Maronite Identity

Introduction

Ever since our Antiochene Syriac Maronite Church launched the project of her Patriarchal Council, she has attached great importance to the questions of identity, vocation and mission, whereby she placed them foremost among the Synodal subjects for discussion. This Synodal project, which prompts the Maronite Church to undertake a comprehensive review of her ecclesiastical affairs, will not reach its desired objective unless it is in harmony with the essential elements that constitute her identity, and in their light, her vocation is made manifest and her mission specified. This text aims at highlighting these elements in their correlation and integration, prior to tackling other Synodal texts individually, pointing out the characteristics of each.

These elements together constitute the living heritage which gives the Maronite Church her particularity within the Universal Church in living the mystery of salvation through Jesus Christ and witnessing to Him in the Antiochene Domain and in the Countries of Expansion. Today, as before, our Church is striving, in this particularity of hers, to be loyal to this mystery from which it sets off and on which every genuine Christian identity is built. Inasmuch as these elements are tied to the person of Jesus Christ, who “is the same, yesterday, today and forever”, (Hebrews 13:8) they take the place of a throbbing heart in the conscience of Maronites.

It must not be remiss in the minds of the sons and daughters of the Maronite Church, as they seek to throw light upon the elements of their identity, that their Patriarchal Church is, before all else, the realization of the mystery of the One, Universal, Holy and Apostolic Church in the special environment in which they were called to bear witness to their Apostolic faith and to their evangelical values, and consequently not willing to be led, in their endeavor, into mere cultural, national or political considerations.

For them, the Church is the salvific work of God the Father through His son Jesus Christ and the action of the Holy Spirit, as they proclaim, chanting during the Sunday liturgy of the Renewal and Consecration of the Church, “Glory be to the Father who founded the Church from of old. Adoration to the Son who has given her his Body for the forgiveness of sins; and thanksgiving to the Spirit who descends, settles on and sanctifies; He is the hidden and unfathomed Mystery. Glory be to Him”[1]

In trying to discover the constituent elements of the identity of the Maronite Church, it becomes apparent how much these elements, in their essence, are common to all the Antiochene and Syriac Churches, and even though through the effect of time they took a distinctive Maronite character, this did not obscure their Antiochene and Syriac origin.

Therefore, returning to this common heritage is, for the Maronite Church, an ecumenical commitment contributing to the recovery, by our Churches, of that complete communion between them, while “living the truth with love” (Ephesians 4:15), for the purpose of consolidating her evangelical presence in this East and in the world, faithful to the calling of her Master.

There is no doubt that the phenomenon of the extensive Maronite emigration from Lebanon and neighboring countries to other countries of the world has contributed to making the issue of the identity of the Maronite Church a Synodal priority. It was essential for this Church, wherever her sons and daughters settled, to highlight the fundamental elements of her identity, the foundation of her vocation and mission, working to update them, to make them compatible with the culture of the people whom her sons and daughters joined, so as to curb their scattering or their dissolution, to preserve their unity for the sake of consolidating the special Christian mission entrusted to them.

In the light of the foregoing, the text introduces the essential elements of the identity of the Maronite Church and it becomes apparent that she is firstly, an Antiochene Syriac Church, with a special liturgical heritage; secondly, a Chalcedonian Church; thirdly, a Patriarchal Church with an ascetic and a monastic aspect; fourthly, a Church in full union with the Apostolic Roman See; fifthly, a Church incarnated in her Lebanese and Eastern environment, and the Countries of Expansion.

Since the Maronite Church’s vocation and mission cannot be separated from her identity, this calls for showing them in succession, beginning with the elements that constitute that identity.
Before embarking on the presentation of these elements, we must remember that the name Maronite derives from Saint Maron, who died around 410, and to the monastery built and named after him, soon after the Council of Chalcedon (451) in the region of Apamea, in Syria Secunda, according to the Roman organization of Syria at the time.

The monastery of Saint Maron is indeed considered to be the cradle of the Antiochene Syriac Maronite Church which emerged under its auspices and in its environ, as an independent patriarchate at an unspecified date, between the end of the seventh century and the first half of the eighth (refer to text 3). Saint Maron, the patron of our Church, whose feast day is celebrated on the ninth of February, introduced a unique kind of eremitical life in Mount Cyrrhus in Syria Prima based on living in the open air. Theodoret of Cyrrhus (459+) wrote his biography and that of his disciples in his famous book about Syrian monks and hermits between the beginning of the fourth century and the middle of the fifth century.