By Dr. Amine Jules Iskandar President of the Syriac Maronite Union – Tur Levnon
Liturguia w Qourovo
Maronite liturgy is a Syriac, Chalcedonian and Catholic liturgy. Inside the Syriac family, it has its own characteristics that were shaped by centuries of rich history. Strong relations with the Crusaders since the 11th century, and with Rome since the 16th century, caused a Latinization of the Syriac Maronite Church.
But a conscious revival of the roots and identity generated a Syriacization movement during the 20th century enhanced at the dawn of the 21st century. This revival can be noticed in the waves of Syriac Maronites and other Lebanese Christians trying to gain back their Syriac language. It is also obvious in the inscriptions of numerous churches and modern liturgical objects.
On the modern altar cloth of Annéya for instance, we read:
“Slivokh mahyono néhwé noturan, Yéshou‘ Poruqéh d ‘olmo.”
“May your vivifying cross be our guardian Jesus Savior of the World.”
Another altar cloth in the Annéya Monastery shows this other inscription:
“Slutokh ‘amman Aboun Charbél, la slawotokh néshma‘ Moryo wa nhasé lan.”
“May your prayers be with us Father Charbel, may the Lord hear your prayers and purify us.”
Syriac is essential in the cloth, liturgical vestments, art, and of course liturgy itself. The prayer at the beginning of the Maronite Mass is always in Syriac, no matter in what language mass is celebrated. It says:
“W éno b sougo d tayboutokh é‘oul l vaytokh
W ésgoud b hayklo d qoudshokh
b déhéltokh Moryo dabaran
wa b zadiqoutokh aléfayn.”
It is actually the Psalm 5:7 in the Bible:
“But I, by your great love, can come into your house,
in reverence I bow down toward your holy temple.”
And here, the faithful answer:
“In your fear Lord lead us
and in your righteousness teach us.”
Some modern Maronite altars show the triple Qadishat, or Trisagion. This Trisagion used to be chanted traditionally by the priests, but the faithful loved to participate. So the new mass had to be modified, letting all the parish contribute to this prayer:
“Qadishat Aloho, Qadishat Hayeltono, Qadishat Lomoyuto.”
“Holy God – Holy Mighty – Holy Immortal.”
Today’s article’s intention is not to explain everything about the Syriac Maronite mass in its structure and details, but rather, this is an attempt to discover the specificity of its spirit that lays in its profound simplicity and democracy. This particular spirit of the Maronite Mass, is unveiled to us by philosopher Charles Malik when he writes:
“The genius of the Maronite ritual and spirituality resides in the fact that they are popular, given that these originated from the people and not forced on them from above. This intimate popularity distinguishes the Maronite Liturgy from the Orthodox Liturgy. The Greek Orthodox Mass is entirely celebrated with an air that glorifies the Byzantine Empire, whereas the Maronite Mass is a wonderful and spontaneous incarnation of people’s hearts and sentiments. Those who praise God are faithful and patient people and not emperors.”
“This is the splendor, popularity, democracy, spontaneity, and simplicity of the Maronite ritual. The ritual is free of all human embellishments and instills a sentiment in the believer. Theyshould recognize how Jesus and Mary have blessed the Maronites for their simplicity, sincerity, and heartily worship and devotion, which are far removed from philosophy and philosophication.”
Another very revealing commentary was given by Dom Jean Parisot in 1899, concerning music. It expresses perfectly the Syriac mentality, and therefore, the Maronite veneration for simplicity. It says:
“From the melodic point of view, the Syriac hymns, less passionate in expression than the profane songs of the Arabs, are of a calm character. The predominance of minor modes or indeterminate mixed tones, the lack of amplitude of the scales used, the repetition of the same formulas and the flexibility of the rhythms, contribute to give these tunes a feminine and melancholic character. In general, the oriental song excels at making feelings soft, pleading and shy. It knows how to humble itself.”
Dom Jean Parisot also clarified in his commentaries, that certain forms of overabundance among the Syriacs were only due to modern borrowing: “Generally the Chaldean (Syriac) tunes, withdrawn from the action of Arab music, are constructed on simpler modes, frankly diatonic, at the same time as they are of a beautiful melodic character.
The Maronite rite is an heir, an inheritor of St Ephraim. Therefore, we feel, not only the spirit of simplicity, but also the important role of the family. The Maronite rite, but also the Maronite society, reflect St Ephraim’s Marian Theology. Traditionally, Syriac Maronite people considered Family as a replica of the Holy Family that is the model for its society. Mary is at the center of their everyday life. We hear it in their chants like:
“Oh Maryam lo teshtanqin, Mshiho qom, shariroit qom.”
“Oh Mary do not suffer, Christ is risen, he is truly risen.”
Mary is central in the Maronite rite and society. All the Syriac Maronite patriarchal sees are dedicated to Mary: Our Lady of Cannobin, Our Lady of Ilige, and Our Lady of Bkerké. Patriarch Estéphanos Douayhi ordered the fresco of the crowning of Mary in Cannobin and declared Her “Queen of Lebanon”.
Monasticism is also central. The Maronites developed their communities around the monasteries of St Morun. They were called “Communities of Beit Morun”. There was a full unity between the families and the monasteries. And at the center of this monastic society, at the heart of these Christian families, there was the Eucharist. In Syriac, the word for mass is Qurovo, and for communion it is Qurbono. But the Syriac Maronites call the entire mass Qurbono because it is one with the Eucharist.
The Eucharist in liturgy, is a horizontal and vertical association and participation. Before receiving the body of Christ, all worshipers are united in a horizontal communion. And the Eucharist hymn is also chanted by the entire parish. They chant the: Avo d Qoushto or Father of Righteousness.
The most significant Maronite Eucharistic prayer expresses the Maronite spirituality in its theology, mentality and deepest simplicity. It says:
“Hayedt Mor Alohutokh b noshutan, w noshutan b Alohutokh
Hayutokh b mitutan, w mitutan b hayutokh.”
“You unified Lord, your divinity in our humanity, and our humanity in your divinity
Your life in our mortality, and our mortality in your life.”
The Monastery as the center of Syriac Maronite society, St Mary as the heart of the Syriac Maronite Family, and the Eucharist as the living presence of Jesus Christ Son of God… these are the values of the Syriac Maronites, values to be eternally worshiped in full simplicity, humility, and democracy.
Amine Jules Iskandar is President of Syriac Maronite Union-Tur Levnon
For the article in Spanish. You can also watch episode 19 of the associated TV-series as broadcast by Nour Al-Sharq Tv.