Saint Maron - February 9th

This excerpt is from the 25th letter of His Eminence and Beatitude Nasrallah Peter Cardial Sfeir on the Occasion of the 1600th Jubilee of the passing of Saint Maron. Full text of this letter can be found at the Eparchy website: stmaron.org

"Introduction:  As the year 2010 coincides with the passing of one thousand six hundred years since the death of Saint Maron the hermit, priest, and father of our Maronite Church described as 'the gilding in the choir of the divine saints,' we decided, with the synod of our bishops, to declare this year as a Jubilee Year starting on the 9th of February, 2010 the feast day of our father Saint Maron and ending on the 2nd of March, 2011, the feast day of Saint John Maron the first Patriarch, under the title of 'Saint Maron – a testimony of faith and a spiritual journey of a people.'
This Jubilee Year aims to pray, think, repent, go back into history, meditate on it, learn lessons, revive and relive our Maronite faith that will allow us to draw a new strategy for our Church in the third millennium."

The Life of Saint Maron
(From "Faith of the Mountain" - By Monsignor Dominic Ashkar)

Saint Maron encourages us to live a life of solitude. He directs us to find our own mountain, our own desert, our own heritage. He was born around the middle of the 4th Century, in the land of Cyr, between Aleppo and Antioch. Maron did not aspire to form a Kingdom or a Nation. He did not start an Army to lead fights or wars. He was not a philosopher or a writer. He rather was a hermit. He removed himself from the world. He was a man who was inspired to live the Faith of the Mountain. Even though, Maron removed himself from the world, people followed him. They were attracted by his goodness and power that were the fruits of his solitude and ascetic life. As Maron chose a hill to lead his ascetic life, he became for the people that were attracted to him, the hero, a living image of the God he adored. His Way of Life and his miracles attracted more and more people to him. On that hill Maron found an ancient Pagan temple. He consecrated it to the Living God. It became a place of worship and prayer. But like John the Baptizer he lived in the wilderness, or under a tent. And most of his time was dedicated to prayer, meditation and contemplation. Men and women used to come begging his prayers and sharing his penance. And as he ministered to them as priest, he became their spiritual “director”. He became the healer, healing the body and the soul. Bishop Theodoret summarized the life of the saintly hermit saying: “After all, the Saint has cultivated numerous plants of celestial wisdom. He has sown his garden for the Lord God, and it has blossomed far and wide in all the land of Cyrrhus.” In the Liturgy of “Visitation Sunday”, we say: “The Lord of heaven and earth, of the sea and the land, fled to the mountain of Judea. For, the Lord of the heights and depths dwells on a mountain top.” Saint Maron fled to the mountain and through him, many people were attracted to worship the Living God. Thus, before giving up his soul to God, towards the year 410, he had already formed a spiritual school with numerous followers.

Grouped originally in Syria, the Maronites finally settled in the Valley of the Orontes. But persecutions obliged them to come to Lebanon. They lived on the mountain of Decars and later they pushed toward the center and to the south of Lebanon. The organization of worship was their first care; that is why they built churches.

The great majority settled in Lebanon, but history shows that one part remained in Syria, and the foundation of a monastery in Cyprus (towards the 9th Century) proves that they spread to distant places. In our days we find that the Maronites are spread all over the world. Their Faith in God helped them, as it is helping them today, to roll away every great stone that attempted and attempts to put them in a tomb.

The Hermit Maron died but his spirit survived among the numerous disciples, among the men and women who were attracted by his life. They formed the nucleus of the Maronite Church. His Way of Life became theirs. During the second half of the 5th century the Maronite Family was created. It was created and organized on the banks of the Orontes River, in Syria. From the main monastery, Bait Maroon the disciples of Maron radiated into all directions to preach the True Faith. Like Maron, their Way of Life bore witness to their attachment and their commitment to this Faith and to this Community, the Family of Maron.

In the early part of the 6th century, three hundred and fifty of Maron's disciples were killed by the Monophysites who professed that there is only one nature in the person of Christ. The Maronite Church continues to commemorate the 350 Martyrs, Disciples of Saint Maron on the 31st of July.

These political and religious struggles made the Maronites feel the meaning of independence and the necessity of electing a leader. Thus they elected Bishop John Maron who was declared Patriarch of Antioch.

In spite of all the difficulties, the Maronite People continued to believe and to hope. The leaders of the Maronite Church were not able to live in the city of Antioch: circumstances and religious and political events obliged them to live elsewhere. They lived first at the Monastery of Saint Maron, then after the establishment of the Patriarchal See in Lebanon, they settled in the monasteries of the mountain. The patriarchal residence was definitely transferred to Lebanon in the year 939 by John Maron, II. Living in the mountains of Lebanon, the Maronite People were able to create for themselves a life of their own and to enjoy under the direction of their spiritual leaders, a certain autonomy. Religious authority settled both ecclesiastical and civil questions. This custom began to disappear only in the 19th Century. Even in the present time, the Patriarch is the leader in important questions. This shows us the Faith and the Hope of the Maronite People in the authority, which for them, translated the Voice of God.

The monastery of Saint Maron had priority over all other convents, but this cradle of the Maronite Church was destroyed around the middle of the tenth century. It was most probably at this time that the Maronite Patriarchate was transferred to Lebanon. This Monastery of Saint Maron gave its name, not only to its monks, but also to all the faithful who came to place themselves under their guidance. This is a New Name, for a New Community which the "hand of the Lord” was guiding in order to struggle against every error and to safeguard the holiness of the Faith, This New People which bore this New Name were to accomplish the New calling or Vocation which was presented to it. What will the New Community be? Maybe, what each of us will make it, but it will be what God wants it to be.

The Faith and Maron's Family were not an imposition on people. On the contrary, people chose to make this Faith and this Maronite Family their own. That is why, as Maronites today, we should not be satisfied to call ourselves Maronite because we were born into Saint Maron's Family, we become real Maronites when we decide to make His Faith and His Family, our own.