Saturday, February 09, 2008

Hug a Maronite

The righteous man will flourish as the palm tree, and be multiplied like the cedar of Lebanon. (Ps. 92:12)

Today is the Feast of St. Maroun, also called St. Maron or St. Maro. Maroun was a priest in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. Near the Orontes River in Syria he converted a pagan temple into a church and devoted his life to a very radical form of eremitic ascetism -- he was an open-air hermit, without shelter, even in harsh winter. He had a tent, but rarely used even that. As the saying goes, his blanket was the sky and his bed the earth. Over time, he became famous far and wide for prayer and healing (we have a letter to Maroun from John Chrysostom asking for the hermit's prayers); people flocked to him, and others, both men and women, began to imitate him, of whom the most famous was St. James of Cyr. Interestingly, these hermits became the heart of an entire community; they had a permanent and lasting effect on the local churches. These communities became strongly Chalcedonian (the monks of St. Maron were represented at the Council), which led to violent persecution by surrounding non-Chalcedonians; this caused a migration from Syria to Lebanon, with which they have been associated ever since, with eremitic spirituality retaining the place it had always had. In Lebanon the Maronites flourished; again the hermits and ascetics became key pillars of the spiritual life of the local churches. The precise order of events from this point until the Crusades is rather obscure. We know that the Patriarchs of Antioch began to be titular: they resided not at Antioch but at Constantinople. There were some disputes regarding the elections of Patriarchs; in 685 the Maronites chose one of their own, John Maron, to be Patriarch. The choice seems to have been locally popular, to judge from the ease with which St. John Maron found support, but Constantinople was not pleased; it led to military conflicts, with the Maronites achieving a key victory at Amyun or Amioun in 1694, where they retaliated against the imperial army for the destruction of a monastery. They remained in relative isolation among Lebanese and Syrian mountains, where they endured Muslim rule; and we know only bits and pieces of their history until the Crusades. Indeed, just about everything said of their history between the settlement of Lebanon and the 15th century has to be taken with a grain of salt; while there are certain facts, much of the history is under (often very partisan) dispute, and many of the alleged evidences for this or that position (that the Maronites were always orthodox and in communion with Rome, or that they went through several hundred years of Monthelitism) turn out on closer examination to be much more problematic than they at first appear.

In any case, we know that the Crusaders under Raymond of Toulouse stumbled on a Maronite community near Tripoli; an alliance quickly arose between the Maronites and the Crusaders. The Maronite Church became closely affiliated with Rome. Naturally, when the Crusaders were pushed out this had very bad consequences for them; they were harried by the Mameluks. Nonetheless, they managed, with some interruptions, to keep their open lines of communication with Rome, and of the Eastern Catholic Churches they have generally been the most unequivocally pro-Roman. They have also to a very great degree been the model Eastern Catholics: much (although not all) of Rome's relations with other Eastern Catholics have clearly been modeled on relations that were first established with the Maronites.

In any case, today is the Feast of the St. Maron, as I said before, and thus a good day to think about Maronites.

Chant of the Maronites


From the wilds of Syria I come,
from the holy church of Kefar-Nabo,
fleeing the Ol-Yambus Mount,
toiling for the God who gives,
my task a task of joyful bliss,
to hymn in word and deed
our glorious Lord and God.

Let those in the street be silent,
let those in the house hush down,
let the hermits retire in prayer,
as I sing the psalms of David,
the Hallelujahs of the Lord.

Blessed is the one the Father loves;
blessed the one for whom His Son died;
blessed is the one whose life is charged
with the power of the living Spirit.
Blessed is the one whose rubric of life
is an echo of heaven's liturgy,
the one who amid the cedars
feels the wild delight of God.

Bring Christ home, children of Maroun,
bring Him from the cedars of Liban,
from the enclosures of the hermits bring Him,
bearing Him in your heart in procession,
carrying Him to every city and nation.

The message goes forth: Do not be afraid!
The Glory shines out: Do not fear!
An angel appears to an Israelite maid,
telling of wonders and of heavenly favor,
foretelling a son to sit on the Throne,
the Throne that is David's, for ages and ever.
when the Spirit comes over Mary of Zion,
when the Most High's power, like glorious cloud,
overshadows the virgin that the Holy be born.

Glory to God in the highest of heights!
Glory to God in the will of the graced!
The angels are singing the highest Hosanna,
heralding the coming of the Messiah and Lord.
Highest of high meets the lowest of low;
God's Anointed is swaddled in a trough made for oxen,
the light of the Word infuses the flesh,
Christ comes to save creation from darkness.


O Simeon, awaiting the great consolation,
sing songs of blessing for God's good grace;
the Spirit's promise in fire and light
is here fulfilled in a baby boy;
God's salvation comes, a light for revelation,
a hope and a glory for Israel's nation.
But, Oh! Contradiction, rise and fall,
and a piercing sword in the Virgin's heart;
many are the thoughts brought to exposure,
great is the tumult of a world thrust in darkness
at the rising of the Infinite Sun!


O tribe of Asher, in the prophetess Anna
fortunate are you, favorite and favored,
the oil of gladness runs over your feet!
Mighty your fortresses, iron your gates,
your strength is of God, enduring forever.
The daughter of Zilpah, most holy widow,
gives thanks to her God, will not be silent,
but speaks of the Lord to all who await;
happy is Asher, the tribe of good fortune,
to herald the one who will seal every tribe!


Our Lord and God spoke to Peter
on the shore of the Tiberias Sea:
"Simon, son of John, do you love Me,
more than the rest of these?"
And Peter replied, "You know that I love you."
"Then, O Peter, feed my lambs."

We are the heirs of Peter in Antioch;
we feed the lambs with prayer and love.

Our Lord and God spoke to Peter
on the shore of the Tiberias Sea:
"Simon, son of John, do you love Me?"
And Peter replied, "You know that I love you."
"Then, O Peter, tend my sheep."

We are the heirs of Peter in Antioch;
we tend the sheep with blessing and love.

Our Lord and God spoke to Peter
on the shore of the Tiberias Sea:
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
And Peter replied, "You know that I love you."
"Then, O Peter, feed my sheep."

We are the heirs of Peter in Antioch;
we feed the Lord's sheep with praise and love.

Listen to me, O children of Maroun!
No province are you, no small group;
the garden of Maroun is the whole holy Church,
catholic and complete, it has no end,
blessed of God in memory of Peter,
only within it is salvation found.
Raise your eyes to the cedar-crowned hills:
on every hill is the whole holy Church.
Rome is a cedar in the garden of Maroun,
Liban is a hill in the city of Rome,
for each is in each, and each is in all:
for Christ is for each and in everything All.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

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