Every year on February 9th, Lebanon celebrates the feast of St. Maroun. Who was this remarkable saint?
Born in the 4th century in Syria, St. Maroun was a priest who later became a hermit, and lived in Cyrrhus, near Antioch. He lived in the open without shelter, devoting himself to prayer, fasting, and manual labor. As his disciples increased in number, they began to call themselves “Maronites” or the faithful of Bet Morroon (“House of Maroun” in Aramaic).
St. Maroun is considered the Father of the spiritual movement now called the Maronite Catholic Church. His devoted missionary work came to fruition when in the mountains of Syria, St. Maroun could convert a temple into a Christian Church. However, although St. Maroun spent his life in Syria, in a place believed to be called “Kefar-Nabo” on the mountain of Ol-Yambos, his movement had a profound influence in Lebanon. When St. Maroun’s movement reached Lebanon, non-Christians started converting to Christianity by learning the monastic way of St. Maroun. Throughout the years, the followers of St. Maroun remained faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Maroun’s way was extremely reclusive with emphasis on the spiritual and austere aspects of living, contrasted by the fact that the ‘Khoury,’ or, ‘priest’ of the Maronite rite can marry. His piety and miracles attracted many followers, and drew attention throughout the region. For St. Maroun, all was connected to God and God was connected to all. He did not separate the physical and spiritual world; but rather used the physical world to deepen his faith and spiritual experience with God. St. Maroun embraced the quiet solitude of the mountain life. He lived his life in open air exposed to the forces of nature such as sun, rain, hail and snow. He freed himself from the physical world by his dedicating his life to prayer and embracing a mystical relationship of love with God.
Accompanying his deeply spiritual and abstinent life, he was an enthusiastic missionary with a passion to spread the message of Christ by preaching it to all he met. He sought not only to cure physical ailments, but had a great quest for nurturing and healing the “lost souls” of both non-Christians and Christians of his time.
When St. Maroun died in 410, his disciples claimed his body and built a monastery over his tomb in the city of Brad, north of Aleppo. After his death, spreading throughout Syria and Lebanon, St. Maroun’s followers rapidly multiplied and the number of monasteries claiming Maroun as patron increased. The most important, the Monastery of St. Maroun on the Orontes River, located in the southern part of present-day Turkey, survived until at least the tenth century until Arab invaders destroyed it. Over the centuries, Maronites suffered from Arab and Byzantine persecution, taking refuge in the mountains of Lebanon to secure religious freedom. Years of persecution shaped their spirituality and identity, creating a strong bond with their adopted homeland, Lebanon.
There are currently close to 3, 300,000 Maronites in the World. 95 % of them are from Lebanese descent and over one million live in Lebanon. Maronites remained steadfast in the face of persecution and committed to Christ. Out of their experience developed a superb liturgy and many beautiful traditions.