The Maronites are an ethno-religious Christian group. The Maronite Church is an Eastern Catholic sui iuris church which today is in full communion with the Pope and the Catholic Church, with the right of self-governance under the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. Their largest population is found in Mount Lebanon in Lebanon.
The Maronites get their name from the Syriac Christian saint Maron, who lived in 5th century. Due to persecution, some of his followers drifted from the area of Antioch to the area of Mount Lebanon and established the nucleus of the Syriac Maronite Church. The followers withdrew into the mountains and were detached from the rest of the Christian Church.
The New Encyclopedia of Religious knowledge states that when the Maronites broke off from Rome after the Council of Chalcedonthey, they followed the Bible instead of Catholic traditions including keeping the seventh day Sabbath in the eighth century along with the St. Thomas Christians of India, the Abyssinians, the Jacobites, and the Armenians,” Schaff-Herzog.
It wasn’t until several centuries later that relationship was regained with Rome, and they went back to the beliefs of the Catholic church and keeping Sunday Holy. However, the Maronite Church has a clear difference with the Roman Catholic regarding celibacy. Maronites do not require their priests to remain unmarried.
Saint Maron sent Saint Abraham, often referred to as the Apostle of Lebanon, to minister and convert the non-Christian native population of Lebanon to Maronite Christianity. The name of the Adonis River was changed to Abraham’s river by the inhabitants after Saint Abraham preached there.
After the Muslim defeat of the Levant, the Maronites were able to have an independent social position in Mount Lebanon and its coastline, keeping their Christian faith, and even the Western Aramaic language as late as the 19th century.
Mass departure from Lebanon to the Americas at the outset of the 20th century, the famine during World War I that killed an estimated one third to one half of the population, the 1860 Mount Lebanon civil war and the Lebanese Civil War between 1975-90 decreased the Maronite population in the Levant.
The Maronites Today
Maronites constitute more than one quarter of the total population of modern-day Lebanon. Maronites also are found in the neighboring Levant, as well in the Americas, Europe, Australia, and Africa. The Syriac Maronite Church, under the Patriarch of Antioch, has branches in all countries where Maronite Christian communities live, in both the Levant and the Lebanese diaspora.
All Lebanese presidents have been Maronites as part of a tradition that persists as part of the National Pact, by which the Prime Minister has historically been a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of the National Assembly has historically been a Shi’i Muslim.
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