Written by Malek

FEAST OF SAINT MARON -- الشهادة والشهداء
Minneapolis, February 12, 2017 - by Chorbishop Sharbel Maroun
Today falls the Sunday of the Righteous and Just or All Saints on our liturgical calendar. And what better is than celebrating the Feast of our own Saint Maron, the Father of the Maronite Church and the Patron of our parish here in Minneapolis?
It was in the year 410AD that Saint Maron died, and it was 1903 that our parish of Saint Maron in Minneapolis was born.

We come from a Church, a branch of Christianity that has paid a big price so that you and I can have this precious gift of faith.

The Maronite Synod of Bishops has designated this year starting February 9, the Feast of Saint Maron, as “The Year of Witness and Martyrsالشهادة والشهداء ”
In the semetic languages the words witness and martyr come from the same root.
One of the definition of a witness is “one who has personal knowledge of something.” When you have a personal knowledge of your faith you are a witness sharing your belief with others.
A martyr on the other hand is a witness who goes a step further that most often leads him or her to the point of total self-sacrifice.

“Witness and Martyrs الشهادة والشهداء” Two deep words that have a deep meaning in the Maronite Church. The list of martyrs is very long, and there are hundreds of thousands of martyrs that are not known to us. Starting with the 350 Maronite monks who were martyred in the in the year 517. From there the waves of persecution and the number of martyrs increased dramatically. But they continued to witness and become martyrs شهدوا واستشهدوا
Around 635AD, Damascus, Baalbek, Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, and many other cities fell to Arab invaders. The Maronite churches and villages in northern Syria were destroyed and many Maronites were massacred. Under the leadership of the first Patriarch John Maron, the Maronites fled to Lebanon for protection to be with other Maronites who were already established in the mountains and the Holy Valley. But they continued to witness and become martyrs شهدوا واستشهدوا

In 1097 the Crusaders set off from Europe to deliver Jerusalem from the hands of Islam. A large number of Maronites joined them on their journey to liberate the Holy Land. It is estimated that during the Crusades 50,000 Maronites fell in battle under the standard of the Cross. But they continued to witness and become martyrs شهدوا واستشهدوا

By 1291 the Crusaders were all but defeated and left the Middle East and the Maronites were left behind to witness and become martyrs شهدوا واستشهدوا
Starting in the late 13th century, the Mamluk Islamic Dynasty ruled Lebanon. This was one of the harshest period of persecution. General anti-Christian feeling was channeled against the Maronites. They suffered every humiliation, their Churches were set on fire, their villages plundered, and their vineyards destroyed. The Mamluk army went deep into the Maronite heart land and demolished Besharri, Ehden, Hadath El Jubbah. But they continued to witness and become martyrs شهدوا واستشهدوا
The Maronite Patriarchs themselves over the years also had their share of the general misfortune, suffering as much as any. One was tortured, another harassed, another compelled to flee, another put on trial, and one of them in 1367, patriarch Gabriel Hjoula, was burnt alive in downtown Tripoli. His tomb still stands in Bab el Ramel, at the gates of Tripoli. In 1402, there was great hardship. Many of the dead remained without burial, many of which died of hunger. It was a tragedy without parallel." (DOUAIHY, The Annals,338). But they continued to witness and become martyrs شهدوا واستشهدوا
Persecution during the 400 years of Ottoman occupation was not any easier. There was a systematic plan to genocide the Christians of the East, and on the top of them, the Maronites. The worst of this period was in the 1840’s and 1860’s when tens of thousands of Christians were killed in Lebanon followed by a wave of persecution and famine imposed on the people that led to the death of 1/3rd of the Lebanese population. Following that there was the other part of the genocide that killed over 2 million Armenians and Syriac who paid a big price of martyrdom. The orders were explicit, no Christian was to be left alive. Hundreds of Christian villages were totally burnt in Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Cyprus.
But they continued to witness and become martyrs ????? ????????? …

And the waves of persecution continued in 1914 and 1958 and 1975 and it continues today and yet Christians there continue to witness and become martyrs ?????? ?????????
And unfortunately the world most often watch these genocides and do nothing about them.

I am giving just few facts to understand who we are as a Maronite Church on this Feast Day of Saint Maron. When we look at our history, we cannot but cherish this most precious tradition that our ancestors gave to us. It will be a crime to abandon this tradition or to turn our back on the people who have watered our roots with their blood so that you and I can have a vibrant church. Danny Thomas once said to the Maronite at a NAM convention, “He that denies his roots has no roots, and will wither.”
What will we offer as a gratitude to our ancestors who have died for this church? What will we do as a gratitude for the pioneers who have come before us to Minneapolis and sacrificed so much to establish a spiritual home for us?
How will we witness to Christ? Think about it! Think about the rivers of blood that has been paid as a price for this church that we belong to! What will you do today and tomorrow to keep it alive and pass it on to your children?
We as Maronites have a double responsibility than most Catholics to be committed to our faith and our tradition and not to sell it for a cheap 30 pieces of silver.
Our land and our roots were flooded and still by the blood of our ancestors for the last 1607 years. And it is our sacred duty to preserve this priceless and precious church that we call Maronite, that is preserving the message of the gospel in this most beautiful Antiochean Syriac tradition.

Know who you are, teach it to your children and others. Beg them and solicit them to honor their tradition. Be a true witness of the Gospel and if necessary be the martyr that will give life to those who will come after you.
As we honor our father and Patron Saint Maron, let us honor in a most worthy way the martyrs who died for their faith in Christ and who have become our heroes and models in life.
Happy Feast-Day
Abouna sharbel Maroun