St. Maroun’s Day, History & Lessons
By: Elias Bejjani
On the ninth of February for the past 1600 years, Maronites in Lebanon and all over the world have been celebrating the annual commemoration of St. Maroun, the founder of their Catholic denomination.
Every year, on the ninth of February, more than ten million Maronites from all over the world celebrate St. Maroun’s day. On this day, they pay their respect to the great founder of the Maronite Church, Maroun the priest, the hermit, the father, the leader and the Saint. They remember what they have been exposed to, since the 4th century, both good and bad times. They reminisce through the past, examine the present and contemplate the future. They pray for peace, democracy and freedom in Lebanon, their homeland, and all over the world.
Who was this Saint, how did he establish his church, where did he live, and who are his people, the Maronites?
St. Maroun, according to the late great Lebanese philosopher and historian, Fouad Afram Al-Bustani, was raised in the city of Kouroch. This city is located northeast of Antioch (presently in Turkey), and to the northwest of Herapolos (Manbieg), the capital of the third Syria (Al-Furatia). Kouroch is still presently in existence in Turkey, it is located 15 kilometers to the northwest of Kalas city, and about 70 kilometers to the north of the Syrian city, Aleppo.
As stated by the historians, Father Boutrous Daou and Fouad Fram Bustani, Maroun chose a very high location at the Semaan Mountain (called in the past, Nabo Mountain, after the pagan god, Nabo). Geographically, the Semaan Mountain is located between Antioch and Aleppo. People had abandoned the mountain for years, and the area was completely deserted.
The ruins of a historic pagan temple that existed on the mountain attracted Maroun. Boustan stated that St. Maroun moved to this mountain and decided to follow the life of a hermit. He made the ruined temple his residence after excoriating it from devils, but used it only for masses and offerings of the holy Eucharist. He used to spend all his time in the open air, praying, fasting and depriving his body from all means of comfort. He became very famous in the whole area for his faith, holiness and power of curing. Thousands of believers came to him seeking help and advice.
St. Maroun, was an excellent knowledgeable preacher and a very stubborn believer in Christ and in Christianity. He was a mystic who started a new ascetic-spiritual method that attracted many people from all over the Antiochian Empire. He was a zealous missionary with a passion to spread the message of Christ by preaching it to others. He sought not only to cure the physical ailments that people suffered, but had a great quest for nurturing and healing the “lost souls” of both pagans and Christians of his time. Maroun’s holiness and countless miracles drew attention throughout the Antiochian Empire. St. John of Chrysostom sent him a letter around 405 AD expressing his great love and respect asking St. Maroun to pray for him.
St. Maroun’s way was deeply monastic with emphasis on the spiritual and ascetic aspects of living. For him, all was connected to God and God was connected to all. He did not separate the physical and spiritual world and actually used the physical world to deepen his faith and spiritual experience with God. St. Maroun embraced the quiet solitude of the Semaan Mountain life. He lived in the open air exposed to the forces of nature such as sun, rain, hail and snow. His extraordinary desire to come to know God’s presence in all things allowed him to transcend such forces, and discover an intimate union with God. He was able to free himself from the physical world by his passion and eagerness for prayer and enter into a mystical relationship of love with the creator.
St. Maroun attracted hundreds of monks and priests who came to live with him and become his disciples and loyal Christian followers. Maroun’s disciples preached the Bible in the Antiochan Empire (known at the present time as Syria), Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Israel, They built hundreds of Churches and abbeys as well as schools and were known for their faith, devotion and perseverance.
At the age of seventy, in the year 410 AD, and after completing his holy mission, St. Maroun died peacefully while surrounded by his disciples and followers. His will was to be buried in the same grave with his beloved teacher, the great monk, Zabena, in the town of Kena, next to Kouroch city, where a temple was built in Zabena’s name. St. Maroun’s will was not fulfilled, because the residents of a nearby town were able to take his body and bury him in their town and build a huge church on his grave. This church was a shrine for Christians for hundreds of years, and its ruins are still apparent in that town.
After Maroun’s death, his disciples built a huge monastery in honor of his name, adjacent to the ornate spring, (Naher Al-Assi, located at the Syrian-Lebanese border). The monastery served for hundreds of years as a pillar for faith, education, martyrhood and holiness. It was destroyed at the beginning of the tenth century that witnessed the worst Christian persecution era. During the savage attack on the monastery more than 300 Maronite priests were killed. The surviving priests moved to the mountains of Lebanon where with the Marada people and the native Lebanese were successful in establishing the Maronite nation. They converted the Lebanese mountains to a fortress of faith and a symbol for martyrhood, endurance and perseverance.
Initially the Maronite movement reached Lebanon when St. Maroun’s first disciple Abraham of Cyrrhus, who was called the Apostle of Lebanon, realized that paganism was thriving in Lebanon, so he set out to convert the pagans to Christianity by introducing them to the way of St. Maroun. St. Maroun is considered to be the Father of the spiritual and monastic movement now called the Maronite Church. This movement had a profound influence on northern Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus and on many other countries all over the world where the Maronites currently live. The biggest Maronite community at the present time lives in Brazil. More than six million Lebanese descendents made Brazil their home after the massive emigration that took place from Lebanon in the beginning of this century.
The Maronites made Lebanon their homeland since the 4th century after converting its native inhabitants to Christianity. They were identified by it, and it was identified by them, they were and still are one entity. The Maronite people were always hopeful, faithful and strong believers in the Christian Catholic doctrine. They made victories of defeats, joy of sorrow and hope of despair. The Maronites successfully created with hard work and a great deal of faith and sacrifices, the Maronite nation by fulfilling its four basic pillars, a land, a people, a civilization and a politically independent entity. They constantly fight for what was theirs, and never ever surrendered to despair.
Fouad Afram Boustani described the Maronite denomination as, a faith of intelligence, an identification of life, a solid belief in Catholicism, a love for others, an ongoing struggle for righteousness, a mentality of openness on the whole world, and on its different civilizations, and a vehicle for martyrdom. The Maronites established the state of Lebanon and made it an oasis for the persecuted in the area. They believed and practiced multiculturalism and pluralism. They created with the help of other minorities in the Middle East the unique nation of Lebanon.
God Bless Lebanon!
Canadian-Lebanese Human Rights activist, journalist and political commentator
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