Reflections leading up to the Feast of the Assumption

Reflection Day 1

“It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and thongs, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh. One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, “What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”

The king fell into a rage, and gave orders to have pans and caldrons heated. These were heated immediately, and he commanded that the tongue of their spokesman be cut out and that they scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of the brothers and the mother looked on. When he was utterly helpless, the king ordered them to take him to the fire, still breathing, and to fry him in a pan. The smoke from the pan spread widely, but the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly, saying, “The Lord God is watching over us and in truth has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song that bore witness against the people to their faces, when he said, ‘And he will have compassion on his servants.’” 2 Maccabees 7.

It is no co-incidence that the feast of St Shmoomi is celebrated on 1 August when we begin preparing ourselves through fasting, prayer and abstinence for the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption which we celebrate on 15 August. Shmooni and her sons are ‘types’ for Mary and Christ in the Old Testament.

The parallels are clear, we are told that the mother was Jewish, was amazing and deserves a special place in our memory. She does not know how her son’s life began in her womb (the womb in Syriac thought being symbolic of God’s mercy, rahm). Like Mary she endured her son’s unjustified suffering and torment and ultimate death because she trusted in the will of God. She was noble and loving. The son’s are also seen as a type of Christ, arranged to mirror the passion of Jesus.

St Shmouni endured tremendous suffering for her faith. She was a God fearing women and a faithful mother. She encouraged her seven sons to uphold their faith in the face of death.

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Reflection Day 2

Our Lady is prefigured in the Old Testament and is recognised as the new Eve. From the beginning we learn in Genesis 3:15

‘And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring
and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

St. Ephrem the Syrian recognises this type and anti type:

‘Eve brought to the world the murdering Cain; Mary brought forth the Lifegiver. One brought into the world him who spilled the blood of his brother (cf. Gen 4:1-16); the other, him whose blood was poured out for the sake of his brothers. One brought into the world him who fled, trembling because of the curse of the earth; the other brought forth him who, having taken the curse upon himself, nailed it to the Cross (cf. Col 2:14) – Diatessaron 2, 2; SC 121, 66.
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Reflection Day 3

On 3 August in the Maronite saints calendar we celebrate the feast of the prophet David.

There is parallel between the story of David receiving the Ark of the Covenant (1 Samuel 6) and the visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45).

Both David and Mary go to the Hill country of Judea. In the Old Testament, the ark is brought to King David and he calls out: “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” (2 Sam 6:9). In the same way, Elizabeth cries out when when Mary comes to her: “Why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Lk 1:43).

The ark of the covenant remains in the house of O’bed-e’dom for three months, and Mary remains with Elizabeth for three months.

“The Lord blessed O’bed-e’dom and all his household” (2 Samuel 6:11), in the same way Jesus is “Blessed” in Mary’s womb. The ark was carried to Jerusalem “with rejoicing”, with David “leaping and dancing before the Lord” (2 Sam 6:12, 16). On seeing Mary, Elizabeth exclaims “the child in my womb leaped for joy” (Lk 1:44).

We encourage you to read
1 Samuel 6 and Luke 1:39-45.

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Reflection Day 4

Hymnography is a very important part of the Syriac tradition. It was used to combat the heresies of the day, educate, praise and worship.

This Marian hymn (which we have recorded in English) has become an anthem for Maronites, sung at all occasions.

See the hymn, Oh Mother of God here:

Reflection Day 5

Did Isaiah announce first?

The Maronite Liturgy takes many of the prefiguration’s, connecting the prophecies of the Old Testament, to the New Testament.

Today let us reflect on Isaiah, he prophesised the birth of the Lord by a Virgin.

“Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

As the Angel Gabriel brings the news to the Virgin Mary, we see this prophecy being fulfilled.

Come, Isaiah, rejoice with us!
Son of Amoz, sing with praise!
For your words now have been fulfilled
and your prophecy made known:
that a virgin shall conceive
and Emmanuel be born,
he whose name means “God with us!”
Taking flesh, God came as man,
dwelling here with us on earth
(Announcement to Mary Liturgy, Maronite Book of Offering)

Today read Isaiah 9:6-7 and Luke 1:26-48
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Reflection Day 6

Reflection for the Feast of the Transfiguration

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As Maronites and Catholics we are sometimes challenged for praying to the saints and Mary. In the feast of the Transfiguration we see Moses who was dead before Christ, conversing with him. Our Lady and the saints can indeed intercede for us and it is good for us to seek their intercession.

Read more about this beautiful feast here

Reflection Day 7

Reflection – day 7

One of the Marian dogmas of the Church is the Immaculate Conception. Here are ten things to know…

Reflection Day 8

Many countries claim their own Marian shrines such as Fatima, Medugorje or Our Lady of Lourdes.

For Maronites many flock to the Maronite shrine of Saydet Beshwat, deep in the scenic village in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon. The original Church was built in 1741 after a Byzantine wooden icon of the Virgin Mary was discovered in one of the deep caves below the current site.

In 1880, after a request from the villagers, a Jesuit priest organised for a copy of the statue of Our Lady of Pontmain to be erected in the Church. Pontmain in France is also the site of a Marian shrine where it is reported there was an apparition of Our Lady to some children in 1870 during the Franco-German war.

Our Lady of Beshwat wears a gold crown and a blue star-spangled robe. She carries a crucifix and a rosary in her hand. Pilgrims, both Christian and Muslims flock to the site seeking the intercession of Our Lady of Beshwat and for that reason a new larger church has been built next to the old one.

Many people claim that they have experienced miracles in their lives because of her intercession. One such experience was reported by an expatriate, Tony Sukkar who suffered from a disease which paralysed his upper body. He visited the site and sought the intercession of Saydet Beshwat and was healed. He subsequently constructed a statue of the Virgin Mary in his nearby home town of Deir el Ahmar in her honour.

Saydet Beshwat intercede for us.

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Reflection Day 9

The Protecting Veil

Today we introduce something different. John Tavener was a British composer. He converted to Russian Orthodoxy in 1977 and his faith and he became a major influence on his work. He was particularly drawn to its mysticism, studying and setting to music the writings of Church Fathers and completed a setting of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. He also set music to Ephrem’s Hymn on Paradise.

One of his most popular pieces became ‘The Protecting Veil’. He wrote it for the Orthodox feast of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God, which commemorates the apparition of Mary, Mother of God, in the early 10th Century at the Blachernae Palace church in Constantinople. It is believed that she spread her veil over all the people in the church as a protection. Click on the link to listen to this beautiful piece. The complete composition can be downloaded from iTunes, Spotify and other platforms.

The veil is also a typology in Syriac tradition. As Fr Yuhanna Azize explains:

‘The Protevangelium of James opens with the story of Joachim, and then goes to the birth of Mary, which is presented as a virginal conception. From the text it appears that the author also believed in the Immaculate Conception. From the age of three, we are told, Mary was placed in the Temple, and remained there until the age of 12 (puberty, at which age should would be impure according to Jewish law), weaving the veil of the Temple.

There is a profound typology here, because she continued weaving it although she had to leave the Temple, and not until she had conceived the Lord, did she finish the veil. In other words, Our Lord represented the veil (Hebrews 10:20 says that the Lord’s flesh was the veil – presumably because it hid His divinity.) That is why the weaving of it could not be completed until after the virginal conception had taken place.

Further, the death of the Lord coincides with the rending of the veil of the Temple from top to bottom at the time of His death (Matthew 27:5). Typologically, the veil is the antetype of the type which is the body of the Lord.

That is, the weaving of the cloth of the veil which was begun in the Temple, was completed outside of it, when the Lord was born. It was placed in the Temple, where it hung until He was slain, at which time it was rent. Our Lord, therefore, was the very soul of the Temple, the very life of the religion.


Reflection Day 10

Our Lady of Elige

This icon can be found in almost any Maronite Church.
Our Lady of Elige is uniquely Syriac inspired Maronite art. The icon is more than 1000 years old, and was the Maronite Patriarchs personal icon. The icon has travelled with generations of Patriarch’s, travelling wherever Maronites moved to flee persecution.

The icon is given its name following its discovery in the Church of Our Lady of Elige which is located in the village of Mayfouq in the district of Jbeil. From the 12th to the mid- 15th century the Church was the refuge, shelter and home of our Maronite Patriarchs.
The icon has had extensive restoration work done in the 1980’s. The Carmelite nuns assigned to the restoration, discovered layer after layer of paint over the original icon.

It is one of our oldest preserved icons. Many of our early icons were destroyed over the centuries due to wars, persecutions and the destruction of Churches.
The icon depicts the Virgin Mother with Christ on her lap. The painting continues the Syriac artistic tradition initiated by the Rabulla manuscripts of the sixth Century.

The blue of Mary’s robe signifies divinity, and purple of the child Jesus robe signifies royalty. The halos of both figures are a simple wide band if gold typical of Syriac iconography and free of Byzantine influence. A cross is contained in Christ’s halo and lettering for the “Mother of God” in Our Lady’s. The profession of faith made by the symbolic form of blessing of Jesus’ right hand, that is three fingers joined (to signify the three Persons in one God), and the index and other finger (signify that Christ is God and man). Our Lady’s right hand also declares Christ divine and human.

As is typical in Syriac icons, the Virgin Mother’s hair is completely concealed and covered by the headband worn in the Semitic culture. The two star-like symbols on Mary’s head and shoulder represent her enduring virginity before and after Christ’s birth.
The facial features of both figures are in the Syriac style and reveal the delicate, gentle and transparent divine presence.

Our Lady of Elige – Pray for Us

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Reflection Day 11

Maronite devotion to Mary.

Perhaps influenced by St Ephrem, ‘Mary’s Own Singer’, Maronites have a deep devotion to Our Lady. In homes and in villages you will see icons and grottos dedicated to Our Lady. Villages often have a secondary Church dedicated to her.

One such example is in the village of Hadchit where one of the Churches is dedicated to ‘Saydet el Sheef’ or Our Lady of the cliff. It is believed that Our Lady carried a rock off the side of the cliff and it transformed into a child (perhaps an alluding to the virgin conception).

As we prepare for this feast of her Glorious Assumption we have a special intention. We ask her intercede for all those people who are living life on the edge.

Those suffering with their mental health,
those who are living with addictions,
those in prison,
those who are the victims of physical and sexual abuse,
those who are lonely,
those who are grieving,
those who are homeless
and those who are poor.

May she be their refuge and their hope.

Amen

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Reflection Day 12

Today let us reflect on Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth. Mary had just received news from the Angel Gabriel that she was to have a child.

On arriving in the city of Judah, Elizabeth greets her cousin with joy and immediately knows Mary is pregnant and that the child she carries, is the one who has come to be sacrificed for the world. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. Her child (John the Baptist) leaps in her womb and Elizabeth cries out:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Luke 1:42-45

The Holy Spirit has filled Elizabeth and her unborn baby and John is baptised in the womb and will have his own mission to be the forerunner of Christ.

St Ephrem writes:

The Word of the Father came from His womb.
and put on a body in another womb;
the Word proceeded from one womb to another-
and chaste wombs are now filled with the Word;
blessed is He who has resided in us

Through the Mystery of the Eucharist we are privileged to receive Jesus, He resides in us just as he did in Mary’s womb.

On this Sunday, if you have not been to Mass in a while, go and allow the Lord to reside in you. Remember that you can encounter Christ everyday through prayer and through the mystery of the Eucharist.

Allow him to visit you and allow yourself to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

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Reflection Day 13

In Luke 1:30-33 we hear…

“The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

The announcement by the angel fulfilled a prophecy revealed in the book of Isaiah.

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

The Syriac fathers often taught about events through a literary technique called the dispute dialogue. They would select a certain scene from the Gospel and expand on it creating a dialogue between two characters. One remaining dialogue expands on the Annunciation and captures a conversation between Mary and the Angel. There are about 40 of these poems in existence and they are worthwhile reviving for modern catechetical use. This literary device originated in Mesopotamia and was widely adapted by the Syriac Fathers.

The dialogue poem between Mary and the Angel explores the conflict between reason and faith. It explores the initial hesitation that Mary must have felt when she received the astounding words of the Angel. However, it is when the Angel mentions the coming of the Holy Spirit, that Mary accepts that this is indeed a message from God and her faith leads her to believe.

You can read more dialogue poems and the full text of the Annunciation dialogue poem at this link.

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Reflection Day 14

This excerpt from the Hymn on the Nativity by St Ephrem is a wonderful example of the Syriac focus on Mary from the earliest times…

‘A wonder is Your Mother. The Lord entered her, and became a servant: the Word entered her, and became silent within her; thunder entered her, and His voice was still: the Shepherd of all entered her; He became a Lamb in her, and came forth bleating.

The Belly of Your Mother changed the order of things, O You that orders all! The rich went in, He came out poor: the High One went in, He came out lowly. Brightness went into her and clothed Himself, and came forth a despised form.

The Mighty went in, and clad Himself with fear from the Belly. He that gives food to all went in, and gat hunger. He that gives all to drink went in, and gat thirst. Naked and bare came forth from her the Clother of all.’

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