By Father Karam Rizk
Translated from Arabic by Kozhaya S. Akiki
I.THE ORIGIN OF THE MARONITE ORDER AND THE SYRIAC HERITAGE
When they reached the monastery of Our Lady of Qannoubeen, the seat of the Maronite Patriarchate since 1440, they presented themselves to Patriarch Stephen Duwaihi (1670-1704) and revealed to him their secret ambition. The Patriarch questioned them and warned them about the hardship of monastic life in an unsafe and poverty-stricken area because all three of them had come from an environment of comfort and ease. They assured him of their resolve and firm intent. On August 1, 1695, the Patriarch blessed them and gave his support for their mission. He provided a place for them to live at the monastery of Mart Moura in Ehden. And so, the Order was born!
II. THE PLACE OF THESE THREE FOUNDERS IN THE MARONITE, SYRIAC AND ANTIOCHIAN MONASTIC LIFE
Monastic and community life was an integral part the Maronite Church from its inception. This way of life flourished and prevailed in the suburbs of Antioch, the political and spiritual "metropolis" of Christians in the East at the time. The monks of Saint Maron were instrumental in the spread of monasticism in the area (see Naaman 1992).
Aphrahat (+275) and Saint Ephrem (+373) relate that monastic life was the cornerstone of Christian life as the Maronite Church entrenched itself in Lebanon at the beginning of the seventh century. Aphrahat and Ephrem men are believed to be the first to describe the monastic and community practices which preceded organized monastic life. Shortly afterwards, Bishop Theodore of Cyr (393-460) wrote a detailed history of the monastic trends which were then flourishing around Antioch.
Some of those monastics in search of Christian perfection preferred to isolate themselves in hard-to-reach cave dwellings. Others lived without privacy in the open air atop pillars, while still others settled in monasteries. Those who chose complete isolation did so under the supervision of teachers who were living examples of Christian perfection and virtue. This description of the daily lives of these hermits explains why they had no need for a codified community rule, nor did they need to come under the authority of a local or general superior.
The Maronite monks in Lebanon followed this type of monastic mode which continued, with periodic interruption, until the beginning of the twentieth century (see Sfeir 1985). The last of the monks to live in this way were those in Ehmej, who in 1838 finally joined the ranks of the Lebanese Maronite Order and gave the Order a "Waqf" (religious trust) called Rouwaysat Annaya, a piece of property held in mortmain, which became the site of the monastery of Saint Maron Annaya. (Karam 1972: 66-67)
III. THE CAUSES FOR THE DECLINE IN MONASTIC COMMUNITY LIFE
What were the external causes that forced those seeking the monastic life to abandon it despite its firm foundation and illustrious reputation throughout Asia Minor? Perhaps the answer lies with the theological and dogmatic quarrels that spread during the fifth century, as well as the pressure exerted by the non-Christian Arab invaders, which transformed Northern Syria into an area of constant struggle between these Arabs and the Byzantines. Theological texts and missionary reports and manuscripts support this view. Based on studies of the internal structure of the Maronite Church, it seems that the monks abandoned their organizational procedures and leadership role in exchange for the creation of a strong patriarchal system. This institution took over at the end of the seventh century and is still in charge of Maronite affairs. Thus, perhaps the attachment of the “monks” to a strong patriarchal authority eliminated the need for any formal law or monastic rules. It is important to note that when the three founders came from Aleppo to Lebanon, there already existed numerous monasteries, especially in the regions of Jbail and Jibbet Bsharre and the Kesrouan district. Since the Middle Ages, the Maronite Patriarchs and Bishops resided in the monasteries of Jbail and North Lebanon and were joined later by students from the Maronite College which was located in Rome. The fact that the monasteries of Mount Lebanon were already flourishing undoubtedly influenced the founders' in their decision to join these monasteries and not any others.
Bishop Joseph Semaan Al-Semaany, like his predecessor, alluded to the presence of the monasteries in Mount Lebanon, in a famous letter that he wrote on March 1, 1735. In it he presented the first regulation for the monasteries, "The Black Rule." It was printed in Rome that same year. Al-Semaany listed more than 22 existing monasteries in the Jbail and Jibbet Bsharre regions, about 18 in Kesrouan, and others in the Shouf area. This invalidates the theory that the founders of the order came to an uninhabited country. Al-Semaany stressed the continuity of monastic life in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, including the Maronite one. In addition to what Patriarch Duwaihi wrote, Al-Semaany is a major source when we now write about the history of monastic life. However, Al-Semaany erred when he labeled the Lebanese Order "Antonine" [i.e. the Lebanese Order of Saint Anthony of Egypt], declaring that the "Almighty transferred a vine from Egypt, and through His intercession, the Order extended from Egypt to Greater Syria" (Introduction 1734: 22; Azzi: 1988: 236).
Monastic life in Lebanon is indigenous or native to Lebanon. Its roots go back to the traditions of Aphrahat and Ephrem. These were described by Aphrahat in his "Demonstrations" and by Ephrem in his writings, particularly "Anasheed Al-Ferdawse” – Hymns of Paradise, "Anasheed Al-Eeman" – Hymns of Faith, "Maqoulat Ded Al-Harateeqa" – Articles against Heretics, "Manzoum at Nsaybeen" – Composition of Nsaybeen, and "Anasheed Al-Batouleeye" – Hymns to the Virgin. The Syriac version of Saint Ephrem's biography states that he had spent eight years of his life among the Egyptian monks but this claim is no more than the fruit of a vivid imagination depicting Egypt as the paradise of monks and a source of all inspiration for monastic schools. In fact, "The Lausiac History", written within fifty years of Ephrem's death, makes no mention of any journey to Egypt by Ephrem. Furthermore, none of today's experts in Syriac studies believe that monasticism came to Syria from Egypt. Aphrahat and Ephrem both experienced the Antiochian hermetic life, and both brought to light the existence of the organization of the "sons and daughters of the Covenant," which was the nucleus of Syriac monasticism. These devotees formed "Congregations" within the Church and consecrated their lives to chastity, virginity and self-renunciation in witness to Christ. During his last years of exile in Edessa, it is possible that Ephrem encountered a particular type of organized monastic life. His writings during this period make reference to life in the monastery.
At the beginning of the fifth century, the monk Raboula drew up a collection of twenty-two articles of religious rule. This was the earliest work of its kind to reach us. Raboula received the monastic habit in the Monastery of Marcian (Marqyanous) near Qinsreen before being appointed Bishop of Edessa. Others followed him in enriching monastic regulations. These regulations were expanded and eventually translated into Arabic. All this clearly indicates that the Maronite form of monasticism is essentially of Antiochian Syriac origin. Perhaps some of the writings of the Fathers of the Desert penetrated the Syriac practice through authenticated or other means. These writings were attributed to Saint Anthony (251-356), although the Father of Monasticism (Saint Anthony of Egypt) left no formal written rules. When Saint Anthony became famous through the writings of Athanasius, as well as through oral traditions, it was assumed that he had founded the monasteries in Lebanon, including the Monastery of Saint Anthony at Qozhaya.
The neglect of the Antiochian Syriac monastic traditions on one hand – contrasted with Saint Anthony's fame on the other hand – contributed to the perception that Saint Anthony established all the various religious orders, including the Lebanese order. The founding of the Confraternity of Saint Anthony (Sharekaat Mar Antonios) and the widespread habit of wearing a so-called Keetab Mar Antonio (Sacred Text of Saint Anthony enclosed in a small hand-sewn pouch [popularly known as talisman] to ward off danger) reinforced this belief. As a result, the Monastery of Saint Anthony at Qozhaya became so important for material as well as spiritual and religious reasons that our religious order was called "the Order of Qozhaya." At the time, it was commonly said that the religious order would be in no danger even if only Qozhaya survived while all the other monasteries were destroyed. On the other hand, it was claimed that should Qozhaya be destroyed, no other monastery would be able to rebuild it. (Karam 1972: 106)
IV. THE ORGANIZATIONAL PERIOD (1695-1792)
The Antiochian Syriac monastic life is rich in tradition. It facilitated the pursuit of two goals: either the individual anchoritic life or the organized community life. But when the three founders of the order decided to follow the monastic life in Lebanon, the system of organized monasteries was nonexistent. In his memoirs, Qaraalli described his experience at the Monastery of Our Lady of Tamish (Artemis). There existed a community of nine monks on one side and a group of nuns on the other side, without any superior, constitution or vows. They lived simply according to tradition. Qaraalli stated, "They lived a life of innocence and simplicity which was suitable for the righteous but very dangerous for those who were less virtuous" (Azzi 198: 27). Dandini, a pontifical envoy had made a similar observation a century earlier (Dandini 1675: 105-106).
Based on these remarks, the contemporary scholars have often concluded that the founders decided to introduce a reform; but there is a significant difference between reform and renewal. Reform  can cause complete split or can result in the creation of a different structure, whereas the renewal is generally an internal change of an entity, which is typical of the long-established religious orders of the Church. In fact, the founders were not explicit about the true goal of their endeavor.
On November 10, 1695, Patriarch Stephen Duwaihi bestowed on the founders the hooded monastic habit at Our Lady of Qannoubeen. This date marked the beginning of the religious order and the date to hold the General Chapter meetings. Saint Moura Monastery became the seat for the Generalship Office. Gabriel (Jibrayel) Farhat joined the three founders at Saint Moura Monastery that same year. The founders began organizing their way of life and started receiving new vocations. They elected Gabriel Hawwa as Superior General (1695-1699). Abdallah Qaraalli drew up 22 articles of regulations which he later condensed into 15. They also began to establish the foundations for the General and Special Chapters as well as the Order of Directors. It was decided that the General Chapter would be held once every three years and that the election of representatives would take place at the same time. The representatives, in turn, would designate the Superiors. The year 1698 appears to have been one rich in accomplishments.
However, discord soon seeped in, and in 1699 a disagreement erupted about the purpose of the order. Hawwa wanted the order to be essentially a missionary one, with a Superior General elected for life. On the other hand, Qaraalli held a majority of the members and wanted an order of monks who lived in community and carried on apostolic work as circumstances allowed. Qaraalli's views finally prevailed and he was elected Superior General by six consecutive General Chapters from 1699 until 1716, the year he was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Beirut. As for Hawwa, Patriarch Duwaihi urged him to withdraw to Saint Moura Monastery and start his own religious order. Having failed in his attempt, he left for Rome three years later, seeking to purchase a printing press. He took up permanent residence in Rome and did not return to the East until the Apostolic See sent him there on a mission. He was appointed Bishop of Cyprus in 1723.
In 1699, Gabriel Farhat became disenchanted and withdrew from the order. He settled in Zgharta where he taught children and preached. He returned to the order in 1705 and succeeded Qaraalli as Superior General. He directed the order for seven consecutive years with considerable wisdom, enriching it with his own spiritual and literary writings and translations from numerous sources. He was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Aleppo in 1725.
Neither Qaraalli nor Farhat sought ecclesiastical honors and both were saddened tremendously when they had to leave the order to which they were so deeply attached. They continued to support the order from their new positions.
Qaraalli and Farhat confided the monastic covenant to a worthy second generation that the founders had thoroughly prepared to face difficulty with firmness and resolve. Among these were two who were known for their tenacity: Michael (Mikhayel) Iskandar Al-Ehdeny and Thomas (Touma) Al-Labboudy Al-Halaby. The first pioneers and their immediate successors worked hand in hand to find a coherent juridical formula capable of governing all aspects of monastic life. In drawing up their constitution, the founders relied on the experience, patience, sense of realism, and the spiritual and psychological insight gained over the years. They also drew upon the Syriac and Eastern traditions and the constitutions of the Carmelite Friars and the Jesuit Fathers. Patriarch Duwaihi (1670-1704), in 1700, and Patriarch Jacob (Yacoob) Awwad (1705-1733), in 1725, placed their seal of approval on the result of these efforts. The latter introduced in the rule of the order three new chapters which dealt with humility, patience, and brotherly love.
Finally, the authors of these regulations found it necessary to obtain authorization from Rome. The difficulties plaguing the Maronite Church had touched the order itself during the Patriarchate of Jacob Awwad. This situation convinced the authors of the need of a guarantee for their common enterprise from the Apostolic See. Upon the suggestion of Al-Semaany, Superior General/Father Michael (Mikhayel) Iskandar (1723-1735, 1741-1742) made the journey to Rome in 1727. In collaboration with Father Youwasif Al-Dibsy Al-Biskantawy and with the approval of his Council of Assistants, Father Iskandar drew up the final draft of these rules. Pope Clement XII (1730-1740) confirmed them by Papal Bull on March 31, 1732. In 1735, they were printed simultaneously in Arabic with Syriac characters (Garshuni) and in Latin by the Propagation of Faith Press in Rome at the expense of the order. The title given to them was "The Constitution and Monastic Statutes Pertaining to the Congregation of the Lebanese Order", nicknamed "The Black Rule." This remained in force until 1938 when “The Red Rule” replaced it.
Having achieved so much in organizational affairs, the order had an increase in vocations and enjoyed a famous period in which it grew and flourished. Because of the steady growth of the order in Mount Lebanon, in 1706 Qaraalli, gave it the name of "Lebanese Order" which it still retains. Thus, a firm organic relationship, like a mother-child relationship, was established between the Lebanese Maronite Order and Lebanon.
Many monks in numerous other monasteries joined the new order and unconditionally entrusted all their possessions to it. The ledgers of the monasteries give us detailed figures about the responsibilities the order assumed as a result. The order restored old monasteries, added new floors, paid debts and taxes and provided pastoral service for the people in the surrounding areas.
The vibrant dynamism of this new movement was soon to bear fruit. Nine new monasteries joined in addition to those that had already joined, beginning with Mart (Saint) Moura on August 1, 1695 and St. Elisha the Prophet in Bsharre on April 1, 1696. In February of 1706, the order gained a foothold in the Shouf area with the monastery of Saint John at Rashmaya and in Kesrouan with the monastery of Our Lady of Louayzi in 1706. The order acquired the monastery of Saint Anthony at Seer near Rashmaya in 1707 and Saint Anthony's Monastery at Qozhaya on July 5, 1708. By that time, the order felt self-confident and began building a new monastery of the Virgin (Al-Azra) at the Al-Drayebin Al-Qobayat in 1710, although this was subsequently abandoned. The order acquired the monasteries of Saints Peter and Paul at Krayem Al-Teen, near Beit Shabab, in 1712, Our Lady of Tamish Deeck Al-Mahdy in 1727, Saint Elias of Shwaya in 1728, the religious house in Tripoli in 1734, the monastery of Our Lady of Mashmoushy in 1736, and Our Lady of Hawqa in 1737. In 1736, the order founded the Convent of Saint Elias Al-Rass, the first canonically-erected house of the Lebanese Maronite nuns. It was built in the spirit of the regulation, which had eliminated combined monasteries for both sexes. This resulted in disagreements whose consequences endured until 1828, when Patriarch Joseph Hobaish (1823-1845), a man of firm principles, put an end to it all.
The order expanded its mission in 1737 to serve the Maronites of Cyprus and Akka. This action provoked a conflict with the Latin-rite missionaries who claimed that they alone had the right to minister to the Maronites in these two regions as well as in Beirut and Tripoli.
The order, aware of the needs of the faithful and wanting to honor its commitments, rented several pieces of real estate for that purpose. The most important of them was Bakleek in Ain Baqra, as well as others in Seb’el. In 1713, it paid the taxes on these properties. It acquired the Mill of Abi Ali in Tripoli in 1715.
However, growth was soon followed by problems. Some of those who had donated their possessions to the order rescinded their offer and reclaimed their gifts. They later returned them. For the first time, the order accumulated a debt and began distributing part of that debt (18,327.30 piastres) among the monasteries, while the Generalship Office assumed the responsibility to pay the rest.
It appears that these debts did not include the six thousand piastres the order donated toward the expenses of the Lebanese Synod. Father Thomas Al-Labboudy, Superior General (1735-1741), estimated in 1739 that the interest had reached six thousand piastres. (Bleibel 1924: 324) This financial situation worried Qaraalli and caused difficulties with far-reaching consequences. The number of monks in the order had reached 210 during the first forty years of its founding.
It was during this period that a decision was reached on the style for a standard religious habit. The preference was one piece without an opening and buttons in front to distinguish it from the cassock worn by secular clergy. It was woven from wool, which was plentiful locally and much cheaper than imported cotton. The monastic hood was made of the same material and the shirt was made of cotton. (Bleibel 1924: 153-154, 158) Al-Labboudy attempted to send some of the monks to learn weaving from the Franciscans. Al-Semaany promised help in this endeavor (Bleibel 1924: 324-325).
The rule of "Protocol" became embodied in the regulation. It was reinforced by precedence and consecrated by tradition. The position of the Superior General became most senior of all. Like a Bishop, he had the right to wear and carry pontifical insignia. After him, the order of seniority is Assistants in the first, second, third and fourth level, followed by the Superior of the Monastery of St. John at Rashmaya. He is followed by the Superior of Saint Anthony at Qozhaya and then by the other Superiors according to the date of their vows and their age. The proper religious salutation was also agreed upon.
The founders were particularly concerned about the spiritual issues, which they considered the keystone for the continuity of the order. They composed several books defining its spirituality and directing the spiritual formation of its members. Their works had great influence on the spiritual and intellectual life, not only of the Maronites, but also of the other people of the Middle East. These masterpieces became a plentiful source from which future generations of the entire region could quench their spiritual thirst.
The spiritual, historical, and intellectual richness of this great heritage has not yet been studied sufficiently. Traditional historians have given scant attention to this subject. As for those us who are fully aware of the importance of this question and of its role as an integral part of the glorious history of our order, we will limit ourselves to a simple mention as evidence of the legacy, while also promising a detailed study in the future. Because we realize the importance of the spiritual and character formation of the monks, we feel it is a subject that needs to be treated separately.
The spirituality of the order is transfigured through the various ascetic practices and intellectual exercises and through the writings of the founders and the reading of the believers.
Qaraalli finished his interpretation of these Rules in 1721. His work was entitled "The Monastic Lamp for the Explanation of the Lebanese Rule." This document was widely used in all the monasteries of Lebanon and the Middle East, where several copies still exist. There is, in particular, a copy in the author's handwriting at Saint Anthony's Monastery in Rome and it is dated 1721; there is also Manuscript No. 440 at the See of the Maronite Bishop of Aleppo and it dates back to 1727. Father George Mourani, a Lebanese Aleppine priest, printed the book at the Samya Press in 1956. After the Gospels, this book with its various sources and wealth of contents became the daily spiritual nourishment for the monks. In 1727, the sections written by Qaraalli, namely the poems and Ephrameeyat became well known in the churches and monasteries. They touched a responsive spiritual chord in the heart of the people. However, they soon caused an argument, as the Maronite hierarchy considered them too modern and alien to the Maronite belief and religious customs.
When Qaraalli became Bishop of the See of Beirut, a very sensitive post, during a period in which the overwhelming majority of Maronites still inhabited the mountain villages, he composed a book containing 32 chapters entitled "Summary of the Law" and another similar one entitled "Lebanese Jurisprudence." He did all this at the request of the Maronite Church authorities, who, ever since the Middle Ages, had been trying to legitimize its legislation. This work of Bishop Qaraalli constituted the most complete collection written until then. It included some of the essentials of all constitutions going back to the Romans, including those of Theodorius and Justinian as well as the Arabs.
Qaraalli’s collection, in conjunction with the decisions of General Chapters and the Councils of Assistants as well as the numerous property deeds and contract relating to mortmain and co-ownership and so on, all show that the order acquired a unique level of socioeconomic heritage beyond any other institution. Any scholar can find the manuscript of these two books in the Archives at Bkerke. The oldest dates to 1734. Peter Ghaleb published extracts from the "Summary" in numbers 5 and 6 in the "Patriarchal Magazine" of 1930 and 1931, while Paul Massad published the entire text in 1959. As to the "Lebanese Jurisprudence," it exists only in manuscript form. Father John Alwan analyzed these two books in his thesis, which he presented at the Lateran University in 1985.
With regard to Gabriel Farhat, who rivaled Qaraalli and surpassed him in several disciplines, he wrote several works that took front stage. The earliest are the following:
- Al-Mousallassat Al-Doreyet (The Scintillating Triads), written at the Monastery of Saint Elisha the Prophet in Bsharry in 1706.
- Al-Khotab Al-Beayat (The Ecclesiastical Sermons) in 1707.
- Deewan Farhat (The Collection of Farhat), a masterpiece of science and literature. There were several editions.
- Al-Kamal Al-Maseehy, (Christian Perfection). Farhat wrote it when he was Superior General.
- Al-‘Erab ‘An Lughat Al-‘Arab, a grammatical analysis of the Arabic language in 1723. There is one copy of this book at the library of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem and two copies at the "Bibliotheque Nationale" in Paris numbered par. ar. 4279, 4280. Roshayed Al-Dehdah had it printed and called it "Ahkam Bab Al-‘Erab ‘An Lughat Al-‘Arab: Rules of Analysis of the Arabic Language.”
- Synksar Al-Qeddeseen (Martyrology of Saints), completed in 1724.
- The Attainment of Eloquence in the Study of Literature. In this work, Farhat analyzes the different or new aspects of rhetoric and style. There is one copy, in the author's handwriting, at the library of the Maronite Diocese of Aleppo and another at the British Library under the reference ar. chr. 34 (1699). Inaam Fawwal obtained the first part about style and Dar Al-Mashreq published it in 1990 in the series entitled "Texts and Studies".
- Bahs Al-Mataleb Fi ‘Ilm Al-‘Arabeya. In this book, the author discusses Arabic grammar. This became a valuable source of reference for any student of Arabic morphology and syntax. It also became the essential manual in Lebanese schools for a long time. There are several editions and the latest is very recent.
Farhat's writings produced dual benefits: a mastery of linguistic and literary forms and the transmission of religious culture. Farhat took his examples from the Holy Bible and the teachings of the Church Fathers. The founders defined clearly the spirituality of the order by forming the Confraternity of Saint Anthony in 1725 and published his book in 1727. We have already mentioned the influence this saint had on the piety of the Maronites (Bleibel 1924: 229). They also arranged the periods of fasting and the cycle of religious feasts (Bleibel 1924: 204-208).
The founders also spiced up our Oriental spirituality with certain elements of Western practice that they brought with them from Aleppo. In 1727, they joined the Congregation of the Rosary and later the Confraternity of the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. They declared the Feast of Corpus Christi as a holy day of obligation in the order. They also began to celebrate the Passion of Christ every Friday night during Lent, beginning in 1743 (Bleibel 1924: 140-196, 374-375). These were the teachings of the First Golden Age, as the first period of the order came to be known.
V. PERIOD OF DIFFICULTIES (1742-1770)
Shortly after the death of two of the founders, Farhat in 1732 and Qaraalli in 1742, Father Thomas Al-Labboudy, the former Superior General, was called to Rome to answer allegations brought against him. In 1742, the order experienced a very serious conflict. It lasted for over a quarter of a century and resulted in the order splitting up into the Lebanese Maronite Order (Baladite or Baladiya) and the Maronite Order of Aleppo (Halabiya) in 1768.
Historians have devoted extensive studies to this tumultuous period and have published numerous documents with various opinions about this split. Father Louis Bleibel devoted the second part of his history to this subject, and Abbot Peter Fahd dedicated the fourth part of his collection to the same topic (See Bleibel 1925, Fahd 1966). We believe that this upheaval rocked not only the order but also the Maronite Church and Mount Lebanon itself. It is history and should be relegated to the past.
As a result of this conflict, the Maronite Order simultaneously had two equal authorities as of December 1744. There were several attempts at reconciliation and reunification, but to no avail. All these efforts ended in failure in 1748 and the division became final in 1753. Patriarch Joseph Estephan (1766-1793) accepted it in 1768, and Pope Clement XIV (1769-1774) confirmed it by Papal Bull on July 19, 1770.
At this time, the number of the Lebanese Monks had reached 190, and only one had come from Aleppo. There were 61 Aleppine Monks and five of them were Lebanese. It should be noted that most of the monasteries that were in the order during the conflict, such as St. Michael at Bnabeel 1756, St. George at Al-Neameh 1757, and St. Moses the Ethiopian (Al-Habashy) at Douwar 1757, passed into the hands of the Baladite (Lebanese) Order. In 1766, Emir (Prince) Joseph Shehab took the advice of his two trusted advisers, Sheiks Saad Khoury and Simon Bitar, and transferred the administration of the monasteries and their properties in the Jbail and Batroun regions to the Lebanese Baladite Order. The order assumed full responsibility with great zeal. There was considerable development of the monastic and Christian presence in the whole region. Furthermore, the taxes generated from these properties were a welcome addition to the treasury of the Shehab Emirate.
VI. THE PERIOD OF DEVELOPMENT AND PROSPERITY (1770-1832)
The Lebanese Maronites lost little time recovering from the sad consequences of the split. They entered into a new period, lasting about 62 years that covered the last third of the eighteenth century and the first third of the nineteenth century. During this time, nearly 20 General Chapters were convened. Also during this period, highly qualified monks were appointed to positions of great responsibility. The order regained the dynamism of its beginnings and once again played a pioneering role in the organization of the Maronite Church. It took part in the regional synods that confirmed the decisions of the Lebanese Synod of 1736 and put an end to the difficulties caused by the case brought against the nun Hindiyeh.[iv]
In July 1780, the order hosted the Synod of Mayfouq at Mayfouq monastery and assumed all the expenses (Bleibel 1959: 57). The order became a trusted source of counsel for the Maronite Church. Thus, in 1783 Cardinal Antonelli consulted Superior General, Father Mark (Marcos) Haddad Al-Kifaai, about the reliability of Patriarch Joseph Estephan and in 1784, Patriarch Estephan himself asked the order to help administer the Maronite Church (Bleibel 1959: 80-81).
In September of 1786, the Order took part in the Synod of Wata Al-Jawz. It sent a high delegation to the Synod of Bkerke held on December 13, 1790. This delegation included Superior General Emmanuel Gemayel (1790-1793, 1796-1799, 1802-1805, 1808-1810), his assistant Father Mark Al-Kifaai, Father Ni'matallah Najjar, and Father Emmanuel Al-Rashnawy, who represented the Bishop of Aleppo. During this Synod, they decided that the Superior General was to become part of the Maronite hierarchy, immediately below bishop in prominence. The Lebanese Order allotted the Maronite Patriarchate a regular sum of money called "pension or wages", to be used as needed. This amount increased as years went by (Bleibel 1959: 18).
By participating effectively in the regional synods, the Lebanese Order hoped to coordinate with the Maronite Patriarch and the Bishops the mission of pastoral services and education in schools. Generally, the order was able to overcome the obstacles it encountered, particularly in churches in the Jbail region and at Saint Taqla in Mrouj.
The order also acquired exclusive rights for the distribution of the so-called “Saint Anthony books” [i.e. “writings": once handwritten but now printed, the prayer is folded into a triangle and then enclosed in a prayer pouch along with a relic, crucifix or religious medal, which is worn around the neck] and granting indulgences. However, the order did not succeed in having one of its monks consecrated as bishop. This would have enabled its priest to be ordained by its own bishop at its own altars.
During this period, more printing was done, mostly religious material to be used by the monks at daily prayers. Again, the order acquired a printing press  and initially installed it in the Monastery of Saint Moses the Ethiopian (Mar Moussa Al-Habashy) at Douwar. It was later moved in the early nineteenth century to the Monastery of Saint Anthony (Mar Antonios) at Qozhaya. The order spent a considerable amount of money on equipment and general upkeep, but the typesetting and printing methods remained very primitive until the second half of the nineteenth century. The supply of books could not meet the demand and spiritual books were still copied by hand. The press of the Propagation of Faith in Rome continued as the supplier when a large number of copies was required. "Al-Shheemeh" (Breviary), a collection of daily prayers of the Brothers living in Rome, was published in 1781 (Bleibel 1925: 73).
The Breviary and the guide for celebrating the Liturgy or the Mass were published at Saint Moses the Ethiopian in 1789 (Bleibel 1925: 108). The printing of the Anaphora of the Liturgy took place for the first time in 1816 at the Monastery of Saint Anthony at Qozhaya. Joseph Dibs, Bishop of Beirut, reprinted it at the end of the nineteenth century (Bleibel 1925: 230). The Breviary was also reprinted, this time in Rome, when Father Antonios Al-Shammouty was sent there in 1828 and 1830. Mr. Mathew (Matta) Shehwan supervised the editing and Mr. Ghantous Kouba paid the cost (Bleibel 1925: 261-262, 271). No significant writings is worthy of comparison to the literary works of the early days of the order.
The order also achieved notable economical progress during this period, which became known as the Second Golden Age. It consolidated its presence in the already established centers and ventured out in new regions. Listed below is a summary of its achievements in Mount Lebanon.
In 1771, the order rented land on Mount Toura from the Barra family, Kfarhouma nobles. The order subsequently acquired ownership of the entire parcel and attached it to the Monastery of Our Lady of Mashmoushy (Bleibel 1925: 8). The same year, the order began construction of the Church of Saint Joseph in Baskinta (Bleibel 1925: 54). The order also extended itself into new territories, especially in the Zahly region where the Abillamaa Emirs (Princes), feudal lords of the region, donated a piece of land to the Order to build a religious house (Ontoush) and to construct a church which would serve the peasants and sharecroppers who worked for these lords (Bleibel 1925: 13, 20).
In 1772, the Order entered into a joint venture with the Hammady family
at a farm in Kfarshally near Mayfouq (Bleibel 1925: 12). It founded the
Monastery of Mar Abda at Maad and the following year built a school in
1773 (Bleibel 1925: 73). It bought half of the land at Saint Shina Kfarzayna
from Sheik Daher in 1781 (29). It rented half the land at Mjaydel-Koura
from Sheik Ghandour Al-Khoury and attached it to the Convent of Saint Elias
Al-Rass in 1781. In the same year, the order acquired land in Bsarma from
Emir Ali-Shehab by paying the taxes on the land (Bleibel 1925: 75).
Our Lady of Mayfouq Monastery, Mayfoug, Lebanon.
Photo: Courtesy of the Lebanese Maronite Order, Lebanon, 1998.
The Ashqar Family, in 1785, gave the order the Monastery of St. Anthony at Beit Shabab in mortmain (Bleibel 1925: 84). In 1786, the order bought land near St. George Monastery at Naameh from the benefactor Sheik Kenaan Nakd, and in 1801, half of Jal-Al-Bahr was also acquired and attached to this monastery (Bleibel 1925: 88, 153). In 1788, the order also received land in Wadi Shahrour from Emir Joseph Shehab in order to build a church that would serve the children of sharecroppers (Bleibel 1925: 101).
- In 1792, the Order was given Saint Taqla's Church in Mrouj
- The Ghassoub Family donated in mortmain, property in Beit al-Sheaar and Frayeky in 1800 (Bleibel 1925: 152).
- In 1805 the order received the mortmain of Suzan Germain at Aashash. This gift brought with it complications and lawsuits that were settled amicably in 1832 (Bleibel 1925: 175).
- In 1806, the Order received property in Baan to build a school (Bleibel 1925: 190).
- In 1811, Emir Bashir Shehab donated land to Superior General, Father Ignatios Bleibel (1811-1832) at Maallaqat Zahly for the construction of a religious house (Ontoush) and a church to serve the peasants. However, the Emir imposed several strict conditions, such as forbidding the order from hiring his sharecroppers or their animals to cultivate the land (Bleibel 1925: 209). The settlement of the order in these regions strengthened the Christian presence in the Beqaa Valley and the surrounding areas. At the same time, it also established a strong link between these regions and Mount Lebanon.
- The order established Saint Maron Monastery at Annaya as of 1814 and attached to it lands purchased in Kfarbeaal (Bleibel 1925:241, 264).
- It increased its presence in the hills around Jbail; and in 1815, it received the mortmain of Saints Sarkis and Bacchus at Qartaba, where it built a school for the local residents (Bleibel 1925: 220).
- The purchase of an orchard in Ajaltoun in 1818 led to problems for the order (Bleibel 1925: 239).
- Thanks to Emir Bashir II, the order was able to buy land in the Laqlouq region in 1827, and attached it to Our Lady of Mayfouq's Monastery (Bleibel 1925: 260). Superior General Father Ignatios Bleibel personally handled these projects, which contributed to a flourishing Christianity in these regions.
- In 1831, the order founded a school at Rass Al-Matn, but had to abandon it when the Abillamaa Emirs left the area (Bleibel 1925: 275).
The Ottoman governors (Walis) continuously harassed the Shehab Emirs throughout this period. They confiscated crops, exhorted money, killed the inhabitants and seized properties in Mount Lebanon. Driven by their greed, they exploited the region according to their whims, without any pity for the population or concern for the good of the country. The despotism and cruelty of Ahmad Basha surpassed anything in history.
Governors and feudal lords used the most far-fetched pretexts to extort taxes from the order. Oppressed by this fiscal burden, the order frequently asked the authorities to review the official "cadastre" in order to put an end to this tyranny and injustice. The "cadastre" was the land survey that showed the correct boundaries and estimated its productive capacity. Taxes were based on the result of this survey. Here are some examples of what this could imply: in 1787, Emir Joseph (Yousef) Shehab appointed a committee to survey the lands belonging to St. Anthony Monastery at Qozhaya (Bleibel 1925: 95) and in 1791, Emir Shehab II imposed a tax equal to 30 measures.
Following the intervention of Superior General, Father Emmanuel Gemayel, the Emir reduced his demand, thus lowering it to 8,400 piastres. The Council of Assistants suggested that this burden be shared among the different monasteries (Bleibel 1925: 114).
In 1802, the sons of Emir Joseph Shehab ordered a survey of the lands of Saints Cyprian and Justine's Monasteries at Kfifan and Saint Elias Al-Rass (Bleibel 1925: 158). Emir Bashir II imposed an exorbitant tax on all the order's properties in the Jbail and Batroun regions in 1812, but modified his demands at the request of the Superior General, Father Ignatios Bleibel (Bleibel 1925: 212). He ordered a new land survey for the monastery at Zaweeye, at the request of Superior General Bleibel, in order to alleviate the injustices committed against the Order (Bleibel 1925: 273-274).
The order often paid not only the taxes exacted on its properties, but also those imposed on its sharecroppers and the poor. It considered this action to be a national duty that would help ensure the stability and legitimacy of the Shehab Emirate and, at the same time, protect the autonomy of Mount Lebanon where the order had flourished. The Superior General, Father Ignatios Bleibel, who was elected seven times – approximately 22 years – as head of the order deserves much of the credit for showing such great understanding of the situation. There was a solid friendship between him and Emir Bashir Shehab II. However, Emir Amin, Emir Bashir's son, turned against the Superior General who refused to lend him the price of a farm at Majdel Aqoura. The Emir encouraged a rebellion among a group of disgruntled monks who had complained about the long and extended mandate of the Superior General. When the General Chapter met at the monastery of Our Lady of Tamish in 1832, the majority of the monks were ready to renew Father Bleibel’s mandate for another term. However, the minority staged a sit-in at the monastery of Saint Joseph Al-Bourj. The Maronite Patriarch was called to mediate between the two parties and as a result, Father Bleibel gave up his position as Superior General in order to avoid the danger of a split in the order. As a compromise, Father Benedict Halayhal was elected Superior General (1832-1835) and so this period ended with repercussions felt for years to come.
VII. A PERIOD OF TRANSFORMATION (1832-1913)
This period of change and upheaval lasted approximately eighty-one years, during which eighteen Superior Generals led the order. Some of them served for more than one term, either by election or by appointment. There were some who did not finish even one term, because of illness or death.
At the beginning of this period, in 1834, there were 573 monks, of whom 211 were priests, 313 brothers, and 49 novices at the monasteries of Saints Cyprian and Justine at Kfifan and Saint Maron at Beer Sneen. In 1908, the number rose to 900 monks, of whom 700 were priests and 200 were brothers. In 1884, when Father Martin Saba Al-Ghostawy was Superior General (1875-1889), the Holy See issued an order forbidding the Novitiate to accept more candidates for monastic life.
On a political level, the European conflict erupted in our region and undermined the foundation of the Shehab Emirate, leading to chaos and disaster. After the Egyptians withdrew from Mount Lebanon in 1840, the great powers fueled the fires of the sectarian clashes which erupted between the Druzes and the Maronites in 1841, 1845, and 1860. These countries installed weak regimes in Mount Lebanon, namely the direct military government of the Ottoman Turks, the two "Qaimmaqameeyat," as well as the Shakeeb Afandy regime. The “Moutasarefeeyat” replaced that in 1861. This form of government received tacit approval from the Lebanese people.
The order suffered greatly during these crises. Thirty-six of its monks were killed. It also sustained huge material losses estimated as being millions of piastres. Most of its monasteries in the Matn and Shouf were either destroyed or ransacked. The monks soothed their spiritual and material wounds by reclaiming the treasures of their monastic life. With tenacity, patience, and hope, they rebuilt all that had been destroyed.
In the sphere of economics, the industrial revolution hit the region in 1830, and with it came interdependency on the international trade exchange. As a result, European merchandise flooded the local market and shook the very foundations of the rural economy. The commercial treaties, concluded between the great powers and the Ottoman empire in 1838 and 1861, determined the terms of exchange. They controlled prices and imposed excessive duties on transportation and customs. The trade exchange increased through the years and created the need for cash liquidity. This encouraged people to save money in order to meet the demands of the new standard of living and to pay taxes.
The monks adhered to these new conditions very reluctantly. Like so many other Lebanese, they worked to improve the cultivation of mulberry trees and to raise silkworms. The production of silk increased to meet the commercial demands of the time. Using these means, the monks were able to secure the cash to ensure the daily basics of life and to pay their debts and taxes. They tried their utmost to protect this sector of the economy, which was often exposed to problems ranging from disease afflicting the silkworms to fluctuating political and economical factors. At the end of the nineteenth century, they were forced to purchase silkworm eggs directly from France. Silk production remained their most important economical resource to the extent that the area of arable land was calculated by the sum of money devoted to planting mulberry trees. Shortly before World War I, the Ottoman authorities imposed a blockade on the mountains and this stifled the silkworm farmer and his industry. Apple and other fruit orchards took over most of the mountainous terrain. The silk spinning operations continued to function at a lower rate until the 1960s. Efforts to restore the glorious past failed and the doors of that industry finally closed.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, a new social class appeared. It represented commissioners and brokers who took over the silkworm trade. They profited from the decline of traditional aristocracy and from the readiness of the farmers to turn to them to ensure the sale of their product. The members of this new social class acquired enormous wealth and considerable importance in Lebanese society. Even the monks made use of their services to secure a market for their products.
Also during the second half of the nineteenth century, the order released some of its members for apostolic work. They began teaching in schools and serving in parishes. This compelled the order to depend on others to tend the land. These workers were either sharecroppers or seasonal laborers. However, with the growth of the economic crisis and the steady rise in the cost of living, the sharecroppers devoted their time to their own businesses and the labor force diminished. All these factors contributed to higher wages. For example, a worker earned half a piastre a day in the first half of the nineteenth century and two piastres a day by the end of this century. This sudden rise in inflation resulted in an economic stagnation that cost the order dearly. The largest monasteries, such as Saint Anthony at Qozhaya and the monastery of Our Lady of Mashmoushy, ran large deficits, while others were crushed under the burden of debt.
The economic crisis forced the order to rely increasingly on the sharecropping system. The method of "co-ownership" worked well at first. The monks considered their support of their sharecroppers to be an integral part of their humanitarian mission. They did not differentiate between the sharecroppers and themselves. The order entrusted its possession to the sharecroppers. It offered them seeds and tools as well as half of the crop. It paid their taxes, assured them protection and educated their children.
As the economic crisis grew worse, the traditional close social relationship that had existed began to unravel. This precipitated economic and social problems that peaked in 1861, when the inhabitants of Btiddeen Al-Laqsh sued the Monastery of Our Lady of Mashmoushy. The order won the case thanks to its lawyer, Father Ignatios Shekry. He advised the Superior General, Father Lawrence Yammeen Al-Shababy, to record the legal judgment in the archives at the Generalship Office at Our Lady of Tamish and in the registers of Our Lady of Mayfouq, Saint Anthony at Qozhaya, the Maronite Patriarchate and all the other religious orders, because these institutions might profit from such a judgment in the future. The foresight of this priest-lawyer was invaluable when the same problem occurred again at the end of the nineteenth century and on the eve of World War I (1914-1918). In the spirit of charity toward neighbors and the love of peace and good understanding, the order ceded its rights. The sharecroppers of Al-‘Arbat also sued the Monastery at Qozhaya, but the order fought this case and, thanks to Father Joseph Raffoul won, albeit at a high cost to the order.
The long-lasting economical recession caused a large-scale emigration of the work force, including the monasteries' sharecroppers. The monasteries were left to care for the families who were left behind and they accomplished this task admirably.
During this depression, the possessions of the order became a source of contention, to the point where several irresponsible individuals called for their confiscation and redistribution, heedless of history and the order's past accomplishments and good deeds. The state itself violated the principles of private property when it built a quarantine center and an isolation hospital as well as a gas company on the order's land in Karantina. The state also demolished a religious house in the heart of Beirut on the claim of widening the road. This was done with no compensation to the order, which accepted all this in the public interest. The same thing is now happening to the order's properties in Al-Naameh and Damour.
Starting in 1830, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox foreign missionaries increased their educational activities in Lebanon. All social classes, ever since the "Moutasarefeeyat", have demanded a better educational system. Wishing to maintain its vanguard role in society, the order stayed in direct contact with its roots: the Lebanese population. From the time it was founded, the order had cared for the spiritual, educational and material welfare of the Lebanese people.
The order embarked on an expanded educational program by opening schools throughout the country, the most important being Beit Lahya founded in 1836, Rass Al-Matn in 1831, Al-Sheaneeye in 1839, Hamlaya in 1849, Ain Zebdee in 1853, the two at Azra and Kfarheeyal in 1854, the renovated school of Saint Joseph Al-Mtayen in 1866, Wadi Jezzeen in 1873, Eghby in 1890, the seminary at Beirut in 1891, those of Rashmaya, Al-Shaqadeef and Baabdat in 1896, Batha in 1904, and Tourzaya in 1932.
Some of these schools did not survive for the reasons described. Nevertheless, their number indicated clearly the missionary path the order had embraced. The order limited its commitment to primary school education and it tried its best to eliminate illiteracy. Foreign missions, on the other hand, provided higher education. Lebanon consequently witnessed a dynamic cultural movement unique in the Arab world. A new class of intellectuals emerged and entered the work force. These individuals devoted themselves to such professions as teaching, medicine, journalism and law. Public administration absorbed a large number of these highly competent professionals.
This cultural development caused some negative repercussions in the country. There was a great shift in the work force toward higher education and away from agriculture. At the time, there were no plans to develop a thriving industrial sector. Neither the local authorities nor the Ottoman empire perceived any danger. As for the existence of books during this period, scholars have found no traces of any valuable works. Translation was at a standstill and printing was limited to liturgical and theological works and translated histories. In 1856, the order bought a printing press and installed it in Our Lady of Tamish Monastery, where some printing continued.
The internal situation of the order deteriorated as a result of the disorder in the region. Superiors of monasteries and monks remained in their home territory and neglected to travel to attend the periodical meetings for consultation and coordination. This chaotic situation brought gradual direct intervention by Rome and the appointment of the Superior General. Father Saba Kraydy Al-Aqoury was the first to be appointed in 1845. Father Lawrence Yammeen Al-Shababy was appointed twice to the post, in 1850 and again in 1856 following the so-called "Synod of Shwadeeh." Al-Shababy extended his authority over most of the monasteries in the Jbail and Jibbet regions. The monasteries in the Matn and the Shouf regions came under the jurisdiction of Father Arsenios Al-Neehawy, who was elected Superior General. Shortly before his death, Father Al-Neehawy was reconciled with Father Al-Shababy in 1859, and the order was once again reunited under one Superior, Father Al-Shababy. He remained the elected Superior General until 1862.
In order to insure the continued unity of the order, Rome resorted to apostolic visitations. Bishop Joseph Geagea, head of the Diocese of Cyprus, was the first apostolic delegate from 1857 to 1874. Father Ephrem Geagea Al-Bsherrany became Superior General of the order for twelve years (1862-1874).
The Apostolic Vicar, Ludovicci Piavi, who was Italian, took over the visitation (1875-1889). A man known for his short temper, he was unable to solve disputes except by using harsh methods. He had a Latin version replace the Arabic text of the Lebanese Synod of 1736, which had safeguarded the autonomy of the Maronite Church and the authority of the Patriarch. He even tried to subject the newly elected Maronite Patriarch and bishops to an investiture by an Ottoman decree. He ignored the regulation of the Lebanese Order and tried hard to gain favor with Rustom Basha, the Turkish governor. His actions provoked great opposition led by Yousef Bey-Karam of Ehden. This resistance angered the Apostolic Vicar who, together with the local government authorities, tried to suppress it.
Governor Rustom Basha aggravated the situation when he visited Ehden. While there, he summoned the monks of Saint Anthony's Monastery at Qozhaya, harassed and humiliated them, and ordered some of them to be put in the Beit El-Deen prison. While they were passing near Batroun, some of their brother monks from the monasteries of Jbail and Batroun tried to free them but were prevented by a platoon of the Gendarmerie. When these monks reached the prison at Beit El-Deen, they were put to hard labor. This harsh treatment resulted in the death of several of them. Nothing like this had ever happened before under the Ottoman empire.
The Council of Assistants within the order took precautions by transferring some of the monks as well as part of the properties to the nearby religious centers. The ensuing Apostolic visits prevented the order from achieving any positive results through the General Chapters. The last ten years of the nineteenth century were marked by calls for reform. All eyes were on Father Benedict Salamy Al-Mtayny, a graduate of the Jesuit University of St. Joseph at Beirut. Superior General, Father Salamy (1891-1895) tried his best to restore normality but failed, mainly because of the above-mentioned difficulties.
In 1883, Jesuit Father Martinov drew up the first reform plan. It was revised by the "Propagation of Faith" and then presented to the monks. It included a letter from the Superior General, Father Martin El-Shemaly (1895-1899) and it dealt with the same subjects. Patriarch Al-Hwayek (1899-1932) issued the same recommendations.
Apostolic Vicar Duval subsequently took over the apostolic visitations. Rome ensured the inclusion of Patriarch Al-Hwayek on the committee. This visitation lasted from 1898 to 1907 and was marked by interference in the affairs of the order by the bishops who were close to the Patriarch. The Superior General, Father Joseph Raffoul (1904-1910), vigorously defended the order. His great courage and skill were reminiscent of the enthusiasm and zeal of the Founders and the first generation of monks, particularly Al-Labboudy. Both Raffoul and Al-Labboudy shared the same fighting spirit and intellect; and, to a great degree, the spirituality of Qaraalli and Farhat. This visitation ceased when Raffoul drew up his own secret report and sent it to the Propagation of Faith and the Holy See.
Another visitation began and covered all three pontifical Maronite Orders. Three Latin-rite monks were in charge. Two of them later withdrew and Father Galland became the sole member. This visitation encountered a strong underground press campaign led by the Order's historian, Father Louis Bleibel, and supported by Father Raffoul. Patriarch Al-Hwayek gave his blessing to this campaign because he considered these visitations to be intrusions upon his authority. The newspaper "Al-Manazer," which belonged to Naoum Al-Baabdaty, published the details of this campaign. The newspaper "Al-Bashir" also backed the campaign. The visitation stopped during World War I and resumed in 1922. Father Galland personally analyzed these shortcomings and in a long report in 1911, he recommended the proper solutions to these various problems. Series of short reports about each individual order were written but were never made public.
At this time, Father Louis Bleibel began writing a history of the order. Superior General Raffoul presented a most valuable study of the law and regulation of the order based on his long experience in their application. He attached to this study an economic survey in which he evaluated the resources of the order between 1904 and 1907. He valued them at "2,763,790 piastres," minus the expenses necessary to maintain the various properties. As a result, each member of the eight hundred monks, nuns and novices in the order would be allocated three piastres and five baras. This meager amount was to cover all their individual expenses and any unforeseeable but necessary building work. The individual monks used this amount to share in the expenses of guests, servants or for natural disasters. Father Raffoul's remarks are similar to those made by Father Al-Labboudy 150 years earlier. Father Raffoul was the first person to establish a correlation between the number of monks and the volume of their production. He excluded students, novices and the aging from the productive labor force.
This calculation gives us an idea about agriculture in Lebanon in the early twentieth century and about an institution that made it its principal resource. Superior General, Father Genadios Sarkis (1910-1913), continued his effort to control these economic matters, imitating the initiatives of his predecessor Father Joseph Raffoul. He organized the Department of General Economics that managed the business affairs of the Order. Superior General Sarkis addressed a letter to all superiors of monasteries, brought to their attention the debt of the order and gave them instructions for maintaining accurate records and ledgers. He sought to designate the Monastery of Saint Elias at Kahlouneeye as a convent for those who wished to live a completely cloistered life. He also began making the distinction between the simple and permanent vows as prescribed by previous councils. However, World War I (1914-1918) prevented full realization of these projects.
The second half of the nineteenth century ended on an optimistic note. The order embarked on a successful building program. Monasteries were built next to the numerous schools enumerated above. New religious centers branched out of the old monasteries, specified in the following list.
- In 1840, the Monastery of Saint Jacob (Mar Yacoob) Al-Hosn, near Douma. The property was detached from one of Saint Anthony at Houb, to serve the Maronites of the region.
- In 1845, the Monastery of Saint Rock (Mar Roukoz) at Mrah El-Mir. The property was detached from the General House of the Order at Nahr Al-Saleeb and Ajaltoun.
- In 1847, the Monastery of Saint Anthony at Jdaydeh and the Monastery of Saint George at Aashash. These properties were detached from Saint Anthony's Monastery at Qozhaya.
- In 1847, the Monastery of Saint John Maron at Qobbayaa. The property was detached from the monastery of Saint Elias at Kahlouneeye.
- In 1847, the Monastery of Saint Artemius (Mar Shallita) at Al-Qottara. Superior General, Father Lawrence Yammeen Al-Shababy took charge of its construction in 1851.
- In 1851, the Monastery of Saint George at Deir Beit Janneen. This property was in ruins when the order received it from Bishop Paul Kassab.
- In 1854, the Monastery of Saints Peter and Paul at Azra.
- In 1855, the religious house (Ontoush) of Saint Anthony at Jaffa.
- In 1858, the religious house of Our Lady at Baalbeck.
- In 1863, the Monastery of the Holy Savior at Bhanneen.
- In 1863, the order accepted the Convent of Saint Simon the Stylite (Mar Simaan Al-‘Amoudy) at Al-Qarn, Ayto, from Bishop Paul Moussa. It was used to care for the nuns.
- In 1876, the Monastery of Our Lady of Deliverance at Bsarma. The property was detached from the Monastery of St. Anthony at Qozhaya.
- In 1879, the Monastery of Our Lady of Victory at Ghosta. This property became the site of a school for those entering the order (Sfeir 1983; Rizk 1994: 185-196). This monastery embodies the magnificence of monastic architecture of the time.
- In 1894, the Convent of Saint Maron at Qnaytra, built for the Lebanese Maronite nuns.
- In 1907, the Monastery of Saint Anthony at Nabateeye. The property was detached from the Monastery of Our Lady of Mashmoushy.
From this expansion, we can sense the dual directions the order had undertaken. It was increasing its missionary sphere and at the same time, it was embarking on a reform program. Superior General, Father Saba Kraydy Al-Aqoury had sent the first group of monks to study at the Jesuit College at Ghazir, hoping that they could return later to manage the order's schools. Superior General, Father Benedict Salamy maintained this agreement when the Jesuit fathers moved to Beirut, where they founded their university which included the Colleges of Philosophy and Theology. In 1891, the Superior General bought a residence hall in Abd Al-Wahhab Al-Ingelizy Street for the monks who were studying at the nearby Saint Joseph University. The Superior had paid 1,000 French gold pounds to the owner, the Maronite Elias Mhawis from Beit Mery. Thus, the order returned to Beirut and is still there to this date. The graduates of Saint Joseph University took charge of the educational development in the order until 1950, when a long-cherished dream became a reality and the University of the Holy Spirit was founded at Kaslik. It assumed the work of educating the monks.
During this same century, Saint Sharbel, the Hermit of Annaya, became a beacon of holiness. He died in 1898 and immediately afterwards, the news of his miracles spread around the world. He was canonized in 1977 as a saint of the universal Church. Saint Sharbel and his numerous brother monks, regardless of whether they were living in religious communities or secluded in hermitages, exemplified an authentic spiritual heritage that is still very much alive. This spirit is the essence of monastic life and a guarantee of the continuity of the Lebanese Maronite Order despite internal crises and external upheavals.
This spirituality flows from the attachment to Our Lord, Jesus Christ, observance of the teachings of the Holy Gospel, strict adherence to the rules, and prayers, fasting and self-sacrifice. The character of the Lebanese monk is refined through daily striving after sanctity. Character is shown in his conduct and this makes the order a school of Christian perfection, a school that teaches the way to Heaven. Saint Sharbel, Blessed Al-Hardini, Blessed Rafqa and others have been witnesses to this Christian ideal. They affected their society through their simplicity and their convictions. They affirmed unchanging values and virtues. The faithful strive to imitate them, while making their intercessions and visiting their tombs. This spiritual dimension still acts upon society, as leavening in dough, to attract vocations to the religious life.
VIII. A PERIOD OF OPENNESS AND EXPANSION THROUGHOUT THE WORLD (1918-1995)
Lebanese society as well as the entire world witnessed some basic changes which imposed important educational, social and national obligations on the order. The state was not yet ready to assume responsibility for all the changes taking place. The order felt obligated to shoulder these responsibilities and pay for them.
The outbreak of World Wars I and II overturned political and economical systems as well as the demography. People intermingled more and immigration rose sharply. New inventions and discoveries revolutionized the level and quality of work. The worldwide network of ground, sea and air communications had made giant strides. Family life and its very concept had been altered radically. Modern appliances in the homes such as the refrigerator, washing machine, telephone, radio and television, facsimile and recently the computer improved the standard of living. The order followed its progress in the country. It contributed to this progress insofar as its principles and means allowed. The order had become accustomed to accepting burdensome responsibilities, especially in critical times. When World War I broke out, tens of thousands of Lebanese perished, many more suffered from famine and many others endured blockades, injustice and the loss of basic liberties. The order joined forces with the Maronite Patriarchate to ease the suffering and misfortune of the people. Superior General, Father Ignatios Dagher (1913-1929), mortgaged all the order's possessions to the French government for two million gold francs. He spent this amount to relieve those in dire need and poverty.
There was a similar drama during the World War II (1939-1945). Once again, the order played the Good Samaritan and opened the doors of its monasteries, especially the Monastery of Saint George at Al-Naameh, to refugees and those in desperate need. The civil authorities awarded Superior General, Father Basil Ghanem (1938-1944), the Gold Medal in appreciation of these sacrifices made by the order.
Superior General Father John Al-Andary (1944-1950) followed the example of his predecessors when in 1948, he opened the monasteries to Palestinian refugees. Superior General Father Moses Azar (1950-1956) took special care of the victims of the 1956 earthquake in Lebanon. From its own treasury, the order reimbursed the people whose homes were devastated by the earthquake.
The Lebanese war broke out in 1975 and was followed by the uprooting of thousands of Christians from their homes, villages and lands. Superior General Father Sharbel Qassis (1974-1980) mobilized all the resources of the Order to help the displaced. He was instrumental in the formation of the Lebanese Front, the cornerstone of the Christian Resistance, and thus brought the Lebanese cause into the mainstream of contemporary history.
Superior General Father Paul Naaman (1980-1986) continued and strengthened this patriotic stance. He conducted discussions at the highest level with the political forces, seeking a solution to the problems of Lebanon. He devoted his attention to the displaced and the forgotten. In 1984, during his term as Superior General, the order housed the displaced in three buildings it had constructed on the grounds of Our Lady of Deliverance, overlooking Jbail.
Superior General Father Basil Al-Hashem (1986-1992) helped and encouraged the "School of Blessed Rafqa", which offered free primary and secondary education to 600 students until 1993. The order always encouraged charitable works. The monks made every effort to help the displaced from the Damour and other areas, and it provided them with the necessary pastoral services. Some members of the order opened special eating places where the poor and the needy could receive free meals. Other members tried to remedy the evil consequences of the war by forming an organization to care for those who had become drug addicts. These initiatives eased some of the war's sufferings. Not only did the order perform acts of charity during times of trial, but it also tried to relieve the sufferings of the people under now normal difficult conditions
In 1949, the order established the Hospital of Our Lady of Deliverance in Jbail. In 1973, it moved to its present location on a hill overlooking the city. It strove to equip it with the most modern laboratories and a medical staff chosen from the very best specialists. Today, this hospital is considered one of the best in the country.
Since the whole region between Jbail and Tripoli lacked any medical facilities, the order built Saint Sharbel Hospital in Batroun in 1964 and turned it over to the Lebanese Government in 1972. In 1964, the Orphanage and Hospice of Our Lady of Lebanon at Harissa were built. These centers cared for the elderly and sheltered hundreds of children in an atmosphere ideal for receiving a good education.
The order became experienced in all fields and provided the rapidly changing Lebanese society with several services, especially in education and apostolic work. The order has undertaken educational work ever since its inception. The Lebanese Synod of 1736 encouraged education and made it free and obligatory for both boys and girls. These measures were considered revolutionary for that day and age.
The order implemented these decisions and opened its schools to students of all different social classes and religions. There was an increasing need for secondary and higher education in the beginning of the twentieth century. The Conference of Versailles, held in 1919, discussed the future of Lebanon and Syria and devoted special attention to the question of education. The Lebanese called upon the Superior Generals to provide education for the youth. The order answered these appeals by establishing schools in most areas of Lebanon, especially in the rural areas in the hope of preventing unbridled migration to the cities. These educational institutions provided all levels of instruction. Although the number of these schools remained the same as during the nineteenth century, members of the order became more personally involved in the teaching and management as the numbers of pupils increased. These schools grew more independent and became physically and financially separated from the monasteries. Modern teaching techniques were introduced and new equipment enhanced the scientific research laboratories.
These schools rivaled the educational facilities of Europe as well as those of the East. They transformed their surroundings and gained a respected status because of the good quality of the teachers, the high motivation of their students, and the confidence and satisfaction expressed by the people. These institutions worked closely with the later-established Ministry of Education and created good ties with foreign embassies. They also organized annual scientific, sporting, cultural and recreational events throughout Lebanon and abroad.
The growth and prominence of these institutions compelled the order to create the new position of Director General of Schools within the framework of the Generalship Office in 1944. The first to occupy this position was Father Joseph Taraby, who later became Superior General (1962-1968).
Listed below are the most important educational facilities operated by the order.
- The school of Our Lady of Mayfouq founded 1922.
- The school of Our Lady of Mashmoushy founded 1922.
- The school of Saint Maron, Beer Sneen founded 1936.
- Saint George School, Aashash founded 1945.
- The Lebanese College, Beit Shabab founded 1945.
- Saint Anthony's School, Chekka founded 1947.
- Saint Sharbel's School, Jeyye founded 1949.
- Saint Anthony's School, Hammana, founded 1951.
- Saint Joseph's School, Al-Mtayn founded 1951.
- The School of Our Lady of Tamish, Deeck Al-Mahdy founded 1951.
- Central College, Jounieh founded 1966.
- Saint Elias School, Kahlouneeye founded 1967.
These schools were highly successful in teaching and forming character. Their graduates have been given the most important positions in the public and private sectors. Success did not come without a price. These schools could not continue to be financially self-sufficient. Inflation increased, teachers and other employees demanded higher wages to keep up with the cost of living, and poor parents could not pay full tuition and fees. On the other hand, the government did not provide any subsidies, even though its schools could not absorb the growing number of school-age youngsters.
The order was generous toward its schools. It allocated them large sums of money and released many of its members to work in them. The order could support these schools because of the products of its monasteries, but sometimes it had to sell off properties. When the economic situation worsened during the 1970s, the order had to turn over some of its schools to the government for a minimal rent. The recent war (1975-1990) resulted in the destruction of a number of the order's institutions, such as Saint George's School at Aashash, Saint Joseph's School at Al-Mtayn, Saint Elias School at Kahlouneeye, Saint Maron's at Beer-Sneen, and Saint Sharbel's at Jeyye, this latter school being the only one so far to have reopened its doors in 1991. The order has yet to receive any compensation for its losses.
The order also felt that the handicapped, who were victimized by the war, deserved a decent existence with the help and devotion of others. Therefore, in 1976 it transformed its school in Beit Shabab into a hospital for the handicapped. All the other schools continue their role in the education of Lebanese society.
The primary goal of the order had been to lead a life of anchorites and hermits. However, it incorporated apostolic work in its mission and vocation. The founders had done this and the succeeding generations of monks continue to do the same. Bishop Al-Semaany encouraged this cause, and the Lebanese Synod laid the framework. The monks ventured into difficult territories, such as Akkar, the mountains of Lattakia in Syria, the Beqaa, Akka, Cyprus and Egypt. The order's apostolic work encountered many obstacles, some legal and others that were human, due to the presence of Western missionaries, the attitude of the Maronite hierarchy and the mingling of the monks with the population. However, their praiseworthy conduct, intelligence and energy enabled them to overcome these hurdles. The nineteenth century witnessed a widening geographical area for their work. There was hardly a village where a monk did not preach during Lent, thereby strengthening the faith of the inhabitants, promoting Christian living and encouraging prayer. Thus, the monks gained the trust of the people, heard their confessions, shared in their trouble and anxieties, solved their problems, joined them in their joy and in their sorrow, accompanied them in their prayers and devotions, and provided them with spiritual support and guidance.
It is impossible to produce a complete list of all the monks who were engaged in this spiritual activity or to give a quantitative estimate of the results of their effort. Records at the order’s Generalship Office document numerous requests – even from the Maronite heartland and stronghold in the Kesrouan region – made by the faithful asking for the monks’ spiritual services.
The mission of the order has not been limited to the geographical borders of Lebanon. It has spread wherever there was a need and to every country where the Lebanese had migrated. The work of the order in the Diaspora resulted in a great national and spiritual endeavor. The following is a chronological and geographical table of the order's missions founded outside Lebanon.
- The Monastery of Saint Elias, Metoushi, Cyprus, 1737.
- The Dakar Mission, Senegal, 1949.
- The Mendoza Mission, Argentina, 1952.
- The Sao Paulo Mission, Brazil, 1954.
- The Abidjan Mission, Ivory Coast, 1954.
- The Bamako Mission, Mali, 1959.
- The Mexico City Mission, Mexico, 1960.
- The Tucuman Mission, Argentina, 1972.
- The Sydney Mission, Australia, 1972.
- The London Mission, United Kingdom, 1983.
- The Montreal Mission, Canada, 1984.
- Saint Sharbel House, Surenes, France, 1987.
- The Caracas Mission, Venezuela, 1988.
In view of the scale of missionary work, the Sacred Congregation of the Oriental Churches, under the leadership of Cardinal Tisserand, proclaimed the Lebanese Maronite Order to be a missionary order in 1955.
The radical change that took place in Lebanese society during the twentieth century did not prevent the order from tending to its purely internal affairs. Ever since Father Ignatios Dagher was Superior General, the order has diligently pursued the beatification and canonization of its Saints. It considers the sanctity of its members as a living proof of a deep, rich spiritual heritage. Sanctity is the ultimate goal of those who embrace the order and sanctity is its one certain guarantee of a fruitful and flourishing future. Saint Sharbel was canonized in 1977 and is now widely known. The causes of Blessed Rafqa and Blessed Nimatullah Kassab Al-Hardini are still under study, and there are others whose virtues have not yet been discovered.
The order has always striven to renew its Constitution. A commission was formed during the term of Superior General Father Martin Taraby (1929-1938) to study these rules.
Superior General Father John Al-Andary reactivated this commission. The Congregation of the Oriental Churches verified the authority of the Constitution and confirmed it in 1960, during the term of Superior General Father Ignatios Abi-Sulayman (1956-1962). It was subjected to a ten-year trial period. Its study was resumed during the mandate of Superior General Father Peter Azzi (1968-1974) and the commission finished its work in 1974. Under subsequent Superiors, great efforts were made to amend it. On February 4, 1993, at the beginning of the term of Superior General Father John Tabet, an Extraordinary Special General Chapter began to add the final touches to the text of the Constitution and the Monastic Statutes. Confirmation of its final form by the General Chapter is expected soon.
Joint studies and regular internal meetings have created an atmosphere of dialogue and democracy within the order and prove that it is an institution endowed with the qualities necessary to guarantee its future.
During this period, the order paid special attention to the young people. It cared for every stage of their formation and entrusted their training to qualified educators and exemplary monks. They were placed in centers in which all the conditions of religious community life were observed and witnessed. In 1939, the category of postulants was introduced for 12-year-olds who wished to enter religious life. Except for the novices, the candidates were housed at the seminary at Kaslik. The order thus reaped the harvest of what it had sown and nurtured. Those sons, whom it had educated and provided spiritual formation, would carry on the work and manage the resources of the order.
Holy Spirit University at Kaslik was founded in 1950 and remains the crown jewel of the order. It symbolizes many years of labor in various fields of education and inaugurated a new era of openness toward man, the world and contemporary problems. The order began sending some of its monks to universities in Europe and America to complete their specialization. Upon their return, these graduates worked as professors, researchers and administrators in the institutions of the order, especially at Holy Spirit University.
Kaslik University has eight faculties, including the prestigious Pontifical Faculty of Theology, and three institutes. It continues to flourish because of the internationally recognized accomplishments of its students and graduates. The university has also distinguished itself by spearheading a liturgical and musical renaissance in conformity with the decision of Vatican Council II and in line with the needs of the Maronite Church. The collection of liturgical books, produced by the university's publishing house, in addition to past and present production, demonstrates the influence of this renaissance on the faithful. The present phase has been distinguished by several important translations and new compositions, which are too numerous to list here. Most of these works of literature are printed on the order's printing press. Other publications that spread the order's message far and wide are The Port (Al-Mina), The Grain of Wheat (Al-Sanabel), Monastic Papers (Awraq Rahbaneeyat), Words of the East (Kalimat Al-Sharq), Biblia, etc.
The order has launched the series entitled "The Way of Love" (Tareeq Al-Mahabet) to teach Christianity using modern methods. It also produces and presents religious programs for radio and television.
No religious mission can survive without the inspiration of the Cross of Christ. The sacrifice of oneself and one's worldly possessions is the most striking testimony to the holiness of this mission. The Lebanese people and the order have given martyrs as sacrifices during the recent sad events in Lebanon (1975-1990). Three sons of the order were martyred at the Monastery of Saint George at Aashash on September 8, 1975. They are Father Anthony Thamineh, Father Peter Saseen, and Brother John Maqsoud. Father Joseph Farah and Father George Harb were massacred on January 8, 1976 at the Monastery of Saint George at Deir Janneen, and Father Francis Daher Abou-Antoun was killed on January 29, 1982 at St. John Maron’s Monastery at Qebbaya’. Eight monasteries, in the Shouf and Matn regions, were looted and destroyed, while the monks suffered the terrors of siege, persecution and expulsion.
The order has returned to these regions and is trying to rebuild the
destroyed monasteries and religious centers and, at the same time, to reestablish
amicable relations with the various Lebanese religious communities. The
grace of God is abundant compensation for the extensive losses. The order
looks forward to a new millennium full of solid faith, deep love, and firm
Azzi, J. Bedayat Al-Rohbaniyet Al-Loubnanieyt (Beginning of the Lebanese Order), First Edition, Kaslik, Lebanon: Holy Spirit University Publications, 1988.
Bleibel, L. (History of the Lebanese Maronite Order), Volume I, Joseph Kawwa Press: Egypt, 1924.
Bleibel, L. (History of the Lebanese Maronite Order), Volume II, Joseph Kawwa Press: Egypt, 1925.
Bleibel, L. (History of the Lebanese Maronite Order), Volume III, Catholic Press: Beirut, 1959.
Chedid, J. (The Fundamental Constitution of the Maronite Order in its two branches, Alappine and Baladite), translated by Peter Fahd, Al-Kraim: Jounieh, Lebanon, 1969.
Dandini, J. A Voyage to Mount Lebanon, Paris, 1675.
Introduction of Monastic Constitution and Statutes Particular to the Confraternity of the Lebanese Order, Rome. 1735.
Karam, M. Qissat Al-Mulkeeyat Fee Al-Rohbaniyet Al-Loubnaniyet Al-Marouniyat (History of the Property in the Lebanese Maronite Order). Beirut, Lebanon: Daar Al-Teebaa Al-Loubnaneyet, 1972.
Mahfouz, J. (History of the Maronite Order: from its Foundation to its Organization), Kaslik, Lebanon: Holy Spirit University Publication, 1989.
Naaman, P. Al-Marouneyat Lahhout Wa Hayat: Min Jabel Qorosh Ila Souhoul Afamia (Maronitism: Theology and life: from Mount Qorosh to the Plains of Apamea). Kaslik, Lebanon: Holy Spirit University Publication, 1992.
Rizk, K. (Bishop John Habib and the Lebanese Maronite Order), Al-Manarat, No. 35, 1994, pp. 185-196.
Sfeir, P. (Centenary of Our Lady of Victory-Nesbay : A Historical Outline). Kaslik, Lebanon: Holy Spirit University Publication, 1983.
Sfeir, P. Les Ermites Dans l'Eglise Maronite: Histoire Et Spiritualit?.
Kaslik, Lebanon: Holy Spirit University Publication, 1985.
 To document the 300-year history of an institution is a monumental task. With original sources lost and records dispersed far and wide, it is impossible to conduct a thorough study of the developments and changes undergone by the institution. Nevertheless, I have undertaken this task, relying upon the few authentic documents I was able to obtain and the earlier efforts of Fathers Louis Bleibel and Maroun Karam and others. | Back to text |
 The word “Reform” is used in the thesis of Bishop John Shdeed, translated by Abbot Peter Fahd, under the title The Fundamental Constitution of the Maronite Order, in its two Lebanese branches, Alappine and Baladite, Al-Kraim, Jounieh, 1969, pp. 18-24. See also Joseph Mahfouz, History of the Maronite Order, from its Foundation to its Organization, Kaslik, Lebanon, 1989, pp. 94-137. | Back to text |
 Editor’s note: This is an impressive number for such a relatively small population, which continued to feed the Latin religious orders and missionaries with new members as well. | Back to text |
 Editor’s note: Hindiyeh, born Anne `Ajaymi in 1727, was a Maronite from Aleppo. She moved to Lebanon and founded the Order of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, of which she became the Mother Superior. She had the approval of patriarchs, bishops, clergy and the populous men and women, Maronites and otherwise, to whom she become a living icon of virtue and faith. The “difficulties” associated with her case were not of her making but instead had to do with the complications involving new type of monastic life and land ownership that began to emerge in the late eighteenth century. This was due partly to the Waqf (religious trust) system, partly to the ownership by the Khazen family of much property used for church purposes, partly to the emergence of strong local religious orders which were to replace that of the Jesuits and others, partly to the movement by the Vatican to endthe combined monasteries (coed monasteries for both men and women), and partly to various issues regarding the relationships of the Patriarchate with all these matters. The Vatican heavily intervened with several small Inquisitions. It closed down Umm Hindiyeh’s Order, discredited her, dishonored and ruined her reputation, sentenced her to exile in Lebanon, and ordered the destruction of any documents related to her order’s Rule, as well as her accusation and defense. One of the real motives was to exert more pressure on the Maronite Patriarchate to comply with the Latinization of the Maronite Church imposed by the Vatican more forcefully since the Lebanese Synod of 1736. These motives were disguised by the efforts to install peace among the parties involved in this case. Because of Hindiyeh’s close ties with Patriarch Joseph Estephan (1766-1793), she was used as the instrument to pressure the Patriarch and the Maronite religious hierarchy, and with that became a scapegoat. The Vatican later cleared Hindiyeh’s name but did not reinstate her order or her property. There are newly-discovered documents that, once they are thoroughly studied and publicized, will shed light on her true story. Hindiyeh died in Deir Sayyidet al-Haqleh (Our Lady of the Prairies) in 1798, although her burial site is not fully accredited. For further information on Hindiyeh’s case see: Bernard Heyberger, Les Chretiens du Proche-Orient au Temps de la Reforme Catholique (Syrie, Liban, Palestine, XVIIe - XVIIIe siecles), Collection Bibliotheque des Ecoles Francaises d'Athenes et de Rome, no. 284, 1994; Richard van Leeuwen, Notables and Clergy in Mount Lebanon - the Khazen Sheikhs and the Maronite Church (1736 - 1840), E.H. Brill, Leiden, 1994; and Parole de l'Orient XVI (1990 -1991), the proceedings of the Third International Congress of Christian Arab Studies, Louvain-la-Neuve, 1988. The editor is grateful for the information provided by Dr. Avril Makhlouf, who is writing a book on the spirituality of Umm Hindiyeh. | Back to text |
 Editor’s note: This was the first printing press not only in Lebanon but also in the whole Middle East and North Africa. It was brought to Lebanon more than two hundred years before Napoleon brought his to Egypt. The press at the Monastery of Qozhaya was the source of the literary and intellectual renaissance in Lebanon. | Back to text |
 This census was conducted by Superior General Father Benedict Halayhal at the request of the Apostolic Vicar, Jean-Baptiste Auvergne, October 30, 1834. See A. S. V. Deleg. Ap. Del Libano, Vol. 147. | Back to text |
 It should be mentioned that the Apostolic visitation continued until 1952 and resumed in 1991. | Back to text |
 Editor’s note: In fact, the order provided land to be the campsite for the Palestinian refugees, such as the lands where the Tall El Zaatar and the Dbayeh campsites are located. To this day, even now that the war in Lebanon is over, the Order has not reclaimed these lands. | Back to text |
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