Models of Evangelization
Evangelization and Spirituality
The Different models of Evangelization in the Maronite Church.
By Fr. Antonio Elfeghali
September 29, 2006
The Maronite Church is an Eastern Church in communion with Rome. It has a history that goes back to the fifth century. During 1600 years of history, the Maronites witnessed four models of evangelization: Charismatic, Apostolic, Contemplative, and Eucharistic. These models inspired them, strengthened them, and helped them to survive the persecutions they had to go through.
The Charismatic Model: Saint Maron (+410 AD).
In the fourth century, the Christians of Antioch were divided among themselves. Some followed the Monophysites Heresy; others defended the teaching of the Church. In addition to the doctrinal conflicts, there were also a lot of political conflicts in the region of Antioch. In the midst of that turmoil, a young man called Maron heard the call of God. His heart was set on fire. Maron left the world and ascended to the top of Mount Nabo, near Antioch. He lived in the open air, converted a pagan temple into a church, and spent his time praying in solitude, fasting, and working. After a long journey spent in prayer and fasting, Maron received Charismatic Gifts from the Holy Spirit. He used them for the sake of evangelization. Saint Maron, the Patron saint of the Maronite Church, represents the Charismatic model for evangelization.
Theodoretus, the historian, wrote:
“God bestowed upon [Maron] the gifts of healing the sick. His fame spread to all the surrounding districts, so people flocked to him and witnessed the veracity of his virtues and miracles. He could heal the sick and exorcise the devil by mere prayer. Physicians prescribe a special medicine for each disease, but the prayer of the righteous is the remedy for all diseases. St. Maron not only healed the ailments of the body but also those of the soul, by curing the avarice of the covetous, the anger of the passionate, teaching some the wisdom of temperance, others the principles of justice, others the happiness of chastity, and others the love of labor.” (Theodoretus, Historia Religiosa).
That was the way Maron lived, evangelized, and witnessed to the people of his time. Even doctors of the Church, like St. John Chrysostom, relied on his prayers:
“To Maron, the Monk Priest: We are bound to you by love and interior disposition, and see you here before us as if you were actually present. For such are the eyes of love; their vision is neither interrupted by distance nor dimmed by time. We wished to write more frequently to your reverence, but since this is not easy on account of the difficulty of the road and the problems to which travelers are subject, whenever opportunity allows we address ourselves to your honor and assure you that we hold you constantly in our mind and carry you about in our soul wherever we may be. And take care yourself that you write to us as often as you can, telling us how you are, so that although separated physically we might be cheered by learning constantly about your health and receive much consolation as we sit in solitude. For it brings us no small joy to hear about your health. And above all please pray for us". (AbouZayd, 1993).
The Maronites believe that the Charismatic Gifts of the Holy Spirit are bestowed on the faithful after a journey spent in prayer, solitude, and contemplation. These gifts are the fruits of their relationship with Jesus. They are given by the Holy Spirit in order to use them for evangelization. The key point is to remain in Jesus. The words of the Lord confirm this belief:
“Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine and you are the branch. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5).
The Apostolic Model: Abraham the hermit (+ 422 AD).
Maron attracted many disciples. One of them was Abraham the hermit. He was called by Theodoretus the historian: Abraham the Wondrous. He represents the apostolic model for evangelization.
Abraham lived a life of prayer and fasting until he was sent by the Holy Spirit to evangelize the pagan Phoenician inhabitants of the mountains of Lebanon.
Upon his arrival with his companions to a pagan village in Lebanon, he rented a house and began to perform the Divine Liturgy. The pagans heard the missionaries singing. They gathered the villagers and tried to bury them alive. But they stopped asking the strangers to leave their mountains. Theodoretus the historian continued the story in his Historia Religiosa:
“At this very moment, however, collectors arrived to compel them to pay their taxes; some they bound others they maltreated. But the man of God begged these collectors to carry out their work leniently and promised to pay them a hundred gold pieces in a few days. The pagans admired Abraham and begged forgiveness for their outrage. They invited him to become their patron- for the village did not have a master.” (Price, 1985).
Abraham became their father and their shepherd. They allowed him to build a church. Later on, the Phoenicians of Lebanon converted to Christianity and became Maronites. Since then, the Adonis River dedicated to a Phoenician God called Adonis, was renamed after the Apostle of Lebanon: the Abraham River (Nahr Ibrahim).
The Maronites believe that apostolic work is a gift from the Holy Spirit to his Church and it is the result of their relationship with Jesus. This gift is given in order to evangelize.
The Contemplative Model: St. Sharbel (+ 1898 AD).
For many centuries, the Maronites contemplated the wonders of God done through his servants Maron and Abraham. They admired them as models for evangelization, until the 19th century, when God gifted them a powerful saint, Saint Sharbel Makhlouf, with a different model for evangelization: The contemplative model.
Saint Sharbel was not a writer, a preacher, a charismatic, or an apostle. He was a humble monk and a hermit. He lived a hidden life in union with God. Nevertheless, he attracted hundreds during his life and thousands after his death and the fruits of his holiness reached the four corners of the earth. On the night he was buried, a great light was seen on his tomb. Mary Clare wrote in her book St. Sharbel:
“Mysterious things were happening at Father Sharbel’s tomb. There was talk of extraordinary light and supernatural phenomena. God was beginning to lift the veil that had hidden for seventy years the life of this holy man.” (Mary Clare, 1992).
The body of Sharbel was found intact. Since then, tens of thousands flocked to his tomb and many miracles happened. Bishop Francis Zayek wrote:
“Sharbel is called the Great Wonder of our century. From April 22 to July 14, 1950, three hundred and fifty cases of cures, which were considered to be miraculous have been recorded at Saint Maron’s Monastery of Annaya. In detail, they consist of curing thirty-one blind, thirty-seven deaf and dumb, one hundred and sixty-three paralytic and lame, and one hundred and nineteen incurable diseases. Twenty Moslem recipients are included in the one hundred and nineteen last cases. However, the most important miracles are those of the soul, such as conversions and returns to God. They have been and are still occurring through the intercession of the holy hermit.” (Mary Clare, 1992).
By 1977, 'Annaya had received 135,000 letters which are kept in an archive. They have come from 95 countries that wish to share with Sharbel's community the news of miracles, cures and wonders. (Nour wa Hayat, 1977).
The light of Saint Sharbel reached an American Hermit, Thomas Merton, who wrote in his journal:
"Sharbel lived as a hermit in Lebanon---he was a Maronite. He died. Everyone forgot about him. Fifty years later, his body was discovered incorrupt and in short time he worked over 600 miracles. He is my new companion. My road has taken a new turning. It seems to me that I have been asleep for 9 years---and before that I was dead." (Benedict, 1997).
The Maronites believe that the one who leads a contemplative life will bear much fruit after his death. These fruits are given from the Holy Spirit to his Church in order to evangelize. Saint Sharbel contributed in strengthening the Lebanese Christians to remain in their lands during the 1975-2004 persecution. He was their only consolation when their leaders were either killed, or exiled, or imprisoned.
The Eucharistic Model: St. Rafqa (+ 1914 A.D.).
If Saint Sharbel was a contemplative model who inspired the Lebanese Christians not to leave their country, Saint Rafqa represents the Eucharistic model that helped the Christians of the Middle East to embrace suffering in order to survive.
Saint Rafqa lived a monastic life in the mountains of Lebanon. She had a strong relationship with the Eucharist.
In 1885, Rafqa suffered pain in her right eye. She met an American doctor, who, accidentally, pulled her eye out. The young nun embraced her suffering for twelve years.
“In 1899, she lost the sight in her left eye. With this a new stage of her suffering began, intensified by the dislocation of her clavicle and her right hip and leg. Her vertebrae were visible through her skin. Her face was spared and remained shining to the end. Her hands stayed intact; and she used them to knit socks and make clothing. She thanked God for the use of her hands while also thanking Him for permitting her a share in His Son's suffering. Pope John Paul II declared her: Venerable on February 11, 1982; Beatified on November 17, 1985; a role model in the adoration of the Eucharist during the Jubilee Year 2000. (Retrieved from the Vatican web site).
Through her suffering and her love for the Eucharist, Rafqa became a lily whose “fragrance is the fragrance of Lebanon. (Song 4:10-11).
The Pope canonized her in June 10, 2001. The new saint and the sufferings she had to endure for 29 years, especially the dislocation of her bones, became a consoling image for the Lebanese Christians, who had to endure for 29 years, watching their country disappearing under occupation. This saint gave the strength to the crippled Lebanon to get up and walk. That’s what happened in the Cedar Revolution in March 2005.
Saint Maron, Abraham the hermit, Saint Sharbel, and Saint Rafqa represent four different models for evangelization for the Maronites. All of them contributed in the formation, expansion, confirmation, and the patience of the Maronites. The charismatic Maron attracted and formed a Church, the apostolic Abraham expanded the Church, the contemplative Sharbel confirmed its children, and the Eucharistic saint helped them to endure the sufferings of their time.
Theodoretus, “Historia Religiosa,” c. XVI, in Migne, P.G., 82, 1417.
AbouZayd, S. Ihidayutha: A study of the Life of Singleness in the Syrian Orient: From Ignatius of Antioch to Chalcedon 451 A.D., (Oxford, 1993), p. 363.
Theodoretus of Cyrrhus. Historia Religiosa: A History of the Monks of Syria, Translated by R. M. Price, (Michigan, 1985), p. 121-122.
Mary Clare Vincent, Saint Sharbel, St. Bede’s Publications (1992).
Benedict, C. Saint Sharbel: Mystic of the East, 3rd edition, USA (1997).
Nour wa Hayat, Year 5, No 33, October 1977.