The Maronites in History: A Reply
Part One: The texts concerning St Maroun
In Part One, I set out the two ancient texts which disclose what is known of St Maroun. In Part Two, I discuss these, and in Part Three I answer Matti Moosa’s arguments in his book, The Maronites in History, that this is not the St Maroun after whom the Maronite Church is indirectly named.
The whole of this posting is Part One. After the introduction, it is in three parts:
Part One (1): The Life of Maroun by Theodoret
Part One (2): Other passages from Theodoret
Part One (3): St John Chrysostom’s Letter
We do not know when Mar (Lord) Maroun was born, except that it was sometime in the 300s. He almost certainly died between 410 and 425, but we have no clue as to his age at death. One can hardly envisage him having been less than 40 years old, but he have been 100 years old. We simply do not know.
The most important modern study of St Maroun, and of all things to do with the original monastery named after him, and thus of the development of the Maronites, is Abbot Paul Naaman’s The Maronites: The Origins of an Antiochene Church. Then, in 2004 was published Bishop Youssef Anees Abi Ad’s significant Mar Maroun: Adwa’ ‘ala Hayatihi wa Mansikihi wa Dafnihi (“Mar Maroun: Light upon his Life, his Hermitage and his Sepulchre”), which reviews the literature and deals with the archaeological evidence. However, the latter work is not available in English. Using these, and the other available sources, we are in a fair position to speak of Mar Maroun, and to relate him to his living context of the development of monasticism and asceticism in Syria.
Abbot Naaman and Bishop Abi Ad rightly focus our attention upon the life of Mar Maroun which is preserved as one of many biographies in the History of the Monks of Syria, by Theodoret, bishop of Cyrrus (Cyr), who died in about 458. Theodoret aimed to relate what he had seen of these monks for himself, or learned from those who had themselves met the relevant monk. Unfortunately for us, it appears that Theodoret did not ever meet St Maroun, and perhaps for this reason, commentators observe that Theodoret’s account is thin for such an important monk. Theodoret makes some concise comments about St Maroun in other parts of his History.
Part One (1): The Life by Theodoret
I now present the life of Mar Maroun, I translated from the Greek text of Théodoret de Cyr: Histoire des moines de Syrie, two volumes, Pierre Canivet and Alice Leroy-Molinghen, Sources Chrétiennes 234, Les éditions du cerf, Paris, 1977 and 1979
Chapter 16.1 After Akepsimas, I will call to mind Maroun, for he adorned the godly troop of the holy ones. Maroun embraced life under the sky, taking for himself a certain hill-top which had long ago been honoured by the impious. And having dedicated to God the sacred precincts of the demons in that place, he passed all of his time there, pitching a small tent, but making little use of it. Maroun did not only employ the customary labours, but he conceived others also, gathering together the wealth of wisdom.
16.2 The judge measured out grace for these labours: so richly did the munificent one grant to him the charism of healing, that Maroun’s fame ran about everywhere, and everyone from everywhere was attracted, so that experience taught them the truth of the report. It was seen that fevers were quenched by the dew of his blessing, shudderings ceased, and demons fled – many and varied sufferings were cured by the one remedy. For the race of physicians applies to each illness the corresponding medicine, but the prayer of the holy ones is the common antidote to all pathologies.
16.3 But Maroun healed more than bodily weaknesses alone: he also applied the bountiful cure for souls. He heals the greed of this man, and the anger of that man. For one man, Maroun proffers the teaching which leads to self-control, while for another man he bestows lessons in justice; he tempers the man of intemperance, and arouses the sluggish. Farming in this manner, Maroun cultivated many crops through his wisdom: it was he who planted the paradise which now blooms in the land of Kurros (Cyr). The great Yakobos (James) was a product of this cultivation: of him and of all the others whom I shall recall individually with God’s help, one could rightly apply the famous prophetic saying: “The just man will flower like the palm tree, and will be multiplied like a cedar in the Lebanon.”
16.4 Caring in this way for the garden of God, doctoring to both souls and bodies alike, he patiently suffered but a short illness. Maroun, teaching us the frailty of our nature and strength in commitment, withdrew himself from this life.
Quarrelling broke out between the neighbours over his body, a violent quarrel. A populous bordering village came out in a body, scattered all of the others, and seized this most-desired treasure. They built a great sacred enclosure, and even to this very day they reap the profit, honouring Maroun the victory-bearer with a public feast. And even we, who are at a distance, reap his blessing, for it is not Maroun’s tomb which contents us, but his memory.
Part One (2): Other passages from Theodoret
Some other parts of Theodoret are also relevant. Here are the relevant extracts, also newly translated for this edition.
Chapter VI, Symeon
(summary) 6.2 Some Jews were journeying to a citadel which lay outside of our “inhabited world” (oikoumene). They lost their way in a storm, and came upon Symeon in his cave. Symeon offered them guides to put them back on the right road, and summoned two lions, who at Symeon’s direction, led the Jewish travellers back onto their road.
3 “But no one is to think the narrative is fabulous, for I have as witnesses to its truth, those who are usually foes of the truth. Indeed, the very Jews who met with this good service continued to praise this act. And this was told to me by great Yakub himself, who stated that he had been present when the Jewish travellers related the miracle to the divinely-voiced Maroun.” [Theodoret then stresses that this was an instance where Jews witnessed a miracle wrought through a Christian.]
Chapter XXI, Yakub
(summary) Yakub had been a companion of Maroun, who had lived in a place once holy to the pagans, and protected himself from the elements only by retiring to a tent made of “hairy skins” in rain or snow.
Chapter XXII, Limnaios
22.2 Limnaios had been a pupil of Thalassios, and then went to Maroun at the same time as Yakub, and after this, being eager for the “life under the sky”, took possession of another hilltop, lying above the village of Targalla.
Ch. XXIV, Zebinas
24.2 Zebinas was admired by Maroun, who advised all who visited him to obtain Zebinas’ blessing. Maroun wished to be buried in Zebinas’ grave.
Ch. XXX, Domnina
30.1 Emulating the life of the inspired Maroun, whom we recalled above, the wonderful Domnina set up a small hut in the garden of her mother’s house; her hut is made of millet stalks. Passing the whole day there, she wets with incessant tears not only her cheeks but also her garments of hair, for such is the clothing with which she covers her body. Going at cockcrow to the divine shrine nearby, she offers hymnody to the Master of the universe, together with the rest, both men and women. This she does not only at the beginning of the day but also at its close, thinking the place consecrated to God to be more venerable than every other spot and teaching others so. Judging it, for this reason, worthy of every attention, she has persuaded her mother and brothers to spend their fortune on it.
Part One (3): St John Chrysostom’s Letter
St John Chrysostom (c.349-407) wrote this letter to “Maroun, the Monk and Hermit”, probably in 405. This translation is by Dr Valevicius and Dr Hourani (see http://maronite-institute.org/St-Maron.pdf, accessed 5 April 2017, the Feast of St Robert).
The bonds of affection and good will tie me to you and I can see you as if you were right here beside me. No distance can weaken the look of love. I would like to write to you more often, very pious Sir, but that is not easy due to all the obstacles in my way here [in exile]. Nevertheless, I send you my greetings each chance that I have and I want you to know that I never forget you and that I always carry you in my heart wherever I may be. Be gracious enough to inform me about the state of your health as often as you can. Even if we are separated in body, I always receive great consolation when I hear from you, even in my solitude. It is a delight for me each time I learn that you are doing well. But what I ask most of all, is that you pray to God on my behalf.
One cannot be absolutely certain that this is addressed to the Maroun of whom Theodoret wrote. However, no other Maroun who was a monk and hermit is known from that time and place. As the “It is generally accepted that he is the addressee of a letter of St John Chrysostom written to “Maroun, monk and hermit”, The Gorgias Encyclopaedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage, Gorgias Press, Piscataway, 2011 p. 270.
Joseph Azize, 5 April 2017 (The Feast of St Robert)
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