When I meet someone from the Middle East for the first time they usually ask me where I am from. I say I was born in the United States and so were my parents, but my four grandparents were from Ehden, Lebanon, Damour, Lebanon, Damascus, Syria and Tibneen, Lebanon. The families from Ehden and Damour migrated to Nazareth, in what is now Israel, over the course of three hundred years. My ancestral roots are Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese and American!
Our ancestry is important, but our identity and our spiritual roots are much deeper than the location of our ancestors, the language we speak and our ethnic background. We can be Maronite Catholic because of ancestry, the choice of our parents, or because we made the choice ourselves as adults. But no matter how we became Maronite, by virtue of our involvement with this beautiful Church, we are responsible for Her care and well being. There are seven traits of Maronites that can help to define who we are and who we ought to be.
First, Saint Maron, the spiritual father of the Maronite Church, went beyond all measure in his love for Christ. He was an “open-air” hermit, subjecting himself to the sufferings caused by the weather. He made himself available to God and to others while spending his days and nights in fasts and vigils. While he sought only solitude, others sought him for spiritual help. As a priest he was intimately connected to the life of the Church, his life was fulfilled by his service to others and he gave the totality of his being in this noble service.
Second, Maronites from the very beginning were bridge builders. Abraham, a disciple of Maron, went on foot with his companions into the many places of Lebanon preaching the Gospel and planting the seed for future generations. They met resistance while encountering different cultures and beliefs. In the early 1900’s, when Lebanon was being formed into a modern state, it was the Maronite Patriarch, in the same spirit of Saint Maron’s first disciples, who, working along with the Muslim Mufti, insisted that the new state of Lebanon would be one of Christian-Muslim coexistence. Many scholarly interlocutors in the Christian-Muslim dialogue over the years and today have been Maronites.
Third, Maronites have spoken many different languages over the years by virtue of exposure to those who traveled through or settled in Lebanon. They also took on the language of whatever place they found themselves. At one time, due mainly to the work of Maronites, Lebanon of the 18th century posted a literacy rate higher than that of Europe. Maronites outside the Middle East have built bridges between the culture they left and the culture in which they found themselves. Today there are Maronites born after five generations in new lands who appreciate the country and culture of their origin and who now welcome those new immigrants who come from their homeland as they did generations ago.
Fourth, Maronites have been strong advocates for the family. When European travelers visited Lebanon in the Middle Ages they wrote about how Maronite husbands and wives are ever faithful to each other, build families on love, and expend every means to educate and raise their children in the faith. They wrote about the modest, pious and devout families who shared deeply in the life of the Church while making room for aunts, uncles, godparents, grandparents, teachers, elders, monks, priests and sisters, each of whom played a vital role in the formation of the family.
Fifth, Maronites have always loved the authority and ministry of Peter. The pride of the Maronite Church is in her perpetual union with Peter. It is not enough to say one is Maronite without also having a warm love and respect for the Pope. Today this means a love for the teachings of the Church, even the difficult ones. Maronites are the only Church, East and West, that has no non-Catholic counterpart. They guard their unity and love the universality of the Church. Throughout the years and today they place themselves at the service of the Universal Church in the work of ecumenism.
Sixth, throughout history Maronites have borne a fervent devotion to Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Whether called the Qorbono, the Quddas, the Mass, the Divine Liturgy, or the Service of the Holy Mysteries, the reality of this liturgical celebration is that it is the “summit and font” of all Christian life. The Divine Liturgy inspires in us an ardent desire to offer ourselves, along with Christ, to the Father. This is the essence of Eucharistic Liturgy. This personal dimension of faith is also key to the communal dimension. Both personal prayer and the liturgy of the Church together lead the Maronite to a more profound union with Christ.
Last but not least, is the love Maronites have for the Mother of God. Under the mantle of Our Lady of Lebanon, Cedar of Lebanon and many other local titles, she has been the Morning Star that leads us to Christ. In imitation of her purity, piety and devotion, Maronites fervently seek her intercession. The Patriarchs throughout the ages have always kept an image of the Mother of God near. At the dawn of the day, at its end, and during its trials and tribulations, the name of the Virgin (Adhra) is never far from the lips of believing and devout Maronites.
These seven traits tell us who we are, and who we ought to be. This identity, even more than our personal ancestry, gives us spiritual roots: a special belonging and participating in the Church, the Kingdom of God on earth. In imitation of Saint Maron and his love for Christ, and by our intimate involvement in the life of the Church, living as bridge builders, loving our place of origin, building strong families, remaining faithful to the Holy Father, loving Christ in Eucharistic offering, and maintaining a warm devotion to Mary, Mother of God, we know who we are and who we ought to be.
May the prayer of our Lady and Saint Maron be our companion, so that with them we may draw ever nearer to Christ and His Bride, the Church.
+Gregory John Mansour
(Reprinted with permission.)