The Syriac Maronite Patriarch: Yesterday and Today

By Dr Amine Jules Iskandar Syriac Maronite Union-Tur Levnon

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Bkerké is acting on its convictions for the good of Lebanon and that it is doing so without being concerned about the provocative reactions of parties acting in bad faith. Bkerké has already seen all colors and shades. From the Mamluks to the Ottomans, it learned to set its eyes far beyond the vanity of its adversaries, their armies, and their transient empires. This patriarchate has always looked further and higher. From Kfar-Hay to Ilige, and from Qannoubine to its present seat, it has shaped Lebanon over the centuries with the patience of a limestone drop of a stalagmite. Lebanon was built on thousands of years old foundations and rose in history in its openness to the world.

From 685-704 St. Mar Yuhanon Maron was the first patriarch of the Syriac Maronites. He founded his church and Lebanon in complementarity, in a union of holiness. In 1215, Jérémie of Amshit (Patriarch from 1199 to 1230) already attended the Fourth Council of the Lateran in Rome, convened by Pope Innocent III. There, Patriarch Jérémie affirmed the character and destiny of Lebanon, always open to Europe and the world.

In the 16th-17th century, when prince Fakhreddin II wanted to consolidate Lebanon into a nation as an independent and modernized principality, he had to rely on the Maronite Church and its Patriarchate. The construction of this Lebanon was done through the Maronite College of Rome founded in 1584. Lebanon thus reaffirmed its openness to the West thanks to the students of this distinguished college: Isaac Sciadrensis was Fakhreddin II’s ambassador to France. Victorius Scialach Accurensis (i.e., from Aqoura) was his ambassador to the Vatican. Don Giorgio Maronio was also his ambassador in Rome. Last but not least, Patriarch George II Omeira (1633-1644), another of these exemplary students of the Maronite College and author of the Syriac grammar, composed an architectural book on the fortification of the cities, at the request of the prince.

Towards the end of the 17th century, Patriarch Estéphanos Douayhi completed the work of Mar Yuhanon Maron. He recorded Lebanon in history, as a nation does not exist until it has written down its history and art. This mountain became a “dogma” when Patriarch Estéphanos wrote: “Lévnon itaw qyomo morunoyo” (Lebanon is a Maronite dogma).

Mount Lebanon became a beacon of culture when a professor from the Maronite College, Simon Assemani, held a council in 1736 in Louaizé, during the patriarchate of Mar Joseph V (Khazen). This council instituted compulsory education for all children, girls and boys. Monastery schools taught six foreign languages in addition to the Syriac language. Several other councils including those of 1744 and 1755 under Patriarch Mar Shemoun Petros Awad, as well as the council of 1756 under Mar Tobia Petros Khazen, reaffirmed these regulations regarding Lebanon’s cultural vocation.

From the 16th to the 19th centuries, European missions multiplied in all the Maronite eparchies. In the 15th century, the Franciscans missioned with one of their own, the Maronite bishop Gabriel Barcleius. At that time a patriarch, Siméon VI of Hadat, was represented in 1516 at the Fifth Council of the Lateran. In 1635, during the patriarchate of George II Omeira, the Carmelites also arrived in Mount Lebanon. Two decades later, in 1656, the Jesuits arrived in Lebanon under Patriarch Georges III of Bsebeél. In the 19th century, missionary educational activity increased with schools established by the Lazarists, the Marists, the Capuchins, and others. They turned Beirut into a university and an open city capable of fully meeting the challenges of the 20th century.

In 1920 at Versailles, Mar Élias Boutros Hoayek secured the formation of Greater Lebanon for all Lebanese of all origins. And in 1943, Patriarch Antonios Petros Arida played a leading role in this country’s independence. He also opposed Béchara el Khoury who compromised this newly acquired independence by venturing into a new non-inclusive identity.

Bkerké’s role as guardian of the nation never ceased. In 1969, Patriarch Mar Boulos Boutros Méouchi, warned of the existential danger of the Cairo agreements which he denounced and contested, holding on to the sovereignty of Lebanon as dogma. Well before his election to the patriarchal seat, Mar Antonios Petros Khreich, who established Caritas in southern Lebanon, committed himself to good relations between Muslims and Christians. And in 1983, he did everything in his power to avoid a fratricidal war in the Chouf.

His successor, Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, became known as the patriarch of the second independence. He was the only person who could face the Syrian occupation, which no one dared to condemn. He will be followed in his dedication to the independence, sovereignty, and true and noble identity of Lebanon by Mar Béchara Boutros Raï. Once again, Bkerké proves to be at the zenith of its calling as founder and guardian of Lebanon, of its identity of openness to the world, and of its message of democracy, freedom, and pluralism.

In a region corroded by totalitarianism and fanaticism of all kinds, Bkerké remains the single illuminating light of truth and hope. It is culture in the face of ignorance. It is Christian love versus hate and intolerance. It is openness versus hostility, spirituality versus fanaticism, faith versus worship, and it is religion in the face of ideology. The Syriac Maronite Patriarchate is Lebanon versus obscurantism.

Dr. Amine Jules Iskandar is an architect and the former president of the Syriac Maronite Union: Tur Levnon. Amine Jules Iskandar has written several articles on the Syriac Maronites, their language, culture, and history. You can follow him @Amineiskandar2

For the article in French see L’orient le Jour

For the article in Spanish see Maronitas.org

The views expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SyriacPress.

Also read from the same author:

You have to know how to die to be able to live

A Port, a City, and a Mountain

Language in the Formation of Nation States

“KAFNO”: The Genocide on the Christians of Mount Lebanon during the First World War

The Mysterious Origins of the Language of the Maronites