The Syriac Identity of the Maronites

Remarks delivered at the National Apostolic Maronites NAM Convention in Orlando, Florida on July 18, 2004. Sent as a document via the Archdiocese of Brooklyn to the Maronite Conclave in Bkerké.

Originally published Here, 18 July 2004.

By Walid Phares Former Secretary General of The World Maronite Union

To His Beatitude and Excellency Cardinal Mar Nasralla Butros Sfeir Patriarch of the Maronite Syriac Antiochian Church and the Council of Maronite Bishops

Your excellencies,

As a Secretary General of the World Maronite Union WMU since 1988, and previously as a Secretary for Information since 1985, and as a spokesman for the Third World Maronite Union. And as a President for the Maronite Intellectual Gathering 1980-1982, as well as an author on Maronite History and issues; please find in this document the summary of the views of the World Maronite Union and its affiliates around the world with regards the issue of the Maronites identity, from historical, present and future perspectives.

I – On Resolutions and Recommendations of Maronite World Congresses 1979-2004

It is my duty to report to the Maronite Council of Bishops, which is working hard on reassessing the present and future of the Maronite Church, of the summary of the resolutions of Three World Maronite Congresses, and of the three world seminars of the WMU which, throughout 21 years have expressed their views and the views of the communities and organizations they represent with regards the identity of the Maronites.

Per the documents and archives of the First and Second World Maronite Congresses held in Mexico City in 1979 and New York in 1980, under the auspices of the Patriarchate, and which resolutions were public and were kept in the office of the Secretariat in Beirut,

Per the documents and archives of the Third World Congress, held in Montreal in 1985, also under the hospices of the Patriarchate, a Congress which we have attended and were assigned the mission to publicize for its resolutions,

Per the world seminars held in Limassol, Cypruss in 1988, with a representative of the Patriarchate, and in Lausanne in 1989,

Per the world seminar held in Rome in 2000

All World Maronite Congresses and seminars have openly and clearly stated that the historical identity of the Maronites, and the Maronite Church is Antiochian Syriac. These declarations reflected and still reflect the views of the Maronites as gathered around their Church in several capitals of the world and under the auspices of their Patriarchate. Hence, the World Maronite Union and all affiliates around the world are faithful to these resolutions about the identity as spelled out officially for over 21 years.

II – On the Reality of the Maronite Identity

As related by main historians and experts, particularly past Maronite historians, including the Church’s chronicles, the historic identity of the Maronite people is Aramaic, Syriac and Eastern. This identity, as a national community was born in Mount Lebanon as of the 7th century AD. It has since survived, flourished and never abdicated. From Bar-Qleius, to Patriarch Estephanus Duaihi, Paul Noujaim, Fuad Ephrem Bustani, and Father Butros Dao, the overwhelming majority of Maronites intellectuals and historians have underlined this reality.

The Maronites themselves used Syriac as a language, then transformed it into a cultural and spiritual language. Their spoken modern Language, the Lebanese, is a form of a Syriac in its structure.

Maronites, particularly the national community that lived in Mount Lebanon and its peripheries for 13 centuries, have maintained their historical identity despite attempts by regional powers, including Arab and Ottoman empires to impose an alien identity. The Maronites defended their culture and identity while many among them excelled in other languages and even participated in the renaissance of other nations languages such as Arabic.

In modern times, some Maronite political forces have accepted a concept known as Arabic affiliation, as a result of the formation of the Lebanese Republic in 1920, and its constitution in 1920. The National Pact of 1943 stated that Lebanon was a country with an Arab face. It was a mutual concession between the Lebanese Christians, including their Maronite majority, and the Muslim communities whose leaders insisted on Arab identity.

But the statement of political affiliation with the Arab League didn’t mean that the Maronites negated their historical ethnic identity. Regardless of the political choices of many of their their political forces, the Maronites stayed attached to their historical identity. This was asserted in 1977 at the Saydet-el-bir conference of the Lebanese Front, where pluralism was declared as a national identity, which implicate the self identity of each Lebanese community. It was reasserted in the 1980 Historical Document of the Lebanese Front, and again by the Lebanese National Christian Council of 1984 in East Beirut.

III – On the Maronite Diaspora Attachment to its Historical Identity

The Maronite Diaspora of more than 8 millions around the world declares clearly that it is attached to its historical identity, the Syriac Aramaic Eastern and Catholic identity. As citizens of many countries, Maronites around the world are organically linked with this identity. Any other definition of identity will lead to the weakening of the links between the World Maronites and the Maronite establishment in Lebanon. Maronites around the world have an allegiance to the historic identity only. They may understand the political circumstances of the time of Lebanon under Syrian occupation, but will not and cannot accept a change of identity under any circumstance. They have the freedom to oppose this change and defend their historical identity as inherited from their ancestors.

The Maronites around the world, as they express their utmost respect to the Patriarchate and to Cardinal Sfeir and praise his wisdom and courage, calls on the Maronite Synod to reinforce the Lebanese Syriac identity of the Church and the people they attend to.

The overwhelming majority of Maronites, those dispersed around the world, are united on this issue as expressed above, in Congresses and Conferences

They wish the great success to the Synod and hope its resolutions would strongly maintain and support the historic identity of the Maronites, in full faithfulness to our ancestors, spiritual martyrs, history and the will of the communities around the world.

With our sincere regards and all respects

Professor Walid Phares

Secretary General World Maronite Union

Washington DC