ArDO: Yes we want Lebanon to be the Switzerland of the East and Beirut the Paris of the East


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The Muslim-Christian co-existence in the Lebanon

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to thank you for inviting me to this great cultural forum and this prestigious university, to talk about the Maronite Church and its contribution to the Muslim-Christian coexistence in the Lebanon. I take this invitation as an honor for myself and for my Maronite people who emerged first in Lebanon, and have now spread all over the world. I would like to take the opportunity to send my greetings to them now and to the Lebanese who chose to live in this deep-rooted city, after some of them suffered from the war which broke out on Lebanese territory seventeen years ago.

Antioch, the Mother Church of the Levantine Christianity

Antioch is a city about 12 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, located in the north of ancient Syria, now Antakya in the Southwest of modem Turkey. Antioch was built by Seleucus I Nicator around 300 B.C. and it was named after his father Antiochus. Antioch was the capital of Seleucid kingdom, then an imperial residence. It became the third most important city of the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria, and it established itself as the capital of Syria Prima.

The first Christian community started with Saint Paul who visited Antioch (Acts I 3 13-14), and it became his home base for missionary activities. Saint Luke records that some of the persecuted Christians moved from Jerusalem to Phoenicia Syria and Antioch (Acts 11: 19-20). Antioch also enjoyed the visit of Saint Peter, who was afraid to be associated with the Gentiles of the city (Galatians 2: 11- 13). Antioch established itself as a church, and it was there that the earliest followers of Jesus Christ were called "Christians" for the first time (Acts 11: 26). So Antioch was a very important centre during the initial spreading of the Gospel, located as it was along the road from Jerusalem to Rome.

Antioch was the capital of the church in the Orient, but from around 415 A.D. it has become the capital of the church in the Levant, which includes, geographically, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. Antioch was also the seat of a patriarchate, one of the oldest patriarchates in the Christian world, but since the beginning of the second millennium A.D. its Patriarch resides alternately in Damascus and Lebanon. However, the Patriarchate of Antioch has suffered from many schisms, which have given birth to five different Oriental Churches: the Syrian Orthodox Church (non-Chalcedonian), the Greek Orthodox Church (Chalcedonian), the Maronite Church (Chalcedonian), the Greek Catholic Church (Chalcedonian), and the Syrian Catholic Church (Chalcedonian).

Lebanon Holy Land

The word Lebanon means 'the white mountain'. The snow which covers its highlands from December to May gives the country its natural whiteness, unique in the Arab world. As a result, very many rivers and springs flow, lending the Lebanese landscape its special greenness which changes in harmony with the four seasons of the year. Although the high mountains breathe out fresh cold air, the Mediterranean Sea, stretched out along the Lebanese coast, softens the harshness of the mountain air to produce a warm and agreeable climate. Lebanon touches the peak of its beauty and might with its magnificent cedars which can reach a height of 30m They are found in various places in Lebanon, especially in the highest Lebanese mountain, the Cedars' mountain (3 100m.).

Lebanon is a part of the Land of Phoenicia and it was renowned for some of its old cities such as Jbeil (Byblos), Saida (Sidon) and Sour (Tyre), which were seaports and used to enjoy some form of independence. Jbeil imprinted coins hearing its name, Sidon had its own Senate, and Tyre had its own school of stoic philosophy. One of Tyre's natives was the famous legislator Ulpianus who held the post of Supreme Judge in Rome in the beginning of the third century AD. Jbeil was famous 0 us for being the birthplace of the Alphabet where it was first developed around 2200 BC. The word 'Bible', which means 'book, derived originally from the word "Biblos", and thus it shares with the Phoenician city, Byblos, the same Semitic origin.

We do not have enough time to elaborate about Lebanon throughout the ages, but we can take a brief glimpse at Lebanon after the coming of Christ. Lebanon has been successively conquered throughout the ages by the Egyptians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, and then by the Arabs, the Crusaders and the Turks up until modem times.

Geographically, Lebanon is located between the sea and the desert. This is why some people say that it is like the Roman mythology god Janus with two faces, bringing together both western and oriental civilizations. Visitors to the capital Beirut can still notice that some markets make them feel that they are in a European city, whereas other markets show the ethos of an Arab city. One can hear the bells ringing in the domes of churches and, at the same time, the voices of muezzins coming out from the minarets of mosques.

Lebanon came to know Christianity from the age of Our Lord Jesus Christ who came to South Lebanon, particularly to Tyre and Sidon. Tyre welcomed the Christ when he arrived as a heater, teacher and miracles' maker. He witnessed the faith of the Canaanite woman who rejoiced at the healing of her daughter (Mathew 15: 21-28 and Mark 7: 24-3O). Moreover, the book of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2 1: 3-7) tells us that St Paul has spent several days with the First Christian Community in Tyre during his last trip to Jerusalem. The status of Saida does not differ from that of Tyre, as St Paul stopped over to visit his Christian friends (Acts 27: 3). However, these small communities started to flourish and spread out only after the middle of the second century, from which Christianity was launched to other coastal Lebanese cities, particularly to Beirut, Jbeil, Batroun and Tripoli. Thus Christianity grew in Lebanon in spite of persecutions committed by the pagans against the Christians at the time. Hundreds of them were martyred, such as: Theodosia and Christina of Tyre, Zenobius of Sidon, Apphianus of Beirut, Aquilina of Jbeil and Barbara of Baalbeck.

We can only say here that Lebanon is an integral part of the Holy Land as Our Lord Jesus Christ announced good news to it, and consequently it was visited by the first apostles and disciples. It is known that Lebanon was mentioned around sixty times in the Holy Bible, particularly in Isaiah who says, "The glory of Lebanon will come to you, the pine, the fir-tree and cypress together, to adorn the place of my sanctuary; and I will glorify the place of my feet" (Isaiah 60: 13). In the Song of Songs he says: "Come with me from Lebanon, my bride, with me from Lebanon; look from the top of Amana, from the top of Senir and Hermon, from the lions' dens, from the mountains of the leopards" (Songs of Songs 4: 8). Besides, it was mentioned many of times in the Old Testament being the symbol of beauty, greenery and landscape which flows out blessings upon human beings (2 Kings 14:9; Psalm 72:16; Song of Songs 4:11; Isaiah 40:16; Ezekiel 173; Habakkuk 2:17; Hosea 14:6). Lebanon is also characterized, in the Holy Bible, by its Cedars planted by God according to the Book of Psalms (Psalm 104:16), being the symbol of glory, power and greatness (Psalm 92:13; Isaiah 3 5:2; Ezekiel 3 1:3-9, Amos 2:9).

Let us move on now to the Maronite Syriac Antiochian Church which played a major and special role in shaping the identity of Modern Lebanon.

The Origin of Maronites

The Maronite Church claims to be named after a fourth/fifth century hermit called Maroun, whose life is briefly written by Theodore of Cyrrhus in his Historia Religiosa. The Maronite Church considers Saint Maroun as its spiritual father and founder, and believes that his disciples formed the great Maronite community in Syria Secunda, the so-called Monastery of Saint Maroun. The Monastery of St. Marcum held a special place among Syrian monasteries, for it presided over all the Monasteries of Northern Syria and it adopted the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) and struggled for its application in its area of dominion. As a result of their loyalty to the Chalcedonian faith, they were opposed by the Monophysites. The most important historical fact which gave birth officially to the Maronite Church was the vacancy of the Chalcedonian patriarchal see of Antioch during the first half of the eighth century. Between 633 A.D. and 651, Iraq and Palestine and big part of Syria were conquered by the Moslem Arab army, and the new invaders of the Near East would not have been able to conquer Syria and Iraq without the help of the Arab Christian Monophysites, who welcomed them as liberators from the Byzantines who persecuted them. Apart from taxing them, the Moslem Umayyad government enjoyed good relations with the Christians, and favoured them in different important governmental posts. Furthermore, the Maronites had also enjoyed good relations with the new Muslim rulers of Syria. On the other hand, the struggle between the new Muslim empire and the Byzantine Empire in the Near East created some major difficulties for Byzantine Chalcedonian Christianity in Syria. All contacts with Constantinople were severely punished, and the Arabs authorities obliged the Chalcedonian Christians to cut off their relations with the Byzantine Empire. Therefore, the Chalcedonian see of Antioch became vacant between 702-742 A.D., for the Islamic government was completely intolerant of any Byzantine presence in the city. As a matter of fact, the Maronite community benefitted from this vacancy and proclaimed its own bishop John-Maroun as the Patriarch of Antioch.

The Maronites and the Arab Moslem Rulers

It seems from different sources that the majority of the Maronite community remained in Syria until the end of the ninth century, and its monasteries were very flourishing and prosperous. But owing to different internal Christian persecutions on the one hand between Monophysites, Melkites and Maronites, and the policies of some Abbasid Caliphs on the other hand (attempting to make the non-Muslim communities, namely Christians and Jews, submit to Islam), the Maronites were obliged to leave their home in Syria, and to take refuge in Mount Lebanon from the late eighth century onwards. 

Under the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mahdi (775-785) the Christians of Banu Tannukh, near Aleppo, were compelled to embrace Islam. They entered the Lebanese mountain area (al'Gharb), east of Beirut, and established a Muslim principality there. However, Banu Tannukh were used by the Abbasid Caliphs as a check against the Maronites of northern Lebanon. The Arab historian Al-Mas'udi reports that the Maronite monastery and its surrounding hermitages were destroyed during the first half of the tenth century. Therefore, most of the Maronite community immigrated to North Lebanon and took the valley of Qadisha (the Valley of the Saints) as a place of residence for its Patriarch and bishops. On the other hand, and according to several Arab sources, some Maronites, who lived during the Abbasid period, were very learned people, especially in philosophy and Greek studies. Theophilus al-Rahawi is certainly the most eminent scholar among these Maronites, for during the second half of the eighth century, he translated from Greek into Syriac the Illiad and the Odyssey of Homer, w which is lost, and he was the secretary, astronomer and adviser of the Abbasid Caliph, Al-Mahdi until his death in 783.

During the eleventh century the Crusaders started their invasion of the Near East, and, at their arrival in northern Lebanon in 1099, the Franks received a warm welcome from the Maronites. William of Tyre, a contemporary of the event, says that 40.000 Maronites joined the Crusaders. However, history shows that not all the Maronites welcomed the Franks, for some Maronites from the high Lebanese Mountains were quite hostile to the Maronite-Crusader alliance. Nevertheless, this encounter between the Maronites and the Crusaders greatly strengthened the unity of the Maronite Church with the Holy See in Rome. Ever since its foundation, the Maronite church has been renowned for its adherence to the Roman Catholic faith. Internally, it exercises some independence; its mother tongue used to be the Syriac-Aramaic language, which was gradually replaced by the Arabic language during the second millennium A.D. However, Syriac is still, alongside Arabic, the liturgical language of the Maronite church. Moreover, the Maronite Church holds its own Synod of Bishops who elects its bishops and Patriarch. Since the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, the Pontiffs have granted the Maronite Patriarch the rank of a Cardinal. I am personally the third Cardinal of the Maronite Church.

When Crusaders retreated in the late 1200's AD and their kingdom fell, Syria and Lebanon were captured by the Mamlukes until the days of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1500's AD. The rule of the Mamlukes who came from Egypt was repressive and tyrannical. By then, the Maronites were alienated again from the West as the Mamlukes were quite keen that their subordinates make no links with the West. Every attempt to contact the West was severely squashed, because it was regarded as treason. So the Maronites had to organize themselves under the leadership of their Patriarch and the clergy. They were divided into several groups, each led by a Muqaddam who was often ordained as a deacon. The Muqaddams enjoyed some sort of independence and their position became hereditary.

During and After the Ottoman Rule

In 1516, the Ottomans came into Lebanon and Syria with the Sultan Salim 1, who maintained the administrative divisions that the Mamlukes set up, but soon changed them, dividing the region into three governorates: Damascus and Aleppo governorate in Syria Tripoli governorate in Lebanon, and Sidon governorate in Lebanon. It was said that the rule in Syria at that time could be described briefly as follows: "An unbelievable administrative chaos, a series of plots and conspiracies among governors, a militia of mercenaries, high taxes, reprisals and assassinations".

At that time, Maronites were ruled directly by their Muchaddams who used to collect taxes in order to forward them to the Ottoman Sublime Porte, However, things developed later on, and whoever offered the largest amount of money to the Turkish Ruler, became a governor. Thus some Shiite Muslims from the Hamadi family were appointed, in the mid 1600's AD, as governors of the Maronites in the area of Bisharri in North Lebanon. This urged the Maronites to move into Central Lebanon, namely Kesrouan, then to South Lebanon where they lived amongst the Druzes. The Supreme Governor was by then the emir Fakhreddin Ma'an. The Turks granted the Lebanese some freedom in selecting their direct governors. So the Chehabi Emirate (dynasty) succeeded the old Ma'anite Emirate, and there were massacres committed in 1860 between the Maronites and the Druzes, provoked by representatives of foreign interests, until the days of the Mutasarrifiat System, after the intervention of European countries at the start of that year. In the aftermath of World War 1, in 1920, the French Mandate era started.

Toward the end of Turkish rule, some Lebanese societies were founded in New York, Cairo and Paris calling for the independence of Lebanon. All the Lebanese people sent Patriarch Elias Howayek with a delegation of other Lebanese natives to Rome, then to Paris on 15 July 1919, in order to appeal to the Peace Conference held in Versailles, on behalf of the Lebanese Government and the Administrative Council (of Mount Lebanon), and in the name of the people in Lebanese cities and villages, to mandate Lebanon to the French State, in order to lead Lebanon into independence and sovereignty, and restore its natural and historical boundaries, which are the currently existing boundaries. The area of Lebanon had already shrunk, under the Mutasarrifiat System, to three thousand and five hundred Km2 whereas today it is 10452 Km 2, just like it used to be before the Mutasarrifiat System. The delegation submitted a long detailed memorandum on that subject. On 10 November 1919, the French Prime Minister Clemenceau wrote to Patriarch Howayek as follows: "The discussions you held with the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, and with myself, since your arrival in Paris, have consolidated your belief that the French Government persists in its adherence to the traditions that we both respect, and which existed for centuries between France and Lebanon" ... He added: "As France is willing to intensify economic relations with the countries Put under its mandate, it will take into consideration, upon laying out Lebanon's boundaries, that it should keep the mountain a plain and a port to the sea, as this is needed for its prosperity".

The French Mandate over Lebanon continued from 1920 to 1943, and provided Lebanon with constitutional and administrative institutions which still exist today, including Presidency of the Republic, the Parliament and the Government, and all administrative matters such as the Cadastral Department, Customs and the like. Two political blocs became public: the Constitutional Bloc and the National Bloc, and they included representatives from all Lebanese sects. Each bloc used to set up a list of candidates from different sects to run in elections together. There used to be no sectarian parties, as is the case today.

Role of the Maronite Church in Oriental Cultural Renaissance

In Lebanon, there are eighteen sects, of which six are Catholic, namely the Maronite, the Greek Catholic, the Armenian Catholic, the Syrian Catholic, the Latin, and the Chaldeans Churches. On the other hand, Orthodox Churches include: the Greek Church of Antioch, the Syrian, the Assyrian, and Coptic Orthodox Churches. There are also some Protestant Churches such as the Anglican, the Evangelical and Lutheran Churches. Moreover, Islamic sects include the Sunni, the Shiite, the Druze, the Alawi and the Ismaili. Some Jews still live in Lebanon, their estimated number being probably a couple of dozens.

The Maronite Church has always sent its ordinands to the universities of Rome where they learn philosophy and priesthood, and then come back to Lebanon to open schools and teach young pupils the Syriac, Arabic and Latin languages in Ecclesiastic Schools. The Maronites had their own school in Rome since 1584 and students used to go to Rome when they were ten to twelve years old. Many of them were geniuses and took teaching posts at the universities of Rome, Paris and Madrid, Such as Gabriel Sionite (Jibrail Sahyuni), Abraharri of Hakel Ibrahim Hakelany) and Mikhail Gliazeei-y (Michael of Ghazir). Among them was also the famous Joseph Simeon Assemani (Youssef Semaan El Semaany) who was appointed as an archivist of the Vatican Library, and enriched it with oriental manuscripts which lie collected from all countries of the Middle East, being written in Aramaic, Syriac and Arabic. Bishop Peter Raphael (Boutros Rouphael) wrote a book in French, which was published in 1950, explaining the role of the Maronite School in Rome and the role of its Students in the Orientalist Movement. He also explained the role of Maronites in the reuniting some Eastern Churches (the so-called Uniat Churches) with the Roman Catholic Church. This Church is still carrying out its Cultural mission to date. and just LIS it used to run its Ecclesiastical and National School in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, so today it runs its universities and schools, enrolling a large number of students and educating them in contemporary multidisciplinary science and knowledge. Most Lebanese students go to study at some American and European universities. The majority of students from Arab Countries used to come to Lebanon and study at Lebanese universities. For more than a century, followers of the Maronite Church spread in most countries around the world. They live today in Australia, Mexico, Brazil, Canada and the United States, in the Western European countries, and also in Cyprus, Egypt, Syria and Palestine. They have their own archbishops, churches and parishes, and some members of the Maronite Church occupy senior positions all walks of life. I have paid a pastoral visit to some of them in their own Countries; I have just come back From Such visits in Europe for a few days. They host an apostolic visitor, Archbishop Samir Mazloum, who is my venerable brother, my representative and my companion throughout this trip. Whereas we would not expect to see them all back in the Lebanon, for many reasons, we hope that they will visit this country from time to time. I can only say that every household in Lebanon has one or more of its members expatriated. Without the help and Support of recent expatriates to their families in Lebanon, the tragedies of the war that broke out would have killed many more than it has so far.

The Role of Maronites and Christians in Shaping Modern

As you may now know, Patriarch Elias Howayek requested the French Mandate, as a preliminary step for Lebanon to obtain full independence. After World War 11, Lebanon obtained independence in 1943, thanks to tire English General Spears. The English did not stay away from the affairs of the Orient and Lebanon, even though they had Egypt, Palestine and Iraq under their mandate. Christians in the Undersized Lebanon, under the Mutasarrifiat System, formed the majority of the Lebanese people. However, when Patriarch Howayek demanded the restoration of Lebanon to its natural boundaries, Christians became equal in number to Muslims. Nevertheless, the patriarch insisted on his request for Great Lebanon, because he was quite certain that Undersized Lebanon could not provide good livelihood resources for its inhabitants and families. There were some reservations about the enlargement of Lebanon's geographical area, expressed by their fellow citizens, the Lebanese Muslims, who were generally skeptical on the French Mandate, as they were looking For Arab Unity which was an issue to be discussed, and a desire to be fulfilled.

Christians and Muslims in Lebanon agreed on sharing governmental and official positions in the same proportion as the population of each sect. Hence, the Presidency of the Republic was granted to the Maronites, although the first President was not a Maronite, but a Greek Orthodox Christian. The Speaker of the Parliament should be a Shiite Muslim, and the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim. Members of the parliament were first, before the Taif Accord, were shared in the ratio of six Christians to five Muslims (6/5), and the ministerial positions were distributed among various sects, in proportion to their populations. In the days of French Mandate and in the early days of independence, Maronites occupied most governmental positions, on grounds of their high levels of education. However, most of the Lebanese people today are very well educated. Lebanon enjoyed a golden age of prosperity which neighboring countries never did, in spite of their extensive natural resources. The average income of the Lebanese individual could match that of an individual in European Countries. However, the political turmoil which followed undermined its stability and prosperity. The coexistence of Christians and Muslims has been, and shall remain, Lebanon's characteristic feature. Such a truth challenges all prevalent theories nowadays about the clash of religions, civilizations and cultures; Christians and Muslims have always lived, and can always live, in Lebanon in peace and harmony, provided that no intruders intervene in running their own affairs and ruin their life, by making one community stronger than the other.

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