As the first-ever U.S. congregation of Maronite religious women prepared to celebrate its first anniversary on June 1, Bishop Gregory Mansour said he “could not be more pleased.”
Sister Marla Marie has carried out her work with the Maronite Servants “with dignity and integrity,” Bishop Gregory said. “She moves carefully and intently on Christ’s mission.”
That mission, as embodied in the Maronite Servants’ charism, is, in the words of Sister Marla Marie, “to pray for our people and to guide them, as a good spiritual mother, to a deeper relationship with Christ and his Church. “
“In my mission visits and pastoral service, I have been able to give talks, retreats, and person-to-person spiritual guidance,” she said. “My parish visits have put me in touch with many great people who strive earnestly to live out their faith.”
Those visits took Sister Marla Marie to over 20 Maronite parishes during the past year throughout the United States as well as Lebanon and Australia. Thousands of faithful were touched by this witness, and two women responded to join her in the new congregation. They are Therese Touma of Sydney, Australia, who has been accepted, and Tresa Van Heusen of Atlanta, who is in the application process. They are slated to begin the novitiate next February 2, on the Feast of the Presentation.
The applicants are “two excellent young women,” Bishop Gregory said. Vocations for the Maronite Servants “have not come easy,” he added, “but whatever is beautiful is worth the effort.”
The bishop praised Sister Marla Marie’s “personal attachment to the Maronite Church. She feels one with this church and her mission.”
“For me, for Monsignor Michael Thomas, as well for all our priests she is easy to work with; she is already our sister in Christ,” he added. “This gives me and all our priests great personal joy, encouragement and confidence in the future.”
For her part, Sister Marla Marie is grateful to Bishop Gregory for supporting and inspiring her in her mission, and thankful for the opportunities she has had to meet and talk with many Maronite clergy.
“Our parishes are blessed to have these dedicated Abounas,” she said. “I look forward to the day when we can send out many sisters to serve alongside our priests, offering our spiritual motherhood to nurture our people.”
It is impossible for Maronites to hold a Liturgy or a devotion without a hymn, or prayers and petitions to the Virgin. Have you noticed how our Divine Liturgy is interwoven with prayers to Mary?
“…pure word without flesh I was sent from the Father.
Mary’s womb received me like good earth a grain of wheat…”.
This is not a imposed design, but a natural expression of the Divine plan for our salvation. This plan begins with creation and stretches to the end of time in Christ’s second coming. Every Sunday, as we gather for Divine Liturgy, we are entering into the God’s Divine plan for our salvation through Christ.
And naturally, this Divine plan places Mary in her rightful place as the Mother of God.
We see this clearly in the major feasts that we celebrate in honor of the Virgin: the Annunciation, the Visitation; the Praises of the Mother of God (the day after Christmas); also, her sharing in the Passion, Death, Resurrection, Pentecost, and her Assumption. Mary is inseparable from Christ. “She bore the One who set the universe in order.” (St. Ephrem). In addition to the feasts, there are many memorials we celebrate in Mary’s honor: her conception, her birthday, her presentation in the temple, memorials of planting, harvesting, grapes, the rosary, Our Lady of Lebanon, and others.
In the Maronite tradition every Wednesday is dedicated to Mary because it is considered to be the day of her Dormition. During the year, the months of May, August, and October hold special honor to the Mother of God.
Our Maronite Marian devotions are dear to us, especially the procession and blessing with the icon of Mary, litanies and hymns, and the rosary (a devotion from the West). What is your special devotion, hymn or prayer honoring the Mother of God?
A Maronite Marian prayer adapted from a hymn to Mary:
“O Mary, Queen of the Mountains and Seas, Queen of our beloved Lebanon, whose glory is given to you, and whom you wished to be your emblem. O Virgin, whose purity rivals the snow of Lebanon, …rise in glory like the cedars of Lebanon. We beg you to lay your motherly eyes on all your children and extend your pure arms to bless us. Amen.”
These photos were taken at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Washington NJ on the May 9, 2009 pilgrimage hosted by Our Lady of Lebanon parish in Easton, PA. I was invited by Abouna Paul Damien to join with his parish in a day of prayer in honor of the Mother of God. We had a rosary procession and blessing with the Icon of Our Lady of Ilige.
The icon pictured here is of Our Lady of Ilige (ileej), also known as Our Lady of the Maronites and the Patriarchcal icon. In more recent times, our Maronite Churches have displayed replicas of this icon in their sanctuaries. Why? Where did it come from? On my recent trip to Lebanon, I went on a pilgrimage to pray at the original site of this treasured icon and while there, discovered its interesting history.
The Church of Our Lady of Ilige is located in the village of Mayfouq in the district of Jbeil. It was built at the site of a former pagan temple, and parts of that structure are still visible in the Church building.
The word Ilige is derived from the name of the temple which was to honor the god of depth. It is claimed that Christians made the site a Church back in Apostolic times, dedicating it to the Mother of God as Our Lady of Ilige. From the the 12th to the mid- 15th century this Church was the refuge, shelter and home of our Maronite Patriarchs.
I arrived at the Church of Our Lady of Ilige on Holy Saturday, anticipating with great excitement my visit to this former residence of the Patriarchs and the sanctuary of the icon. As you can see from these photos, the church is quite small, old, and a typical stone structure of the mountain villages.
The original icon of Our Lady of Ilige was actually buried under ten layers of paint in subsequent attempts to fix, improve, or adjust the icon over the centuries. As a result, the icon was covered over, only to be discovered in the restoration undertaken in the 1980’s. To the surprise of the Carmelite nuns assigned to the restoration, layer after layer was uncovered to reveal the original, an icon of Syriac Maronite art dating to the 10th century.
This explains why this icon has only recently appeared in our Maronite Churches. It is new to us, but one of our oldest preserved icons which belonged to the Patriarchs. Let us treasure it.
By the way, the picture I saw in the Church of Our Lady of Ilige was a reproduction of what the painting looked like before restoration. I later found out that the original icon is securely displayed at a nearby Monastery.
We do not have many pieces of our art from the early centuries due to wars, persecutions and the destruction of Churches over time. The discovery of this icon is a blessing and gift to the Maronites, as it preserves the unique style of Syriac Maronite art form.
An explanation of the significance of symbols and colors of this icon can be found on the NAM website.
Back to the kneeling discussion, as many of you reading this may know, Maronite's don't kneel (except on rare occasions). We stand. And this tradition touches me to the very depths of my soul. Maronite's stand, because we are waiting for Jesus' return, and when He returns we are ready to RUN TO HIM! Isn't that beautiful?! Ready to run into the arms of our most loving, forgiving and merciful Lord! Are you ready?
“Just a quick email to tell you that you were nominated for an award (more than once in fact) and to ask if you could put up a short post mentioning the awards on your blog? We hope to tell people about well-crafted blogs and raise the profile of the Eastern Churches in so doing.”
“Radiate His Light” blog asks your vote for the Eastern Christian Awards. Nominations will be accepted until June 1st. Please mention this site to friends, post referrals on your blogs, and in your podcasts.
Vote here to nominate “Radiate His Light” blog.
I was uplifted and inspired by my recent visit with the Little Brothers of St. Francis at their home in Mission Hill, Boston. Founded in 1970, these Brothers are a contemplative community living within the environs of the inner-city ghetto serving the lost and neglected among us. Their life is sustained by a deep prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
I met the Brothers at a conference for religious back in September ‘08. At that time Br. James Curran, the founder, and Br. Anthony Joseph, Servant General extended an invitation to visit them.
With my Monastery real estate search leading to dead ends, I thought of enlisting the Brother’s to pray the Maronite Servants a worthy home. I figured that they too experienced this juncture in their early foundation efforts, and would appreciate my request.
The Brothers shared about the marvels of God’s Divine Providence and were eager to help with prayers and good advice. Thank you, Little Brothers.
Now, can I also count on you (the reader) to join us in prayer for this intention? Many thanks.
From their website...
HISTORY AND SPIRIT — Founded in the Archdiocese of Boston in 1970 and approved by the Cardinal Archbishop, the Community enjoys the fraternal blessing of the Franciscan Minister General in Rome. Although autonomous in government and formation program, we are under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Order of Friars Minor. The Little Brothers follow the Rule for Regular Communities of the Third Order of Saint Francis and a set of unique guidelines for a Way Of Life patterned after Saint Francis' rule for Religious Life in Hermitages. We strive to imitate and experience the three great loves of Saint Francis: 1) Eucharistic Adoration and Liturgical Prayer, 2) Ministry to the "lepers" of our society, and 3) Actual poverty like Christ and His Apostles.
Also, watch this video about the Little Brothers -- it will energize your faith.