Once, in a time long ago, there was an artist. The artist put his whole heart and soul in his work. He found it hard to express what was in his soul. However, he worked hard and kept his eyes fixed on his goal. He heard comments like: “Stop shooting for the stars”, “quit dreaming” or “what you do doesn’t matter that much. This caused him much pain. His work suffered but he persevered.
People where he lived settled for what was average mediocre, they criticized innovation. After a while, he realized that for the sake of his God-given talent he had to leave that place. So he set out, hoping in his heart that his artistic vision could truly create beauty in the world. He settled in a barren place, on a river’s edge, and there he continued his work spending many hours of the day and night hammering out every detail. At first, those who looked at his work thought it a bit strange. He was again criticized and ridiculed. But, later, these same people came to know and love him and to see beauty and wisdom in his work.
Toward the end of his life, there arose in the people of the surrounding area much interest in his work. Friends became interested and actively involved in helping him create more beautiful works than he had ever imagined. Then, as the Divine Artist called him home, his faithful son entrusted his unfinished work to the hands of his friends.
The artist was St. Maron. His canvas was his very soul and character. Little did he suspect that his beautiful vision of Jesus Christ would one day become the interest for so many. In fact, we are blessed to share in his name and memory; we are Maronites!
The style of Christianity was becoming complex where Maron lived. The gospel of simplicity practiced since the time of St. Peter the Apostle, was quickly lost in the complexity of daily life. Maron left his home for the shores of the Orontes River in ancient Syria. There he sought solitude and prayer. The more he sought quiet, the more he found himself in the service of others, counseling and healing. By the time of his death in 410 A.D., monks gathered in his name to form the Monastery of St. Maron and they became the first Maronites.
The Monastery was soon a center of spiritual healing and prayer for the people of the surrounding villages who also became known as Maronites. They sought spiritual perfection in all they did. They not only “handed on”, but they enhanced the “Maron Mosaic” while calling upon poets, artists, spiritual guides, working men and women, families, elders and youth. Each of them, in their unique beauty, contributed to this unfinished work.
And so began a new way of life. The followers of St. Maron had no idea that their way of life would have such an impact on society. Maronites were to make their presence a positive one wherever they lived. By being faithful “monks”, they stood up against all that was shallow and artificial in society, for a monk leaves behind the busyness of a self-seeking society in order to start a new society, one born of justice, love, and good order.
The life-style that St. Maron inspired was not an escape from the world, but rather a bold re-entrance, a new engagement, almost a defiance, as if to say: “Christianity can truly be lived, come and see!”
According to the gospel precepts, a monk sold all that he had to follow Christ. He concerned himself only with the essentials, what was central to life itself. For the Maronite, prayer, which simply placed God on a pedestal and spoke in flowery words about His greatness was not prayer at all, but empty chatter. God is the God of silence. He is the God who is beyond our impressions of Him, yet very near to us in His Son, Jesus Christ, who became one of us.
The prayer of the Divine Liturgy reminds us:
“You have united, O Lord, Your divinity with our humanity, and our humanity with Your divinity”.
The Maronite addresses God not in distant and aloof terms, but rather as “Lover of Mankind”, “Ocean of Mercy” and “Fountain of Life”.
The best way for the Maronite to pray is in poetry and silence – the language of love. Poetry, because only by metaphors and analogy, which stretch words beyond their capacity, can people one express what is deepest in their hearts. Silence, because a contemplative life-style is a reminder that love of God and neighbor is what life is all about.
Maronite Art is deeply human yet touched by the divine. It depicts scenes from the Scriptures with full color and human faces.
Maronite Hymns make this point even clearer. The Latin Tradition has Gregorian Chant. The Byzantine Tradition has majestic hymns with multi-part harmonies. The Maronite Tradition uses music familiar to the people, simple and easy to remember. Sometimes the chant was festive, sometimes reflective, but always letting the words speak for themselves, assisting one to draw closer to God, touching both the senses and the heart.
The monks avoided mere habit when it came to art, music, poetry, or prayer. They prayed like the ancient Jews in the Temple and Synagogues. They used expressions, prayers and gestures like those of the earliest Christians. They were conservative and proud inheritors of Christ’s culture: His language and His customs, His Jewish ancestry.
By the seventh and eighth centuries the Maronites were forced to flee Syria because of persecutions, thus making the protective mountains of Lebanon home. They even helped to create the modern nation of Lebanon. In America we are the Maronites in a new culture planting ancient roots in a new soil. Today, we are living proof to an ever-greater migration from Lebanon and the Middle East through the centuries to the four corners of the earth.
Maronites are “old fashioned” when it comes to respecting themselves and others, believing that the body is a gift from God to be honored and respected. How we do this is very important. Maronites love chastity, not because they are prudish, but because they believe that sex has a noble purpose, and a lofty meaning. They believe that they can make a true gift of themselves in marriage, and they ought not give themselves to anything less. Thus, they believe that this gift of self is reserved either for consecrated service to God, for marriage, or for a generous single life. Everything else falls short of God’s love plan.
Maronites are down to earth, lovers of Scripture and nature, bold pilgrims and pioneers. They are a team of artists that dates back to the fifth century: artists specializing in the art of living. Maronites are future visionaries who must now complete the “Maron Mosaic” based on what they know of their past and what Christ and his Church teach about the present. Knowing who they are is important, not just for their own sakes, but to honor the blood, sweat and tears of those who labored before them.
Dear young brothers and sisters, no other time in the history of the Maronites is more important that right now. Maron’s artistic vision could very easily collapse. The Maronite Catholic Church, one of the twenty-two different Churches that make up the Catholic Church, united with the Pope in Rome could die of neglect! The Maronite Church is the only Church never to be divided, the only Eastern Church to have always maintained close ties with the Pope, the successor of the Apostle Peter in Rome.
We are more than an “ethnic” Church. We are a Church with a mission. We embrace almost every nation of the world. St. Maron, whom we believe, along with all the saints, is in the presence of God the Father, must be dancing with joy. How little did he know that God would use his life to establish an international way of following Jesus Christ and loving God and neighbor.
If today Maron could speak to you the Youth and Young adults, I believe he would speak in this way:
- “Beloved brothers and sisters, you and your ancestors have made many sacrifices to keep your faith. Thank you for your interest in my vision of life with Jesus as Lord. Today I celebrate your faith.
- Don’t worry about money or social status because this type of worry will blind you from seeing God’s face in the cedars of the mountain, the roar of the sea, and the eyes of your neighbor.
- Be concerned with the lives of others, the goodness of the earth, your own desire to do God’s will and in doing this you will find Him. Avoid whatever is superficial, and seek out what is unfading and sure.
- Listen to the voice of Pope Benedict and Patriarch Nasrallah Peter Cardinal Sfeir and their successors. In doing this you are listening to the voice of St. Peter, who was chosen by Jesus Himself, as the head of the apostles.
- Complete the masterpiece that my friends and I labored over in past ages. You are young and you can see clearly the mistakes of the past. You can improve the present. You are the new team of artists in this yet unfinished work of art. The cost of living.
- Let your voices be heard! I trust your judgment and the adults need to hear you! Dream your dreams and make a gift of your lives for what is good.
- Open wide your hearts so that you may see clearly and hear our Lord’s call to you to rebuild His Church. Young people, you are my hope!”
Dear young people of today, put your whole heart and soul into the art of living. When you face adversity, as did Our Lord, persevere. Be wise, remain prayerful and never lose confidence that God walks with you. Don’t be afraid to be a little “old fashioned”. You are entrusted with a precious unfinished work of art – the Maronite Church! You can make all the difference in the world.
May the prayers of Saint Maron, father, hermit and friend to the youth, be with you.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Gregory John Mansour