By Father Karam Rizk, Ph.D.
The Maronite Encyclopedia is a scholarly enterprise in progress. When completed, it will have presented the elements which have comprised the Maronite heritage for more than 15 centuries.
It is arranged alphabetically and covers the following fields of knowledge: theology, liturgy, monasticism, hagiography, literature, art, law, sociology and popular tradition. The grand scope of such a work required a high degree of scholarship and extensive research. To produce this work, the authors are guided by objectivity, humanism, universality, and the other great values which have marked the faith and lives of Maronites throughout history.
The Encyclopedia will define the Maronite personality. It will consider the cultural environment of the Near East where it was nurtured and the influences encountered in the Maronite dispersion across five continents and among other civilizations. Holy Spirit University (USEK), Kaslik, Lebanon, has produced a highly readable account of the Maronite people.
There is great need for an objective, authentic and factual history. Such a work, long needed, will strive to achieve this courageously and truthfully. Success in producing this work depends upon the support of those who believe in the Maronite mission and who will give their support to Holy Spirit University in order to succeed.
Holy Spirit University --most qualified to undertake this project -- was established in 1950 by the Lebanese Maronite Order. The Order embodies the Syro-Antiochean monastic heritage and, since 1695, it has carried the torch of education for the Maronites.
The University is located near the Maronite Patriarcate about 20 kilometers (ca. 12 miles) north of Beirut on the Bay of Jounieh, Kisrawan District. While open to the West, it remains the depository of this ancient, authentic Oriental patrimony and continues to follow the Antiochean traditions of education. Its mission is secular, Maronite and Lebanese and has had influence nationally and internationally because of the quality of its teaching staff, its ecumenism, inter-faith dialogue and its concern to maintain a distinct, open Lebanese personality.
The creation of an encyclopedia, a major scholarly achievement, is not the first unique of this type. It follows the French and English versions of the Islamic Encyclopedia, the Palestinian Encyclopedia, the Coptic Encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia Judaïca, and the St. Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of Kerala, India, among others.
The Maronite Encyclopedia advocates and uses the multi-disciplinary approach. It is a scholarly continuation of works like those of Theophile (VIIIth century), Qays (Xth century), and the graduates of the Maronite College of Rome which includes Bar Claius (XVIth century).
The encyclopedia's objectives, announced when the project was inaugurated in 1988, are as follow:
The encyclopedia project was launched by Father Louis Hage in 1988 when he was President of the Holy Spirit University. The committees that were formed provided the names of prospective authors and proposed 1,500 themes or possible entries for the work.
Tts publication was delayed during the 1988-1990 period of warfare in Lebanon. The first volume in French, which covers letter ‘A to letter A, was published in May 1992. It is the work of about 100 scholars who wrote approximately 1,000 articles on history, geography, literature, education, art, politics, sociology and theology. Each article is signed by the author. There are about 77 pages of references and indices. The encyclopedia contains fine maps, produced especially for it. Seven of them show the concentrations of Maronites in various geographic areas. There are 79 color illustrations of Maronite personalities and symbols.
Volume One contains a preface by Father Louis Hage who conceived the idea and founded the encyclopedia. In his preface, Father Hage asks individuals and communities in Lebanon to become aware of their identity and that of others. He believes that the restoration of Lebanon’s unity is aided by pluralism and diversity, and that these are permanent characteristics which guarantee the survival of all.
Distinguishing characteristics of Maronites are examined. The work focuses upon genealogy and biography, concepts and themes, and history and geography. Genealogy, which is regaining importance, is treated like history. Some subjects will be treated at length depending on whether the family or group is prominent like the Abu-il-Lamas and the 'Assafs, or if the individual is of historical importance such as Patriarch Antoine 'Arida, Abu Samra Ghanem and Joseph-Simon Assemani. The Maronite Encyclopedia also includes non Maronite personalities, such as the heroic Algerian exile 'Abd El-Qader Al-Jaz'iri and the 'Azm and the Atrash families, all of whom interacted with or played an important role in Maronite history.
An inventory of toponymy (name places) and human geography is included to reflect the geographical location and Maronite density within a general population, whether in Lebanon or abroad. Locations like Aleppo and Antioch define an important aspect of the Maronite oriental heritage, while places like Accra in Ghana show Maronite universality.
Volume One analyzes events, such as the 'Ammiya [movement(s)] of the 19th century (the rural movements of 1821-1861), the Cairo Agreement, the 17th of May Agreement and the Taëf Agreement. For the first time, the 'Ammiya [movement(s)] are examined from the perspectives of economics, sociology, ideology, regionalism and internationalism. That essay defines the ‘Ammiya concerns and actions as the first of the democratic movements in Lebanon. They were started because of unfair taxes, by conscription of the Walis (governors), and by the national consciousness favored and nurtured by the Maronites who graduated from the Maronite College in Rome. Reading this essay will provide revealing insights into the recurrent conflicts of the 1950s,the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s in Mount Lebanon.
Regarding the conceptual aspects of the Maronite personality -- such as faith, customs, traditions, ambitions, practices, etc. -- the encyclopedia explores the Maronite value system and it presents these aspects, as living experiences. Essays on topics such as abstinence, adoration, affinity, the alphabet, anthropology, architecture, etc. reveal the character of the Maronite persona in most of its dimensions.
The Maronites, members of Semitic Christianity, have contributed immensely to the Universal Church, especially in the ascetic perception of their faith. In fact, the Maronites are known by the name of an ascetic monk -- Maron. The essay on asceticism provides a story not only of the Maronite monks and their ascetic life, but also on the Maronite people. It states that, historically, asceticism was a fundamental aspect of Maronite monasticism as it evolved. Not only did the Maronite clergy practice ascetic ideals but the Maronite people also were ascetic in one or another of these ways: asceticism and working on the land; asceticism and the quest for knowledge; and asceticism and martyrdom.
IV. Present Status and Future Perspective
In spite of difficulties, the material for the second volume is almost ready. It covers the letters B, C, and D. Many of the entries for other volumes have been written. Meanwhile, other entries have been assigned to writers and we are awaiting their response.
We hope to surmount all the administrative difficulties. This will no doubt permit us to improve upon our material and financial capabilities and enlist writers for this cultural cause. As it becomes more necessary, we will work harder to make the encyclopedia a true Maronite, Lebanese, and Eastern Christian research resource.
With this encyclopedia, the Maronite Church which founded a distinct culture, is now defining its identity throughout 15 centuries of Church history, the history of Lebanon and that of the Orient. The Maronites are part of the history of man. This encyclopedia is challenging the collective memory of the Maronite nation, the only medium capable of "tackling" the memory of a people.
As with other specialized texts -- like the Patrologia Orientalis (P.O.), the Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalis (C.S.C.O.) and the Parole de l'Orient: Melto d Madnho (P.d.O.), etc. -- the Maronite Encyclopedia has a vacant spot waiting in the libraries of the world for this Syriac and Maronite publication. With its appearance, we hope the Maronite Encyclopedia will encourage research into the heritage of all the other Lebanese and Oriental communities.
At the dawn of the Third Millennium, globalization takes on more significance. Pluralism as an enriching factor must be safeguarded. To smother human differences is unfair to all humanity. The world gains if the positive potentials of different people are allowed to develop.
The Maronite Encyclopedia is being reviewed in other publications. Two very important ones, the Revue d'Histoire Ecclesiastic (R.H.E.) and the Oriens Christianus (O.C.), have already vouched for the accuracy and authenticity of the first volume in these regards: the specific facts about the Maronite people, their Semitic-Christian culture, their humanity, their belonging to the Orient, and their universality. Through its scholarship, comprehensiveness and serious work, the encyclopedia has succeeded in becoming an indispensable reference on the Syriac-Maronite heritage and also the plight of all Christians in the Orient.
Editor's note: For those interested in obtaining the first volume
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