The Maronites are the descendants of the Aramaean Christians of ancient Syria. The Lebanese received the Good News of our Redemption from as far back as the Apostolic Age. As St. Mark's Gospel tells us (Mk 7:31) Christ himself visited southern parts of Lebanon. The Acts of the Apostles mentions St. Paul Landing at Tyre and Sidon (Acts 21:7) and St. Peter and Paul Must have landed several times on the Phoenician seaboard to take the road which runs along it from Jerusalem to Antioch. So evangelization of Phoenicia, the former Roman province known today as Lebanon, began as early as the First Century A.D.
The Maronites however take their name after the great Saint Maroun, as "He it is who has planted for God, the spiritual paradise, this garden which flowers today in the region of Cyr" (Theodoret Bishop of Cyr 423 AD) and which has thus continued to spread its self throughout the world. Saint Maroun, is likened by the church to be the mighty Cedar of Lebanon (Ecc 24:17), which is glorified in all faithful Maronites; and particularly by some of the modern well known children of the Maronite rite: Saint Charbel, Blessed Frafqua and Blessed Neemtallah El-Hardini.
The Maronites number about three-quarters of a million and are now spread over many parts of the world ranging from Lebanon, America, Australia, Syria and many other countries with Lebanon being its greatest region for truly "the righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon - Psalm 92: 12 . The Maronites have adopted some features of the Roman rite from the Crusaders, and are the only Eastern Rite Catholic Church that has no non-Catholic counterpart, i.e., there *are* no Orthodox or Monophysite Maronites. The only Maronites Catholics. Maronites are also credited with being the only remnants of the Eastern Churches using the language of our Lord himself (the Syro-Aramaic).
The Maronites have a well-known history of enduring much persecution for the faith, which has endured since the time of Christ. They have been also well know for being defenders of Catholic Truths, as 350 Maronite Monks were slaughtered in a Monophysite ambush, after firmly professing that Christ was both True GOD and True Man , while having two natures , yet only have one Divine Person. During the many years of persecution the maronites kept the faith pure, authentic, and free from heresy, handing down only what was delivered to them from their fathers who inherited it through the apostles from Christ. Thus their faith, like the cedars which surround Lebanon's mountainous region is deep rooted and firm. The Maronites have always had a great attachment to the mother of God, Mary who's intersection has brought them out of times of hardship and trial.
To confirm the Character of the Early Maronites is the words of St. Louis of France who had the Following to say to the Maronites of His time:
" To the emir of the Maronites of Mount Lebanon; to the Patriarch and Bishops of this nation: Our heart was filled with joy when we beheld your son, Simon coming at the head of twenty - five thousand men to seek us out on your behalf, to present your compliments and to bring us gifts in addition to the fine horses which you had already sent us. In truth, the sincere friendship which we began to feel so strongly for those Maronites whom we encountered while we were in Cyprus, has grown yet warmer. We feel that this nation which we find established under the name of St. Maro (Maroun) is a part of the French nation, for its friendship towards the French is like to that which Frenchmen feel for each other. Consequently it is only just that you should be admitted to our service as they themselves are. We urge you, Emir, to labor zealously for the happiness of the people of Lebanon, and to set about creating noble from among the most worthy among them, as is our custom in France. And you, Lord Patriarch, Lord Bishops and Clergy, and you, Maronite People, together with your noble Emir; we are much gratified to discover your firm attachment to the Catholic Faith and your respect for the Head of the Church, the successor of Saint Peter in Rome; we charge you to maintain this respect and continue unshakable in your faith. As for us, and for those who will succeed us on the throne of France, we promise you and your people the same protection that we give to the people of France, and that we shall at all times make it our concern to procure those things which shall be necessary for your happiness.
Given at Acre, this twenty- first day of May, 1250, in the twenty-fifth year or our reign."
Gathered around their patriarch on the mountain, the Maronites have become a nation, and have always refused to be converted or influenced by Islam. An example of the strength of their resistance is that whereas from the Arab invasion until the fall of the Ottoman empire in 1918 all the other Eastern patriarchs were obliged to ask for a "firman" (decree) of investiture from the sultan, the Maronite patriarch alone remained exempt from this humiliating procedure. This confirms the words of Pope Leo X who wrote of the Maronite faith saying "It is a rose among thorns, an impregnable rock in the sea, unshaken by the engraved waves and fury of the thundering tempest".
Thus, immune from domination by the Muslim world and managing, despite all the harassment's they have had to suffer from different dynasties, to enjoy a Certain autonomy in their internal affairs, the Maronites naturally emerged as the protectors of the other persecuted Christian groups who as time went on sought refuge in Lebanon. The Maronite Church also played an important role in the return to Catholic unity of separated Eastern Christians. Catholic Melchites, Syrians, and Armenians have found refuge on Mount Lebanon, and there too are to be found the sees not only of the Maronite patriarch but also of his Syrian (Syriac) and Armenian Catholic counterparts. All the Christians who have taken refuge in Lebanon have retained their own rites, but one could say that they have become "Maronitised" to the extent that they have united with the Maronite nation in the same ideal: to proclaim Our Lord Jesus Christ proudly and freely in that very part of the globe where He became incarnate.
When one studies the history of the Church in the East, one is surprised to learn that Lebanon is the only Country where Christians, despite the continual war which has been waged against them, have succeeded not only in surviving but also in living in freedom. In the other countries dominated by Islam, Christians often have to choose apostasy, flight, massacre, or the status of a second class citizens or less (eg. Egypt). The strength of the Maronites and of those Christians who have joined with them was due to two main factors : their unity around the Maronite Patriarch and the support of the West. As temporal as well as spiritual head of the Maronite nation, the patriarch used to be in a position of uncontested authority.
" I believe that, given the opportunity to appreciate their own Liturgy, Our Maronites will NOT be able to resist returning to their Liturgy and Tradition through which the Lord himself will supply their spiritual and social needs." - ABDO KHALIFE, Marontie Archbishop of Australia Given in Sydney on the Feast of St. Maron 2nd. March, 1983
By Raymond Taouk
The Maronite dialogue mass by Rev. Msgr. John Trad (1967)
The Maronite Rite, questions on the Maronites by Archbishop Abdo Khalife(1978)
Catholic Lebanon by Fr. Parice LaRoche (1989)
The Maronite Rite by the Transalpine Redemptorist Missionaries (1998)