The Late Sixteenth to the Mid Seventeenth Century (continued)
By Chorbishop Seely Beggiani
As we have seen in other periods, one way to study Maronite History is by describing and interpreting events as they occured during the reign of each patriarch. We will use this approach in discussing the last half of the 17th century.
Patriarch John Safrawi (1648-56)
Patriarch Safrawi lived a life of abnegation, penance and extreme asceticism, and was noted for his practice of prayer and austerity. He supervised the publication of two volumes of the Divine Office. He also prepared an edition of the Fengeeto or the Book of Fixed Feasts.
Through diplomatic missions Patriarch Safrawi was able to obtain a commitment of “protection and special safeguard” for the Maronites from the king of France. In answer to the Patriarch’s request for help, King Louis XIV, while still a minor, wrote a letter to the Maronite Patriarch in 1649. He stated that he had advised his ambassador to the Levant and his successors to give the Maronites every assistance and protection, “so that they suffer no ill treatment and are free to exercise their spiritual function.”
Patriarch Safrawi also sought the help of Pope Alexander VII in having a Maronite, Abou-Naufel el-Khazen, named Vice-consul of France to Beyrouth. El-Khazen was of great help to the Maronite Church in the 17th century. By his influence with the Druze and Turkish emirs, he was able to give protection to the Christians in his province of Kesrawan. He put his credit at the disposal of the western missionaries, such as the Jesuits and the Capuchins, thus facilitating their establishment in Lebanon. El-Khazen subsequently became a French consul of Beyrouth in 1662. He was the first consul of Beyrouth whose jurisdiction had been separated by the king from Saida and Aleppo. The functions of the consul of France to Beyrouth were exercised for nearly a century by Abou-Naufel and his descendants. It was not a light advantage for the Maronite Patriarchate to have one of its subjects bear the title consul of France with all the rights and honors which the representatives of France in the Middle East enjoyed.
On the other hand, during this period we have reports from various missionaries and travelers about the desperate situation of the Maronites in different areas. In 1656 the Maronites of Aleppo were required by the Turks to pay a large sum of money which they could not afford, so their sacred vessels and church furnishings were seized. Moved by their sad situation and convinced that they were unjust victims, the French Consul Picquet solicited help in their favor from the Roman Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith. To the 300 ecus obtained from Rome, he added 200 from his own pocket. The Capuchin Father Justin of Tours tells us that in Aleppo, the Maronite religious led a life more angelic than human, and more admirable than imitable. Their lives were so austere that they astonished all the people, and even the Turks considered them saints.
At Saida, the Christians were so hard pressed by the Turks that some lost their faith. The Jesuit mission there taught catechism and preached. The city of Beyrouth had suffered much ruin. There were quite a few Maronites there, and they shared the Church with the Latins. A wall divided the Church in half. The Jesuits also had missions in Tripoli and Antoura in Kesrawan, and did apostolic work in all the neighboring villages.
Patriarch George Bseb’el (1657-1670)
Patriarch George Bseb’el was learned in many oriental languages and canon law. During his reign, the Maronites underwent incessant trials. The situation was so dire that many Maronites left the mountain, and the Patriarch himself was often reduced to hiding in grottos. The Patriarch reported the situation to King Louis XIV of France, who sent the Patriarch a gift of 500 ecus and had his ambassador in Constantinople seek to protect the rights of the Christians of Lebanon. In 1660 the Chevalier of Arvieux visited the Maronite territory and wrote lengthy descriptions of his travels. Of special interest is his narrative of his visit to Qannoubin and we cite it here at length for the insights it provides regarding Maronite life at this time. Qannoubin or Coenobium or monastery in Latin, is the patriarchal monastery where the Patriarch resides . . . We were received by the bishops and religious. . . [who] led us into a large room, gave us refreshments, and helped our valets discharge their duties and fed them. Other brothers went to announce our arrival to the Patriarch. He was hidden in a grotto far away, very secret, of difficult access and well covered, where he does not go out during the day but only at night. This is because the inhabitants of these mountains were at war with the pacha of Tripoli, who had asked for a large sum of money which they had judged was not proper to give him. The pacha would often send the Turks to take the Patriarch and lead him to him, not doubting that when he would have him in his hands, all the Maronites would sell everything to ransom him from prison.
The Patriarch arrived a half hour after he was informed. We kissed his hand in respect, he embraced us with tenderness and was very complimentary. I spoke for the whole troop and did so in Arabic which pleased him very much. After these ceremonies, he led us to the church where the Hail Mary was chanted followed by litanies to the Blessed Virgin in Syriac sung in the same tome as is sung in Latin in our churches.
Leaving the church, the Patriarch took us to a large room where supper had been prepared. The Patriarch, bishops and priests did not cease to encourage us to eat and drink well. . . . [they] did not show us example; on the contrary they were very sober. Some drank only water. This grand meal was only to extend us hospitality. Their life was ordinarily extremely frugal. They fast often and very austerely; they work very hard and rise at night to chant the Office with excellent melodies and perfect harmony. After giving thanks, the Patriarch had me sit with him and spend nearly two hours in conversation. We were struck by the vivacity and force of his spirit, as well as that of the bishops and priests. Afterwards, we were taken each to his proper cave, where we found the mats and covers we had brought with us.
The Patriarch was named George, but his name did not appear on his seal: there were the words in Latin and Syriac: Petrus Patriarch Antiochenus [Peter, Patriarch of Antioch], because Saint Peter had been the first bishop of Antioch. The words were inscribed around the image of the Blessed Virgin. This prelate was modestly dressed in a robe of cheap cloth, and wore a large turban of blue cotton. Formerly he had worn white, but he was obliged to take blue after the Turks became masters of the country and appropriated to themselves the sole right of wearing a white turban. . . .
All the Maronite prelates lead a very regular and austere life; they live poorly and take only what the earth gives them by the work of their hands. They do not put on the display of the prelates of Europe. Their ecclesiastical regalia is also poor. They are adorned with virtues and not with rich clothes, embroidery, gold or silver. They have only crosses of wood, but they are bishops of gold. All the Christians have an infinite respect for them and a blind obedience to all their commands. They kiss the hands of archbishops, bishops and priests, and the feet of the Patriarch. They respect them as fathers and superiors, and their manner of living is a good example for them as for us who, feeling emancipated, try to live opposite to what we should.
The following day the Patriarch celebrated a pontifical Mass. He was assisted by four bishops, two on each side of the altar. He had a master of ceremonies, a deacon, a subdeacon, two acolytes, and many priests with different functions. . . . After the Mass ended, we received the blessing of the Patriarch, and we went to await him a the large room. He came after finishing his prayers. We thanked him and he responded with unimaginable goodness, inviting us to stay at Qannoubin as long as we wished, and to see what was in the country. We kissed his hand, and he gave us his blessing. He left for the security of his secret cave.
After a great dinner, we were taken by some of the venerable fathers to see the monastery and its environs. The church is beautiful and large, cut in the rock. In the sacristy there is a large tableau of King Louis XIV. At supper, the Patriarch spoke to us of him and assured us that they regarded the king as their most powerful and zealous protector, and that they offer special prayers for him every day at Mass and in their Office.
We went to the bottom of the Valley of Saints, where we saw an infinite number of caves, which are the residence of the holy anchorites whose lives would be a source of admiration for all generations to come. We passed a good part of the day in this frightful and very agreeable solitude, and then we left with some regret, and we went up to Qannoubin in the evening.
Patriarch Stephen Doueihi (1670 -1704)
Stephen Doueihi, one of the greatest of the Maronite Patriarchs, was born in Ehden on August 30, 1630. He was sent to Rome in 1641 by Patriarch George Amira. Both in Europe and in the Middle East, Doueihi sought out manuscripts and sources that dealt with Maronite history and tradition. Returning to Lebanon in 1655, he was sent as a missionary by the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith, and went throughout Lebanon teaching the children and preaching. He was sent by Patriarch George Bseb’el to Aleppo where he remained for some time, and it is said, he converted many Melkites, Nestorians, and Jacobites to the Catholic faith. In 1668, he was consecrated Bishop of Cyprus, and he was elected Patriarch on May 20, 1670. As Patriarch he went all over Lebanon investigating and correcting liturgical books, with the desire to return to the ancient customs. During his term as patriarch he suffered many persecutions and had to flee to kesrawan and the Chouf. There are many who report that miracles took place during his life and after his death. Patriarch Doueihi was the first Maronite to attempt a complete history of his people. He published several volumes which earned him the title of “Father of the Maronite history.”
We have an eyewitness description of some of the Maronite Liturgical practices during this time. M. De La Croix, secretary to the French ambassador to Constantinople, writing about 1672 states that the Maronites have 60 anaphoras. Their vestments are like those of the Roman church, but they do not follow the Roman rubrics on color. They say only one Mass per day at each altar, and the lay people receive communion under both species. They have seven bishops: at Qannoubin with the Patriarch, at Saida, Cyprus, Damascus, Ehden, at the Monasteries of Mar Eliseus and Mar Sarkis, and also a mitered abbot at the Monastery of St. Anthony. The observation that the Maronites have 60 anaphoras indicates that despite the Synods of 1596, manuscript missals were still being used. Also surprising was that lay communion under both species seemed still to be in practice, at least in some parts of Lebanon.
Patriarch Doueihi undertook to stabilize the Maronite Liturgy. He sought to publish a definitive ritual. In regard to baptism, his ritual contained the rites of James of Saroug, James of Edessa, and Basil. However Patriarch Doueihi’s ritual forbad priests to confer Christmation. Also, it required that children reach the age of reason before receiving communion. Thus, in these practices he confirmed the Latinizations of previous synods. Not found in the ritual of Doueihi are the rite for blessing of ashes, and the rite of the Cross for the Fridays of Lent. Patriarch Doueihi ordered that this ritual be the only accepted one in the Patriarchate. Another significant work was Patriarch Doueihi’s definitive commentary on the Maronite Liturgy which bore the name of Lamp of the Sanctuary.
Patriarch Douehi sought to publish a Pontifical which, it was hoped, would make practice uniform. To reform the Pontifical, douehi depended on the works of Patriarch Jerome Amchiti (1209-1230), and the ritual of 1295 by Archbishop Theodore of Akourah, and manuscript Pontificals dated 1311, 1495, 1581, and 1584. Patriarch Douehi sent the text to Rome to be printed in 1683. However, despite its solemn approval by the Synod of 1736, the Pontifical never gained universal in the Patriarchate. In fact, it was never printed.
Patriarch Doueihi’s work was limited only to history and liturgy, he also established a seminary at Qannoubin to teach Maronite students free of charge. The religious Order of St. Anthony was founded under him. (This Order is not the Antonine Order of today, but rather was the basis for the Allepine and Baladite Orders). In 1700 there were forty religious of this Order at Qannoubin. They lived a very austere life and dressed very simply. Pope Clement XII in 1732 confirmed the Order and its institutions. At this time all the monasteries were autonomous.
Patriarch Doueihi wished to introduce the Western system of centralized authority, and on June 18, 1700, he approved the first constitutions for the reform of the monasteries.
The political condition of the Maronites at this time was no better than in the preceding years of this century. Throughout all of Lebanon, the Maronites suffered persecutions under the Turks.
Villages were destroyed and their inhabitants dispersed, fathers of families were thrown into prison, and outrages were committed against the Patriarch and Bishops. Patriarch Doueihi appealed to the King of France to intervene, and on June 28, 1702, the King sent the Patriarch 1,000 pounds to help pay his debts.
An important event that took place during the Patriarchate of Stephen Doueihi was the hundredth anniversary of the Maronite College in Rome, which had been founded in 1585. At this time, the College boast of four Patriarchs and thirteen Bishops from among its graduates since its establishment.
(Reprinted with permission.)