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Antioch has always been a city of openness, dialogue, and bold initiative. It was converted to Jesus Christ by the preaching of certain of his disciples, and the believers were strengthened in their faith, thanks to the labors of the apostles Paul and Barnabas. The apostle Peter himself, the head of the Christian Church, was its bishop until he set out for Rome. Subsequently, the Church of Antioch prospered and extended its territory, finally becoming one of the great original patriarchates, namely Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.In the year 518, the Patriarch of Antioch, Severius, was deposed from his see for having denied the two distinct natures in Christ and for rejecting the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon. A Catholic Patriarch succeeded him, by the name of Paul. However, not all the Christians approved his appointment, and in consequence the Church split into two groups, the Chalcedonians and the anti-Chalcedonians. Every since that time, there has always been a Catholic Patriarch holding to the faith as defined at Chalcedon and a non-Catholic Patriarch rejecting it.A century later, another division affected the Church of Antioch, leaving three groups of Christians, the Syriacs, the Maronites, and the Melkites, and this division has continued down to the present day. As from the seventh century, we find that the original Church had given rise to five district communities, the Melkites, the Maronites, the Syriacs, the Assyrians, and the Armenians, each of which had its own Patriarch. In the twelfth century yet another Patriarch was added in the person of the Latin Patriarch.The Church of Antioch had originally been one church encompassing the whole of Asia and the East, but finally became several churches. Where there had been one Patriarch, now there are several. One day, God’s mercy will bring it together again as one flock under one shepherd.
The Maronites and Lebanon
The Maronites are those Christians who gathered round a certain priest by the name of Maron and adopted his pattern of life.Maron left the city and made his abode on a mountain, intending thereby to leave behind the theological strife and to worship God in solitude. But in his retreat, Maron found that his true vocation was to live with others, so he resumed his parish duties and set about teaching the true doctrine. His disciples increased in number, and they began to call themselves Maronites after their teacher.Maron died in the year 410, but his disciples carried on his mission. In 451 at the Council of Chalcedon, they held to the clear teaching that Christ was both God and man, having two natures, one divine and one human. Afterwards the Maronites were loyal defenders of the decrees of the Council. In the upshot, the opponents of Chalcedon showed themselves bitter enemies of the Maronites, who started moving to Lebanon in successive waves after 350 of them had been martyred.Near the end of the fifth century of the Christian era, the inhabitants of Mount Lebanon had been converted by the disciples of St. Maron and had become Maronites themselves. These now welcomed their brethren arriving from Antioch and the two groups, now mingled, pursued their mission together. When the Arabs finally dominated the area, and any regular contact with the patriarchate of Constantinople became impossible, the Maronites had to appoint in 687 their own Patriarch, who was Saint John-Maron.The Emperor of Byzantium acted as if his royal authority extended over the Church. He appointed Patriarchs and in many ways interfered in ecclesiastical matters. The Christians for their part got into the habit of turning to him to solve their problems. When the Maronites chose a Patriarch for themselves, the authorities at Byzantium withheld their consent. While invading the region, the imperial army attacked the Maronites, and a battle was fought at Amioun, which resulted in a victory for the latter. The Patriarch established himself at Kfarhay, where he made the episcopal palace his seat.A number of Patriarchs resided at Kfarhay, among whom are John-Maron, Cyr, and Gabriel. They watched over their flock and ensured the purity of their faith. The Anaphora of St John- Maron, in daily use, is a brilliant testimony to the faith of the Maronites in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The lure of the riches of the world, which they had left, could not shake their firm belief, nor could the assaults of their enemies disperse them. They loved their Creator and cherished his Holy Word.
The Patriarchs of Kfarhay
At Kfarhay the Patriarchs lived through hard times. Numbers of their spiritual children flocked about them, trudging to Kfarhay on weary feet, carrying in their arms their infant children and staggering under the burden of such simple belongings as they had been able to bring when driven from their houses, their lands, and their property in Syria and the Bekaa. They now came to wrest a living from a rocky, densely forested land, lacking every amenity. However, the district of Batroun opened its arms to them like a mother welcoming her children.
Now the Maronites put behind them the years of plenty and prepared for the years of hunger. They transformed rock into fertile soil in which they grew wheat and other grains, planted olive trees, grapevines and mulberry trees, and added to their traditional prayers a beautiful one: ”By the intercession of your Mother, O Lord, turn your wrath from the land and its inhabitants. Put an end to trouble and sedition, banish from it war, plunder, hunger and plague. Have pity on us in our misfortunes. Console those of us who are sick. Help us in our weakness. Deliver us from oppression and exile. Grant eternal rest to our dead. Allow us to live in peace in this world that we may glorify you”. In their prayers the Maronites spoke of their hardships, hunger, disorders, and injustice, for these were things they were familiar with.Finally, after 251 years spent by the Patriarchs in the region of Batroun, they had to find a new refuge, facing new difficulties on new soil.The thoughts of the Patriarch kept turning to the city of Antioch, where he yearned to remain with his flock during its days of torment.Patriarch John II imagined that he could fulfill this ambition. Once he had reached Antioch he made every endeavor to bring all the Maronites together, but without any success. Recurring difficulties and disorders obliged him to relinquish his plan and to ”take refuge in the heart of Mount Lebanon in 938” as Patriarch DOUAIHY wrote of him. Finally, he settled in the vicinity of Aakoura. (The Annals, 50)
The Patriarchs and Akoura
The sojourn of the Maronite Patriarchs in the district of Jbeil lasted for 502 years, that is to say, from 938 to 1440 A.D. Thirty-four Patriarchs resided there, whose names are to be found in a list compiled by Patriarch DOUAIHY and published in 1902 by Rashid SHARTOUNI.John-Maron II, Gregory, Stephen, Mark, Eusebius, John, Joshua, David, Gregory, Theofelix, Joshua, Dumith, Isaac, John, Simon, Joseph EL GERGESSI (1110-1120), Peter (1121-1130), Gregory of Halate (1130-1141), Jacob of Ramate (1141-1151), John (1151 -1154), Peter (1154-1173), Peter of Lehfed (1173-1199), Jeremiah of Amshit (1199-1230), Daniel of Shamat (1230-1239), John of Jaje (1239-1245), Simon (1245-1277), Daniel of Hadshit (1278-1282), Jeremiah of Dmalsa (1282-1297), Simon (1297-1339), John (1339-1357), Gabriel of Hjula (1357-1367), John (1367- 1404), John of Jaje (1404-1445).What was the activity of these prelates, and what did they achieve?Of this, history has nothing to record. They lived in inaccessible and trackless mountain fastness. They lacked all means for the acquisition and storing of knowledge and considered themselves happy if they were able to live in peace among their faithful people, treasuring the Christian teaching that had been handed down to them.
They did not even have any fixed Patriarchal seat. They went from Yanuh down to Mayfuq, then to Lehfed, to Habil, back to Yanuh, to Kfifan, to Kfarhay, to Kafre, to Yanuh again, and to Hardine, and to Mayfuq again. If they accepted to live an austere life and to be like Abraham ever on the move, it was because it was their will to follow in the footsteps of St Maron, their master, and to say Yes to Jesus Christ.Their dwellings were extremely humble, and deprived of all show of riches and pomp, but magnificent in their simplicity and detachment from the world. However, ”the devoted inhabitants of Yanuh, being pious and good Apostles, insisted on building a residence for the Patriarch, in green stone, very attractive and solidly constructed”. (DOUAIHY, The Annals 50)The Patriarchal seat at Mayfuq, which still exists, is a true work of art. If the greater part of the construction is devoted to the church, as was the case of the other residences vestiges of which are scattered about, this was because the Patriarchs were above all men of prayer and so wanted their places of residence to be in the first place retreats for prayer.
The Years of Difficulties
After the departure of the Crusaders, the Maronites came under attack from the Mamlouks. They suffered every humiliation, while their Churches were set of fire, their villages plundered, and their vineyards destroyed.”On Monday, the second day of Muharram, Akush Pasha, governor of Damascus, marched at the head of a military force into the mountains of Kesrouan. The soldiers invested these mountains and, having dismounted scaled the slopes from all sides.
”The governor invaded the hills, and his soldiers trampled underfoot a land whose inhabitants had believed it impregnable. The enemy occupied the heights, destroyed the villages, and wreaked havoc in the vineyards. They massacred the people and made prisoners of them. The mountains were left deserted.” (The Annals, 288)The Patriarchs themselves had their share of the general misfortune, suffering as much as any. One was tortured, another harassed, another compelled to flee, another put on trial, and yet another burnt alive.”In 1283 Patriarch Daniel of Hadshit in person led his men in their defence against the Mamlouk soldiery, after the latter had assaulted the Jubbeh of Bsharri. He succeeded in checking their advance before Ehden for forty days, and the Mamlouks captured Ehden only after they had seized the Patriarch by a ruse. ”In 1367, patriarch Gabriel was conveyed from Hjoula, his home district where he had taken refuge during the persecutions, down to Tripoli, where he was burnt alive at the stake. His tomb still stands in Bab el Ramel, at the gates of Tripoli.” ”In 1402, there was great hardship. Many of the dead remained without burial, many of which died of hunger. It was a tragedy without parallel.” (DOUAIHY, The Annals, 338).However, the Maronites bore their trials patiently. They looked on the district of Jbeil, which had sheltered their Patriarchs, as a fertile land which by its bounty and situation invited them to meditation and prayer. They had drawn from its rough roads patience in adversity, from its high mountains the ability to rise above the outrages inflicted on them, and from the vastness of the sea reflecting the azure vault of heaven the habit of turning their vision to distant horizons. For them Jbeil was the Garden of Gethsemane, impressing on them its pure spirit and endowing them with courage, wisdom and peace of mind. They read the Holy Gospel, and in this way they were brought together again.For they did not give up hope. They put in the balance what they had gained and what they had lost as a result of their alliance with the Crusaders and realized that God was their only resort. In Him they placed all their trust and gathered round their Patriarch as their leader, both spiritual and civil. After passing their situation in review, they called on the civil chiefs of the villages, the muqaddams, to act according to the instructions emanating from the Patriarch, and for their part these notables accepted minor orders as sub-deacons to put themselves at his disposition.These initiatives bore good fruit. The country knew some tranquillity and order. When they had invaded Kesrouan, the main purpose of the Mamlouks, who were Sunni Muslims, had been to eliminate the Shiites. But this gave the Maronites the opportunity to act as mediators. To a considerable degree they reconciled the opposing points of view of the two rival communities, acting as Apostles of peace and harmony in all the villages where Sunnites and Shiites dwelt together, interposing between them.The Churches that have survived from this period are small, but they testify to the renewal in our mountains of the mission in Our Lord Jesus Christ, which began when he trod the soil of Lebanon. The priests administered the sacraments and preached the word of God. Miracles followed: wounds were healed, tears were wiped away, vendettas were settled, and unity was restored.The unity of the Maronites owes much to their parochial life. It was this, which led them to enter into relationships with the Shiites and the Druzes, serving the Sunnites Shehabi dynasty, and working with all for the common good. All were united when it was a matter of facing a common enemy. When finally they found themselves in a situation, which knew no other solution, the Maronites moved into the valley of Kannoubine.
The Maronites and Rome
Pope Innocent III saw with his own eyes what men of prayer the Maronite Patriarchs were on the day when Patriarch Jeremiah of Amshit came to see him during the proceedings of the Latran Council of 1215, in which the latter participated. ”The Pope ordered that the Patriarch be depicted in a painting to be made for St Peter’s. When over the centuries the painting had lost much of its radiance, Pope Innocent XIII ordered that it be retouched. This painting represents the Patriarch raising the host that had frozen in his hands while he was celebrating Mass, with the Pope attending”. (DOUAIHY, Chronologie des Patriarches Maronites, 24).These Patriarchs did not leave behind them great works, such as fine Churches or castles or universities. Nevertheless, they succeeded like the Apostles in watching over their flocks as mothers and fathers do over their children, and to pass on to them the teachings of Our Lord. They formed a people full of the faith, blessing when insulted and enduring when persecuted. When at last they had completed their labors in one place, they carried the torch and went elsewhere.For three centuries the Maronites were cut off from the rest of the world, blockaded with in their mountains; and when the Crusaders swarmed into the East, their discovery of the Maronites came as a surprise. The Holy See itself was astonished to learn of their continued existence when their disappearance had been taken for granted. Subsequently there were strong ties formed between the Maronites and the Crusaders, particularly after the arrival in the East of St Louis, King of France.During the thirteenth century, Lebanon knew some decades of relative peace. The Maronites were even able to undertake the construction of a number of Churches, an activity which Patriarch DOUAIHY recorded as follows: ”At that time, Christianity spread throughout the East and was openly proclaimed. Bronze bells were rung to summon the faithful to prayer and to the sacred services. Those who received the outpourings of God’s grace founded convents and built Churches, for the people yearned to serve the Almighty and to perform good deeds. Father Basil of Bsharri had three daughters: Mariam, Thecla, and Salomeh. Mariam constructed the shrine of St Saba in Bsharri in Mount Lebanon; Salomeh, that of St Daniel in Hadath; and Thecla, that of St George in Bkerkasha as well as two churches in Koura...” (The Annals, 104)
Although he had received an invitation from Pope Eugene IV to attend the Council of Florence in person, ”the Maronite Patriarch sent Fra Juan as his delegate, being motivated by concern about the risks of the voyage. Fra Juan had an audience with the Pope, at that time presiding the works of the Council, after which he returned to Lebanon bearing the Pallium.”When the worthy friar reached Tripoli, there was a large crowd who came to greet him; unfortunately however, there were also soldiers sent by the governor to arrest him, the official in question being persuaded that the Christians had met in Florence to prepare the launching of another crusade against the Muslims of Syria. On learning of the envoy’s misfortune, the Patriarch sent emissaries to reassure the governor about Fra Juan’s intentions. After having pocketed a substantial bribe, the governor set his prisoner free after the latter had promised to return after completing his mission. Fra Juan made his way up to Our Lady of Mayfuk, which was then the seat of the Patriarch, and delivered him the Pallium together with a letter from Pope Eugene IV. But he then set off for Rome again, this time passing through Beirut and ignoring his earlier promise to the governor of Tripoli, who naturally enough flew into a rage and sent his soldiers to arrest both the Patriarch and other leading personalities. Finding nobody at the patriarchal residence, he plundered and set fire to the houses around and even killed a number of the local inhabitants. Those of his men who continued the search for the Patriarch destroyed the monastery, killing some of the monks and taking the others in chains to Tripoli.” The Patriarch was obliged to leave the monastery of Mayfuk and from then on lived under the protection of Jacob, Mukaddam of Bsharri.” (DOUAIHY, The Annals, 210).
As one advances into the deep-cut valley of Kannoubine, one is surrounded by mountains towering over the gorge, leaving only a patch of the sky visible overhead. If one looks down from the shoulder of one of the great mountains into the three-thousand-foot depths of the gorge below, one is overwhelmed by a sense of power, and one wants to seize some twisted tree- trunk or jutting crag so as not go falling into the vast space between plunging cliffs. One European traveler recounted how the Patriarch, like a second Moses risen from the pages of the Old Testament, guided his people from his austere retreat among the rocks. Our Lady of Kannoubine was the seat of 24 Patriarchs between 1440 and 1823. They were:John of Jaj (1440-1445), Jacob of Hadeth (1445-1468), Joseph of Hadeth (1468-1492), Symeon of Hadeth (1492-1524), Moussa AKARI of Barida (1524-1567), Michael RIZZI of Bkoufa (1567- 1581), Sarkis RIZZI of Bkoufa (1581-1596), Joseph RIZZI of Bkoufa (1596-1608), John MAKHLOUF of Ehden (1608-1633), George OMAIRA of Ehden (1633-1644), Joseph HALIB of Akoura (1644-1648), John Bawab of Safra (1648-1656), George Rizkallah of Bseb’el (1656- 1670), Stephen DOUAIHY of Ehden (1670-1704), Gabriel of Blaouza (1704-1705), Jacob AWAD of Hasroun (1705-1733), Joseph DERGHAM Khazen of Ghosta (1733-1742), Symeon AWAD of Hasroun (1743-1756), Toubia EL KHAZEN of Bekaata Kanaan (1756-1766), Joseph STEPHAN of Ghosta (1766-1793), Michael FADEL of Beirut (1793-1795), Philip GEMAYEL of Bikfaya (1795-1796), Joseph TYAN of Beirut (1796-1808), John HELOU of Ghosta (1808-1823).All of those named above were God-fearing men, servants of their people. The valley stands witness to their holiness and the sincerity of their quest for God through austerity and frugality. People said of them, ”Their crosses are of wood, but their hearts are of gold.”If must be said here that the hardships endured by the Maronites were not entirely to their disadvantage. Their sufferings united the people under their leaders, in turn under the authority of the Patriarch. The Mukaddam of Bsharri was the chief of his whole region. In this way some semblance of peace and order was established.
But even the times of peace were not without trouble, as may be seen from this report made by a traveler who visited Kannoubine in 1475: ”The Maronite nation has lived under occupation enduring continuous oppression and tyranny. All over Lebanon one finds ruin, tears, and terror. Under the pretext of gathering a certain tax called the ”Gezia”, the authorities strip the peasants of all their belongings and beat them with sticks, and torture them in order to extract from them all that they possess. Many would have perished had not their aged patriarch, Peter son of Hassan, come to their rescue. Terrified by the perils that threatened his people, the Patriarch gave away all the revenues of the Church to satisfy the rapacity of the tyrants. "The door of the patriarchal monastery was sealed, and the Patriarch sometimes had to hide in caves as did Popes Urban and Sylvester." (Marcellin de Civezza, Histoire universelle des missions franciscaines, Paris 1858, vol. 3, p. 209)In Wadi Kannoubine, the Maronites heard the Gospel and lived by it. Theirs was a life of sacrifice inspired by the true faith and by hope, and so their lives were directed. They were an example of unity and love. In Wadi Kannoubine the Maronites had no need to be urged to pray. Wadi Kannoubine is in itself an invitation to the forgetfulness of self, to meditation, and to prayer, an invitation that the Maronites did not refuse. ”They spent their time as the first Christians did, learning from the Apostles”. (Acts II:42) Some of them felt the need to live a life more fully devoted to prayer; many men and women sought God away from the haunts of men, and soon the caves in the valley became the retreats of hermits devoted to the inner life of union with the Creator.The Maronites at that time were always under the threat of famine through failure of the crops. They were also under the threat of attack on their persons whenever they went out to their fields. But they lived without hate towards any, anxious only to fulfill their mission in this world. They were the Apostles of Jesus Christ. They labored in patience and in hope. They looked on their enemies as people for whom Jesus had died, people to whom they must convey the message of the Gospel. They made such progress in virtue that in 1515 Pope Leo could write them a letter of encouragement in which he said: ”You have acted without allowing the persecutions and the hardship inflicted on you by the infidels, enemies of Our Savior, and from the heretics and schismatic, to turn you away from the faith of Christ.”