OUR FATHER IN FAITH
Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.
A poet has said that every great institution is the lengthened
shadow of one outstanding person. For the Maronite Church, that person
is St. Maron. And what a legacy he has left the Universal Church and
his Maronite progeny! Today the Aramaic Maronite tradition flourishes
in every corner of the world. Maronite faithful and hierarchy populate
Whatever is known about the spiritual father of the Maronite
Church we have received from Theodoret, Bishop of Cyr. Cyr was
somewhere between Antioch and Aleppo. In the fifth century, about
444, Theodoret began to compile a church history from the resources available
to him in Syria. Much of his book, Historia Religiosa, describes
the hermits living in the region of Cyr, and in chapter 16 writes about Maron,
who had a deep and lasting influence on his disciples.
knew Maron personally, but learned about him through Maron’s disciples.
Theodoret described Maron as “the one who has planted for God the garden
which flourishes now in the region of Cyr.” Little is known
of the birth or youth of Maron because Theodoret was not concerned about
such aspects of his life. He felt that Maron was not born for
this world, but for heaven.
When Maron chose to become a hermit and lead an ascetic
life in isolation, he settled on a rugged mountain between Cyr and Aleppo.
On that mountain was a large temple dedicated to the pagan god, Nabo,
who name was given to the mountain and to the neighboring village of Kfarnabo.
Maron consecrated that temple for Christian worship, and so influenced
his followers that they were described by Theodoret “as plants of wisdom
in the region of Cyr.”
According to history, Maron was not satisfied with the
ordinary practices of asceticism, but was “always seeking for new ways to
accumulate the treasures of Christian wisdom.” He was the spiritual
father of both the hermits living near him and of all the faithful in the
area. With wisdom and holiness Maron addressed their pastoral care
and apostolic endeavors as counselor and healer.
Bishop Theodoret described Maron’s disciples with this
tribute: “These anchorites were virtuous and heroic, totally dedicated to
a life of contemplative prayer. They were strangers to any other consideration
of the world. They were obedient to Church authority and tried to imitate
their predecessor in their exercises of austerity. At times, their
acts of penance and mortification were excessive, but they were always obedient
to ecclesiastical authority. Approximately twenty saints are numbered among
Maron’s disciples, three of whom are women.
Knowledge of St. Maron’s holiness spread throughout the
Empire. Some scholars think that St. Maron and St. John Chyrsostom
studied together at Antioch before 398. Around 405 John Chrysostom
sent Maron a letter expressing his great love and respect, and asked Maron
to pray for him.
Maron’s death occurred between 407 and 423; some
place the date around 410. Because of his vast popularity among the
faithful, several riots broke out at the time of his death in villages that
vied to receive his remains. Most likely he was first buried in the
large church in the town of Barad near Kfarnabo.
Following the Council of Chalcedon (451), Bishop Theodoret
promoted the construction of the famed Monastery of St. Maron, “Beit Maroun,”
in 452 between Hama and Aleppo in Syria. This monastery became a bastion
for defending the teachings of the Church, and a center for the cultural
and theological heritage of Antioch.
Formerly the Maronite Church celebrated the feast of its
patron saint on January 5, the day on which the church of Kfarhai was dedicated
in his honor. In the seventeenth century the feast of St. Maron was
transferred to February 9. Lebanon declared Maron as its patron saint.
Pope Benedict XIV granted a plenary indulgence to each person who visited
a Maronite church on February 9.