Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.

    A poet has said that every great institution is the lengthened shadow of one outstanding person.  For the Maronite Church, that person is St. Maron.  And what a legacy he has left the Universal Church and his Maronite progeny!  Today the Aramaic Maronite tradition flourishes in every corner of the world.  Maronite faithful and hierarchy populate each continent.

    Whatever is known about the spiritual father of the Maronite Church we have received from Theodoret, Bishop of Cyr.   Cyr was somewhere between Antioch and Aleppo.   In the fifth century, about 444, Theodoret began to compile a church history from the resources available to him in Syria.  Much of his book, Historia Religiosa,  describes the hermits living in the region of Cyr, and in chapter 16 writes about Maron, who had a deep and lasting influence on his disciples.    

            Theodoret never knew Maron personally, but learned about him through Maron’s disciples.  Theodoret described Maron as “the one who has planted for God the garden which flourishes now in the region of Cyr.”  Little  is  known of the birth or youth of Maron because Theodoret was not concerned about  such aspects of his life.   He felt that Maron was not born for this world, but for heaven.

    When Maron chose to become a hermit and lead an ascetic life in isolation, he settled on a rugged mountain between Cyr and Aleppo.   On that mountain was a large temple dedicated to the  pagan god, Nabo, who name was given to the mountain and to the neighboring village of Kfarnabo.  Maron consecrated that temple for  Christian worship, and so influenced his followers that they were described by Theodoret  “as plants of wisdom in the region of Cyr.”

    According to history, Maron was not satisfied with the ordinary practices of asceticism, but was “always seeking for new ways to accumulate the treasures of Christian wisdom.”  He was the spiritual father of both the hermits living near him and of all the faithful in the area.  With wisdom and holiness Maron addressed their pastoral care and apostolic endeavors as counselor and healer.

    Bishop Theodoret described Maron’s disciples with this tribute: “These anchorites were virtuous and heroic, totally dedicated to a life of contemplative prayer.  They were strangers to any other consideration of the world.  They were obedient to Church authority and tried to imitate their predecessor in their exercises of austerity.  At times, their acts of penance and mortification were excessive, but they were always obedient to ecclesiastical authority. Approximately twenty saints are numbered among Maron’s disciples, three of whom are women.

    Knowledge of St. Maron’s holiness spread throughout the Empire.  Some scholars think that St. Maron and St. John Chyrsostom studied together at Antioch before 398.  Around 405  John Chrysostom sent Maron a letter expressing his great love and respect, and asked Maron to pray for him.

      Maron’s death occurred between 407 and 423; some place the date around 410.  Because of his vast popularity among the faithful, several riots broke out at the time of his death in villages that vied to receive his remains.  Most likely he was first buried in the large church in the town of Barad near Kfarnabo.

    Following the Council of Chalcedon (451), Bishop Theodoret promoted the construction of the famed Monastery of St. Maron, “Beit Maroun,” in 452 between Hama and Aleppo in Syria.  This monastery became a bastion for defending the teachings of the Church, and a center for the cultural and theological heritage of Antioch.

    Formerly the Maronite Church celebrated the feast of its patron saint on January 5, the day on which the church of Kfarhai was dedicated in his honor.  In the seventeenth century the feast of St. Maron was transferred to February 9.  Lebanon declared Maron as its patron saint.   Pope Benedict XIV granted a plenary indulgence to each person who visited a Maronite church on February 9.