Maronite Catholic Church

The name derives from the fourth- or fifth-century Saint Maron (also 'Maro' and 'Marun'), whose followers later founded a leading monastery. A seventh- or eighth-century monk of that monastery, John-Maron, became Patriarch of Antioch during the absence of a Byzantine hierarch there. Thus, its full name is the Antiochian Syrian Maronite Church, 'Syrian' being a reference to the earlier dominance of Syriac. Maronites are the largest church in Lebanon, comprising more than a third of all Christians and almost 20 per cent of the population. Dioceses also exist in other parts of the Middle East. Unlike most Eastern Catholic Churches, they have no direct Orthodox counterpart.

History The Maronites were originally centred at a monastery located between Antioch and Damascus, but in the eighth century persecution by Muslims and depredations from other Christians forced them into Lebanon's remote hills. Their adherence at the time to monothelitism (while rejecting miaphysitism), might help explain their distinctive-ness from both Byzantines and 'Jacobites'. In the eleventh century, the crusades, which they supported, broke the Maronites' isolation. The year 1182 saw them confirm their union with Rome, and their patriarch attended the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). The Synod of Mt Lebanon (1734) was the most prominent attempt to reform - and Latinize - the Church. The early bond with Rome, the lack of an Orthodox counterpart, and western - especially French - protection from the Ottomans, particularly in the nineteenth century, have made the Maronites among the more pro-Roman (and Latinized) of the Eastern Catholics. Since 1943, the president of Lebanon must be a Maronite, a stipulation promoted by the French to ensure Maronite security in a sea of conflicting groups. But the civil war begun in 19 75 has revealed their vulnerability.

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