By Guita G. Hourani
Photo of Reverend Alexander Boulekov at the Holy Spirit University, Kaslik, Lebanon.
Photo courtesy of MARI (1998, Lebanon)
Reverend Alexander Boulekov, Ph.D., of the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church of Moscow and all Russia was entrusted with the writing of the first comprehensive report on the Maronite history in the Russian language. The highest authority of the Russian Church commissioned this report. The Russian Church has taken a keen interest in the Maronite Church since 1987 when His Holiness Patriarch Pimen officially invited His Beatitude Mar Nasrallah Peter Sfeir, the Maronite Patriarch, to visit Moscow. His Beatitude accepted and visited Russia from the 20th to the 27th of October 1987. This invitation was extended and accepted in the spirit of Christian ecumenical unity and openness. It wasn't too long before a reciprocal visit took place during the visit to Lebanon in 1996 by His Holiness Alexy II, the new Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. His Holiness paid a special visit to Patriarch Sfeir at his See in Bkerke.
MARI's office in Lebanon hosted Reverend Boulekov and provided him with information needed for his research. I scheduled a two-day tour to highly significant Maronite archaeological and historical sites, both religious and secular. This included a pilgrimage to the Holy Valley and Our Lady of Qannoubine, which had been the Seat of the Maronite Patriarchate from 1440-1823. It also covered visits to the tombs of Saint Sharbel in Annaya, Blessed Hardini in Kfifan, and Blessed Rafqa in Grabta; Our Lady of Ilige, which had been the Seat of the Maronite Patriarchate from 938-1440; Saint Anthony of Qozhaya Monastery; and the Church of Our Lady of Diman, the summer residence of the Maronite Patriarch from 1823 to the present day; and other places of interest.
Father Boulekov was impressed with the topography as well as the natural beauty of northern Lebanon. He was most astonished by the location of Our Lady of Qannoubine Monastery that could be reached only after several hours of walking deep down into the valley with its difficult upgrades as well as anticipated descents. Father Boulekov said, "I now can mentally comprehend why the Papal Bull took seven months to reach His Beatitude. I am amazed that it was only in the middle of the last century that this site was still the See of the Maronite Patriarch!" He liked the town of Ehden very much, especially its square. He also admired Bisharreh and the mountainous villages that were spatially laid out around the church, as the center. Father Boulekov's report on the Maronite history and current state will be written in Russian, and a copy of it will be presented to MARI upon completion.
The staff and the officials of MARI appreciate the efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church to make the history of the Maronites more accessible to its people and clergy, including the hierarchy.
We at MARI have many to thank, beginning with Father Boulekov for his Christian love in researching and writing about the complex history of the Maronites. We thank the Lebanese Maronite Order for the genuine hospitality shown Father Boulekov, MARI's Chairperson and staff during the two-day tour at all their monasteries, especially the Monastery of Saint Maron in Annaya. MARI thanks the Order of the Maronite Lebanese Missionaries for hosting Father Boulekov in their Foyer in Jounieh; the Holy Spirit University, especially the Institute of History and the library, for providing research assistance. We wholeheartedly thank Mr. Antonio Andary and his kind family for inviting the whole touring party to his home in Knaywer where all of us experienced Northern Lebanese hospitality and confidently relaxed and gained spiritual strength in the serenity of the heartland of the Maronite people.
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