History of the Maronite Church
The Maronite Church, an Eastern rite Catholic Church, profess the same Apostolic Faith, celebrate the same Sacraments and are united with the Pope of Rome and all Catholics throughout the world. Within this unity the Maronite Church still has its own distinct theology, spirituality, liturgy and code of canon law: a differing expression of the same faith.
The name Maronite Church comes from a person: St. Maron. St. Maron was a hermit, who, by his holiness miraculous works, attracted many followers. After his death around the year 410, his monastic disciples who took the name of “Maronites”. They continued his spiritual mission and also built a large monastery which quickly became the center of spirituality to the Christians in the region.
During the seventh century, the Maronites suffered persecution from multiple sources and fled for refuge to the mountains of Lebanon. There they maintained and grew in their Christian faith and culture. At the time of the Crusades, close bonds were established by the Maronites with Christians in the West. It is thus that the Maronite Christians, while remaining faithful to their Antiochian traditions, were open to the world.
The Maronite Church is formed within the Church of Antioch. It is in Antioch that "For the first time, the name of "Christians" was given to the disciples" (Ac 11:26). It is in Antioch also that the church was open to the nations. The Church of Antioch is distinguished by its union in the faith, and diversity of cultures and languages. The Christian heritage of Antioch is considered, up to our days, as one of the richest and most profound.
The Maronite liturgy is very simple and yet very rich. The Maronite liturgy is one of the oldest in the Catholic Church. The Maronites all around the world pray in the Syriac language, the language that Christ Himself spoke. The prayers which are used display a profound scriptural tradition, expressing innumerable images and motifs from the Old and New Testaments. Many of the prayers are also derived from the writings of ancient Fathers of the East, especially Saint Ephrem (d. 373) and Saint Ignatius of Antioch. The Divine Liturgy of the Mass traces its roots to Antioch, where “the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26). According to tradition, St. Peter founded the Church at Antioch and became its first bishop.
From this ancient and rich spirituality, many saints have been raised up. Certainly one of the most famous and exemplary of our tradition is Saint Sharbel.
Saint Sharbel was born in 1828. He entered St. Maron Monastery in Lebanon in 1853 and lived there as a monk and priest for 16 years. Then, afterwards, he was given permission to become a hermit. For the next 23 years he gave himself in total dedication to God and His Church in his hermitage by a deeply ascetic life rooted in the Scriptures, love for the Eucharist and the Mother of God; he died on December 24, 1898. A few months later, a bright light was seen surrounding his tomb. The superiors ordered the tomb to be opened and they found his body perfectly preserved. Since his death, thousands of recorded miracles have been attributed to his intercession, so many in fact, that he is known as the “Wonderworker of the East.” Sharbel was canonized by Pope Paul VI on October 9, 1977.