Maronite Catholic Church
The birth of the Maronite Church can be traced back to a monastery of monks in Syria, attached to the Syriac speaking Church. A renowned monk named Maroun (died in the year 410), became the patron of this community. In the sixth century, the monastery grew and became a center of church teaching, faithful to the decisions of Chalcedon, and a community grew up around it. Because of persecution, the Church emigrated from Syria to Lebanon, cutting its ties with Constantinople. In the wake of the Crusades, relations were re-established between the Maronite community and the Church of Rome. Over time, full union was proclaimed between the Maronite Church and the Catholic Church. The Maronite liturgy was brought closer to the Latin rite of the Catholic Church.
The Church spread from Lebanon into Upper Galilee, particularly in Kafr Biram (a village destroyed in 1950) and Jish, and is mentioned as being present in other parts of the Holy Land from the nineteenth century onward, establishing communities in Acre, Haifa, Jaffa, Jerusalem and Nazareth. The community is the fourth largest Christian community in the Holy Land, after the Greek Orthodox, the Greek Catholics and the Latins. A patriarchal vicar has been present in Jerusalem since 1895, belonging to the “Diocese of Tyre and the Holy Land”, in Lebanon. In 1996, the Maronite Church created a new diocese, with a seat in Haifa, which includes only the territory of northern Israel.
The Maronite Church built a monastery in the Old City of Jerusalem, known as St Maroun’s House, as seat of the Vicariate and for the accommodation of pilgrims. The Church also consecrated churches in the towns and villages where its faithful live and set up social centers to help the faithful establish themselves in local society. Today there are communities of Maronites in the Galilee (especially in Jish/Gush Halav), Haifa, Nazareth, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jaffa. The Church uses Arabic in most of its prayers and religious celebrations, whereas a few formulae are preserved in the original Syriac in memory of the Church’s origins.
Mention must be made of this community’s bloody history in the last centuries in Lebanon. Troubles began in the last decades of Ottoman rule although the Church recovered its strength in the period of the French mandate in Lebanon, during which the Church was granted full freedom and even important privileges which enabled the Church and the community to become central powerbrokers in Lebanon. In the Holy Land, the Maronites live side by side with the other Christian communities, celebrating both their own feasts and those that they share with the Roman Catholic Church.