Women in the Pentecost Gospels

A Maronite lesson in the Church we are called to be

Pentecost marks the birth of the Church and throughout the season we hear Gospels and Epistles with messages to the Church. As Pentecost comes to an end, we hear a series of Gospel’s whose central characters are women. While the Gospel’s can speak to each of us individually about the kind of person we should be, these Gospel’s are chosen to speak to us collectively about the Church we are called to be, a Church that is called to decrease in order to increase.

In the Syriac Rabbula Gospel icon for Pentecost, we see the inclusion of Mary in a prominent position.  Mary is not specifically mentioned in the scene in Acts 2, however she is mentioned as being with the Apostles earlier in Acts 1:14. In Syriac thought, Mary herself is a type of  Church. As the Pentecost Gospel’s unfold, we see other women in the Gospels are also types of Church.

On the twelfth Sunday of Pentecost we are introduced to the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28). The Gospel begins with Jesus leaving “that place” and going to the region of Tyre and Sidon. The place he was leaving was where he had been challenged by the Pharisees and teachers of the law about the breaking of the traditions of the elders (Matthew 15:1). The leaders and experts of the Church are burdened and preoccupied with the laws and  it is against this exchange, that we are introduced to the Canaanite woman, a foreigner. The Canaanite woman’s call to Jesus demonstrates immediately that she knew who he was. She recognised he is Lord, the Son of David and that he is the one that can heal her demon possessed daughter who is suffering terribly. The disciples tell Jesus to send the woman away and Jesus, in what can only be regarded a humiliating rebuke, tells the woman that he was sent only for the lost sheep of Israel.

When our faith is challenged and we are

humiliated our instinct is to react and demand justice for ourselves. Instead, even when the Canaanite women was compared to a dog and humiliated and marginalised, her concern remained for her daughter’s healing. She knew that Christ was the path to that healing and she continued to beg him for it.

In the season of Pentecost,  the Canaanite woman becomes an example to us all about the Church we are called to be. The Canaanite woman is not preoccupied with the law, rather she understands the law and with that understanding approaches Christ in love, faith and humility.

With so much happening in our world today, it is easy for us to consider ourselves persecuted and react with anger and demand justice for ourselves, forgetting those who are suffering terribly. It is easier to speak of the “rules” like the Pharisees and teachers of the law and demand that they not be broken. The Canaanite woman does not react this way, instead she unravels her beauty in humility and meekness and becomes an example of faith. She kneels before Christ and begs him, not for herself, but for her daughter who needs healing. To be the Canaanite woman is counter intuitive to how we think the Church should conduct herself in society. Why shouldn’t the Church stand up and defend itself? Against our intuition, we as a Church do not need to demand justice for ourselves, rather we need to have faith that our love and humility can lead others to be healed by Christ.

On the thirteenth Sunday of Pentecost, in the Gospel of Luke 8:1-15 we hear about the women who were accompanying Jesus, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, Susanna ‘and many others who provided for them out of their resources.’

These were women who were healed by Christ are now devoting their resources to accompany Christ, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.

The mission of the Church is a central theme in Pentecost. The Church is called to devote its resources to preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The women in this Gospel are testimony to the fact that Christ came for all of our healing and salvation. This is the very mission of the Church, to proclaim that good news.  In the season of Pentecost, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit has been sent to give us the wisdom to take the message of redemption to the world. As a Church, the message is simple, Christ came for our healing and our salvation and like the women who were healed, we as a Church also stand witness to that and are called to proclaim that. These women have left everything to be with Christ and join him on his mission.

Similarly, on the fourteenth Sunday of Pentecost we hear the story of Mary and Martha. Mary leaves everything to be with Christ. Like the other Gospels, Luke 10:38-42 opens with Christ, accompanied by others, continuing a journey.

Martha like the Pharisees in Matthew’s Gospel is burdened, “anxious and worried about many things” even though Christ came to lift that burden and fulfil the law.

The message to us as a Church, is we need to avoid getting caught up in anxiety for the future, of losing our rights and way of life. Christians trust God to provide for them. The Church is more than an ideology. When as a Church, we become disciples of the ideology and are consumed by anxiety, we forget the very essence of who we are. Christ is at our centre and as a Church, like Mary, all we need is to be with him.

This year, the liturgical cycle did not proceed to the fifteenth week of Pentecost, yet in that week we would hear the Gospel of the sinful woman who found repentance through Christ. (Luke 7:36-50)

The Maronite  Pentecost lectionary gives as a typology of women to inspire us to the Church we are called to be, a Church of faith, love and humility. A Church on a missionary journey who is accompanied and healed by Christ himself.

In the words of the Liturgy at Pentecost let us remember:

Jesus is the faithful Groom
and we are the Church, his Bride.
He loves us and keeps us in the palm of his hand.
Our betrothal prophets blessed,
and our vows apostles wrote,
and when martyrs shed their blood
the promise was sealed.

Amen

Saint Charbel – An Inspiration to Holiness

If the world was to ask us what St Charbel famous for what would we answer? He did not come from a noble family and was not a renowned theologian or philosopher. No dignitaries were present at his funeral.

What is it that makes St Charbel so special? Holiness! Plain and simple holiness. This holy man who is the very blood of our blood and bones of our bones, achieved sainthood by living the simplest life in prayer, humility and work. His eyes were always gazing at the floor but his heart, mind and soul were always lifted to the Lord. He did not concern himself with what the world would think of him, rather he concerned himself only with the Lord.

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St Charbel Statue in Annaya, Lebanon. Copyrighted to Living Maronite

St Charbel’s life may seem to the world unremarkable. He was born on 8 May 1828 in the village of Bekaafra, high in the mountains of Lebanon.  His Maronite parents Antoun Makhlouf and Brigitta Chidiac named him Youssef Antoun Makhlouf. His father died when he was 3 years old, leaving Brigitta a widow with five children. She later remarried a man who joined the priesthood and became the parish priest of the village.

In 1851 at age of 23, Youssef left his family and entered the Lebanese Maronite Order at the Monastery of Our Lady of Mayfouq. It is at that monastery that the famous Maronite icon of  Our Lady of Elige is located. One could imagine Youssef spending many nights praying before an icon, seeking the intercession of Our Lady.  Later, Youssef transferred to the Monastery of St Maroun in Annaya, where he took the name Charbel, after the Christian martyr, Saint Charbel of Edessa.

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St Charbel church in Annaya, Lebanon. Copyrighted to Living Maronite.

Charbel then began studies at the Monastery of Saints Cyprian and Justina in Kiffan. One of his professors at the seminary was Father Nehmtallah Kassab, who later became the Maronite saint, Nehmtallah Hardinie.

Charbel was ordained a priest in 1859 at 31 years of age. He was sent back to the Saint Maroun Monastery, where he lived a life of asceticism. In 1875, Charbel was given permission to live as a hermit at the hermitage of Saints Peter and Paul. He lived for the next 23 years as a solitary hermit.

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St Charbel’s Room in Annaya, Lebanon. Copyrighted to Living Maronite

On Christmas eve, 1898, while serving the liturgy, Charbel collapsed at the altar and died from a stroke at the age of 70. His death was a quiet affair and his funeral was attended by only four monks. It was only long after his death, when many miracles were attributed to him, that St Charbel became known. He was canonized as the first Maronite Saint on 9 October 1977, by Pope Paul VI.

For those not familiar with the area, Baakafra, where St Charbel grew up, is located above the Qadisha valley in North Lebanon.  Nearby, in Becharre, are located the Cedars of God. Over time, this entire secluded area has become a refuge and sanctuary for many Maronites and the perfect place to search for God. It is no surprise that St Charbel, who was born high in Baakafra, developed a love of silence. St Charbel did not rely on words to attain sainthood. He would have come to know silence well in his 23 years in solitude at the hermitage of Saints Peter and Paul. It is that great simple, contemplative silence which has marked Maronite asceticism for generations and it is that silence which the world needs now more than ever.

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Ba’kafra, Lebanon where St Charbel grew up. Copyrighted to Living Maronite.

The desire to want nothing (not even words), but to be with our Lord, has been the way of the Syriac monastics from the beginning. No doubt, if St Charbel was here with us now, he would inspire us to turn off social media and phones and all the many distractions of our time and grasp just a moment to build up our souls in contemplation of God.

Contemplation is not only for monks, like St Charbel we can look to detach from the things in this world, the things keeping us away from God. We can all regularly abstain and fast and moderate the things of the flesh. We can be inspired by St Charbel to have a preparedness to pilgrim to a place of holiness deep within ourselves where in solitude we can just be with God and be ‘wakeful and pray’. (Matt. 26:41). We all need to carve out our own space and our own time and find silence in the noise of each day.

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St Charbel’s robe. Copyrighted to Living Maronite

St Charbel died while serving the liturgy and there can be no doubt that the liturgy would have been the centre of St Charbel’s life.  God uses the physical to make known the intelligible. God the Son clothed himself in humanity so we may come to know him. In the same way, the liturgy raises our mind to the spiritual realities. Like the incarnation in which the invisible Word of God became visible, our liturgy inspires us to deepen the spiritual dimensions of our lives. Be inspired by St Charbel to visit the liturgy regularly. The liturgy is our ladder to salvation and at its summit is the life-giving Eucharist.

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Burial place of St Charbel, Annaya, Lebanon. Copyrighted to Living Maronite

So as the Maronite Church celebrates this great feast and the bells in the mountains of Baakafra ring out in joy to the rest of the world, we look to St Charbel to inspire the world by his example of simplicity and humility to strive for holiness.

Amen


Christina Maksisi and Theresa Simon

The Earth, our Mother and our Child

“Lord, you have made so many things!
How wisely you made them all!
The earth is filled with your creatures.
There is the ocean, large and wide,
Where countless creatures live.”
Psalms 104: 24-25

When God made the humble butterfly, I wonder whether it was while painting its wings in bursting watercolours, or if it was while teaching it to fly, that God decided to give butterflies the ability to stop time itself. I wonder if butterflies know their power. Such a small creature can transform a mind filled with a chaotic storm of thoughts and emotions to a calm river. Never has there ever been a person that has not caught themself stopping whatever task it was that was occupying them only to watch this graceful insect dance in the air before them.

And I wonder if it was while God was planting the Lebanese cedars that God decided to loan it wisdom. Or was it while shaking the snow off its branches that God decided to give it age and grace beyond human capacities. I often ponder what the cedars would show us if they could. I wonder if they remember all the wars, the invasions and independances. Did God give us the cedars as a sign of solidarity? That no matter snow or shine, regardless of if there is war or peace, like the cedars, God would remain?

And the soil beneath our feet; why did God decide it necessary to give the earth a foundation to grow on? Why must we bury seeds in the dirt to grow a rose? Why can we not grow a garden on a rock or in a pond? I wonder if God was trying to tell us that things can only grow from a place that has been nourished with the right things. I wonder if that is a metaphor for our very souls; that we as people can only grow if we prepare ourselves for growth – if we place ourselves in an environment that will allow us to grow.

Finally, do you not think it funny that God, a fountain of boundless knowledge – who knew we would destroy such a perfectly crafted world – would still decide to place it in our hands? It is like spending hours burning and moulding sand into a crystal glass, and then placing it in the hands of a toddler and expecting it not to break. But God trusted us. Even though God knew the world could very well break within our hands, God also knew the world could be made to grow in those same hands. We are a people of growing knowledge; and we have been gifted with the ability to learn and create.

So may someone tell me why in the process of leading the human race to the future, we have left the earth that we call home, behind? The earth loved us before we were civilised, so why have we disrespected it in return? If not for ourselves and for the future generations, we should at least respect our God enough to look after the world that God loved into existence.

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
(Genesis 1:31)

Jennifer Khoury

Freedom of Speech

In this season of Pentecost, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit has been sent to give us the wisdom to take the message of Christ to the world. As Christians, the right to practice our faith is important, however with that right comes a responsibility. Even if the world allows us to say whatever we want, as Christians, we need to be guided by the Holy Spirit and discern how we say things and when we choose to say them. In this season of Pentecost we can reflect on the fruits of the Holy Spirit and use them to guide our speech.

Love

St Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that we can do many things, but if they are done without love, they are pointless.

“If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

Christian preaching is worthless without love. It is our love which will inspire others to Christ, not our judgement. Condemnation of people is not going to bring people to Christ. God transforms in love, not in fear.

Joy

Christianity is not going to be attractive if the people in it are morally outraged, full of self-righteousness, judgmental, fearful and closed up on themselves. We must resist anger and the language of moral decline. The joy of the Gospel is for everyone and no one is excluded.

Peace

Peace comes from relying on God. We need to avoid getting caught up in anxiety for the future, of losing our rights and way of life. Christians trust God to provide for them. From the beginning the central message to Adam and Eve was that God in his divine glory had given them choice. He gives us the choice to choose Him. Many did not believe Jesus was the Messiah because they expected someone who would come and overthrow the present kingdom, the government of the time. Jesus consistently taught that his Kingdom was not the kingdom of this world.  He resisted temptation in the wilderness when Satan showed him all the kingdoms of earth and offered them to him to rule.  Jesus did not come with armies or rule by forcing his views, morals and doctrines on anyone. He came in peace.

Patience

What is the point of saying to someone who does not share your Christian views – Doesn’t anyone believe in marriage anymore? The truth is many people don’t believe in Christian marriage and they have not done so in a long time. What is the point of telling people they are going to hell when they don’t even believe in hell? God has allowed us all the freedom to choose. Patience requires us to have a knowledge of our own imperfections and our need for God’s mercy and forgiveness and to accept that others have a right to examine their own imperfections and make their own choices.

Kindness

Our actions are in the spotlight right now, including how we speak and how we treat people. Kindness is the willingness to give to others beyond what we owe them, even if we don’t agree with them.

Goodness

Avoid evil yourself and embrace what is right. People are only going to be attracted to something that they see is working. They need to be inspired by the way you live your life in Christ. If you are living your own life as a true Christian and you are loving both your neighbour and strangers, people are going to be attracted to that.

Perseverance

Do not be easily provoked. We are witnessing amongst a section of our Christian community a growing fear about the world. We are witnessing knee jerk reactions. Don’t fear the secular world and the things happening in it, rather remember that everything is an opportunity to bring Christ into the midst.

Mildness

Christ Himself, said “I am gentle and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29). Don’t let anger and rashness cause you to say things you will regret. Take your time, be gentle and forgiving rather than angry. Be gracious rather than vengeful. Do not insist on always having your own way and choose your moments carefully. The need to win the argument in the short-term can lead to us actually losing it in the long run. A discussion that descends into argument, debate and personal attacks will not bring anyone to Christ. Listening to and understanding the other person’s view, even if you don’t agree with it, is the key to unlocking what it is you need to say to that person in that moment. There are times when it is actually prudent to say nothing. The need to have the last word in this moment may cause hurt and drive people away forever. Think beyond the need to win and be patient.

Faith

Faith requires us to live our lives in accordance with God’s will at all times. As Pope Francis has warned, be careful of turning the faith into an ideology because when we do:

“The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”

Modesty

Being modest means humbling yourself and being just as powerless as God. Modesty requires us to resist the temptation to coerce, rather it allows us to slowly unveil the beauty and the truth of things without imposing them.

Self-Control

We need to exercise moderation in all things. We must be prudent about when and how we speak and not provoke others to anger. Self-control sometimes requires us not to speak at all, but rather listen. Listening will often lead us to improving ourselves.

Chastity

We are not called to simply indulge in our physical desires and succumb to what we need to say in that moment. If you are speaking about Christ, start by speaking about who Christ is and that he came for all of our salvation. He came to heal, forgive and free us. Don’t start by telling people Christ came to condemn them. Don’t indulge in your own self-righteousness, be prepared to listen and allow the Spirit to work through you to properly discern the right time to speak and the right words to say.

Prophet Amos – 17 June

Amos was one of the twelve minor prophets and was active during the rule of kings Jeroboam II and Uzziah in c. 760-755 BCE. Amos preached in the northern Kingdom of Israel, he preached against the increased gap between the rich and poor. The book of Amos is attributed to him.

Before he was called by God, Amos was a herdsman and Sycamore fig farmer. Amos is the first of the prophets to document the messages he received. He wished to preach in Bethel, where there was a royal sanctuary, although he was denounced by the head Prophet_Amos_Hand-Painted_Orthodox_Icon_2priest Amazuah to King Jeroboam II and was advised to leave the kingdom. Although, this did not discourage him, he began to write his messages so that if they were not heard, they were read.

Some themes of Amos’ Teachings

A God for all

Amos believed and preached that God was not only the God of Israel but for all around the world and this meant that all Men and Women were equal no matter what nation they belonged too, rich and poor alike.

Being a good Christian

Amos also preached that being just and exercising morals is more important than ceremonial worship.

“I hate; I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.  Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
 I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
 righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Amos 5:21-24

Dependence on God

Amos express that we need God in order to live, God gives us a purpose in life.

This is what the Lord says to Israel: “Seek me and live…”

Amos 5:4


Christina Maksisi

 

 

St Antonia and St Alexander – 9 June

Saint Antonia and Alexander were Christian martyrs in 313 from the town of Cardamon, with a similar story to Saints Theodora and Didymus.

The Roman emperor at the time was Diocletian, wanted to increase the number of native born Roman citizens, by criminalising intentional celibacy among women. All Roman women of suitable age were ordered to marry and produce children. At the same time Emperor Diocletian persecuted Christians. 

alexanderantoniaWomen who refused to be married were forced to work at a brothel. Antonia was sent to a brothel upon refusing to marry. Alexander was a Christian soldier who disguised himself at the brothel and asked for Antonia. He did not wish to rob her of her virginity but rather save her. He traded clothes with her in order for her to escape. Soon after, Alexander was captured and both Antonia and Alexander were burnt alive. 

Their feast is celebrated in the Maronite church on June 9. It may be possible that they were given these names to tell their story, or that the story might be of Saints Theodora and Didymus, although this is not certain. Regardless, this is a story of great faith and martyrdom. 

Lord, we pray that we have the strength to do what is right, to keep our faith in you always. Let us not be discouraged by others, and remain strong in our faith. 

Christina Maksisi

Saint Simeon the Younger

A Stylite is a Christian ascetic who lives on top of a pillar or column, they spent their time standing, exposed to rain, wind and any other natural weather. They stood preaching to those who come to seek their wisdom. The first Stylite to climb a pillar to remain in seclusion from the rest of the world was Saint Simeon, the elder whose feast is September 1. Saint Simeon the elder should not be confused with Saint Simeon, the younger, whose feast is celebrated on May 24.

Saint Simeon the Younger was attracted to the community of ascetics and sought spiritual direction from a pillar hermit named John. From a young age, Simeon had a pillar built where he would stand to pray and fast, he remained there for more than 68 years. Simeon was ordained a priest and would conduct mass from the pillar and his disciples would climb up a ladder to receive communion. There were a large number of miracles attributed to Saint Simeon, the younger. During the last years of his life he spent his time on a column near Antioch on a mountain named “Hill of Wonders” because of his miracles, and this is where he died.

We learn from the Stylite’s that prayer and fasting is crucial for us to grow spiritually in our faith. We pray that we learn from the Ascetic’s and integrate prayer and fasting into our lives more often.

Christina Maksisi

Read about what a Stylite is here.

https://livingmaronite.com/resources/what-is-a-stylite/

 

 

 

St Rita

Saint Rita’s feast is celebrated on May 22 in the universal church.

Saint Rita is a patron for many women, including women enduring hardships of marriage, motherhood, domestic violence and more. She lived her life always praying and finding hope in God for many of the challenges she faced. 

Rita was born in the year 1381 in the village of Roccaporena, near Cascia, Italy. From a young age she was drawn to the Augustinian nuns in Cascia although her parents had arranged for her to marry. In obedience to them she was married and spent 18 years in a challenging marriage, as her husband was cruel and harsh, often becoming abusive towards her. Through faith and constant prayer, Rita was able to convert her husband into a better person.  Her husband’s family was one of the two Aristocratic families in the 14th century and consequently her husband was murdered by the opposing family. Rita feared that her sons would seek revenge, she tried hard to guide them and was unable to convince them, so she prayed to save their soul and that God would take her sons before they committed any sin, her sons fell sick and died before committing any crime. 

After the deaths of her husband and sons, Rita sought to enter the monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene in Cascia but was turned away as the nuns were afraid of being associated with the family feud that had her husband murdered. Rita prayed and was persistent until she was permitted to enter the Augustinian monastery. She lived a prayerful life in the monastery and strongly desired to suffer with Christ. At age sixty, while praying before the crucifix she received a visible wound on her forehead. She bore this suffering with Christ for the next fifteen years and offered up her pain for others. The last four years of her life, she was confined to her bed, a relative from her hometown visited Rita and when asked what she desired, she only requested a single rose from her parents’ garden. Although, the roses were not in bloom in January, the woman returned to find one single rose in the garden and brought it back to Rita who was grateful. Henceforth, Saint Rita became associated with roses and impossible causes. 

Novena-to-Saint-Rita

Rita died peacefully at age seventy-six on May 22, 1457. She lived a difficult life but remained hopeful in the Lord. Rita prayed and had faith in God.

We pray that Saint Rita will intercede for all those suffering hardships in their lives, may they find comfort in the Lord. 

In our life we may come across people who are suffering, one common Christian response to them is to endure the suffering like the saints did. While we must all strive to be like the saints, they are from a different time. Rita endured her suffering as she had no other means to find help and the society she lived in did not have the sufficient support she would have needed to deal with family violence. As Christians we are called to help those who are most vulnerable within the community. No one should remain in their struggle when in our modern society we have so many resources to help. 

In Australia there are many services ready to help

1800RESPECT

1800 737 732 is a 24 hour national sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling line for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk.

Christina Maksisi

Saint Timothy and Mora – May 3

Saint Timothy and Mora, a married couple who suffered persecution for their faith.

Timothy, a deacon from Upper Egypt was charged with possession of Christian books, the emperor ordered to be confiscated and burned. Timothy was tortured and this resulted in his loss of his eyesight. Timothy gave thanks to God for the torture and remained faithful. His wife Mora was also brought in and to be tortured. Mora also endured the suffering with joy and also thanked God. Seeing the great faith the couple had, the governor Arian ordered them both to be crucified. They hung on crosses facing one another for ten days.

Saint Moura is well venerated in the Maronite Church. Several churches have been dedicated to the Martyr in Lebanon, including a monastery in Ehden. It is in this monastery that the Lebanese Maronite Order was founded in 1694 by three Maronite young men from Aleppo, Syria under the patronage of Patriarch Estephan El Douaihy.

On this feast, we pray for married couples, may their union be strengthened by your love. Guide them in their struggles and protect them from things that may divide their marriage. Bringing them together in your name, may Saint Timothy and Mora be an example of a good Christian marriage, trusting one another in even the toughest trials they face.

Christina Maksisi

The Way of the Cross – LivingMaronite

The Way of the Cross (sometimes referred to as Stations of the Cross) is a form of meditative prayer which is often said on Fridays in Lent. It is a reflection on Christ’s way on the road to the Cross of Salvation. It is a great way to pray with your family and Parish and remember Christ’s suffering for us.

At the link, see a specialised LivingMaronite copy of The Way of the Cross for you to pray and meditate to. You can download it or view it below.

[Hymn tunes coming soon]

Way of the Cross