Monday, 11 May 2015

Modern History of the Maronite Church

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Joelle Richa, a research student of the Centre for Eastern Christianity, Heythrop College spoke on the modern history of the Maronite Church especially concerning the development of spirituality among the laity since the Second Vatican Council.

Joella provided an introduction to the history of the Maronites from their origins in the Levant to the contemporary period. Of especial importance to Maronite identity were the links maintained with the Holy See and Latin church communities in the medieval period --- such as during the Crusades --- and the Syriac liturgical and spiritual traditions which informed the lay and monastic Maronite communities.

Today, although there is a general awareness about the Maronite spiritual traditions and the monastic life this is not necessarily well understood either within or outside the Maronite community with the need for greater sources of information to increase knowledge and practical engagement with the spiritual heritage. As the Maronite tradition retains significant examples of eremetical and coenobitic religious life it is something with which other Christian traditions should engage.

As the Maronites have incarnated their faith in the Lebanon and through the use of Arabic and Syriac languages for much of their history so this faith has also spread further throughout the Maronite diaspora to South America, the USA and Europe. Joelle noted that in this international context that not only do vocations to the eremetical life come from the Middle East but also as far afield as Columbia.

This is important towards a sense of maintaining the particular spiritual life of the Maronites in a globalised environment which is not always welcoming to local traditions. The hermits offering an example of how to live a complete Maronite Christian life giving oneself entirely to God. As they are perceived as such examples the ``people" seek to a strong bond with them: evidenced strongly in the retreats which Christian political leaders make to the Qadisha valley in the Lebanon which are facilitated by the hermits.

Maronite social and religious contributions should not just be seen in and for their own communities, however. Through establishing schools throughout the Lebanon Maronites strongly supported the modern Arab renaissance in concert with the Druze, Sunni and Shia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This process of building up the Lebanon arguably resulting from their access to Western ideology and philosophy through their long standing links with the Holy See. Yet into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the ease with which the Maronites engage with the West has complicated the direction of the Maronite Church as whole as many young Maronites travel abroad to pursue business opportunities and to gain higher and further education. Whilst many return many also choose to stay in their new location and continue their entrepreneurial efforts.

The trend for migration expedited in many instances by the effects of the Lebanese civil war and the wider instability which has affected the Middle East especially since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The difficulties of conflict causing often physical and mental scars to the population but also creating opportunities for people to rise above and out of their comfort zone obliging them to reconsider their faith and as to how they can contribute to wider society and the Church through becoming peacemakers.

Joelle concluded her paper by noting the very active engagement with the spiritual life which many young Maronite laypeople pursue. This considered to be a very important hope for the future development of the Maronite church as a whole and to the broader recognition of the Maronite contributions to Christian spiritual life through the recognition of the saints in the global Christian community especially through the mediation of the Holy See in encouraging such a procedure in the Catholic churches.

Summary prepared by Kristian