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The Maronite Church in Today’s World

Defining The Maronite Church in Today’s World




The present text serves as an introduction to the third file. It establishes its scope and outlines the general issues dealt with in specific texts. These issues are here simply proposed from the perspective of defining the position of the Maronite Church in today’s world, taking into account the challenges and the ways to handle the ever-new changes and developments in our present world. The issues in question will be discussed in detail throughout the different texts that make up the third file.




1. The Church, the Sacrament of the incarnated Christ, is a human and divine reality lived in place and time, encompassing the historical, geographical, social, and cultural dimensions. In his encyclical “On Evangelization in The Modern World,” Pope Paul VI, states that “the Church, present all over the world, would become an abstraction if she did not take body and life precisely through the particular Churches”[1]. Thus, the Church is a presence that expresses herself through cultural patrimonies, certain languages, and a particular human establishment.


The Church would truly become the Church of Christ according to the degree that she serves as the sign of God the Father’s saving love to the people, through the grace of Christ the Lord and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Her presence means that she would be, in the midst of her social context, a living sign of God’s presence in the world. The Christian community is distinguished first and foremost by her genuine spiritual attitude, where the individual stands in dialogue before God. Thus, his soul sublimes, and his heart and conscience become cleansed, doing that is reflected in his dialogue with self and with others, individuals and groups.


Christ the Lord has defined the Christian presence in the world by saying: “you will be my witnesses,” to which the disciples have answered: “and we are his witnesses.”


Pope John Paul II expressed this aspect of life by saying: “The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission: Christ, whose mission we continue, is the "witness" par excellence (Rev. 1:5; 3:14) and the model of all Christian witness…. Christians and Christian communities are very much a part of the life of their respective nations and can be a sign of the Gospel in their fidelity to their native land, people and national culture, while always preserving the freedom brought by Christ”[2].


In the light of this, the presence of the Christian community in the world is not only for its own sake, but to be a living witness to, and the herald of the very mission of its Founder and Master.

2. The Lord Jesus said: “You are in this world, yet not of this world” (John 17:16-19). From this perspective, when we look at the state of Maronite history we see that, horizontally, it is open to a peaceful and healthy life, and at the same time it is vertically and eschatological open to eternity.


3. Like all other Churches, the Maronite Church is concerned with the transformations taking place in the world because she is neither an island secluded from the world nor a strange body living simply at the periphery of history. She lives at the center of international and regional interactions and is continuously called to read the signs of the times and to renew herself in order to reinforce her presence and to become more conscious of her vocation.


These transformations raise a major question for the church on the way to live the principles of the Gospel and witnessing to it in a changing world with rough pathways; then the human being would regain his dignity as he is a primary value and would restore his vocation as he is the image and the likeness of God.


4.    The world in which the Maronite Church dwells has always been perturbed. It is true that she has firmly faced it with steadfastness and with unfailing spiritual and temporal effort; it is also true that meditation, along with vigilance to understand the world she lives in, have guided her in her journey. She always remained faithful to her identity and to her vocation, actively seeking renewal in persons, structures, and mission.


5.    Based on the above, the first section of the present text defines the world to which the Maronite Church belongs; it traces its features and clarifies its identity, and does not overlook the transformations it has undergone. The second section presents the challenges that the present world is facing, and that obstruct the journey of the Church. The third section addresses ways by which the Maronite Church can overcome these challenges relying upon her own authentic roots, on her own experiences throughout history, and on her own creative energy that distinguishes her children and is able to mark the world with the “Maronite flavor” in addition to the qualities of giving, persistence at work, commitment to the truth, cultural openness and partnership, as well as other distinctions. These were addressed in text number 2 under the topic of The Identity and in text 23 under the topic of The Land.


Chapter One: The World to Which the Maronite Church Belongs and the Transformations It has Undergone



First: The Impact of the World on Maronite History and the Vocation of the Maronite Church


6.    The world to which the Maronite Church belongs and with which she has interacted throughout history, has played a major role in defining her identity, and she has impacted it as well. This world centers around major constants that are comprehensively addressed in the text on Identity. These constants are presented in a compendium, which reflects the distinctiveness and the singularity of the Maronite Church. The constants in question are the following:

1.                        The Patriarchal Character Common to the Eastern Churches,

2.                        The Chalcedonian Antiochene Patrimony and the Syriac Spirit,

3.                        The Ecclesial Communion within the Universal Catholic Church,

4.                        The Existential Bond to Lebanon,

5.                        The Commitment to the Arab world,

6.                        World Expansion.



Second: The Transformations that Took Place in the World where the Maronite Church Dwells


7.    The features that have characterized the Maronite Church over the ages have changed; thus, it has become necessary for the Church to carefully discern the new situation so that she can adapt, find tools of renewal, and activate her presence and mission.


In Lebanon, the Maronite Church was a reflection of her own environment, which consisted of the agricultural society in Mount Lebanon and of the close connection to the land. This was so much the case, that Maronites carried the names of their villages and areas (Bsherrani, Ehdeni, Akouri, Hakilani, Hasrouni, Bejjani, Amsheeti, and others), as if the land had became the Maronites’ family tree. With relocation to cities and evolution in lifestyles, economic constituents have changed from handicrafts and agriculture, to an economy based on services, commuting, stock markets, and modern technology. Accordingly, the Maronite’s relationship with the land has drastically changed. This topic is thoroughly addressed in text number 23.


8.    A century and a half of wars and geopolitical transformations in Lebanon and in the East have changed the social framework and the political regime in Lebanon. Special periods, (1840, 1860, 1920, and 1975) all the way to the latest Lebanese War, had impacted tragically on the Maronites in their presence and mission, and dissipated many of the Maronite institutions in Lebanon, such as the Maronite expansion over all geographical areas of Lebanon, thus negatively influencing their mission of conviviality with the other denominations. Furthermore, political repression and severe poverty in the postwar era played a drastic role in generating a feeling of “psychological emigration,” and the feeling of being a stranger in one’s own country on the part of the youth, as mentioned in “A New Hope for Lebanon” (No 96). Therefore, there is a need to meditate and to formulate a vision through the works of the synod in order for the Maronite Church to regain her role and her mission in Lebanon, as well as in the whole East, and to all the corners of the world where her own children are present.


9.    External migration was one of the most significant changes that affected the Maronite Church in modern times since the establishment of greater Lebanon. This migration also affected the Maronites in all countries of the Patriarchal Domain; this led to an extensive expansion of the Maronites in the Americas, Australia, and Europe, in addition to the expansion in the Arab countries which is considered temporary and not permanent.


The Maronite Church has been transformed into a Universal Church, whose members in the world significantly outnumber those in Lebanon and in the Patriarchal Domain. This phenomenon presents the Maronite Church with a new challenge, which consists in redefining her task and vocation in today’s world, and in turning her expansion in the world into a source of hope and strength for herself and for her children.


10.  In addition, the geopolitical changes that took place in the Arab world have negatively affected, and still do affect, the Maronites. The continuous wars in the Middle East since the end of World War II have been a factor of impoverishment and regression. Also, the economic choices of the countries of the region have had a negative effect on the conditions of the people in the region, as much as their military decisions. The political developments, conflicts, issues, and crises that have swept the Arab world at the beginning of the 21st Century have taken an international perspective. The 9/11 attacks on the United States and what followed, the war in Iraq, the escalation of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, have transformed our region into an arena of international conflicts, thus leaving the people to languish and spread concern in the world. All these developments, in addition to the geo-demographic changes incurred on the status of the Christians of the East, the Maronites included, lead to a lack of confidence, a growth in anxiety, and an increase in emigration of Christian youth. This trend will get worse if the real causes of the crisis affecting all the youth of the region are not properly addressed.


11.  On the international level, humanity has entered the era of globalization. Thus, the world, thanks to the means of ongoing advanced communication, has become a “global village of open horizons and borders, of multitudes of cultures and religions; its extremities interconnect and interact; its particularities are interactively and mutually affecting the whole of human society. Today’s world constitutes an interconnected unity.


At the dawn of the third millennium, great ambitions motivate humanity seeking to establish a new world order founded on the protection of human rights, of people, of democracies, and basic public liberties. Even if the ultimate goal were to create a tranquil, relaxed, and open atmosphere that would enable the human family to address its many problems, especially the serious ones in the Third World, reaching her final objective is hampered by many obstacles. The Universal Church finds herself facing a challenge at the present time, for she is concerned about the development of history and cannot remain indifferent to what goes on around her. “The solidarity of the human race in good times and bad times is one of the major signs of today’s world”[3]. The greatest challenge faced by humanity today is coexistence among different cultures, ethnicities, and religions, based on the principle of distinctiveness and complementarily.

One of the characteristics of our world today is people’s awareness of their own uniqueness and authenticity, which “often leads to difficulties in reconciling this awareness with the need for peace and good neighboring, inside the one country, and within the different regions and countries. This causes disputes in human relations and the explosion of the crises often in form of devastating wars”[4].


All these changes, which usually accompanied international transformations in the post-Cold War period, have often led to wars, violent struggles, and, ultimately, to the phenomenon of international terrorism. The tension between openness to globalization and closed-ness of ethnic individuality threaten to weaken the role of government and democratic political systems, which protect plurality and participation.


The issue of development has become necessary to address, and it mandates human and international solidarity with the poor countries that make up two-thirds of world population. The responsibility for bridging the gap between the developed and the developing countries falls on the whole of humanity through the organization of the United Nations. Moreover, the issue of the environment forcefully imposes itself on the conscience of the earth, of humanity and its destiny, taking into consideration the constant plundering of nature, pollution, chemical radiation which has reached the sky and brought about irregularities in weather patterns, and the increase of the oceans’ water levels.


Chapter Two: The Present Challenges



First: In the World We Live In


12.  Today’s world is invited to face the challenges of geopolitical changes, amazing scientific discoveries, and technological progress. Even tough they are important steps in the evolution of humanity, the challenges of technology, cloning, and artificial intelligence are highly controversial, and they touch upon the destiny of human beings. So, how can we restore humanity to man, who was created in the image of God, and who is being increasingly considered, in economic competitiveness, as a mere commodity, investment tool, and human ‘resources’?


Despite the developments in science, technology and information, the world is witnessing a decrease (if not, collapse) of the family, Christian and human values (faith, virtues, sublime traditions, and customs that were handed down from generation to generation). Therefore, man should work to put the technological products at the service of becoming a better person, and not to deplete him of his cultural and religious values which are known and defined by our humanity.


Faith, today, is facing many challenges due to changes in the economic, social, and mass media spheres. On the other hand, we are witnessing a rise in dogmatic fundamentalism, either religious, or national, or ethnic, in public life and in all countries.


The most important challenge to globalization is the damage to moral standards, and cultural distinctions, characteristics of peoples, and the spread of mercantilism and consumerism; the fact is that globalization has led to the turning upside down of priorities in a world that has surrendered to materialism and fundamentalism at the expense of dignity and general principles. Here enters the important role of the mass media (print, visual, and audio), publicity whose scope has expanded and has had direct impact on minds by promoting unfamiliar traditions and practices.


13.  The most imminent risks for society, including the East, where the Maronite Church lives and from whom her traditions and principles are inspired, are:

a.       Pornography propagated by the media, the Internet, advertising, and lack of restrictions.

b. Violence, the proliferation of drugs, gambling, and alcoholism.

c. The dysfunction of the family and erosion of family values.

d.      Cultural superficiality and the universal mold of “the global culture” versus diversification and mixture of cultures.

e.       Religious fundamentalism, which prevents genuine progress with the fear of the inability to keep pace with it.

f.       The nature of existing political systems in the Arab East and their obligation to respect the principles of democracy and human rights.


Facing these transformations, the Maronite Church needs to adopt a position that is inspired by the wealth of her own tradition, teaching, historical roots, and her cultural openness. For this reason, she is called to carefully decipher the transformations that have taken place in the world where she lives. The Maronite Church, the pioneer of modernity which she introduced to the East centuries ago, knew how to preserve the authenticity of her moral and religious patrimonies. Therefore, it is in her capacity to withstand the instability of the transitional period of openness and evolution, by strengthening her members and by nurturing in them the culture of attachment to the core values.


Second: In the World That Impacted Her Identity


14.  A major challenge facing the Maronite Church is safeguarding her unity in the light of her new global presence. Consequently, it is important to organize her relations with the Countries of Expansion, especially between the Patriarchal See and the Maronite eparchies all over the world.


In this regard, the Maronite Church must reconcile tradition and change or evolution. “Our characteristic is our way to be open to the world and to the Church so we will mutually enrich”[5].


The Church must be faithful to her history and identity without secluding herself. She must incarnate herself in the vast world, without melting or disconnecting from her roots. This is a problematic matter that needs to be handled wisely and bravely.


15.  In the framework of safeguarding her ecclesiastic, ritual and liturgical authenticity, her Antiochene vocation and Syriac heritage require that she contribute to the revival of the common heritage which includes the early Patriarchate, including the Greek one (before it transforms into the Byzantine school from one side and Latin school on the other side). Thanks to her Antiochene and Chalcedonian roots, she is capable of playing the role of a mediator in the ecumenical movement between Latin Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Now is the time to cleanse the negative residuals of the past from Christian memory and to look towards the future in the Spirit of God, guided by his Gospel and the teachings of his disciples. We have common problems, so, we must have common solutions. “In the East, we are to be Christians together, or not to be”[6].


16.  The union in faith with the Universal Catholic Church entails facing the challenges of the times on common foundations and the return to the teachings of the Universal Church in the light of the Maronite experience and substance. “The union in faith with the Universal Church and ecclesiastic and civil belonging to the East are the two stars that guide us as we define our position and standing at all levels”[7].


The relationship of the Maronite Church with Lebanon compels her to face the challenges of this country of which she was its main founder. Thus, she and her members are invited to participate in the reconstruction of war-torn Lebanon. This task demands that she re-evaluate the Lebanese and Maronite status, after the war that distorted the presence of her institutions and damaged the political, social, economic, and cultural well-being of her children.


17. The situation may not be easier at the level of the Arab world where the Maronite Church chose to be present and active. The Church looks at the Arab world as an important part in the sphere of transformations because of its geographical position, its cultural ties, the wealth of its natural resources, and its political problems that draw the attention of the whole world. “This world specifically is facing a deep civilization struggle; it is a world that is searching for its identity, a meaning for its existence, and a position in today’s world”[8]. It is a world that needs stability and peace. The human person in our region is suffering, so he expresses himself through violence, extremism, aggression, or fanaticism, as he sees the world threatening him in his identity, person, and existence. Therefore, the person will often resort to emigration in search for a better life in a place where his freedom and dignity are respected, and where he can provide a decent living for himself. Christian emigration is emptying the birthplace of Christianity from its believers, while it is creating new potentials for our Churches elsewhere.


The Maronite Church must have a clear position on the environment, science, technology, justice, freedom, and peace… in order to contribute to correcting the image of the world on the basis of human rights, civil liberties and man’s constant search for goodness, the collection and preservation of the fruits of man’s intellectual, artistic, and scientific works. These works testify to the fact that man is a creature of God and that he is called to be master of the world under God’s ever-watchful eyes.


Chapter Three: Facing the Challenges


18.  In order to face the challenges confronting them, Maronites must restore their mission in today’s world or develop a new one. The Maronite Church is responsible for establishing this mission for the Maronites of Lebanon, the Patriarchal Domain, and the Countries of Expansion. Maronite history has witnessed different experiences, and the Maronites were able, more than once, to renew and expand their mission. Yet, our time compels us to reconsider our positions and situations more than ever before due to its critical importance.

The Maronite Church is responsible for establishing a strong presence without fear of destiny, nor for self-defense, but a presence concerned with the evangelical vocation to serve the mission of peace and progress, and to courageously face all kinds of challenges, especially those of religious fundamentalism and indifference. “Our Christian presence does not cater to our own needs, but it is a witness and a bearer of a mission, that of Jesus Christ. It has to be a sign of the presence of God in our world”[9].


19.  In addition to her national role, which is commonly acknowledged throughout history, the Maronite Church has all the potential to succeed, and to persist with dignity and effectiveness. She is young and alive, active and committed, present in Lebanon and in the world, with a variety of potentials and capacities that enable her to perform her mission in all educational, economical, social, and real estate fields. The Church is like a human body wherein each organ performs an essential task: youth, women, families all have their own roles. The Church is obliged to reinforce the role of all sectors in order to better perform her mission and to fully establish her active presence. This presence appears basically in the Church’s three basic roles: witness, teacher, and servant.


20.  In this regard, she is qualified to “revive human, and more particularly, Christian values which serve as the foundation of individuals, families, societies, and nations. She must return to her heritage that is rich in the principles and values that helped our forefathers overcome trials, strengthened their wills, and guided their way toward their good and their peace of conscience”[10].


21.  Christian presence in the Middle East and the world is a presence that aims first and foremost at proclaiming the Gospel and testifying to Christ with a “Maronite flavor.” This “Maronite flavor” is characterized by monasticism, prayer, asceticism, and spiritual effort. Thus, the Church can delve into her history of monasticism and ascetic spirituality to stand against sweeping materialism.


22.  In order to confront the different currents of atheism and decadent morality, along with fanatic and fundamentalist movements, the Maronite Church must strengthen elements of resistance by highlighting human and Christian values, along with the values of social solidarity and justice, while safeguarding her spiritual principles. In a world where a great number of people are distancing themselves from genuine religion and faith, and resorting to a mixture of various religious principles choosing only those principles that suit them as if they were in an international supermarket of religions the Maronite Church can enlighten the way, for she combines in herself moderation and openness to others, without compromising the faith.


23.  By dwelling on her historic depth, her dynamic spirituality, and her rich and diverse experience through her world expansion, the Maronite Church is well-qualified to detect and select the advantages of globalization. By so doing, she will strengthen unity and channels of communication among her children who are spread in different countries and continents; and by taking advantage of the fast and easy communication methods, she will make her voice heard, and she will respond to her evangelical ministerial vocation.


The Church reminds us that she serves man through her diverse activities. Her spiritual mission is inseparable from her social one. It aims at building man, in his being and human dignity, based on the fundamental truth that every human being is created in the image of God – and that his dignity is derived from that divine likeness. In a world where man feels lost looking for an identity and a reason for his existence, the Maronite Church can witness, through her family structure, to unity and persistence.


While performing her mission in the world in which she lives and acts as salt and yeast, the Church does not forget that “Christ the Lord is our path to man, and that man, in turn, is the path to the Church”[11]. Accordingly, the Church cooperates with the people in the region and the countries of her presence, and she shares with people their sufferings and aspirations, and defends their rights; she will not remain silent whenever these rights are violated, or whenever a people’s right to live in dignity is taken away. Man’s liberation, his development, and the resistance against injustice, all require on her part to stand up and loudly proclaim the truth.


24.  There is no doubt that the Maronite Church, due to her worldwide expansion, has gained a pluralistic dimension that enables her to adapt to the world she lives in, and thus to become a model in the dialogue of civilizations. Thanks to her monastic institutions, apostolic zeal has stamped the early beginnings of the Maronite Church. Today, the Maronite Church is invited to become a global apostolic Church. She has all the material and moral elements for this function. The steady increase in cultural exchange and the burgeoning of one global culture drive the Maronite Church to be a role model of “diversity within unity,” as called for by the Catholic Church.


25.  Due to the fact that her unity has remained intact throughout history, and that she shares the Antiochene heritage with the Orthodox Church and her unity to the Roman Catholic Church, the Maronite Church is also qualified to be a Church of dialogue. She is able to lead today’s world to a more comprehensive ecumenism and to be the bridge between the Christian East and West.


Moreover, her long experience throughout history in the Middle East and the Arab world have made her a model for dialogue and conviviality with Islam within the same country or for dialogue with our Muslim brothers relying on her unique experience in Lebanon. She is “an expert in dialogue, as the Church is an expert in humanity”.


26.  The Church fulfills her mission in being the teacher and guide of peoples. Her task is to protect the human being, preserve his dignity, and defend his rights. Therefore, she has a position in all walks of life, be they educational, cultural, political, social, economic, informational, or other….


All these matters and other fateful issues force the Church in her place of incarnation, to delve into her human heritage and faith to draw solutions and answers that ensure the continuity of her mission. Therefore, she is required to have knowledge and an overview of all the matters, not only from the Lebanese perspective but also from the activities that reach the Countries of Expansion.


27.  Since the Church is the educator of individuals and peoples, and since she is a messenger of hope, she has the power to implement comprehensive education and qualitative learning in order to safeguard actively and effectively the Maronite and Christian presence in Lebanon and the world. She always seeks to promote and improve this power by forming students who effectively build their societies and by putting an end to unemployment and emigration. She also seeks to keep education and learning affordable for families, in accordance with her basic mission which provides education and cultural progress for all.


The Maronite Church must devise principles for dealing with modern culture. It must also reinforce self-criticism and rationality, two concepts that were introduced by the Maronites to the East, yet they are rarely practiced.


28.  This cultural task complements the role of the Church in public service and her defense of the principles of political practice. She is capable of setting for her children a moral example in political life based on Catholic values. It aims at improving performance in political practice and reconciling the people, specifically the youth, with the noble concept of politics, that of public service. She constantly reminds us of the Maronite political concepts and constants, such as freedom (whose banner the Maronites have carried in Lebanon and the Middle East), justice, democracy, and respect of others. It is worth noting that the Maronites are still rallying for an urgent cause: conviviality in Lebanon, common destiny with the Arab world and dialogue of civilizations in Countries of Expansion….


She is also capable of reviving the interest of Maronites of the expansion to support Lebanon in its vocation and mission, because Lebanon is the See of the Patriarch, the source of its spirituality and its homeland.


29.  Moreover, the Maronite Church is nourished by her genuine heritage of defending social justice and the democratic development of society as means for ending feudalism. She also has an economic experience in the framework of socio-economic organization implemented over the years. Owing to her concern in public interest, she has always proposed a comprehensive economic view, including a centralized administration to direct, coordinate, and unite the efforts that aim at a national and ecclesiastic economic policy. This policy would handle the stewardship of her “Waqfs” and its various concerns, encourage her followers to preserve the land of their forefathers and to find better and more efficient ways for land reclamation, as well as to limit the problem of displacement from the mountains and the problem of emigration.


30.  The primordial condition for richer creativity and greater work in today’s world is to know oneself and to know the strengths and weaknesses of our ecclesiastical body. This is why we must organize the House of Maron to be compatible with the requirements of the times and to modernize Church management and equipment.


The Church is also resorting to cutting edge means and technologies in the media and communication, using a modern and attractive language in performing her mission that is based on the Lord Jesus Christ’s eternal Word.





31.  God’s salvific plan, even if unseen to us, is the Divine dimension inherent in the whole of creation, through the development of times and stages, as He governs all and guides all to the final destination, designed from eternity. Throughout our Maronite history, there are great and clear signs of God’s inspiring presence that prove His divine power and providence. Our Church, guided by Him, and inspired and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, is continuing her journey toward a continuous renewal and is enlightening every man’s pathway.


[1]. Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation “On Evangelization in the Modern World.” 1975, #8.

[2]. John Paul II, Redemptoris Mission, 1990, # 42, 43.

[3]. Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East, pastoral Letter on “The Christian Presence in the Middle East”, 1995.

[4]. Ibid.

[5]. Ibid.

[6]. Ibid.

[7]. Ibid.

[8]. Ibid.

[9]. Ibid.

[10]. Patriarch Nassrallah Boutros Sfeir, Message of Lent, “On Country and Values,” 2004.

[11]. Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East, pastoral Letter on “The Christian Presence in the Middle East”, 1995.