Feast of Saint Maron

"The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon" (psalm 92:12)

The Maronite Church celebrates the feast of Saint Maron on the 9th of February. On Wednesday the 23rd of February 2011, Pope Benedict XVI marked 16 centuries on the death of the father of the Maronite Church by unveiling a statue of Saint Maron on the outer wall of Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican and by blessing it. The Pope was accompanied by the Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and the Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Mar Nasrallah Peter Sfeir. The five meters tall statue weighs 25 tons and was commissioned by the Maronite Church to the Spanish sculptor Marco Augusto Duenas. The saint appears in the sculpture holding a miniature Maronite style church; the sculpture also features an inscription in Syriac from psalm 92 reading: "The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon". The ceremony was a gesture of affection and gratitude from the Pope towards the Maronite Church “that has suffered so much over the centuries.” Its presence in the Vatican is highly symbolic as it occupies the last available niche in the outer perimeter of Saint Peter's Basilica and therefore closes the list of Saints that surround the tomb of Saint Peter near the place of his martyrdom on the Vatican hill.

Now back to history, "Historia Religiosa", written by Theodoret of Cyrrhus around 440 A.D. is our only source on Saint Maron’s biography. The author describes the life of hermits in Cyrrhus and vicinity. In chapter 16 the author mentions that Saint Maron was one of those hermits. He had a tremendous influence on his disciples.

The diocese of Cyrrhus was in northern Syria having Theodoret as its bishop, and was located west of Euphratia. Cyrrhus was at a distance of two days north east of Antioch and about 70 kms north west of Aleppo. This diocese seat was Antioch, and was  founded by Saint Peter prior to his departure to Rome. Theodoret mentions that when Saint Maron decided to lead a life of isolation, he went to a rugged mountain half-way between Cyrrhus and Aleppo. There was a huge pagan temple for god Nabo of which was derived the name of the mountain and the neighboring village Kfarnabo. 

Saint Maron 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. His extraordinary desire to come to know God's presence in all things allowed Saint Maron to transcend such forces and discover that intimate union with God. He was able to free himself from the physical world by his passion and fervor for prayer and enter into a mystical relationship of love with God. He was also a holy man. Saint Maron’s holiness became known throughout the Roman Empire. St. John Chrysostom sent him a letter around 405 A.D. expressing his great love and respect and asked Saint Maron to pray for him.

Saint Maron was a mystic who started this new ascetic-spiritual method that attracted many people in Syria and Lebanon to become his disciples. Accompanying his deeply spiritual and ascetic life, he was a zealous missionary with a passion to spread the message of Christ by preaching it to all he met. He sought not only to cure the physical ailments that people suffered, but had a great quest for nurturing and healing the "lost souls" of both non-Christians and Christians of his time. This missionary work came to fruition when in the mountains of Syria, Saint Maron was able to convert a temple into a Christian church. This was to be the beginning of the conversion to Christianity in Syria which would then influence and spread to Lebanon.

Saint Maron is considered the spiritual Father of the Catholic Maronite Church. The Maronites reached Lebanon when Saint Maron's first disciple Abraham of Cyrrhus who was called the Apostle of Lebanon, realised that there were many non-Christians in Lebanon, so he set out to convert them to Christianity by introducing them to the way of Saint Maron. The followers of Saint Maron, both monks and laity, always remained faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Saint Maron died around 410 A.D. and willed to be buried in St. Zabina’s tomb in Kita in the region of Cyrrhus. However, his will was not executed because people from different villages wanted to have him buried in their towns. Theodoret’s description of Saint Maron’s burial place is near to the populous town of Barad in the proximity of Kfarnabo. A huge church was built in that town around the beginning of the fifth century A.D.

Inside this church there was a sarcophagus, which possibly contained Saint Maron’s body. According to a Maronite tradition, the followers of Saint Maron carried the relics of the Saint, especially the skull, to Saint Maron’s Monastery or "Beit Maroun" built in 452 A.D. between Hama and Aleppo in Syria. 

The skull was carried to Saint Maron’s Monastery in Kfarhai, Batroun - Lebanon around the turn of the eighth century. Patriarch Douaihy mentions: "When Youhanna (John) Maroun settled in Kfarhai, he built an altar and a monastery after Saint Maron’s name and put Saint Maron’s skull inside the altar to heal the faithful. That’s why the monastery is called "Rish Mro" (Syriac) meaning "Maron’s head".

Later, Saint Maron’s skull was taken to Italy. In 1130 A.D. one of the Benedictine monks came to the region. This monk was the rector of the Cross Afonastery near Foligno-Italy. During his visit he heard about Saint Maron’s skull, and upon returning home he publicized the Saint’s virtues. As a matter of fact, a church was built after Saint Maron’s name in Foligno. The Bishop of Foligno carried the skull to the city in 1194 A.D. and put it in the church of the diocese. The faithful in the city made a statue of silver for Saint Maron and put the skull in it. During his stay in Italy in 1887, Bishop Youssef el-Debs was given some relics of Saint Maron’s skull by the Bishop of Foligno. 

1 comment:

  1. Can you tell me why there are conflicting Feast Days for St. John Maron, including March 2