The 350 Martyrs: Part I

The 350 Martyrs: Part 1 (The Holy Martyrs)
On 31 July each year, the Maronite Church remembers the 350 Maronite monks who were martyred in the year 517, slain by other Christians for no other reason than being orthodox Christians.
In The Maronites: The Origins of an Antiochene Church, Abbot Paul Naaman takes their history from a letter from the archimandrites, (that is, abbots and senior abbots), and monks of Syria Secunda to Pope Hormisdas (514-523). Syria Secunda was the inland part of ancient Syria, and Apamaea (Arabic: Afamiyya) on the Orontes River was its capital. (p. 43)
There is a second letter from the monks of Apamaea to their own bishops, also written in 517. This, too, is signed by Archimandrite Alexander of the monastery of Maroun. It states, as the first had done, that the purpose of the monks in travelling had been peaceful. There is also a reply from Pope Hormisdas dated 10 February 518. So, the evidence for the feast of the martyrs is based on three letters, a point which is often missed.
The first letter, the one to Pope Hormisdas reads, in part: “To Hormisdas, the most holy and blessed patriarch of the whole world, the holder of the See of Peter, the leader of the apostles, the earnest petition and humble prayer of the least (important) archimandrites and of other monks of your province Syria Secunda.”
“The grace of Christ, the Redeemer of us all, has instigated us to take refuge with your blessedness as if (taking refuge) from the winter storm in the stillness of a harbour. We are admonished to, and, indeed believe, that, even though disasters encompass us on all sides, we are in no way caught in. For even if we suffer, we endure it with rejoicing, knowing that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy of the future glory, which will be revealed in us.”
“(We have been opposed by) … Severus and Peter, who have never been counted among the number of Christians, who on each single day have attacked and publicly anathematized the holy synod at Chalcedon and our most holy and blessed father Leo. … when we were going to the cell of Mar Simeon for the cause of the Church, they (men instigated by Severus and Peter) were lying in wait for us on the way as it had been announced, defiling us, and when they came upon us by surprise, they killed three hundred and fifty men from among us, and certain ones they wounded; but others, who could take refuge to the venerable altars, they slew there and set the monasteries on fire, inciting throughout the night a multitude of unsettled people and mercenaries. They wasted all the poverty of the Church through destructive trouble makers of this kind. About the details, however, the writings may instruct your blessedness, which were brought over by the venerable brothers, John and Sergius, whom we had sent to Constantinople …”
“We pray, therefore, most blessed one, we go on our knees and ask, that you stand up with fervour and zeal and rightly have pity for the body that is torn to pieces (for you are the head of all); and that you avenge the faith that has been despised, the canons that have been trodden under foot, the fathers who have been blasphemed and such a great synod that has been attacked with anathema.”
Pope Hormisdas’ reply adds little to this. The opening reads: “Hormisdas, to the priests, deacons, and archimandrites of Syria Secunda.”
“I have read your highly esteemed letters, by which the insanity of the enemies of God has been laid open and the obstinate fury of the unbelievers, who with revived spirit hate the Lord and thereby wickedly persecute his members, has painfully been exposed. To the extent that it pertains to the recognition of your perseverance, I praise God that he preserves the faith of his soldiers in the midst of adversities.”
The third letter, from the monks of Apamaea to the bishops, was translated into German and French by Suermann in Histoire des origins de l’Église Maronite (PUSEK 2010). This letter blames Severus for what occurred as they were travelling through an area called “Kaprokeramée”. It does not mention the number slain and captured, but gives more details of how the monks could not defend themselves against the attacks (pp. 95-100).
The clash between Monophysite and other Christians arose after the Council of Chalcedon (451): to be brief, they had different ideas of the nature of Christ. Although only theologians could understand the argument (and even they may not have been clear about it), because these thinkers led their churches, they split Christianity into two bitterly divided factions, a rift which is only being slowly healed today.
In Part 2, I shall deal with an objection to the historicity of this account, and in Part 3, with the spirituality of this feast.  Read More Here
Cornelia B. Horn, writing in the Journal of Maronite Studies, translated both the letter from the monks to Pope Hormisdas and his reply. Her article is still available on the internet: http://www.maronite-institute.org/MARI/JMS/october97/The_Correspondence_Between.htm
Joseph Azize, 2 April 2017 revised 24 July 2020


Saint Sharbel

By Emily Lattouf, a postulant with the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light 

As a Maronite, it’s not hard to love Saint Sharbel, especially since my family is from Baakafra, the village where Saint Sharbel was born (May 8th, 1828). I have always loved Saint Sharbel.  I was born on May 6th which was close enough to his birthday that my mother gave me the middle name Sharbela. During my childhood visits to Baakafra, I would participate in the week-long celebrations leading up to Saint Sharbel’s feast day.  The tiny village would be packed with people from all over!

Who is this Saint celebrated and loved by so many? As I got older, I realized that I did not know Saint Sharbel as well as I should. I knew about his life and how great he was because everyone “said so” and I would hear stories of different miracles. I decided to start reading up on Saint Sharbel. My relationship with him began to grow and my prayer life too. 

What I love about Saint Sharbel is that he was a sinner in need of God’s mercy. He like us had to work on himself to become a saint. One of the last prayers he recited before having a fatal stroke during Liturgy in 1898 was “Oh Father of Truth behold Your Son, a sacrifice pleasing to You… many are my sins, but greater is Your mercy.” Saint Sharbel knew who he was in his relationship to God. He knew that He was nothing on his own, and he had confidence not in himself but in God’s mercy. He persevered in his trials. Can you imagine if he had said, “Lord what’s the point of working hard to become a saint, I cannot rise to you, I am a sinner” or “I am just so perfect I was born a saint.” If St. Sharbel lived in despair of his sinfulness or in an illusion of his own goodness, he would have given up the fight for holiness. 
Instead of hiding his sins, he turned to God and prayed “consider the sin and consider the atonement; the atonement is greater and exceeds the sin.” St. Sharbel had such confidence in the blood of Christ. 

Through the merits of Christ, may we run to the Father of Truth, as did Saint Sharbel, with the confidence of beloved sons and daughters.

 “Father of Truth, behold Your Son, a sacrifice pleasing to You. Accept this offering of Him who died for me; behold His blood shed on Golgotha for my salvation. It pleads for me. For His sake, accept my offering. Many are my sins, but greater is Your mercy. When placed on a scale, Your mercy prevails over the weight of the mountains known only to You. Consider the sin and consider the atonement; the atonement is greater and exceeds the sin. Your beloved Son sustained the nails and the lance because of my sins so in His sufferings You are satisfied and I live.”


Saint Charbel

Born Youssef Makhlouf in Beqa Kafra on 8 May 1828, he was the fifth child in a family of simple farmers. When he was three years old, his father was taken away by the Ottoman Army, never to return. Youssef was sent to the village school, and as a child was given to prayer. At a young age, he knew that God was calling him to become a monk. He prayed to Our Lady to make it come to pass. Two of his mother’s brothers were already monks. However, he did not leave until 1851, when a woman indicated her desire to marry him. Saying nothing, he left home the next morning to enter the monastery of Our Lady of Mayfouq, which was run by the Lebanese Maronite Order (“the LMO”). However, he was pursued there by his uncle, mother and relatives. They begged him to return home, marry, work and look after them. Charbel refused, saying that God wanted him entirely. It is said that in the end his mother gave her consent, telling him to be a good monk, but if he was going to be mediocre, then he should return home.  READ MORE HERE 


Virtual LoL Bible Camp

We were blessed to offer a virtual Light of Life (LoL) Bible camp for children ages 5 to 12. The theme this year was in the footsteps of Saints Peter and Paul. We focused on the courage of Saint Paul and the trust and faith of Saint Peter as the first pope. It was such a gift to see the children, do fun crafts, share Bible stories, sing, dance, and pray with the children. Next year we hope to be able to offer our camp in person.