The Maronite Church, an Eastern Catholic Church, with her own hierarchy, is composed of a Patriarch who is Her father and head, and over forty Bishops who shepherd the many Eparchies (Dioceses) in Lebanon, the Middle East and throughout the world. The Patriarch governs the Church in a synodal manner with his body of bishops as is customary in the Eastern Churches. They are in full communion with the Pope, the Successor of Saint Peter in Rome. The Maronite Church follows the Antiochene Tradition. The Maronite Church dates back to the early Christians of Antioch where “they were called Christians for the first time” (Acts 11:26). She still uses as Her liturgical language, Syriac, a dialect of the Aramaic that Jesus Himself spoke, and takes Her name from the hermit-priest, Saint Maron, who died in 410 AD. Within a few years after Saint Maron’s death, over 800 monks adopted his way of life and became known as the Maronites. Later, the Muslim invasions (7th-10th Centuries), coupled with conflicts from within the Byzantine Empire, caused the Maronites to flee the plains of Syria and their churches and monasteries, to the natural protection of the mountains of Lebanon where they first lived in caves and grottos, and then later built small churches and monasteries. By 687, Maronites organized themselves around Saint John Maron, whom they elected Patriarch of the vacant See of Antioch, and thus developed as a distinct Church within the Catholic Church.
The Maronite Church has been enriched by three centers of learning and culture: Antioch - A city in West Syria (now Turkey) that served as a center of commerce and education and was known for its Greek and Syriac culture. Antioch gave the Maronite Church much of her unique liturgical life. Edessa - A prominent city in ancient Mesopotamia, which had a Semitic culture and influenced the prayers and hymns of the Maronite Church. It was also the home of Saint Ephrem, Doctor of the Church, who gave the Maronite Church much of Her poetry and prayer. Lebanon - The land that provided a safe haven to establish a stable monastic and parish life, as well as schools to educate the children of the close knit and devout Maronite families.
FIVE DISTINGUISHING MARKS OF THE MARONITE CHURCH
The Maronite Patriarchal Assembly (2003-2004), made up of over 500 Maronite participants – clergy, religious and laity - from throughout the world, described the identity of the Maronite Church by five distinguishing marks: First and foremost Maronites are Antiochene – where Christ’s followers “were called Christians for the first time” (Acts 11:26). Maronites share an historical, liturgical and spiritual heritage with all the other Catholic and Orthodox Antiochene Churches. Maronites are also heirs of Syriac cultural and religious heritage, whose language, poetry, and hymnody were the means used to express the mystery that God is beyond all descriptions yet has come close to us in Christ.
Second, Maronites are Chalcedonian, meaning they were staunch supporters of the Council of Chalcedon, convened in 451 A.D., which taught that Jesus was true God and true man. In this formula, Maronites found a balance and way of life that placed them forever in the communion of the universal Church.
Third, the Maronite Church is Patriarchal and Monastic. Saint Maron was a hermit-priest. The first Maronites were monks, priests and laity associated with the monasteries of Saint Maron in the 5th - 8th centuries. Her first Patriarch, Saint John Maron, was chosen from among the monks. Maronites have a cherished history known for an ascetical life of sacrifice and devotion.
Fourth, the Maronite Church is known for Her love and devotion to the See of Peter in Rome. This relationship has allowed Maronites to fully express the Catholic faith held from the beginning, and at the same time be part of the balance between East and West.
Fifth, the Maronite Church is tied to Lebanon, Her spiritual homeland and the land of Her Patriarch and people.