In this third and last part of the historical study done by Father Karam Rizk on Maronites in Lebanon, we will explore the period of transformation between 1832 ad 1913, the period of openness and expansion throughout the world and the author's conclusion.
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VII. A PERIOD OF TRANSFORMATION (1832-1913)
This period of change and upheaval lasted approximately eighty-one years, during which eighteen Superior Generals led the order. Some of them served for more than one term, either by election or by appointment. There were some who did not finish even one term, because of illness or death.
At the beginning of this period, in 1834, there were 573 monks, of whom 211 were priests, 313 brothers, and 49 novices at the monasteries of Saints Cyprian and Justine at Kfifan and Saint Maron at Beer Sneen. In 1908, the number rose to 900 monks, of whom 700 were priests and 200 were brothers. In 1884, when Father Martin Saba Al-Ghostawy was Superior General (1875-1889), the Holy See issued an order forbidding the Novitiate to accept more candidates for monastic life.
On a political level, the European conflict erupted in our region and undermined the foundation of the Shehab Emirate, leading to chaos and disaster. After the Egyptians withdrew from Mount Lebanon in 1840, the great powers fueled the fires of the sectarian clashes which erupted between the Druzes and the Maronites in 1841, 1845, and 1860. These countries installed weak regimes in Mount Lebanon, namely the direct military government of the Ottoman Turks, the two "Qaimmaqameeyat," as well as the Shakeeb Afandy regime. The “Moutasarefeeyat” replaced that in 1861. This form of government received tacit approval from the Lebanese people.
The order suffered greatly during these crises. Thirty-six of its monks were killed. It also sustained huge material losses estimated as being millions of piastres. Most of its monasteries in the Matn and Shouf were either destroyed or ransacked. The monks soothed their spiritual and material wounds by reclaiming the treasures of their monastic life. With tenacity, patience, and hope, they rebuilt all that had been destroyed.
In the sphere of economics, the industrial revolution hit the region in 1830, and with it came interdependency on the international trade exchange. As a result, European merchandise flooded the local market and shook the very foundations of the rural economy. The commercial treaties, concluded between the great powers and the Ottoman empire in 1838 and 1861, determined the terms of exchange. They controlled prices and imposed excessive duties on transportation and customs. The trade exchange increased through the years and created the need for cash liquidity. This encouraged people to save money in order to meet the demands of the new standard of living and to pay taxes.
The monks adhered to these new conditions very reluctantly. Like so many other Lebanese, they worked to improve the cultivation of mulberry trees and to raise silkworms. The production of silk increased to meet the commercial demands of the time. Using these means, the monks were able to secure the cash to ensure the daily basics of life and to pay their debts and taxes. They tried their utmost to protect this sector of the economy, which was often exposed to problems ranging from disease afflicting the silkworms to fluctuating political and economical factors. At the end of the nineteenth century, they were forced to purchase silkworm eggs directly from France. Silk production remained their most important economical resource to the extent that the area of arable land was calculated by the sum of money devoted to planting mulberry trees. Shortly before World War I, the Ottoman authorities imposed a blockade on the mountains and this stifled the silkworm farmer and his industry. Apple and other fruit orchards took over most of the mountainous terrain. The silk spinning operations continued to function at a lower rate until the 1960s. Efforts to restore the glorious past failed and the doors of that industry finally closed.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, a new social class appeared. It represented commissioners and brokers who took over the silkworm trade. They profited from the decline of traditional aristocracy and from the readiness of the farmers to turn to them to ensure the sale of their product. The members of this new social class acquired enormous wealth and considerable importance in Lebanese society. Even the monks made use of their services to secure a market for their products.
Also during the second half of the nineteenth century, the order released some of its members for apostolic work. They began teaching in schools and serving in parishes. This compelled the order to depend on others to tend the land. These workers were either sharecroppers or seasonal laborers. However, with the growth of the economic crisis and the steady rise in the cost of living, the sharecroppers devoted their time to their own businesses and the labor force diminished. All these factors contributed to higher wages. For example, a worker earned half a piastre a day in the first half of the nineteenth century and two piastres a day by the end of this century. This sudden rise in inflation resulted in an economic stagnation that cost the order dearly. The largest monasteries, such as Saint Anthony at Qozhaya and the monastery of Our Lady of Mashmoushy, ran large deficits, while others were crushed under the burden of debt.
The economic crisis forced the order to rely increasingly on the sharecropping system. The method of "co-ownership" worked well at first. The monks considered their support of their sharecroppers to be an integral part of their humanitarian mission. They did not differentiate between the sharecroppers and themselves. The order entrusted its possession to the sharecroppers. It offered them seeds and tools as well as half of the crop. It paid their taxes, assured them protection and educated their children.
As the economic crisis grew worse, the traditional close social relationship that had existed began to unravel. This precipitated economic and social problems that peaked in 1861, when the inhabitants of Btiddeen Al-Laqsh sued the Monastery of Our Lady of Mashmoushy. The order won the case thanks to its lawyer, Father Ignatios Shekry. He advised the Superior General, Father Lawrence Yammeen Al-Shababy, to record the legal judgment in the archives at the Generalship Office at Our Lady of Tamish and in the registers of Our Lady of Mayfouq, Saint Anthony at Qozhaya, the Maronite Patriarchate and all the other religious orders, because these institutions might profit from such a judgment in the future. The foresight of this priest-lawyer was invaluable when the same problem occurred again at the end of the nineteenth century and on the eve of World War I (1914-1918). In the spirit of charity toward neighbors and the love of peace and good understanding, the order ceded its rights. The sharecroppers of Al-‘Arbat also sued the Monastery at Qozhaya, but the order fought this case and, thanks to Father Joseph Raffoul won, albeit at a high cost to the order.
The long-lasting economical recession caused a large-scale emigration of the work force, including the monasteries' sharecroppers. The monasteries were left to care for the families who were left behind and they accomplished this task admirably.
During this depression, the possessions of the order became a source of contention, to the point where several irresponsible individuals called for their confiscation and redistribution, heedless of history and the order's past accomplishments and good deeds. The state itself violated the principles of private property when it built a quarantine center and an isolation hospital as well as a gas company on the order's land in Karantina. The state also demolished a religious house in the heart of Beirut on the claim of widening the road. This was done with no compensation to the order, which accepted all this in the public interest. The same thing is now happening to the order's properties in Al-Naameh and Damour.
Starting in 1830, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox foreign missionaries increased their educational activities in Lebanon. All social classes, ever since the "Moutasarefeeyat", have demanded a better educational system. Wishing to maintain its vanguard role in society, the order stayed in direct contact with its roots: the Lebanese population. From the time it was founded, the order had cared for the spiritual, educational and material welfare of the Lebanese people.
The order embarked on an expanded educational program by opening schools throughout the country, the most important being Beit Lahya founded in 1836, Rass Al-Matn in 1831, Al-Sheaneeye in 1839, Hamlaya in 1849, Ain Zebdee in 1853, the two at Azra and Kfarheeyal in 1854, the renovated school of Saint Joseph Al-Mtayen in 1866, Wadi Jezzeen in 1873, Eghby in 1890, the seminary at Beirut in 1891, those of Rashmaya, Al-Shaqadeef and Baabdat in 1896, Batha in 1904, and Tourzaya in 1932.
Some of these schools did not survive for the reasons described. Nevertheless, their number indicated clearly the missionary path the order had embraced. The order limited its commitment to primary school education and it tried its best to eliminate illiteracy. Foreign missions, on the other hand, provided higher education. Lebanon consequently witnessed a dynamic cultural movement unique in the Arab world. A new class of intellectuals emerged and entered the work force. These individuals devoted themselves to such professions as teaching, medicine, journalism and law. Public administration absorbed a large number of these highly competent professionals.
This cultural development caused some negative repercussions in the country. There was a great shift in the work force toward higher education and away from agriculture. At the time, there were no plans to develop a thriving industrial sector. Neither the local authorities nor the Ottoman empire perceived any danger. As for the existence of books during this period, scholars have found no traces of any valuable works. Translation was at a standstill and printing was limited to liturgical and theological works and translated histories. In 1856, the order bought a printing press and installed it in Our Lady of Tamish Monastery, where some printing continued.
The internal situation of the order deteriorated as a result of the disorder in the region. Superiors of monasteries and monks remained in their home territory and neglected to travel to attend the periodical meetings for consultation and coordination. This chaotic situation brought gradual direct intervention by Rome and the appointment of the Superior General. Father Saba Kraydy Al-Aqoury was the first to be appointed in 1845. Father Lawrence Yammeen Al-Shababy was appointed twice to the post, in 1850 and again in 1856 following the so-called "Synod of Shwadeeh." Al-Shababy extended his authority over most of the monasteries in the Jbail and Jibbet regions. The monasteries in the Matn and the Shouf regions came under the jurisdiction of Father Arsenios Al-Neehawy, who was elected Superior General. Shortly before his death, Father Al-Neehawy was reconciled with Father Al-Shababy in 1859, and the order was once again reunited under one Superior, Father Al-Shababy. He remained the elected Superior General until 1862.
In order to insure the continued unity of the order, Rome resorted to apostolic visitations. Bishop Joseph Geagea, head of the Diocese of Cyprus, was the first apostolic delegate from 1857 to 1874. Father Ephrem Geagea Al-Bsherrany became Superior General of the order for twelve years (1862-1874).
The Apostolic Vicar, Ludovicci Piavi, who was Italian, took over the visitation (1875-1889). A man known for his short temper, he was unable to solve disputes except by using harsh methods. He had a Latin version replace the Arabic text of the Lebanese Synod of 1736, which had safeguarded the autonomy of the Maronite Church and the authority of the Patriarch. He even tried to subject the newly elected Maronite Patriarch and bishops to an investiture by an Ottoman decree. He ignored the regulation of the Lebanese Order and tried hard to gain favor with Rustom Basha, the Turkish governor. His actions provoked great opposition led by Yousef Bey-Karam of Ehden. This resistance angered the Apostolic Vicar who, together with the local government authorities, tried to suppress it.
Governor Rustom Basha aggravated the situation when he visited Ehden. While there, he summoned the monks of Saint Anthony's Monastery at Qozhaya, harassed and humiliated them, and ordered some of them to be put in the Beit El-Deen prison. While they were passing near Batroun, some of their brother monks from the monasteries of Jbail and Batroun tried to free them but were prevented by a platoon of the Gendarmerie. When these monks reached the prison at Beit El-Deen, they were put to hard labor. This harsh treatment resulted in the death of several of them. Nothing like this had ever happened before under the Ottoman empire.
The Council of Assistants within the order took precautions by transferring some of the monks as well as part of the properties to the nearby religious centers. The ensuing Apostolic visits prevented the order from achieving any positive results through the General Chapters. The last ten years of the nineteenth century were marked by calls for reform. All eyes were on Father Benedict Salamy Al-Mtayny, a graduate of the Jesuit University of St. Joseph at Beirut. Superior General, Father Salamy (1891-1895) tried his best to restore normality but failed, mainly because of the above-mentioned difficulties.
In 1883, Jesuit Father Martinov drew up the first reform plan. It was revised by the "Propagation of Faith" and then presented to the monks. It included a letter from the Superior General, Father Martin El-Shemaly (1895-1899) and it dealt with the same subjects. Patriarch Al-Hwayek (1899-1932) issued the same recommendations.
Apostolic Vicar Duval subsequently took over the apostolic visitations. Rome ensured the inclusion of Patriarch Al-Hwayek on the committee. This visitation lasted from 1898 to 1907 and was marked by interference in the affairs of the order by the bishops who were close to the Patriarch. The Superior General, Father Joseph Raffoul (1904-1910), vigorously defended the order. His great courage and skill were reminiscent of the enthusiasm and zeal of the Founders and the first generation of monks, particularly Al-Labboudy. Both Raffoul and Al-Labboudy shared the same fighting spirit and intellect; and, to a great degree, the spirituality of Qaraalli and Farhat. This visitation ceased when Raffoul drew up his own secret report and sent it to the Propagation of Faith and the Holy See.
Another visitation began and covered all three pontifical Maronite Orders. Three Latin-rite monks were in charge. Two of them later withdrew and Father Galland became the sole member. This visitation encountered a strong underground press campaign led by the Order's historian, Father Louis Bleibel, and supported by Father Raffoul. Patriarch Al-Hwayek gave his blessing to this campaign because he considered these visitations to be intrusions upon his authority. The newspaper "Al-Manazer," which belonged to Naoum Al-Baabdaty, published the details of this campaign. The newspaper "Al-Bashir" also backed the campaign. The visitation stopped during World War I and resumed in 1922. Father Galland personally analyzed these shortcomings and in a long report in 1911, he recommended the proper solutions to these various problems. Series of short reports about each individual order were written but were never made public.
At this time, Father Louis Bleibel began writing a history of the order. Superior General Raffoul presented a most valuable study of the law and regulation of the order based on his long experience in their application. He attached to this study an economic survey in which he evaluated the resources of the order between 1904 and 1907. He valued them at "2,763,790 piastres," minus the expenses necessary to maintain the various properties. As a result, each member of the eight hundred monks, nuns and novices in the order would be allocated three piastres and five baras. This meager amount was to cover all their individual expenses and any unforeseeable but necessary building work. The individual monks used this amount to share in the expenses of guests, servants or for natural disasters. Father Raffoul's remarks are similar to those made by Father Al-Labboudy 150 years earlier. Father Raffoul was the first person to establish a correlation between the number of monks and the volume of their production. He excluded students, novices and the aging from the productive labor force.
This calculation gives us an idea about agriculture in Lebanon in the early twentieth century and about an institution that made it its principal resource. Superior General, Father Genadios Sarkis (1910-1913), continued his effort to control these economic matters, imitating the initiatives of his predecessor Father Joseph Raffoul. He organized the Department of General Economics that managed the business affairs of the Order. Superior General Sarkis addressed a letter to all superiors of monasteries, brought to their attention the debt of the order and gave them instructions for maintaining accurate records and ledgers. He sought to designate the Monastery of Saint Elias at Kahlouneeye as a convent for those who wished to live a completely cloistered life. He also began making the distinction between the simple and permanent vows as prescribed by previous councils. However, World War I (1914-1918) prevented full realization of these projects.
The second half of the nineteenth century ended on an optimistic note. The order embarked on a successful building program. Monasteries were built next to the numerous schools enumerated above. New religious centers branched out of the old monasteries, specified in the following list.
- In 1840, the Monastery of Saint Jacob (Mar Yacoob) Al-Hosn, near Douma. The property was detached from one of Saint Anthony at Houb, to serve the Maronites of the region.
- In 1845, the Monastery of Saint Rock (Mar Roukoz) at Mrah El-Mir. The property was detached from the General House of the Order at Nahr Al-Saleeb and Ajaltoun.
- In 1847, the Monastery of Saint Anthony at Jdaydeh and the Monastery of Saint George at Aashash. These properties were detached from Saint Anthony's Monastery at Qozhaya.
- In 1847, the Monastery of Saint John Maron at Qobbayaa. The property was detached from the monastery of Saint Elias at Kahlouneeye.
- In 1847, the Monastery of Saint Artemius (Mar Shallita) at Al-Qottara. Superior General, Father Lawrence Yammeen Al-Shababy took charge of its construction in 1851.
- In 1851, the Monastery of Saint George at Deir Beit Janneen. This property was in ruins when the order received it from Bishop Paul Kassab.
- In 1854, the Monastery of Saints Peter and Paul at Azra.
- In 1855, the religious house (Ontoush) of Saint Anthony at Jaffa.
- In 1858, the religious house of Our Lady at Baalbeck.
- In 1863, the Monastery of the Holy Savior at Bhanneen.
- In 1863, the order accepted the Convent of Saint Simon the Stylite (Mar Simaan Al-‘Amoudy) at Al-Qarn, Ayto, from Bishop Paul Moussa. It was used to care for the nuns.
- In 1876, the Monastery of Our Lady of Deliverance at Bsarma. The property was detached from the Monastery of St. Anthony at Qozhaya.
- In 1879, the Monastery of Our Lady of Victory at Ghosta. This property became the site of a school for those entering the order (Sfeir 1983; Rizk 1994: 185-196). This monastery embodies the magnificence of monastic architecture of the time.
- In 1894, the Convent of Saint Maron at Qnaytra, built for the Lebanese Maronite nuns.
- In 1907, the Monastery of Saint Anthony at Nabateeye. The property was detached from the Monastery of Our Lady of Mashmoushy.
From this expansion, we can sense the dual directions the order had undertaken. It was increasing its missionary sphere and at the same time, it was embarking on a reform program. Superior General, Father Saba Kraydy Al-Aqoury had sent the first group of monks to study at the Jesuit College at Ghazir, hoping that they could return later to manage the order's schools. Superior General, Father Benedict Salamy maintained this agreement when the Jesuit fathers moved to Beirut, where they founded their university which included the Colleges of Philosophy and Theology. In 1891, the Superior General bought a residence hall in Abd Al-Wahhab Al-Ingelizy Street for the monks who were studying at the nearby Saint Joseph University. The Superior had paid 1,000 French gold pounds to the owner, the Maronite Elias Mhawis from Beit Mery. Thus, the order returned to Beirut and is still there to this date. The graduates of Saint Joseph University took charge of the educational development in the order until 1950, when a long-cherished dream became a reality and the University of the Holy Spirit was founded at Kaslik. It assumed the work of educating the monks.
During this same century, Saint Sharbel, the Hermit of Annaya, became a beacon of holiness. He died in 1898 and immediately afterwards, the news of his miracles spread around the world. He was canonized in 1977 as a saint of the universal Church. Saint Sharbel and his numerous brother monks, regardless of whether they were living in religious communities or secluded in hermitages, exemplified an authentic spiritual heritage that is still very much alive. This spirit is the essence of monastic life and a guarantee of the continuity of the Lebanese Maronite Order despite internal crises and external upheavals.
This spirituality flows from the attachment to Our Lord, Jesus Christ, observance of the teachings of the Holy Gospel, strict adherence to the rules, and prayers, fasting and self-sacrifice. The character of the Lebanese monk is refined through daily striving after sanctity. Character is shown in his conduct and this makes the order a school of Christian perfection, a school that teaches the way to Heaven. Saint Sharbel, Blessed Al-Hardini, Blessed Rafqa and others have been witnesses to this Christian ideal. They affected their society through their simplicity and their convictions. They affirmed unchanging values and virtues. The faithful strive to imitate them, while making their intercessions and visiting their tombs. This spiritual dimension still acts upon society, as leavening in dough, to attract vocations to the religious life.
VIII. A PERIOD OF OPENNESS AND EXPANSION THROUGHOUT THE WORLD (1918-1995)
Lebanese society as well as the entire world witnessed some basic changes which imposed important educational, social and national obligations on the order. The state was not yet ready to assume responsibility for all the changes taking place. The order felt obligated to shoulder these responsibilities and pay for them.
The outbreak of World Wars I and II overturned political and economical systems as well as the demography. People intermingled more and immigration rose sharply. New inventions and discoveries revolutionized the level and quality of work. The worldwide network of ground, sea and air communications had made giant strides. Family life and its very concept had been altered radically. Modern appliances in the homes such as the refrigerator, washing machine, telephone, radio and television, facsimile and recently the computer improved the standard of living. The order followed its progress in the country. It contributed to this progress insofar as its principles and means allowed. The order had become accustomed to accepting burdensome responsibilities, especially in critical times. When World War I broke out, tens of thousands of Lebanese perished, many more suffered from famine and many others endured blockades, injustice and the loss of basic liberties. The order joined forces with the Maronite Patriarchate to ease the suffering and misfortune of the people. Superior General, Father Ignatios Dagher (1913-1929), mortgaged all the order's possessions to the French government for two million gold francs. He spent this amount to relieve those in dire need and poverty.
There was a similar drama during the World War II (1939-1945). Once again, the order played the Good Samaritan and opened the doors of its monasteries, especially the Monastery of Saint George at Al-Naameh, to refugees and those in desperate need. The civil authorities awarded Superior General, Father Basil Ghanem (1938-1944), the Gold Medal in appreciation of these sacrifices made by the order.
Superior General Father John Al-Andary (1944-1950) followed the example of his predecessors when in 1948, he opened the monasteries to Palestinian refugees. Superior General Father Moses Azar (1950-1956) took special care of the victims of the 1956 earthquake in Lebanon. From its own treasury, the order reimbursed the people whose homes were devastated by the earthquake.
The Lebanese war broke out in 1975 and was followed by the uprooting of thousands of Christians from their homes, villages and lands. Superior General Father Sharbel Qassis (1974-1980) mobilized all the resources of the Order to help the displaced. He was instrumental in the formation of the Lebanese Front, the cornerstone of the Christian Resistance, and thus brought the Lebanese cause into the mainstream of contemporary history.
Superior General Father Paul Naaman (1980-1986) continued and strengthened this patriotic stance. He conducted discussions at the highest level with the political forces, seeking a solution to the problems of Lebanon. He devoted his attention to the displaced and the forgotten. In 1984, during his term as Superior General, the order housed the displaced in three buildings it had constructed on the grounds of Our Lady of Deliverance, overlooking Jbail.
Superior General Father Basil Al-Hashem (1986-1992) helped and encouraged the "School of Blessed Rafqa", which offered free primary and secondary education to 600 students until 1993. The order always encouraged charitable works. The monks made every effort to help the displaced from the Damour and other areas, and it provided them with the necessary pastoral services. Some members of the order opened special eating places where the poor and the needy could receive free meals. Other members tried to remedy the evil consequences of the war by forming an organization to care for those who had become drug addicts. These initiatives eased some of the war's sufferings. Not only did the order perform acts of charity during times of trial, but it also tried to relieve the sufferings of the people under now normal difficult conditions
In 1949, the order established the Hospital of Our Lady of Deliverance in Jbail. In 1973, it moved to its present location on a hill overlooking the city. It strove to equip it with the most modern laboratories and a medical staff chosen from the very best specialists. Today, this hospital is considered one of the best in the country.
Since the whole region between Jbail and Tripoli lacked any medical facilities, the order built Saint Sharbel Hospital in Batroun in 1964 and turned it over to the Lebanese Government in 1972. In 1964, the Orphanage and Hospice of Our Lady of Lebanon at Harissa were built. These centers cared for the elderly and sheltered hundreds of children in an atmosphere ideal for receiving a good education.
The order became experienced in all fields and provided the rapidly changing Lebanese society with several services, especially in education and apostolic work. The order has undertaken educational work ever since its inception. The Lebanese Synod of 1736 encouraged education and made it free and obligatory for both boys and girls. These measures were considered revolutionary for that day and age.
The order implemented these decisions and opened its schools to students of all different social classes and religions. There was an increasing need for secondary and higher education in the beginning of the twentieth century. The Conference of Versailles, held in 1919, discussed the future of Lebanon and Syria and devoted special attention to the question of education. The Lebanese called upon the Superior Generals to provide education for the youth. The order answered these appeals by establishing schools in most areas of Lebanon, especially in the rural areas in the hope of preventing unbridled migration to the cities. These educational institutions provided all levels of instruction. Although the number of these schools remained the same as during the nineteenth century, members of the order became more personally involved in the teaching and management as the numbers of pupils increased. These schools grew more independent and became physically and financially separated from the monasteries. Modern teaching techniques were introduced and new equipment enhanced the scientific research laboratories.
These schools rivaled the educational facilities of Europe as well as those of the East. They transformed their surroundings and gained a respected status because of the good quality of the teachers, the high motivation of their students, and the confidence and satisfaction expressed by the people. These institutions worked closely with the later-established Ministry of Education and created good ties with foreign embassies. They also organized annual scientific, sporting, cultural and recreational events throughout Lebanon and abroad.
The growth and prominence of these institutions compelled the order to create the new position of Director General of Schools within the framework of the Generalship Office in 1944. The first to occupy this position was Father Joseph Taraby, who later became Superior General (1962-1968).
Listed below are the most important educational facilities operated by the order.
- The school of Our Lady of Mayfouq founded 1922.
- The school of Our Lady of Mashmoushy founded 1922.
- The school of Saint Maron, Beer Sneen founded 1936.
- Saint George School, Aashash founded 1945.
- The Lebanese College, Beit Shabab founded 1945.
- Saint Anthony's School, Chekka founded 1947.
- Saint Sharbel's School, Jeyye founded 1949.
- Saint Anthony's School, Hammana, founded 1951.
- Saint Joseph's School, Al-Mtayn founded 1951.
- The School of Our Lady of Tamish, Deeck Al-Mahdy founded 1951.
- Central College, Jounieh founded 1966.
- Saint Elias School, Kahlouneeye founded 1967.
These schools were highly successful in teaching and forming character. Their graduates have been given the most important positions in the public and private sectors. Success did not come without a price. These schools could not continue to be financially self-sufficient. Inflation increased, teachers and other employees demanded higher wages to keep up with the cost of living, and poor parents could not pay full tuition and fees. On the other hand, the government did not provide any subsidies, even though its schools could not absorb the growing number of school-age youngsters.
The order was generous toward its schools. It allocated them large sums of money and released many of its members to work in them. The order could support these schools because of the products of its monasteries, but sometimes it had to sell off properties. When the economic situation worsened during the 1970s, the order had to turn over some of its schools to the government for a minimal rent. The recent war (1975-1990) resulted in the destruction of a number of the order's institutions, such as Saint George's School at Aashash, Saint Joseph's School at Al-Mtayn, Saint Elias School at Kahlouneeye, Saint Maron's at Beer-Sneen, and Saint Sharbel's at Jeyye, this latter school being the only one so far to have reopened its doors in 1991. The order has yet to receive any compensation for its losses.
The order also felt that the handicapped, who were victimized by the war, deserved a decent existence with the help and devotion of others. Therefore, in 1976 it transformed its school in Beit Shabab into a hospital for the handicapped. All the other schools continue their role in the education of Lebanese society.
The primary goal of the order had been to lead a life of anchorites and hermits. However, it incorporated apostolic work in its mission and vocation. The founders had done this and the succeeding generations of monks continue to do the same. Bishop Al-Semaany encouraged this cause, and the Lebanese Synod laid the framework. The monks ventured into difficult territories, such as Akkar, the mountains of Lattakia in Syria, the Beqaa, Akka, Cyprus and Egypt. The order's apostolic work encountered many obstacles, some legal and others that were human, due to the presence of Western missionaries, the attitude of the Maronite hierarchy and the mingling of the monks with the population. However, their praiseworthy conduct, intelligence and energy enabled them to overcome these hurdles. The nineteenth century witnessed a widening geographical area for their work. There was hardly a village where a monk did not preach during Lent, thereby strengthening the faith of the inhabitants, promoting Christian living and encouraging prayer. Thus, the monks gained the trust of the people, heard their confessions, shared in their trouble and anxieties, solved their problems, joined them in their joy and in their sorrow, accompanied them in their prayers and devotions, and provided them with spiritual support and guidance.
It is impossible to produce a complete list of all the monks who were engaged in this spiritual activity or to give a quantitative estimate of the results of their effort. Records at the order’s Generalship Office document numerous requests – even from the Maronite heartland and stronghold in the Kesrouan region – made by the faithful asking for the monks’ spiritual services.
The mission of the order has not been limited to the geographical borders of Lebanon. It has spread wherever there was a need and to every country where the Lebanese had migrated. The work of the order in the Diaspora resulted in a great national and spiritual endeavor. The following is a chronological and geographical table of the order's missions founded outside Lebanon.
- The Monastery of Saint Elias, Metoushi, Cyprus, 1737.
- The Dakar Mission, Senegal, 1949.
- The Mendoza Mission, Argentina, 1952.
- The Sao Paulo Mission, Brazil, 1954.
- The Abidjan Mission, Ivory Coast, 1954.
- The Bamako Mission, Mali, 1959.
- The Mexico City Mission, Mexico, 1960.
- The Tucuman Mission, Argentina, 1972.
- The Sydney Mission, Australia, 1972.
- The London Mission, United Kingdom, 1983.
- The Montreal Mission, Canada, 1984.
- Saint Sharbel House, Surenes, France, 1987.
- The Caracas Mission, Venezuela, 1988.
In view of the scale of missionary work, the Sacred Congregation of the Oriental Churches, under the leadership of Cardinal Tisserand, proclaimed the Lebanese Maronite Order to be a missionary order in 1955.
The radical change that took place in Lebanese society during the twentieth century did not prevent the order from tending to its purely internal affairs. Ever since Father Ignatios Dagher was Superior General, the order has diligently pursued the beatification and canonization of its Saints. It considers the sanctity of its members as a living proof of a deep, rich spiritual heritage. Sanctity is the ultimate goal of those who embrace the order and sanctity is its one certain guarantee of a fruitful and flourishing future. Saint Sharbel was canonized in 1977 and is now widely known. The causes of Blessed Rafqa and Blessed Nimatullah Kassab Al-Hardini are still under study, and there are others whose virtues have not yet been discovered.
The order has always striven to renew its Constitution. A commission was formed during the term of Superior General Father Martin Taraby (1929-1938) to study these rules.
Superior General Father John Al-Andary reactivated this commission. The Congregation of the Oriental Churches verified the authority of the Constitution and confirmed it in 1960, during the term of Superior General Father Ignatios Abi-Sulayman (1956-1962). It was subjected to a ten-year trial period. Its study was resumed during the mandate of Superior General Father Peter Azzi (1968-1974) and the commission finished its work in 1974. Under subsequent Superiors, great efforts were made to amend it. On February 4, 1993, at the beginning of the term of Superior General Father John Tabet, an Extraordinary Special General Chapter began to add the final touches to the text of the Constitution and the Monastic Statutes. Confirmation of its final form by the General Chapter is expected soon.
Joint studies and regular internal meetings have created an atmosphere of dialogue and democracy within the order and prove that it is an institution endowed with the qualities necessary to guarantee its future.
During this period, the order paid special attention to the young people. It cared for every stage of their formation and entrusted their training to qualified educators and exemplary monks. They were placed in centers in which all the conditions of religious community life were observed and witnessed. In 1939, the category of postulants was introduced for 12-year-olds who wished to enter religious life. Except for the novices, the candidates were housed at the seminary at Kaslik. The order thus reaped the harvest of what it had sown and nurtured. Those sons, whom it had educated and provided spiritual formation, would carry on the work and manage the resources of the order.
Holy Spirit University at Kaslik was founded in 1950 and remains the crown jewel of the order. It symbolizes many years of labor in various fields of education and inaugurated a new era of openness toward man, the world and contemporary problems. The order began sending some of its monks to universities in Europe and America to complete their specialization. Upon their return, these graduates worked as professors, researchers and administrators in the institutions of the order, especially at Holy Spirit University.
Kaslik University has eight faculties, including the prestigious Pontifical Faculty of Theology, and three institutes. It continues to flourish because of the internationally recognized accomplishments of its students and graduates. The university has also distinguished itself by spearheading a liturgical and musical renaissance in conformity with the decision of Vatican Council II and in line with the needs of the Maronite Church. The collection of liturgical books, produced by the university's publishing house, in addition to past and present production, demonstrates the influence of this renaissance on the faithful. The present phase has been distinguished by several important translations and new compositions, which are too numerous to list here. Most of these works of literature are printed on the order's printing press. Other publications that spread the order's message far and wide are The Port (Al-Mina), The Grain of Wheat (Al-Sanabel), Monastic Papers (Awraq Rahbaneeyat), Words of the East (Kalimat Al-Sharq), Biblia, etc.
The order has launched the series entitled "The Way of Love" (Tareeq Al-Mahabet) to teach Christianity using modern methods. It also produces and presents religious programs for radio and television.
No religious mission can survive without the inspiration of the Cross of Christ. The sacrifice of oneself and one's worldly possessions is the most striking testimony to the holiness of this mission. The Lebanese people and the order have given martyrs as sacrifices during the recent sad events in Lebanon (1975-1990). Three sons of the order were martyred at the Monastery of Saint George at Aashash on September 8, 1975. They are Father Anthony Thamineh, Father Peter Saseen, and Brother John Maqsoud. Father Joseph Farah and Father George Harb were massacred on January 8, 1976 at the Monastery of Saint George at Deir Janneen, and Father Francis Daher Abou-Antoun was killed on January 29, 1982 at St. John Maron’s Monastery at Qebbaya’. Eight monasteries, in the Shouf and Matn regions, were looted and destroyed, while the monks suffered the terrors of siege, persecution and expulsion.
The order has returned to these regions and is trying to rebuild the destroyed monasteries and religious centers and, at the same time, to reestablish amicable relations with the various Lebanese religious communities. The grace of God is abundant compensation for the extensive losses. The order looks forward to a new millennium full of solid faith, deep love, and firm hope.