Maronites (Marunoye ܐܶܝܢܘܪܡ in Syriac, Mawarinah in Arabic) are members of one of the Eastern Rites of the Catholic church. Their heritage reaches back to St. Maron in the early 5th century. The first Maronite patriarch, St. John Maron, was appointed in the late 7th century. Today they are one of the main religious groups in Lebanon.
Preamble to Maronite history
As long ago as 1908, the Catholic Encyclopedia outlined the issues surrounding the Maronite Church and the status of its orthodoxy in the following neutral terms:
- All competent authorities agree as to the history of the Maronites as far back as the sixteenth century, but beyond that period the unanimity ceases. They themselves assert at once the high antiquity and the perpetual orthodoxy of their nation; but both of these pretensions have constantly been denied by their Christian -- even Catholic -- rivals in Syria, the Melchites, whether Catholic or Orthodox, the Syrian Orthodox, and the Catholic Syrians. Some European scholars accept the Maronite view; the majority reject it. So many points in the primitive history of the nation are still obscure that we can here only set forth the arguments advanced on either side, without drawing any conclusion.
In the early 4th century, a community gathered around the Christian hermit St. Maron. After his death in 435 (or 410, according to some sources), this community continued to grow, and adopted the name of Maronites.
Centered near Emesa in Syria, the Maronites remained orthodox in the 5th and 6th centuries despite the strength of the Monophysite and Nestorian heresies in that region. In the early 7th century, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius invented the Monothelite heresy as an attempt to reunite Christendom. Heraclius' plan backfired, and the Maronite community seceded from the Byzantine Empire rather than remain associated with an emperor they considered a heretic. After this time, the Maronites constantly struggled to retain their independence from the Byzantine and the Muslim empires.
After the Muslim conquest of Syria, the Maronites gained some military help from Constantine IV and harassed the forces of Umayyad Dynasty so that in 677 the caliph decided to pay tribute to them in return for peace. Some of the Maronites relocated to Mount Lebanon at this time and formed several communities that became known as the Marada.
In 685 the Maronites found themselves isolated from the Byzantine Empire and decided to appoint their own Patriarch, St. John Maron, who had been a bishop of Batroun. Through him, they claim full apostolic succession through the See of Antioch.
Shortly after this, Emperor Justinian II accused them of heresy. In 694 Maronites defeated Justinian's forces in Mount Lebanon. They also proceeded their raids against Muslims and in 707 Caliph al-Walid I sent a force to occupy Jarjuma and destroy it. The Maronites retreated to the mountains. In 759 forces of the new Abbasid dynasty defeated the Maronites in Baalbek.
During the Crusades in the 12th century, Maronites assisted the Crusaders and reestablished their affiliation with Catholicism in 1182. From this point the Maronites can prove an unbroken orthodoxy and unity with Rome. For example, in 1100 Maronite Patriarch Youseff Al Jirjisi received the crown and staff from Pope Paschal II. In 1131 Maronite Patriarch Gregorious Al Halati received letters from Pope Innocent II. That affiliation was to cost them dearly after Muslim rule returned. Anti-Christian Mamelukes destroyed their fields, houses and churches alongside with those of Druze and Shiites. Connection to Rome was arduously maintained and a Maronite college established at Rome in July 5, 1584.
At first, the Ottoman Empire left Maronites to their own devices in their mountain strongholds. However, from 1585 to 1635 the Druze warlord Fakhr-al-Din II conquered and ruled the Greater Lebanon until he was defeated by Ottoman forces and executed at Constantinople on April 13, 1635.
In 1610, the Maronite monks of the Monastery of Saint Quzhayya imported the first printing press in the Arabic speaking world. For over a century this was the only printing press in the East. The monasteries of Lebanon became key players in the Arab Renaissance as a result of developing Arabic printable script.
In 1638, France declared that it would protect the Catholics within the Ottoman Empire, including the Maronites. In 1860 Maronites clashed with Druze until French intervention and Ottoman diplomacy stopped that. In 1866 Youssef Karam led a Maronite uprising in Mount Lebanon against governor Dawood Pasha . European intervention led to his exile to Algeria.
Maronites gained self-rule under the French mandate of Lebanon in 1920 and secured their position in the independent Lebanon in 1943. They were one of the three main factions in the Lebanese Civil War.
The head of the Maronite Church is the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch, who is elected by the bishops of the Maronite church and now resides in Jounieh north of Beirut. When a new patriarch is elected and enthroned, he requests ecclesiastic communion from the Pope, thus maintaining the Catholic Church communion. Although their doctrine is Catholic, they retain their own liturgy and hierarchy. Strictly speaking, the Maronite church belongs to the Antiochene Tradition and is a West Syro-Antiochene Rite. Syriac is the liturgical language, instead of Latin. Celibacy is not a requirement for deacons or priests with parishes, but monks are required to remain celibate, as are bishops who are normally selected from the monasteries.
Some number estimates have been 1.5 million to even 7.5 million, yet the exact population is unknown (see external links for more information regarding the Maronite population). It is estimated that 640,000 to 850,000 remain in Lebanon where they constitute up to 30% of the population. According to Lebanese constitution, the president must be a Maronite. Syrian Maronites total 40,000 and they follow archdioceses of Aleppo and Damascus and the Diocese of Latakia. There is also a Maronite community in Cyprus, probably descended from those who accompanied crusaders there.
In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Arab diaspora led many Maronites to emigrate to Latin America, as well as North America, Europe and Australia, where they founded Maronite parishes.
The two residing eparchies in the United States have issued their own "Maronite Census." The Census is designed to estimate approximately how many Maronites reside in the United States due to their emigrations to that country. Many Maronites have been assimilated into the American culture, often taking on Roman Catholicism. The Census was designed to locate those people.
Last updated: 06-02-2005 13:19:21