who chose complete isolation did so under the supervision of teachers who were living examples of Christian perfection and virtue. This description of the daily lives of these hermits explains why they had no need for a codified community rule, nor did they need to come under the authority of a local or general superior.

 

The Maronite monks in Lebanon followed this type of monastic mode which continued, with periodic interruption, until the beginning of the twentieth century (see Sfeir 1985). The last of the monks to live in this way were those in Ehmej, who in 1838 finally joined the ranks of the Lebanese Maronite Order and gave the Order a "Waqf" (religious trust) called Rouwaysat Annaya, a piece of property held in mortmain, which became the site of the monastery of Saint Maron Annaya. (Karam 1972: 66-67)

 

III. THE CAUSES FOR THE DECLINE IN MONASTIC COMMUNITY LIFE 

 

What were the external causes that forced those seeking the monastic life to abandon it despite its firm foundation and illustrious reputation throughout Asia Minor? Perhaps the answer lies with the theological and dogmatic quarrels that spread during the fifth century, as well as the pressure exerted by the non-Christian Arab invaders, which transformed Northern Syria into an area of constant struggle between these Arabs and the Byzantines. Theological texts and missionary reports and manuscripts support this view. Based on studies of the internal structure of the Maronite Church, it seems that the monks abandoned their organizational procedures and leadership role in exchange for the creation of a strong patriarchal system. This institution took over at the end of the seventh century and is still in charge of Maronite affairs. Thus, perhaps the attachment of the “monks” to a strong patriarchal authority eliminated the need for any formal law or monastic rules. It is important to note that when the three founders came from Aleppo to Lebanon, there already existed numerous monasteries, especially in the regions of Jbail and Jibbet Bsharre and the Kesrouan district. Since the Middle Ages, the Maronite Patriarchs and Bishops resided in the monasteries of Jbail and North Lebanon and were joined later by students from the Maronite College which was located in Rome. The fact that the monasteries of Mount Lebanon were already flourishing undoubtedly influenced the founders' in their decision to join these monasteries and not any others.

 

Bishop Joseph Semaan Al-Semaany, like his predecessor, alluded to the presence of the monasteries in Mount Lebanon, in a famous letter that he wrote on March 1, 1735. In it he presented the first regulation for the monasteries, "The Black Rule." It was printed in Rome that same year. Al-Semaany listed more than 22 existing monasteries in the Jbail and Jibbet Bsharre regions, about 18 in Kesrouan, and others in the Shouf area. This invalidates the theory that the founders of the order came to an uninhabited country. Al-Semaany stressed the continuity of monastic life in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, including the Maronite one. In addition to what Patriarch Duwaihi wrote, Al-Semaany is a major source when we now write about the history of monastic life. However, Al-Semaany erred when he labeled the Lebanese Order "Antonine" [i.e. the Lebanese Order of Saint Anthony of Egypt], declaring that the "Almighty transferred a vine from Egypt, and through His intercession, the Order extended from Egypt to Greater Syria" (Introduction 1734: 22; Azzi: 1988: 236).

 

Monastic life in Lebanon is indigenous or native to Lebanon. Its roots go back to the traditions of Aphrahat and Ephrem. These were described by Aphrahat in his "Demonstrations" and by Ephrem in his writings, particularly "Anasheed Al-Ferdawse” – Hymns of Paradise, "Anasheed Al-Eeman" – Hymns of Faith, "Maqoulat Ded Al-Harateeqa" – Articles against Heretics, "Manzoum at Nsaybeen" – Composition of Nsaybeen, and "Anasheed Al-Batouleeye" – Hymns to the Virgin. The Syriac version of Saint Ephrem's biography states that he had spent eight years of his life among the Egyptian monks but this claim is no more than the fruit of a vivid imagination depicting Egypt as the paradise of monks and a source of all inspiration for monastic schools. In fact, "The Lausiac History", written within fifty years of Ephrem's death, makes no mention of any journey to Egypt by Ephrem. Furthermore, none of today's experts in Syriac studies believe that monasticism came to Syria from Egypt. Aphrahat and Ephrem both experienced the Antiochian hermetic life, and both brought to light the existence of the organization of the "sons and daughters of the Covenant," which was the nucleus of Syriac monasticism. These devotees formed "Congregations" within the Church and consecrated their lives to chastity, virginity and self-renunciation in witness to Christ. During his last years of exile in Edessa, it is possible that Ephrem encountered a particular type of organized monastic life. His writings during this period make reference to life in the monastery.

 

At the beginning of the fifth century, the monk Raboula drew up a collection of twenty-two articles of religious rule. This was the earliest work of its kind to reach us. Raboula received the monastic habit in the Monastery of Marcian (Marqyanous) near Qinsreen before being appointed Bishop of Edessa. Others followed him in enriching monastic regulations. These regulations were expanded and eventually translated into Arabic. All this clearly indicates that the Maronite form of monasticism is essentially of Antiochian Syriac origin. Perhaps some of the writings of the Fathers of the Desert penetrated the Syriac practice through authenticated or other means. These writings were attributed to Saint Anthony (251-356), although the Father of Monasticism (Saint Anthony of Egypt) left no formal written rules. When Saint Anthony became famous through the writings of Athanasius, as well as through oral traditions, it was assumed that he had founded the monasteries in Lebanon, including the Monastery of Saint Anthony at Qozhaya.

 

The neglect of the Antiochian Syriac monastic traditions on one hand – contrasted with Saint Anthony's fame on the other hand – contributed to the perception that Saint Anthony established all the various religious orders, including the Lebanese order. The founding of the Confraternity of Saint Anthony (Sharekaat Mar Antonios) and the widespread habit of wearing a so-called Keetab Mar Antonio (Sacred Text of Saint Anthony enclosed in a small hand-sewn pouch [popularly known as talisman] to ward off danger) reinforced this belief. As a result, the Monastery of Saint Anthony at Qozhaya became so important for material as well as spiritual and religious reasons that our religious order was called "the Order of Qozhaya." At the time, it was commonly said that the religious order would be in no danger even if only Qozhaya survived while all the other monasteries were destroyed. On the other hand, it was claimed that should Qozhaya be destroyed, no other monastery would be able to rebuild it. (Karam 1972: 106)