Our Maronite Church includes many female and male monastic orders containing more than one thousand five hundred monks and nuns. These orders are deeply rooted in ecclesiastic life and tradition. They lead apostolic-contemplative lives known by the Antiochean Church since her rise. These orders have accompanied the birth of the Maronite Church, and developed within her. The Maronite Church would not have been the same without monasticism. His Holiness Pope John Paul II says: “Monasticism has always been the very soul of the Eastern Churches: the first Christian monks were born in the East and the monastic life was an integral part of the Eastern lumen passed on to the West by the great Fathers of the undivided Church”. Before tackling the current status of monasticism, its regulations, and aspirations, three centuries after its reorganization, we would like to briefly mention the most significant information available on its origins, rise, theology, standing, and role in the Maronite Church. We will first summarize the most important historical events in monasticism and then delve into its current situation. We will then compare the current situation to that of the past in terms of its spirituality, scope, and sources in order to further the cause of renewal and to strengthen the monastic identity.
Chapter I : Major Historical Events
First: The Roots of Monasticism
a. Ever since the dawn of Christianity, Christians, in general, have suffered from oppression that has led to the death of many and has encouraged some in the East to lead a life of asceticism, to hang on to the Gospel, and to live it as they understood it, vowing chastity and celibacy in a communal, and even family context. Yet, we only know of these by what was written in some books on asceticism, solitude, and self-renunciation, and from the organization of ‘The Sons and Daughters of the Covenant’ who lived a consecrated life, thus becoming the nucleus of monasticism for the first monks and nuns in the East: Such books include “The Acts of Thomas”, “The Book of Steps”, and the articles of Aphrahat.
Monasticism emerged in the 4th Century as a life of solicitude and reclusion with hermits who refused the lassitude that spread after the Constantinien peace. They preferred to isolate themselves in the wild and in hermitages. This ascetic and austere lifestyle thus flourished. The first hermits were James of Nisibis and Julian "Saba’, meaning “the Sheikh”or old man (+367). Saint Maron was the most famous of hermits living in the wild. He founded open-air eremitism in the area of Cyrrhus. He had many disciples, both men and women. His male students included: James Cyrrhestica, John, Zapina Saba, Simon the Stylite, Baradat, and Jacob. Among his female disciples: Marana, Cyra, and Domnina as Theodoret Bishop of Cyrrhus mentioned in his book "History of the Monks of Syria": “After writing the biography of these heroes, I see that the mention of the women who also strived equally as men is beneficial; despite their weak nature, they have shown courage that equals that of men…Many women were attracted to this way of life. Some became recluses and others lived in large congregations reaching two hundred and fifty women living together, eating the same food, sleeping on mats, weaving linen, and praising the Lord”. These recluses constituted the pillar for the witnessing of the teachings of Synods and refuting heresies. The interaction between the Chalcedonian Council and the building of Saint Maron Monastery resulted in communal living and testimony. Translating several Egyptian monastic books into Syriac, especially after Athanasius the Alexandrian, published the biography of Saint Anthony the Great, and after studying the laws of Saint Bachumius and the lifestyle of Saint Basil the Great, the life of communal reclusion became rooted in the Syriac Antiochean tradition. Soon after, many moved from an individual life of seclusion to a communal one in order to unify their understanding, faith, and lifestyle through shared experiences. This helped in avoiding extremism. So, communal monastic life started with the grouping of hermits and monks, and quickly revolved around monasteries, whether partially (Qannoubian) or fully, while at the same time safeguarded individual monasticism, one of asceticism’s most important aspects.
b. Antiochean Syriac monasticism in this stage was characterized by full asceticism and diverse ascetic lifestyles, and at the same time was involved with acts of preaching and a with a mission. Archbishop el-Dibs says: “The monks of the monastery of Saint Maron not only led a life of asceticism, virtue, and redemption for themselves, but conducted missionary work and redeemed others; they would travel through villages and cities preaching the Word of God, encouraging the people to become virtuous and to avoid vices, especially the vice of disbelief in God. They also contested the heretics especially the Nestorians, Sabellianists, and Eutychianists through refuting their speeches, writings, and arguments. The leaders of the monks resembled military officers defending true faith while the monks themselves were courageous soldiers. Their monasteries were fortified forts, which the oppressed could flee to whenever faced with apostates. The monasteries also became places where all those thirsting for the true knowledge of faith could resort to.” Nuns also took part in this work: Mother Superiors were appointed with the service of deaconship; they anointed female candidates for baptism with oil after the priest had anointed their foreheads. In fact, Christian faith would not have spread in Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia, and India, if it were not for the faithful and sturdy missionary work of Syriac monks. Sozomen says: “It was during the reign of Emperor Valens that they were instrumental in leading nearly the whole Syrian nation, and most of the Persians and Saracens, to the proper religion, causing them to give up paganism”.
The contemplative-apostolic characteristic of monasticism continued in the Antiochean Church in general and accompanied the rise of the Maronite Church in the late seventh century.
Second: From the Seventh to the Seventeenth Century
a. Monasticism, in both its ascetic and monastic dimensions, accompanied the Maronite Church since Her beginnings. Thus, the history of the Maronites became closely related to the monks of the Monastery of Saint Maron, the hermit, and his disciples, who played an important role in the life of the Church. Syriac Monasticism together with an Antiochean identity became the essence of the Maronite Church, and these remain important for the essence of the Church today. Upon the building Saint Maron’s monastery and after his death, monasticism in the Maronite Church developed and flourished so much so that the number of monks and hermits in the Monastery of Saint Maron alone reached eight hundred. Three hundred of them were recluses in the surrounding hermitages and cells leading a life of prayer and contemplation, while the remaining five hundred dwelled in the monastery under the authority of the Superior Father following certain regulations. Living in the monastery became a period of trial that preceded the life of asceticism and reclusion.
Historians and theologians agree that the Monastery of Saint Maron and his monks were the early nucleus of the Maronite Church. “It is a unique phenomenon in the history of the Universal Church, for no other Church rose from a monastery and revolved around it, in spite of the fact that many monastic movements had their effect on Churches in the East and the West. Thus, it is only natural for the Maronite Church to be characterized by an ascetic and monastic spirituality that was imprinted in Her since Her founding, and for Her history to be forever intermingled with the destiny of monasticism, which is her ever-beating heart”.
b. The Maronites settled in Northern Lebanon (the Jibbeh region, Qadisha Valley, and Qannoubine especially) in order to safeguard their faith after the Arab Conquest. They took refuge in the rugged mountains and hid in the deep valleys. There, the number of monks and hermits increased. Many turned the remote caves and caverns into hermitages. Consequently, the Maronite monks and hermits energized monasticism and asceticism and left their imprint on its history so profoundly that the valley they inhabited came to be known as the ‘Holy Valley’. These monks, as the ancient Cyrrhestic monks and hermits, were characterized by a radical evangelical fervor that sprang from Divine Revelation and from the rich Maronite tradition; thus, they transformed these valleys into lush terrains that spread to other mountainous regions.
After the defeat of the Crusaders and the attack on the Mount, many monks and nuns were martyred, thus effecting monastic life through the destruction of major monasteries. Nonetheless, monasticism returned to the valleys and mountain tops of Mount Lebanon which became, as of the fourteenth century and until the sixteenth century, a true oasis for monks and nuns.
c. After the Council of Trent (held between 1545 and 1563), the Council for the Spread of Faith was established in 1568, thus consolidating missionaries in Lebanon and the East. In 1584, Pope Gregory XIII established the Maronite College in Rome to educate the Maronite clergy on the teachings of the Council of Trent. All these events led to the attempt to westernize Eastern monasticism and some even called into question some of the customs and beliefs of the Maronites. All this gave way to many queries, changed the attitudes and behaviors towards the monks and hermits living in hermitages and monasteries, and demeaned the significance of monasticism in the early seventeenth century. Consequently, a period of reform and renewal was launched in the late seventeenth century.
Third: Monastic Organization as of the Late Seventeenth Century
A Reform of the monastic situation started by the end of the Seventeenth Century, and grew to include a reform of the entire Maronite Church through the Lebanese Synod of 1736, which adopted laws for the monks and nuns and acknowledged their reforms. This new reform constituted an important turning point in ridding monasticism from the impurities that had filtered into it during the preceding century. It also reaffirmed its Eastern tradition while taking the restructuring of monasticism in the West into consideration.
1. As of 1695, the previous structures were changed: The independent monasteries, that had followed diverse and different monastic and ascetic routes, became monastic orders that included several monasteries, headed by a superior general who was assisted by a council of assistants; that is, a central authority arose, to which groups of people, with their properties, were related—both administratively and organizationally. After adopting this new structure, the organizers clung to the spirituality of Eastern monasticism and reaffirmed it, as Abdallah Qaraalli mentioned in his book The Monastic Lamp for the Explanation of the Lebanese Rules: “I intend by explaining the regulations to prove their concordance with the teachings and provisions of the forefathers”. This was how monasticism took shape during its reform: based on asceticism, prayer, and manual labor; yet, structured according to the Latin organizations settled in the region.
2. As a result of the reform, a monastic renaissance occurred, first initiated by three young Maronites from Aleppo: Gabriel Hawwa, Abdallah Qaraalli, and Joseph El-Betn. They were later joined by Germanos Farhat. They went to Mount Lebanon and presented themselves to Patriarch Stephen Duwaihi in Qannoubine, revealing to him their ambition of becoming monks. The Patriarch questioned them, and after making sure of their resolve and firm intent to lead an ascetic life, the Patriarch blessed them and sent them of to Our Lady of Tameesh monastery first, then to the monastery of Mart Moura in Ehden. From there, they went to Qannoubine where the Patriarch bestowed upon them the hooded monastic habit on the 10th of November 1695. In no time, the monastic vocations of both men and women multiplied.
On the 19th of July 1770, the order was divided into two: Aleppine and Baladite (later becoming the Mariamite and the Lebanese orders). With this division, people, monasteries, properties, debts, authorities, and processes were also divided.
3. On the other hand, after years of experiencing deep monasticism and asceticism, in 1770, Archbishop of Aleppo, Gabriel el-Blouzani, who was also the Superior of a monastery, set a group of monks and priests – Rizkallah el-Sibaali, Peter el-Bazouni, Sleiman Bin el-Hajj el-mishimshani, Atallah Kreiker, and Moses el-Baabdati – to start the Antonine Order in a non-Christian milieu, in the Monastery of Saint Isaiah, which they built themselves with the help of the Archbishop. They started their service and work which led to the development and spread of this order in many Lebanese areas, in both Christian and non-Christian areas. Its centers grew and the number of its priests and monks increased.
4. Convents were usually built next to male monasteries in order to facilitate the spiritual service for the nuns, to meet their financial needs, to benefit from their diverse internal services, and to protect them from oppressors. Before the Lebanese Synod, there was no mention of the spiritual risks of such ‘combined monasteries’. The Lebanese Synod saw that this situation needed to be rectified and set strict guidelines in this regard. Yet, implementation was not easy. These decisions were finally implemented with Patriarch Joseph Hbeich, who terminated the practice of convent/monastery co-existence in his message dated the 26th of September 1824. Despite the separation of most of the monasteries from the convents, the Lebanese and Antonine nuns remained part of the male orders, lived under their names and under the supervision of their Father Superiors for two and a half centuries. During that time, they led a life of monasticism and contemplation filled with prayer, asceticism, and manual labor. Chapter 14 of the Synod regulations, in addition to other regulations of this Synod, confirmed, rather wonderfully, the Maronite custom of bestowing the title of ‘Deacon,’ upon the Superior Mothers of the different convents via the laying of the hand of the Bishop, a revival of a unique first tradition of the Antiochene Church.
5. Among the many structural changes was the emphasis on Ecclesiastical hierarchy: the Lebanese Order was transformed from a Patriarchal Right to a Papal Right after Pope Clement XII confirmed the regulations of the Lebanese Order in 1732 by the Papal Bull “The Apostolic Function”. The Antonine Order followed their lead and aimed at confirming their laws, in accordance with the recommendations of the Lebanese Synod. Thus, they took the recommendation letters of Patriarch Joseph el-Khazen and the Archbishops and received confirmation of their regulations in 1740 by the Papal Bull “The All Merciful”. In addition to this confirmation, they received confirmation of all the grants given to orders, most prominently the special grants given to the Superior Generals of male monastic organizations, such as the right to wear and carry pontifical insignia even in the presence of the Patriarch and Bishops. The Lebanese Synod did mention that: “The old custom in God’s sacred congregation stipulates that Superior Generals of several monasteries can wear and carry a pontifical insignia during the holy celebrations in their monasteries and churches, and whenever the Patriarch and bishops attend or assist in these celebrations. These insignia include the crown, the staff, the cross, and the ring”.
The Synod also stressed giving the monks and priests, who had completed their studies in Rome, the right to preach, give absolution, and practice the mission in the Patriarchate; in addition to this, it obliged them to teach in their monasteries.
6. Patriarch Habib el-Akkouri had established the convent of Saint John Hrash in 1643. Nothing is known of the history of this convent other than the fact that it was the location of the Maronite Synod that it's first Superior Mother died in 1659, and that Archbishop Abdallah Qaraalli resided in it after becoming archbishop of Beirut. He helped and looked after the nuns after formulating regulations for them which took an ascetic aspect. The nuns spent their days working in the convent, contemplating, reading spiritual books, and praying individually. Nowadays, some of the nuns work and supervise schools, which they established in the mid 20th century, and are affiliated to the Eparchy of Sarba (the Patriarchal Eparchy).
7. In 1744, the convent of Our Lady of the Visitation (Ziara) was established in Aintoura. In 1836, two nuns went to Zouk Mkayel to establish another convent affiliated to the Maronite Patriarchate according to a condition set by Patriarch Joseph Hbeich; accepting the religious trust of the house and property of Bsharra Jaffal el-Khazen (whose first name means ‘annunciation’ in English), his sister Badwania, and his wife Ziara, on the condition that the nuns follow the Maronite Rite. These nuns now follow the law that embodies the spirituality of the founders – Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Jeanne de Chantal – who also founded the Order of the Visitation of Our Lady in Annecy, France. These nuns live in independent convents and answer to the authority of the local Bishop; however, in Lebanon the nuns of the Order of the Visitation are under the authority of the Maronite Patriarch and the Maronite Rite.
The admission of novices in the convent of Aintoura ceased more than forty years ago. Today, the convent is home to six elderly Maronite nuns who hope that the decision to readmit new vocations be reinstated. They desire that the convent returns to its previous state of spiritual growth, true witnessing of faith, prayer, and asceticism: “So that the life of reclusion returns to its birthplace”.
8. The monastery of Our Lady of the Prairies remained a combined monastery up until 1818. It housed two monastic congregations (one male and another female) where monks and nuns lived a full monastic life. Upon the convening of the Louaize Synod in 1818, all monasteries were separated from convents. Our Lady of the Prairies became a convent and is still an independent convent whose nuns fully apply the monastic law set by Abdallah Qaraalli in 1725.
9. During the second half of the nineteenth century, the Congregation of Lebanese Missionaries was established in Krem by Father John Habib. This order had an apostolic presence outside Lebanon. Its laws were confirmed by Patriarch Paul Massaad in 1873. After that, it started on a communal monastic path which became renowned in its missionary and apostolic influence both in Lebanon and abroad.
10. On the 15th of August 1895, Patriarch Elias Howayek established the congregation of the Nuns of the Holy Family as a monastic, apostolic, and national order, which aimed at living in union with the Lord through service of the Church and the family regardless of their affiliations. This goal is informed by a particular charisma embodied in educational, human, and social services. Moreover, the nuns devoted themselves to family pastoral service and catechesis.
11. On the 17th of May 1935 (the memory of confirmation of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus), Bishop Antoine Saad Habib Akl established the Order of the Nuns of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus with the goal of sanctifying the spirits of the nuns and of serving the sick and suffering by building orphanages, hospitals, and homes. These institutions became famous throughout Lebanon.
12. In 1966, Father Emile Jaara established the order of the Nuns of the Holy Eucharist in the convent of Saint Anthony in Ain Waraqa. The aim of this order is to worship the Sacrament of the Eucharist and to cooperate with parish priests in all their apostolic activities, and to catechize village girls. In 1969, they built a new center in Beit Hibbak in Jbeil.
13. In 1989, the Lebanese monk, Father Joseph Mahfouz (currently Archbishop of the Maronite Eparchy of Brazil), established the Most Holy Trinity Monastery in Massachusetts in the United States of America under the Eparchy of Saint Maron.
14. On the 12th of July 1959, the Archbishop of Beirut, Agnatius Ziadeh, authorized the establishment of a convent for the Nuns of Unity in Yarzi on the condition that they follow the Maronite rite. In addition, the Nuns of the Order of the Rosary in Lebanon chose to follow the Maronite rite. The Order of the Little Sisters of Christ, since their founding, has considered that some of its nuns, especially those in Bouchrieh, Rass el-nabeh, and Bkaatouta, are under the authority of the Maronite bishop in the given area, and affiliated to his Eparchy.
Chapter II : Monasticism Today
First: The Maronite Monastic Institutions today
The Maronite Church today is blessed with five male monastic orders which include 719 monks, of which 573 are priests and six female monastic institutions which include 812 nuns. All the orders are active and safeguard the authentic tradition of deep spirituality, which has been modified by modern monastic regulations and laws.
The male monastic institutions are: The Mariamite Order, the Lebanese Order, the Antonine Order (these three orders mentioned previously are of Papal Right), the Congregation of Lebanese Missionaries (Patriarchal Right), and the Most Holy Trinity Monastery (Episcopal Right).
The female monastic institutions are: The Lebanese Nuns (Papal Right), the Antonine Nuns (Papal right), the Nuns of the Holy Family (Patriarchal
Right), the Nuns of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus (Patriarchal Right), and the Nuns of the Holy Eucharist (Patriarchal Right).
Other nuns have kept their affiliation to old independent convents. They are: The nuns of Our Lady of the Prairies, the nuns of the convent of Saint John Hrash, the Nuns of the Visitation of Our Lady in the convent of Aintoura, and the Nuns of the Visitation of Our Lady in the convent of Our Lady of the Annunciation in Zouk Michael.
In addition to these Maronite monastic orders, the Maronite Church is enriched by Catholic monastic orders of other Churches where Maronites
form a distinct majority. Moreover, several other monastic orders and societies in Lebanon follow the Maronite rite.
Second: The Spirituality of Monasticism
After going over these historical landmarks, we can begin to get a good idea of the spirituality that accompanied Maronite monasticism throughout history. We will now elaborate its features essential to all lifestyles. This spirituality of the Antiochean Syriac tradition was characterized by evangelical depth, a spirit of prayer, worship, and the custom of intercession for others. The Prayed Word nourished the monks’ and nuns' commitments and abdications of worldly life, in as much it triggered their apostolic zeal for teaching, preaching, and bearing testimony for life. Monasticism was also enriched by taking the spirituality of the desert forefathers and mixing it with a diverse and energetic tradition; thus, it produced an educational and an ascetic phenomenon that sought to reconstruct and reassess reality in spiritual context that was dominated by the Resurrection and thus, by Hope—a spirituality that became evident in the Church and in the land. This spirituality also expressed itself in martyrdom through asceticism and through service. The major characteristics of this spirituality are:
1. Evangelical Depth
The monks and nuns found the source of their lives in the gospel by undergoing scriptural theological readings of evangelical texts and scenes. They saw the seeds of Christ in them, so they heard the individual and personal calling to follow Christ till death and they strove to walk his path in order to share His destiny. First, they followed His lead of seclusion and prayer on the mountain. They then revived the bonds of brotherhood in order to carry his mission and its fruit to others, sharing it with and among others whether through prayer – considered by the Second Vatican Council to be “the ornament of the Church, its glory, and source of heavenly blessings”- or through the service of each member according to his / her special talents. Pope John Paul II asserted that the monastic life “is at the very heart of the Church since it manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling”.
Consequently, monastic life in the Syriac-Antiochean dimension is a special calling to fully walk in the path of Christ, who died and was resurrected for our salvation. As Christ completely submitted to the course of salvation until reaching death on the cross for the love of his Heavenly Father, a monk must submit himself to death to reach his own salvation and the salvation of others.
The vocation to monastic life is a clear reinforcement of this grace in the framework of catechesis, especially in the subject of the Sacrament of Baptism: For the candidate relinquishes the old man, the sinner, and wears the habit of glory, that which Adam wore in Eden before his fall in sin. A monk who truly desires to be a real Christian must identify himself with Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism. He must feel driven by the Holy Spirit to hasten the presence of the Kingdom of God through daily conversion. Commitment to a life of asceticism and seclusion, symbolized by the wearing of the habit, is a way of living out the deepest meaning of the Sacraments. Therefore, renouncing marriage, forsaking all worldly possessions, and personal freedom; and fully practicing chastity, asceticism, seclusion, prayer, and serving others are among the basic elements of this commitment.
2. The Love for “the Only Son”
The Syriac spirituality emphasized the need for clarity of heart in order to see God. Thus, it focused on the person of Jesus Christ as the “Only Son”, which was the Syriac’s most loved title, and adopted it as a lifestyle. Christ is the unifier with excellence; He is “the Only Son, the reflection of God’s glory and bears the impress of God’s own being” (Hebrews 1:3). Saint Ephrem and all other Syriac writers considered the attachment to Christ and following His lead are the goals of all Christians. To all recluses, Christ is the uncontested recluse. They interpreted his special characteristic of being “only” and applied it to themselves. Thus, they became recluses, living alone, capable of seeing God through nature, the Gospel, through the Son Incarnated from the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, and in the Church, who is the bearer of the Son’s Sacraments. This matrimonial image, loved by Saint Ephrem, makes of every individual a son of God. All those who are baptized are pure and betrothed to Christ. As for recluses, they are baptized individuals who fully follow Christ: Their hearts and minds are united and undivided, ready to receive the Bridegroom.
The spirituality which the consecrated have lived is the spirituality of their bride, the Church, making them enter Divine Love in its ecclesiastic dimension. Theodoret describes them in the introduction of his book titled On Divine Love: “It is not their nature which is filled with pain that gains them victory, but their determination dependent on Divine Grace. Due to their love and adoration to the Divine and determination to work and endure willingly for their Beloved’s sake, they were able to stand strongly against temptations”. In the last chapter of his book, he writes: “As lovers draw love from their loved ones, those who know Divine Love and all its radiance try to intensify it by avoiding satisfaction due to their desire to further enjoy it. Ultimately, a person can quench his thirst for physical pleasures, while Divine Love cannot be quenched”. The wisdom of testimony and martyrdom is the wisdom of the cross, which characterized monastic life with patience. Daily spiritual martyrdom for the love of the crucified and resurrected Christ replaced, or sometimes accompanied, physical martyrdom. This dimension can today be seen in the vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty in their rich connotations; and in austerity and mortification to the extent of self-denial and purification, so that the Spirit can enter the body and lighten it with the sight of God and knowledge of itself and others.
3. Asceticism and Community Life
The diversity and strictness in the ascetic practices of Syriac Monks is fascinating. Nevertheless, we cannot deny the apostolic influence of their asceticism which contributed to evangelizing the region. Throughout the history of Antiochean Syriac monastic life, we can find that the life of asceticism and seclusion was the essential element in the life of a monk, but community life, too, which originated with the Eucharist, common prayers, bread sharing, and spiritual experience, played an important role in leading the monk to a total life of asceticism and seclusion. We have only a few documents that compare the numbers of the secluded community with the number of hermits in the different Syriac monasteries throughout history. Yet, it is estimated that those living asceticism within the community were more numerous than those living asceticism alone as hermits. Patriarch Stephen Douweihi briefly mentioned in his book “The History of the Times” the life of the Maronite monks, mentioning the promotion of many of them to the ranks of Bishops and three of them to the rank of Patriarch.
Most major monasteries had hermitages around them, which indicates that the custom of hermetical asceticism is ancient. Nowadays, there is a rise in this lifestyle with three hermit-monks in the hermitages of the monasteries of the Lebanese Order. They are committed to the current hermitage system which requires long prayers and silent meditation with work and fasting, they eat only once a day forbidding themselves from eating meat margarines delicious food.
4. Internal Struggle and Spiritual Growth
Monasticism is first and foremost a deep loving search for God. Ever since the time of John of Ephemia (also known as John the Loner, first half of the fifth century), this pursuit to unite with God was described as uniting with God through the image of the three stages of Sophism: the body, the spirit, and the soul according to Saint Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:23.
Ideally, this spiritual ascent occurs in the stepping from the life in the community to a life of seclusion beside the monastery, and then to a more severe seclusion. It is meant to be the perfect lifestyle where the Holy Spirit fills wherever and whenever He may.
During his residence in the monastery community, a monk applies austere physical activities by obeying the Father Superior. These activities especially include fasting, staying up at night, hourly prayers, spiritual reading, adoration, serving the friars, and so on. These practices aim at overcoming the desires of the spirit such as gluttony, love of money, and self-will…
When this stage reaches a kind of perfection, a monk can apply the practices for the spirit. In addition to fasting, staying up even later than in the first stage, hourly prayers, and adoration, a monk prays for longer hours, contemplating the Word of God and His plan of salvation. During this stage, a monk is purified from the desires of the spirit such as sloth, languish, boredom, rage, and pride…by following the guides of the Teacher.
At the end of this stage, a monk realizes ‘spirituality’ or spiritual freedom. Consequently, the Holy Spirit becomes fully capable of filling him and directing him to the apogee of spirituality: Contemplating the Holy Trinity. Thus, the monk sacramentally enters the life of indescribable love for the One Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. However, this stage is not attained by all.
John Diliati (fifth century) summarized these three stages in two words: Love and Mercy. Love is the first purification stage, while Mercy, which is the pinnacle of Divine love and mercy, includes the stages of enlightenment and sanctification.
The search for God demands of the monk determination to purify his heart and become a student of Christ through obeying a spiritual father.
5. Prayer and work
Prayer and work characterize the Maronite monastic life. The Choir prayer, the liturgical celebration every morning, the recitation of the common ordinations (which are filled with the teachings of the holy synods and Trinitarian guidelines), invoking the Virgin Mary, and following the Maronite rites and hymns, constitute the essence of the major laws and ordinations in the life of monks and nuns. Thus, their monasteries and convents became constantly redolent with incense, filled with individual prayer and with the contemplation of the Bible and the writings of the Church Fathers, and with liturgy. In these ways, the Word of God is made richer by the monastic experience and incarnated in life. Work, on the other hand, served to complement prayer. Work served a number of purposes for the monks in their commitment to the general human situation: earning a living, reducing boredom, and serving one’s neighbor by promoting human dignity. Through their hard manual labor and by providing people with the Word, the Sacraments, education, health care, and culture, the monks practice repentance and live their vow of poverty in a concrete way. They worked in valleys and mountains, making terraces suitable for planting vines, blackberries, and olives out of rough slopes. They also weaved fabrics to meet the physical needs of their community, and built churches and monasteries to meet their spiritual needs. Thus, they made certain that Maronite monasticism was closely related to the people of God.
Through sharing this common tradition, the Antiochean-Syriac monastic organization (specifically the Maronites’) was characterized by its constant quest for land reclamation and love of literature in addition to its apostolic activity. The agricultural work of the monks helped the people by depending on their skills to provide their sustenance in harsh and tough circumstances. Their faith was influenced by their love of the earth and took on the characteristics of being stern, spontaneous, perseverant, patient, and content. As for cultural work, they worked on safeguarding and developing the Syriac heritage, launching the Arab-Syriac culture, copying manuscripts, teaching children, and practicing medical profession. Books have long been considered the companion of the Syriac monk, a feature that distinguished him from the Egyptian monk. As a result of this tradition, the first printing press in the East was that of the monastery of Saint Anthony Kozhaya, which was brought from the west by the monks in the late 16th century. This activity remained eminent and continuous with the printing press of Tameesh brought in the mid 19th century, the Antonine printing press in the early 20th century, and the Krem printing press which currently provides the Church with immense services.
6. Apostolic Monastic Life
Maronite monasticism was especially characterized by its deep involvement in the mission of the Church. This apostolic surge included many aspects: the exemplary sacramental life of the communities including celebrating Mass, hospitality, and social activities such as visiting and aiding the needy and the ill, preaching atheists, catechesis, and the like.
Accordingly, the strict asceticism undertaken by the Syriac monks did not prevent them from sharing their wisdom with the world. Their personal spiritual struggle was a necessary preparation for the more difficult struggle of facing evil in the world. Every time they went out of their caves and monasteries, they entered cities and villages in order to preach to the people and to lead them to Christ. This apostolic enthusiasm continued for a millennium (from the year 400 to 1400). Due to the harsh circumstances of the region since the 15th century, this enthusiasm was restricted only to those living near the monasteries. Following the reorganization of the orders in the end of the 17th century, this tradition was restored and zealously spread in Lebanon and abroad.
7. An Open Monasticism
The Antiochean-Syriac monastic spirituality is also characterized by its unique ability to open up to spiritual trends and adopt some aspects of monastic organization from other Churches: Throughout its history, the Western Syriac-monastic tradition was influenced by monasticism in Egypt, with Saint Anthony the Great, while keeping its own identity. Later, it was influenced by the teachers of Byzantine spirituality, most notably, with Saint Basil the Great and Saint John of the Ladder. The Eastern Syriac spirituality, too, with Saint Isaac the Genovese, exerted its influence, much of which came through the Syriac and Arabic translations of important works. It also embraced spiritual trends and institutional organization from the Christian West. Nowadays, monasticism is open to different civilizations, it diversifies its children’s specializations in serving people, it is active in the ecumenical movement, and participates in providing materials and preparing studies for the dialogue of religions.
This spiritual adjustment has led to a monastic renewal. It is now ready to embark upon a new path of renewal while safeguarding the seclusion, asceticism, apostolic spirit, and faithfulness to tradition represented in the spirituality of the early church fathers and while maintaining the deep experience of the forefathers represented in this mature spirituality itself.
Third: The Regulations of Monasticism
Although from its inception there were patterns and general customs regulating monasticism in Lebanon and the region, it was not until the 17th century that it began to operate according to detailed laws and constitutions. For the last three centuries only, it has celebrated publicly the taking of vows. The Gospel was the constitution of the monks and nuns and the source of their lifestyle. In addition to the Gospel they followed the example of such monks as Saint Anthony, the Church’s Synodal teachings, the regulations of Saint Bacchamius, of Saint Basil the Great, of Father Rabbula, and of the book of ‘el-Hoda’ on the order of prayers. With respect to the procedure for appointing Superiors, they referred to the Patriarch. Every community answered directly to their own Superior General, who up until the detailed constitutions were introduced, simply organized the monastery according to tradition. The personal authority of the Superior General was the official and living law for every monastic community. This fact is clearly illustrated in the history writings of Patriarch Douweihi, in the writings of the Orientalists Dandini and Roger de La Roche, and in the work and writings of Qaraalli. Father Dandini, who was originally the Pope’s Apostolic Delegate to the Maronites. In 1596, the latter wrote: “These monks do not follow special methods or laws that are special to them. Instead, they all tread one path”. Abdallah Qaraalli wrote: “Maronite monks did not have any laws and regulations before 1695; they were naively walking a path that is rewarding for the chaste, but dangerous for the non-chaste”.
That is why Qaraalli drew up the first 22 articles of regulations which he later condensed into 15. To these latter regulations three more were added on humility, patience, and brotherly love. Patriarch Stephen Douwaihi passed this law for the Lebanese Order on the 18th of June 1700. Patriarch Awwad promulgated these articles in 1725. Patriarch el-Blouzawi ordered the monks and nuns of the Antonine Order to adopt these same regulations in 1705, after they had considered adopting the law of Saint Augustine and had translated it into Arabic. These regulations were known as the Regulations of Saint Anthony that is why the three orders were known as Antonine Orders despite the fact that many of the regulations and provisions had been drawn up from the Jesuit and Carmelite regulations. After being revised by Archbishop Joseph el-Semaani, this law was confirmed by the Papal See and remained in effect in the three male orders and for the Lebanese and Antonine nuns, until the Patriarchal See drew up new regulations in 1938 in the framework of the amendment of all first regulations.
As for the regulations for missionaries, the first regulation was inspired from the spirituality and tradition of the Syriac monks, which, in addition to the basic vows, focused on the spirituality of obedience: “A monk must consider his Superior as Jesus Christ. He must serve him in everything other than in sin, and he must honor and love him internally and externally. He must not interfere in the Superior’s orders, and he must inform him of all his actions”. Simply put, discipline in obedience, served to deepen the monk’s spirituality. Silence was also given great importance, especially in the presence of the Superior and the teacher; this way, the monks learned to listen and to respect others. Silence was seen as the seed of dialogue and humility. On the other hand, by keeping a certain number of non-ordained monks, the male orders acquired the characteristic of being seminarian orders, in the sense that most of their members were being prepared to receive the ecclesiastical ranks, as their mission included ministerial service.
After the issuing of the Apostolic will “in monks, Church funds, and on the meaning of the Words” in 1952, the monks engaged themselves in revising their regulations and making them comply with the new provisions. In 1940, The Apostolic See had eased the emphasis on solitude and seclusion for the Antonine nuns in order to foster and encourage the nuns’ missionary vocation. A study was conducted in 1953, which revealed that the nuns felt they were called primarily to be missionary. Their new rule was ratified by the Apostolic See in 1958. The Lebanese nuns, however, chose to remain affiliated to the male order until 1984 when the Apostolic See decided to unite all their convents in a monastic order that is spiritually related to the male Lebanese Order. Their monastic life is built on community monastic living. The monastery is independent and under the authority of a general council which elects a Mother Superior and a Council of Assistants.
Meanwhile, the Second Vatican Council was renewing the life of the whole Church in many fields. It also set the general principles of renewal for consecrated life, asserting that the supreme principle was that of following Christ, and that external renewal had to based upon inner renewal. It called for acknowledging and safeguarding the spirit of the founding fathers and the history of the institutions, and working on making this spirit part of the life of the Church. This was to be done in accordance with the present human conditions and needs of the local churches. The Maronites worked for renewal in the light of the new regulations and began working on a new code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches in conjunction with other Eastern Churches.
Fourth: Their Mission
The orders in both their branches (male and female) carry a rich heritage which has earned them credibility especially with respect to their ability to attract vocations. Sustained by their long experience, they have been able to enrich the Maronite Christian heritage through their dedicated work. The monks “have transmitted to us a respectful, spiritual, and liturgical human heritage”, and filled the country with monasteries and churches to the extent that one contemporary author dedicated the whole fifth chapter of his book to this subject, entitling the chapter ‘Lebanon, a monastic land’.
The most significant of the fruits of monasticism is the abundance of grace due to the regular prayers in most monasteries and hermitages. The last century was distinguished by the beatification and canonization of some of our monks and nuns, such as Father Charbel Makhlouf, Sister Rafqa, and Father Naamatullah Kassab el-Hardini. As a result, their Maronite monastic lifestyle became popular in all Christian monasteries. There are also many other characteristics whose signs God will reveal in due time.
Some monasteries became sanctuaries that have been receiving not only Christians, but also people of all religions from Lebanon, the Arab World, and the rest of the world in search for spiritual services. The orders also accompanied the Universal and Local Church’s ecumenical concerns; thus, they contributed in reviving the Antiochean heritage and continued doing so in making use of intellectuals and of all the means of dialogue between religions to promote mutual respect and coexistence.
The physical martyrdom which was prominent in the beginning, continued throughout all ages, but did not weaken the orders’ ability to dialogue and open up; in fact, it facilitated their dwelling in areas of several denominations and countries of diverse civilizations.
On the cultural and educational level, the monks and nuns advanced knowledge and culture; they played a part in the progress of civilization, making their monasteries centers of enlightenment and reliable spiritual references. Consequently, the monks and nuns have been performing a major mission: They are in charge of 92 major schools, around 20 technical or vocational colleges, and three universities which aim at complementarily, oversee development and progress, and have proved themselves to be of a high educational level in Lebanon and in the world. Many of these institutions are leaders in teaching theology, religion, liturgy, sacred art, iconography, ecclesiastic history, and other such subjects. The monks were also the leaders of the renaissance in religious music. Nowadays, many ecclesiastic musicians are safeguarding the Syriac heritage by playing and chanting it, in addition to writing new Maronite tunes. The orders did everything to maintain the persistence and growth of their institutions to the extent that they even had to sell part of their property for that sake. The orders even carried on with writing, translating, printing, and publishing books, the first of which was “Kawkab al-Barriya” (Great Dweller of the Wild) in the early 20th century, the first magazine issued by an Eastern order in Lebanon and Syria. This magazine took the name of Saint Anthony the Great.
The orders were the first to establish the system of partnership with the laity. The people residing around the monasteries participated in sowing the land, reviving the choirs, and following the spiritual method; thus, constituting the monasteries’ extended families. The orders also worked on raising livestock and silkworms. They became famous for their mills and presses. They also transported irrigation water. They are still tending to the land in several monasteries today despite the difficulties facing the agricultural sector. The University of the Holy Spirit in Kaslik established a faculty of agriculture in order to raise awareness of the historical significance of agriculture in Maronite history.
On the pastoral and service level, the monks and nuns provide pastoral service in areas surrounding their monasteries in Lebanon and abroad. They serve the sick in thirteen hospitals which they run. They have launched university pastoral service in addition to providing sermons, spiritual retreats, confessions, and counseling in schools, universities, prisons, and hospitals. They have also founded orphanages, homes for the elderly and the disabled, and they participate in judicial, media, social and other activities requiring ecclesiastic participation. In addition to this, they embrace and direct the cultural, apostolic, and scout movements. Thus, “the monastic communities constitute a fortune and a source of grace and energy to the eparchies and the Church alike”.
These activities were not limited to specific areas of Lebanon, but were also prominent in Lebanon’s most remote areas. The monks and nuns provided pastoral and educational service to the Maronites abroad. They have established schools in Cyprus, Latakia, and other places, and have served the parishes in these countries in addition to the parishes in Syria, Egypt, Palestine, and Turkey. Then, as of the mid of the 20th Century, their services reached Africa, Canada, Australia, the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Argentina. They also have a strong monastic presence in Italy.
In the social field, the orders were renowned for their positions of solidarity and empathy towards the unfortunate. They shared their production with them, and their monasteries were known to be places of refuge and shelter for the destitute. They have even welcomed, received, and fed many people during the Second World War and the Lebanese War. We would like to note that the Lebanese Order pawned all its property to France, and other monasteries sold a large part of their lands, in return for money to sustain and aid the victims of the First World War. All these orders are still working in the field of social aid by welcoming the needy, providing free education and many job opportunities in their institutions of educational and social services. In addition to all this, are the housing projects that provide easy payments, and the establishment of many centers of social work.
It is simply a fact that “the monks and nuns certainly have a presence today in all ecclesiastic and social sectors”. This presence is not due to competition with others, it is rather a living and effective sign of a living Maronite heritage that is committed to pastoral work, and based on genuine spirituality.
Fifth: The Relationship of the Monks and Nuns with the Highest Ecclesiastic Authorities
Our Maronite history verifies the strong bond between the Head of the Church, the local authorities, and the orders. So, it is not by coincidence that Theodoret Bishop of Cyrrhus wrote about the history of the ‘friends’ of God in his time, for monasticism has been, ever since its beginnings, closely linked to the Patriarch, the bishops, and the people of God. This ecclesiastic bond remained between the monks and worshipers in Ephemia and other regions. That is why emphasis in our prayer is on the interaction and organic harmony between the congregations and the monasteries. Theodoret focused on full harmony between the church authorities and the monks while confirming the love and integration between them. The Council of Chalcedon formed a law in 451 which stated that all the monks in urban and rural areas were to be under the authority of the local Archbishop, who alone could authorize the establishment of a new monastery. This has been the case throughout history: Obedience was due to the bishops - the representatives of the Patriarch in the parishes - and the Superiors of monasteries. This has been a characteristic of Eastern orders. The obedience to the Patriarch is only natural, for he was the caretaker of all areas and all land before the division into eparchies at the Lebanese Synod. The Patriarch, Archbishops, and bishops shared the life, prayers, and work of the monks. Throughout their history, the Patriarchs and Bishops lived in monasteries themselves, hence creating close bonds between the local authority and the monks. For centuries, there was no differentiation between the monks and Church hierarchy. This characteristic remained prominent until the end of the 16th century.
In the middle Ages, Maronite monasticism became characterized by a deep reverence for the Pope, the Patriarch, and the local bishop; thus, showing recognition and acceptance of the hierarchy in the Church. When the orders started implementing the new regulations, the monasteries in many eparchies needed a reference higher than the local bishop whose authority was limited, hence came the Patriarchal Right. Then, the monks responded to a further need thus moving their reference to Rome, hence the Papal Right. Patriarch Joseph el-Khazen el-Khalaf and his bishops also recommended this Right to other orders.
Despite all the questions, inquiries, and misunderstandings this might have caused, the orders remained highly respectful of the Patriarch and all local ecclesiastic authorities. The Encyclical on ‘Mutual Relations’, the Apostolic Exhortations ‘on Consecrated Life’, the Apostolic Exhortation ‘New Hope for Lebanon’, and the Papal letter ‘The Light of the East’, in addition to the instructions of the Second Vatican Council in ‘The Mission of Pastoral Bishops in the Church’, ‘The Sanctity of the Church’, and the decision ‘On the Missionary Church Activity’, and other documents, all focus on the relation between the monks and the Church authorities on the basis of the Church’s theological concept. All the stakeholders aspire to, and are guided by, these documents so that their relationship remains fruitful, their ecclesiastical work remains based on cooperation and integration, and their monasticism remains closely related to the Universal and Local Church.
Lately, the new Codex Canonum Ecclesiarium Orientalium (The Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches) considers monastic life in the East as a special case characterized by the circumstances of the clergy and the laity. The Rights given to their institutions are not to be considered as privileges but they constitute part of the natural being of all the monastic institutions: All the monks and nuns obey His Holiness as they do their Superiors; through their vow of obedience. This Code limited the authority of all that is related to the pontifical orders, typicons, and internal rulings to the Apostolic See; and all that is related to the Patriarchal and Episcopal orders to the Patriarchal See and the Bishop reciprocally. Contingently, however, these rights confirmed the obedience of all these orders to the authority of the eparchial Bishop in all their activities of worship, preaching, catechesis, the mission, and conduct of their seminarians.
Chapter III : Subjects of Renewal
There is no doubt that renewal in all matters of life is vital and necessary at all times so that the orders can maintain their strong testimony and mission. Nevertheless, since we believe that monasticism ‘expresses the nature of the Church and cannot be substituted’, we also believe that constant monastic renewal is an important factor in the renewal of the whole Church. The orders admit that any prosperity in the Maronite Church is prosperity of their own. We would like to note the necessity of dealing with the comprehensive and important issues without delving into any individual transgressions whatsoever.
Moreover, we invite all the orders to work on a serious renewal of their institutions, which draws its contents from the history and ingenuity of our Church, but responds in a genuine and consistent way to the needs of the present moment.
1. Whatever the past marginal reservations and the caution practiced by the Maronite Church authorities and the orders may be, we must deeply contemplate the aforementioned documents and delve into our heritage while focusing on the Christological and Ecclesiological dimensions of monasticism. These texts and others focus on the deep unity between monasticism and the particular Church, for neither can dwell without the other. Consequently, the monks and nuns try to highlight the importance and position of the Maronite Church in their lives in order to promote it among the members of the particular churches: “The monks must feel that they are members of the episcopal family even if they are of Papal Right and they must make necessary adaptations. It is also necessary for the monks and nuns to be truly integrated into the ecclesiastic life for theological and pastoral reasons”. The more rooted it is in ecclesiastic life, the more monasticism will flourish. The monks and nuns must testify to their belonging to their Patriarchal Church and promote communication with their Patriarch as he is their reference. The relationship with the Patriarch must “exceed the tight legal framework in order to fulfill the vocation of the present, based on the heritage of the past”. The authorities must in their turn safeguard and respect the specificities and charismas of each order, cooperate with them and trust them, so that they can participate in the church’s missionary and apostolic authority and participate in the spiritual, pastoral, liturgical, and social services. That is why, it is necessary to set a base for dialogue which is not arbitrary and vague, and which safeguards comprehensiveness and specificities. Positions must be based on the Gospel and guided by the Holy Spirit, for without adherence to Christ, true unity among the people of God cannot be reached.
2. Modernity has produced values that quickly entered into the orders, such as, freedom, justice, communication, partnership, criticism, and so on. So the orders benefited from them in setting initiatives, self development, and engaging in the different apostolic, developmental, and social fields. On the other hand, these values might open the way to isolation through unlimited freedom, equality that does not appreciate authority or extreme transparency that can transform into insolence. Other possible abuses might include an identity crisis concerning the very meaning of monasticism, especially in terms of how it is relevant for non-monks. There is no doubt that there have always been challenges with respect to the identity of institutionalized forms of religious communities based on the teachings of Christ in the Bible, but these challenges, that sometimes became the source of a crisis, have also been the cause behind many important renewals. Consequently, a crisis can be transformed into an opportunity for repentance, knowing that this is the only way for liberation, survival, and the regaining of one’s self. At the heart of each and every revival or renewal is a renewed awareness of the divine presence of the Lord.
3. Spiritual life remains the biggest challenge facing monasticism in the Maronite Church. Its mission cannot be crystallized except in its union with Christ in all dimensions of life. Many monks and nuns have been working in apostolic activities due to the apostolic nature of the Church and because of our monastic tradition which has always been both contemplative and apostolic at once. However, these activities can prevent some from personally and collectively experiencing the Lord. Since personal, individual, and community prayers in all monasteries are the guarantee and the protective shield of monastic life, what is needed is “declaring, searching for, and practicing the full truth, void of any compromise”, and reconfirming the importance and value of prayer and contemplation in any act of balancing between ‘cities and villages’ in all forms of monasticism.
4. Monasteries have always been rooted in the ecclesiastic community, so they have become enriched by the testimony of the communities in the monasteries. Yet, the position and reference of the monastery is almost fading in the life of society and the Church. Barriers have been put between the monastery and the people. Some monasteries are witnessing a decrease in the numbers of the residents who testify to the Lord and who confirm that the monastery is an oasis of prayer, contemplation, and guidance. Life in the monastery must be promoted first through verifying that monasteries are the location of living in a prophetic dimension, and that they are the shelter of the poor and sick, and the centers of healing and hope. There are no barriers between monasteries and the people. A monastery is a sign of the presence of God, proximity to the people, and partnership with them. They are resided in by those who have more time to aid others, pray, and work. From the depth of these monasteries all other institutions and services emerge and take their spirituality.
5. In addition to the prospering of monasticism and its institutional structure during the last three centuries, it should be noted that the excessive preoccupation in institutional affairs and administrative work can lead a person to lose his clarity and thus cause his fall. That is why the monks and nuns must be careful that their institutions are not transformed into institutions concerned with trade, production, and revenues, for when they become so their mission will diverge from the path of testimony, will exclude the poor and the needy for the sake of the constant development and progress of the institutions, and their programs will overlook the main goal of these institutions which is proclaiming the Good Word and leading the way to salvation. For that reason, it is necessary that the ascetic dimension, both in spirit and soul, be reinforced so that it regulates and controls monasticism, encourages them to lead a life of simplicity and maturity, and protects them from the lure of worldly appearances. Dynamic networks of spiritual activities for all the workers of these institutions must be re-vitalized and activated so that they become churches that testify to Christ and His Mercy and become centers of evangelization.
6. Today’s world is vulnerable, unable to overcome its pains and the problems associated with being dominated by worldly powers. In this world, testimony to impartial and self-denying brotherly love must be promoted because monasticism is closely bonded with it. Moreover, there is an urgent need to develop the spirit of partnership among the communities of monks and nuns so that they can live in an eschatological dimension revived by the Holy Spirit. The ‘chaos’ that might rise from common living can be avoided by setting constant and intensive meetings on feasts, common forgiveness, benefiting from the experience of others, deep spiritual contemplation, and periodical retreats. A loving community would never allow the filtering of a worldly notion, which can cause destruction, trouble, hindering of common labor, or denial of the will of Christ even when Superiors are being replaced or when services are distributed. Although monastic diversity is related to the individual gifts and strengths of its diverse members, the nature of the monastic vocation should prevent any action against the common good and must not be guided by the personal feelings or selfish motivations of the individual members of a community.
7. Most importantly, the orders’ engagement in educations is extremely important, “for the future of consecrated life is based on the dynamic efforts deployed by the monastic institutions to educate their members”. The orders must awaken and identify vocations, and then must support the candidates. This ought to be done in a way that does not concern itself with the number of vocations but focuses on true commitment. It should encourage silence, asceticism, and continuous religious reading. In doing so, the candidate would learn to be a constant student of Christ before engaging in other activities. Catechesis becomes more integrated and deeply-rooted with continuous catechesis, not for the aim of storing and gaining information, but in order to increase the ability of testimony in life and work within the modern transformations in the world. Orders are working hard on approaching eparchial seminarians and training them on unity and harmony needed in apostolic work. Our Synod blesses all the common meetings held in this regard and recommends increasing them.
8. Land plays an important role in monasticism. Investing in the land today aims at reviving the agricultural sector and modernizing partnership with the laity because it is deep within the Maronite spirituality and it is a sharing of the Saints’ lifestyles and an initiative of speaking the Word of God even in the most dreadful of conflicts. This partnership is what is needed to keep the ‘small family’ living around the monastery and to nationally contribute to harmony and unity in protecting and maintaining the ‘extended family’. The land carries history, safeguards tradition, and supports faith, but most importantly, it unites the families constituting the Church.
Epilogue : Practical Suggestions
The following points may help to enhance and revitalize monasticism in the Maronite Church:
1. The Maronite Church confirms that the life of its monks and nuns, in all its styles, has always been a precious gift and a phenomenon of health and vitality. We can never dispense of monasticism since it is ‘an integral part of the Church’.
2. The Maronite Church should embark on a sound dialogue between the local Church authorities and the monastic authorities, whether they are Papal, Patriarchal, or Episcopal, in order to promote communication and thus to strengthen mutual partnership. This demands an open and honest conversation, based on the acceptance of a common vocation: to preach the gospel of service and salvation.
3. The Maronite Church should promote coordination and cooperation among the Maronite orders, and between these orders and all other orders in Lebanon, the region, and abroad; this is to be done in such a way as to promote solidarity and eliminate competition.
4. It is necessary to provide catechetical meetings with all the seminarians on the history and traditions of our Maronite Church, dealing with the bases of harmony, integration, and cooperation.
5. To promote partnership in responsible work with the nuns and deploying their skills and energy. We do confirm that the Church needs their contribution, skills, and capabilities in all fields.
6. To reinforce the contemplative dimension in the orders and working on adding a new impulse to the life of contemplation especially in the independent monasteries.
7. After organizing the missions, the monks and nuns should emphasize the importance of living the spirituality of their Church and orders, and the necessity of spreading awareness among the Maronites of the Maronite Church abroad by establishing monasteries, reviving life in monasteries, and interacting and integrating with their societies and milieus. In addition to this, they should emphasize their spiritual bond with their Eastern religious tradition and follow the instructions of their Patriarch - so as to maintain their unity and to promote our Maronite tradition, which has sanctified many over the ages.