Synaxarion for the Sanctoral Cycle
(Set feast days)
Most of the following listings are taken from the synaxarion found
in “The Prayer of the Faithful” Vol. 1, 2, & 3.
Diocese of Saint Maron, U.S.A.
Brooklyn, New York, 1982, 1984, 1985
Anthony the Great of the Desert
Anthony was born approximately 251 in Coma, today known as “Kuma Al Arouss”. His father and mother died when he was eighteen years old, and he was left with a sister whom he loved very much. One day he entered a church and heard a voice saying: “If you wish to be perfect, go sell all you have, give it to the poor and follow me.” He felt that these words were directed to him, so he went and sold all that he had. He gave his sister her share and the rest he gave to the poor. At twenty years of age he went to a hermit and became his disciple. He spent his days and part of the night in prayer and manual labor and ate only one meal a day.
Anthony suffered a great deal from temptations, telling him to return to his sister and the world, and also from impure desires. With prayer and penance, he overcame them all. For this reason, he became the patron saint of those who are tempted. After following the counsel of other religious, he decided to go into the desert by himself. The only food he took with him was a supply of bread for six months. Every six months a brother would visit him and bring him a supply of bread, dates and water. People became aware of his presence and began to visit him to ask for his blessing and receive counseling from him. He left this place and went to the edge of the Nile close to Fayoun and there he built monasteries, while he himself remained in the hermitage. He later became the superior of the monks. He visited the various monasteries and invited the monks to do penance and to observe the directives he gave them.
In 311 great persecution began against Christians. Anthony told his monks to pray as he went off to Alexandria. He wanted to offer his life for the Lord, but he soon realized that the daily martyrdom of life is precious in the eyes of God, so he returned to his hermitage.
Many people were coming to ask him for graces and miracles. Anthony began to fear that he would fall into pride, so he left without telling anyone and went into the desert to Thebes. To accomplish this he traveled with an Arab caravan. When he reached the point where he wished to stay, he thanked them and asked if on their way back they could bring him some food and seeds to plant. They promised they would do this and Anthony lived off the things he planted. When the monks found Anthony, they insisted he return with them. His sister who had not seen him for fifty years, came to visit him along with many other religious who were living with her. Soon after his return to the monastery, he requested his monks to allow him to return to Thebes in seclusion.
Anthony was well known for his miracles during his life; Anthansius and Heronimous speak of Anthony curing the sick and restoring sight to the blind.
When Anthony knew that the end of his life was coming, he called the two disciples that were close to him, Macarius and Amathas and asked them to bury his body in secret. He died on January 17, 356, at the age of 105.
The body of St. Anthony remained in his grave for 200 years. In 1561, under the emperor Justinian, his bones were transferred solemnly to the Church of St. John the Baptist in Alexandria and later taken to Constantinople. Prince Jocelyn took Anthony’s remains to France and interred them in the Benedictine Abbey of La Motte St. Didices. His remains were transferred to the city of Aries, where they rest today.
Anthony is very popular among the Eastern Churches, especially in the Middle East. The monastery of St. Anthony still exists today and belongs to the monks of the Coptic Orthodox Church, who have revived the anchoritic life of St. Anthony.
Anthony Of Padua
Anthony was born in the city of Lisbon around the year 1195. He first entered the Augustinian order and later became one of the first disciples of St. Francis. He lived a holy life and was noted for his preaching, teaching and writing. He died at the age of thirty-six on the thirteenth of June in the year 1231. Since he passed his later years of life in the city of Padua, the name of this town was attached to his name. He was canonized only a year after his death. Devotion to Saint Anthony was brought to Lebanon by the Franciscan missionaries in the fifteenth century. May his prayers be with us. Amen.
Information about the life and martyrdom of Barbara comes from a seventh-century account, probably originating in Egypt. While the East retains a long history of the martyrdom of Barbara, the West has relegated her life to that of legend. According to this legend, Barbara’s father, Dioscorus, imprisoned Barbara in a tower in order to keep her pure. When Dioscorus learned that Barbara had been baptized a Christian, he had her condemned by the civil authorities and beheaded her. Barbara is the patroness of those confronted with sudden death and those involved in battles. Barbara is often referred to as the greatest among women martyrs. In Lebanon, the children celebrate her feast day in the same manner as Halloween is celebrated in the United States.
Saints Basil & Gregory
Basil was born at Caesarea in Cappadocia approximately the year 330. He received his education at Constantinople and Athens, where he encountered his friend and companion, Gregory of Nazienzen. He later returned to Caesarea and, in 356, began to lead the life of a hermit. This hermetical life was already practiced by his mother, Emilia, and his sister, Macrina. His spiritual writings dating from this period are very rich.
He became the bishop of Caesarea in 370, an office he held until his death on January 1, 379.
His principal writings include treatises on the Holy Spirit, the monastic life, a commentary on scripture, sermons, and numerous letters defending the Catholic faith against the Arians.
Gregory was born in the region of Nazianzen approximately the year 330. He accomplished the majority of his studies at Alexandria and Athens, where he established his friendship with Basil. He returned to his village in 357 and there received Christian baptism. His father, who was the bishop of Nazianzen, ordained him to the priesthood. Gregory was later consecrated the bishop of a small city which was dependent on Caesarea.
The desert life of a solitary attracted him, so he took up the life of a hermit, but continued with his writings and exhortations of the faithful.
In 380, he was raised to the See of Constantinople, but he later resigned and returned to his village where he took up the life of a solitary once again. He died approximately 390.
The Presentation of Christ
The Jewish law of purification declared that every woman who conceived and bore a male child was to be considered unclean for seven days. After the circumcision of the child, the mother was to remain in her house for thirty-three days. She was not to touch any holy thing and was not to enter the sanctuary. After the days of her purification had been fulfilled, she was to present to the priest at the entrance of the Tabernacle a young yearling lamb as a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtle dove as a sacrifice for sin. If she was too poor to procure a lamb, she was to offer two turtledoves or two young pigeons. The priest was to make expiation (atonement) for her and she was then considered clean (Leviticus 12:2-8).
The immaculate Virgin, who had conceived of the Holy Spirit and became a mother while keeping her virginity, did not come under the Law that touched the other daughters of Israel. If she submitted to it, it was only to imitate her Son (who was to be baptized by John) and to avoid scandal for her acquaintances, who knew nothing of her virginal motherhood.
A first-born male child belonged to the Lord by the double title of first-fruit and head of the family. In patriarchal societies heads of families exercise a sort of priesthood. Theirs is the right of offering sacrifice and on them falls the duty of caring for divine worship.
In Israel the priestly tribe of Levi had been given this office, but firstborn sons continued nonetheless to be consecrated to god and he had to be brought back at a set price (Numbers 3:12-13). The payment of this ransom was due the thirtieth day after birth and was to be made by the child’s father. The place of payment was not prescribed, nor confined to the Temple. Nor was the mother obliged to go to Jerusalem for the ceremony of purification; she was allowed to offer her sacrifice by proxy. Pious Jews who did not live too far from the Holy City made it a point to appear personally in the Lord’s presence; and that is what the Evangelist supposes in Mary’s case: “When the time of their purification had been completed according to the Law of Moses, they carried the child to Jerusalem to present him to God, as it is written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male shall be consecrated to the Lord” (Luke 2:23).
While the Holy family was carrying out these legal prescriptions, a resident of Jerusalem unexpectedly came up to them. He was Simeon, a just man who feared God and firmly hope the Consoler of Israel was soon to come. The Holy Spirit had assured him that he would not die before seeing the Anointed of the Lord. Why he was there we do not know, for he was not a priest and was not called there for some sacred duties to perform. In any event, the stranger took the divine child in his arms and gave expression to his joy in his canticle of thanksgiving:
“Now, Master, you can dismiss your servant in peace;
you have fulfilled you word.
For my eyes have witnessed your saving deed
displayed for all people to see:
A revealing light to the Gentiles,
the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).
The aged Simeon was followed by Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Panuel of the tribe of Asher. Her husband had died only seven years after their marriage, and she had lived in widowhood until the age of eighty-four, serving God night and day by preayer and fasting hardly ever leaving the Temple. Her role in the gospel story is altogethter inconspicuoud: it is not even stated that she ever spoke to the Holy Family. She simply praised the Lord and spoke of the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
St. Cosmas and Damian
Factually, nothing is known of the lives of these saints other than that they suffered martyrdom at Cyr in Syria around the end of the third century during the Diocletian persecution. Legend describes them as practitioners of medicine who took no money for their services. After their martyrdom, their cult quickly spread in the East and the West. A church was erected in Constantinople and became a center for pilgrims seeking healing. They are the protectors of barren women and, along with Luke the Evangelist, the patrons of doctors. The Maronites also formerly commemorated a certain Cosmas from Aleepo on March 28th.May the prayers of the Saints Cosmas & Damian heal us Spiritually. Amen.
There are numerous stories about Domitius and his devotion is widespread in Lebanon. There may have been, in fact, two saints who bore this name. One was a Persian monk who lived in Nisibus during the fourth century. He lived as a hermit on Mount Qoroch and was noted for his preaching and healing miracles. He suffered martyrdom under the pagan emperor Julian the Apostate in the year 363. Another tradition reports that Domitius was a minister in the court of the Byzantine emperor Valens who was an Arian. Domitius encouraged the emperor to persecute the orthodox Christians until he was afflicted with arthritis. As a result he was converted from Arianism and became a hermit. He cued many who were suffering from arthritis and is now considered as the patron of those who suffer from that disease. He died at the beginning of the fourth century. May his prayers be with us. Amen.
Elias or Eliyahu, whose name signifies, “Yahweh is my God”, was one of the great prophets of the Old Testament. Devotion to him is spread throughout the East and there his miracles are greatly celebrated. The First and Second Books of Kings speak of him. Elias was filled with zeal for “Tishbite” after the village of his birth. Elias was filled with zeal for spreading the word of God. He lived during the reign of King Achab (875-845) and courageously criticized the jing’s wife, the impious Jezabel. He was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire and the prophet Malachi, the person of John the Baptrizer. As we imitate his zeal for spreading the word of the Lord,…May St. Elias’ prayers be with us. Amen.
Ephrem was born in Nisibis at the beginning of the fourth century. He was educated at Edessa. As a disciple of Bishop James of Nisibis, he was ordained to the diaconate and was a lecturer in the newly-established school at Nisibis. After the fall of Nisibis, Ephrem departed from the city and began to teach in Edessa, where he lived as a “solitary” in a cell on a rock hill. After a life of good works, preaching, religious writings and ascetical exercises, he died in 373.
Ephrem was a prolific writer and left the Church an abundance of sermons, commentaries and hymns. Because of this enormous amount of material, he was given the titles “Pillar of the Church” and “Harp of the Holy Spirit.” The body of his writing comprises a central part of the liturgical prayer life of the Antiochene Churches.
Forty Martyrs of Sebaste
The governor of Sebaste in Armenia wished to force forty soldiers to renounce Christ. First he imprisoned them and then he threw them in a frozen pool. They prayed with one heart: “We forty have entered the arena, O Lord, grant that we may be able to receive the crown.” One of them escaped and renounced Christ, but their guard, a pagan, took his place. In the morning the guards broke their legs and burned their bodies. They received the crown of martyrdom around the year 322. May their prayers be with us. Amen.
Gabriel The Archangel
It is the custom of the Eastern Churches to continue the celebration of the memorial of a saint on the day following his feast. This is why we celebrate today the memorial of the Archangel Gabriel who bore the announcement of the incarnation to the Virgin Mary, our Mother. The name Gabriel is a Hebrew word which signifies “the strength of God”. May God, through the intercession of his angel, strengthen us so that we may serve him. Amen.
George, a Christian officer in the Roman army, consecrated his life to defend the Church, (which is symbolized in icons of him as the daughter of a king) against the attacks of Satan (the dragon). According to tradition he was martyred in the third century for his faith in Christ and was buried at Lydda in Palestine. A great church was erected over his tomb and the dedication of this church is celebrated on November 3rd. The devotion to this saint has spread throughout the East and the West; the faithful of all rites and nations count him as one of their own. The Cathedrals of Beirut and Sarba are dedicated to him as are a great number of other sanctuaries throughout Lebanon. He is the patron of England, the army, young people and scouts. May his prayers be with us. Amen.
Although he is the patron of England, Portugal, Germany, Aragon, Genoa, and Venice and is venerated in the East as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, all that is known of him with any certainty is that he suffered martyrdom at Lydda, Palestine, sometime before the reign of Emperor Constantine and that he may have been a soldier in the imperial army.
All else is myth and legend that began to appear in the sixth century. The story of his slaying of the dragon does not appear until the twelfth century and became popular after its appearance in the Golden Legend in the thirteenth century. According to it he was Christian knight who came to Sylene in Libya, where a dragon was terrorizing the city. The people were supplying the dragon with a victim at his demand; the latest victim was a princess. George sallied forth, attacked, and subdued the dragon; the princess led it back into the city, and George slew it after the inhabitants agreed to be baptized.
A later accretion had him marry the princess. He was known in England as early as the eighth century and had tremendous appeal in the Middle Ages as the patron of knighthood and soldiers, particularly among the Crusaders. “St. George’s arms,” a red cross on a white background, become the basis of the uniforms of British soldiers and sailors; the red cross appears in the Union Jack; and the Order of the Garter, founded about 1347, is under his patronage.
That St. George was a martyr in Palestine about the year 303 is fact; the dragon-slaying is a legend. But the legend has captured the imagination of Christians everywhere. He is a favorite patron of England, and of many other countries, provinces and cities.
St. Peter Damian, an eleventh century Doctor of the Church and great preacher, managed a sermon about St. George without facts and with legend. In part he said:
“St George was a man who abandoned one army for another: he gave up the rank of tribune to enlist as a soldier of Christ. Eager to encounter the enemy, he first stripped away his worldly wealth by giving all he had to the poor. Then, free and unencumbered, bearing the shield of faith, he plunged into the thick of battle, an argent soldier for Christ.
“Clearly what he did serves to teach us a valuable lesson: if we are afraid to strip ourselves of our worldly possessions, then we are unfit to make a strong defense of the faith.
“As for St. George, he was consumed with the fire of the Holy Spirit. Armed with the invincible standard of the cross, he did battle with an evil king and acquitted himself so well that, in vanquishing the king, he overcame the prince of all wicked spirits, and encouraged other soldiers of Christ to perform brave deeds in his cause… “Dear brothers, let us not only admire the courage of this fighter in heaven’s army, but follow his example.” (2nd Reading,Liturgy of the Hours).
A strong wintess for Christ, St. George followed Jesus “in suffering death, so may he be ready to help us in our weakness.”
Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Today’s feast is one of the greatest feasts of the Eastern Churches. It is frequently mentioned in ecclesiastical writings and always has its object the triumph of Christ, his resurrection, and the veneration of the holy cross, the sign of his victory over death. The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was first instituted in order to commemorate the dedication of the Church of the Resurrection on September 13, 335. The Emperor Constantine built this church and the one in Bethlehem and they are both in existence today. The Church of the Resurrection had five naves and in the interior a circular structure covered by a dome which protected the sanctuary of the sepulcher or tomb of Christ. The date of September 13 was chosen in order to supplant the pagan feast of the temple of Jupiter in Rome.
The second historical event which is the source of our present feast was the return of the holy cross to Jerusalem under Emperor Heraclius. The wood of the cross had been preserved in the Church of the Resurrection until May 4, 614 when the Persians captured Jerusalem, burned the Church of the Resurrection and carried off the cross. After the victory of Emperor Heraclius over the Persians, the cross through the streets of Jerusalem. He was stopped by the Patriarch who demanded that he remove his splendid vestments in order to become more like the scorned Christ. The Emperor agreed and walked through the streets barefooted. A crowd of the faithful accompanied him and prostrated before the holy cross.
On this day the Maronite Church celebrates the Rite of the Cross, which is a service of adoration of the cross, the sign of our salvation. This feast which comes at the end of the annual liturgical cycle is also directed toward the second coming of Christ, who carries his cross of light and triumph. It is this theme which is the object of the readings and prayers of the seven weeks which follow and which close the liturgical year. Adoration and honor to the cross of our Savior! Glory and praise to Christ our God, for ever! Amen.
The Holy Innocents
The Church commemorates today the first martyrs, the infants of Bethlehem, who were slaughtered by the tyrant, Herod, when he heard of the birth of Jesus. It is a day of joy and sadness. The Church is joyful because today, little ones have been gathered in heaven. However, the Church also mourns with the mothers who did not know their children’s happiness.
“The Angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph with the command: Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you otherwise. Herod is searching for the child to destroy him. Joseph got up and took the child and his mother and left that night for Egypt.” (Matthew 2:13-14).
This is the second message given to Joseph by the Lord. The first was an explanation of the virginal birth of Mary. Now Joseph is given a command by the Lord as to how he was to care for the holy family.
Tradition tells is that Herod slaughtered approximately thirty or forty children. Such an atrocity was not difficult for a man who had already slaughtered many of his relatives, including his wife and two sons.
It is not only the event itself that Matthew wishes to emphasize, but he is also revealing a profound theological point. Jesus is the New Moses and the New Israel. The infant Moses was saved from death by his mother and sister who put him in a basket. He was subsequently found by the daughter of the Pharaoh of Egypt, who gave him protection.
The infant Jesus is also to be the New Israel. Jacob (who was given the name “Israel”, meaning “he who contends with God”) was being pursued by his father-in-law, Laban. Laban wanted to destroy Jacob until the Lord appeared to him in a dream and warned him, “Take care not to threaten Jacob with any harm.” (Genesis 31:24).
Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius was a convert from Paganism, probably of Syrian origin. He was a close disciple of John the Evangelist and possibly the third successor of Peter to the See of Antioch. As a prisoner condemned to death because of his Christian faith, he wrote seven letters during his journey from Antioch to Rome.
This bishop is esteemed as a great leader in the Antiochene Church because of his charisma of teaching and prophetic inspiration. It is under the stewardship of this bishop that the three-fold structure of the priesthood, bishop, priest, and deacon, was clearly formulated. He was also the first to use the term “Catholic” in reference to the Church of Christ.
The sermons of Ignatius center around the unity and corporateness of the community of believers with the bishop. To be united with the Lord and to share in the Mysteries, one must be united with the emissary sent from the Lord.
Ignatius himself wrote:
“Be eager, therefore, to be confirmed in the commandments of our Lord and his apostles, so that whatever you do may prosper in body and spirit, in faith and charity, in the Son and Father, and Spirit, in the beginning and in the end, along with your most reverend bishop and the priests … and the deacons… Be obedient to your bishop and to one another, as Jesus in his human nature was subject to the Father and as the apostles were to Christ. In this way there will be union of body and spirit.”
His letters reveal him as a man totally dedicated to Christ and yearning for martyrdom. Ignatius is especially venerated in the Eastern Churches, especially those of the Antiochene branch. The Maronites and the Orthodox celebrate his feast on December 20th. The Syrians commemorate his on November 16th and January 29th.
For some time, there have been many ambiguities surrounding the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Some have confused this doctrine with that of the virginal conception, the conception of Jesus in the womb of Marry by the power of the Holy Spirit. However, today’s feast commemorates the conception of Mary in the womb of Ann. Mary was given the exclusive privilege of being conceived in a state of perfect holiness. In preserving Mary immaculate, the Word of God prepared a dwelling place for himself. Jesus could not permit the forces of evil to have had even for one instant a grip on his mother; therefore, in Mary, there is no stain of sin.
This truth of the Immaculate Conception is intimately connected with the fall of Adam. Because of Adam, all of humanity was tainted (Romans 12:18 and Ephesians 2:3). Mary was conceived in a state of holiness that belonged to Adam and Eve before their disobedience. In anticipation of the salvation which Christ was to give to humanity, Mary was exempted from the contamination brought in the world by Adam. Thus, she was the first of the redeemed.
From the fourth century, the Aramaic Fathers, such as Ephrem, clearly described the Immaculate Conception. Ephrem in his Carmina Nisibine proclaims: “There is in you, Lord, no stain, nor any spot in your mother.” “You Jesus and your mother are the only ones who are beautiful in all aspects. Because in you, O Lord, there is no deformation, and in your mother, there is no stain.”
From the eighth century in the East and the ninth century in the West, the Feast of the Conception of Mary was established and celebrated. Theologians then began to question why the feast was established and the meaning behind the celebration. They slowly came to the conclusion that the reason behind the feast is the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
Some great men, such as Bernard of Clairvaux and Thomas Aquinas, have asserted that Mary was conceived with original sin like any other human being, but was later sanctified in the womb of her mother. They were opposed, however, by the Franciscan, Duns Scotus.
During the twelfth century in the West – and even earlier in the East – the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception began to be asserted. The Dominicans declared themselves against the notion of the Immaculate Conception. The Franciscans subsequent to Duns Scotus defended that notion. They were later followed by the Carmelites, Augustinians, and the University of Paris.
In 1476, Pope Sixtus IV encouraged the celebration of the feast and forbade the censure of anyone who declared Mary immaculate. The Council of Trent, while treating the universality of original sin, declared expressly that it did not intend to include the Mother of God in this assertion. The Council Fathers were thus implying that Mary was the only exception to this universal law, the only one conceived without original sin.
Pius V condemned Baius, who denied this privilege of Mary and defended the notion by instituting the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1568. In 1661, Alexander VII described Mary’s exemption from sin in a way that prepared for the declaration of Pius IX in 1854.
Pius IX, in Ineffabilis Deus, on December 8, 1854, made the following dogmatic statement: “In the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God in consideration of the merits of Jesus Christ, savior of the human race, the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from all stain of original sin. This doctrine has been revealed by God and must therefore, be believed by all the faithful.”
The basis of the dogma is to be found in Sacred Scripture and the tradition described above.
Just as Jesus is described as the New Adam, Mary is the New Eve. Ephrem wrote: The two women were pure and simple, Mary and Eve. One of them, however, became the cause of our death and the other, the cause of our life. Eve, by hearing the word of the serpent conceived evil and brought death. Mary, by hearing the Word of God, conceived Jesus and brought life.”
This dogma is prefigured in the Old Testament by the Ark of Noah floating above the waters which brought death and carrying life and the Word of mankind.
Both Jesus and Mary were promised at the fall, that they would triumph over evil and open a new paradise for mankind. “Then the Lord God said to the serpent ‘…I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.'” (Genesis 3:14-15) In the gospel accounts, Mary is greeted as “highly favored,” “The Lord is with you,” “blessed among women.” (Luke 1:28) “You have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:30) These texts demonstrate that while the truth of the dogma took place. Through the centuries the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, seen by many Fathers of the Church as a ray of sunlight through the clouds, was not clearly perceived by many because of our solidarity with Adam.
The Immaculate Conception is a sign of glory of Mary, the Mother of God. She calls to struggle against the consequence of original sin and she is most compassionate towards us.
God, who was able to choose and fashion his mother according to his will, did not exempt her from poverty, humiliation, fatigue, suffering, or even death. Therefore, in the eyes of God, the only true evil is sin. God considers grace to be more important than riches, honor, and any other ambitious desires of the human heart. He does not give these “false goods” to his mother, but the state of grace. God finds this state of grace to be so attractive that he comes to abide in the womb of Mary as in his sanctuary and Paradise itself. We must reflect upon the importance of grace in our life and the true evil of sin which threatens us. We must always seek the grace of God in our lives and preserve it.
We know that Mary was an ocean of grace and beauty and that this ocean continually increased because of her love for God the Father, God her Son, and God, her Spouse, the Holy Spirit. It is through this ocean that the salvific waters continue to be poured out upon us. Let he who is thirsty go and drink. The honor of the children comes from the nobility and dignity of the parents – what privilege for us to have such a Mother!
James the Brother of the Lord
In the gospel, the expression “brother of the Lord” is understood as referring to a close relative. From Mathew’s gospel (27:57) we know that James was the son of Mary, the wife of Clophas, the brother of Joseph. Some believe that this Mary was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus (see, John 19:25). This James was not one of the twelve, but he was one of the disciples. He became the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, and was ejected from the Temple by the Jews. According to tradition James is a different person from James, the brother of John. May his prayers be with us. Amen.
James, Disciple of Maron
James of Cyr was a hermit and one of the disciples of Maron. These disciples of Maron are an extension of their spiritual Father and Founder: they went to his school of asceticism, learned from him and were directed by him. These disciples are described by Theodoret as flowers in the garden of Maron.
Many of the disciples never met the saint, but only heard about his life and virtues and his new school of asceticism and solitude. They wanted to imitate his life of devotion and sacrifice, so they became his followers. The disciple James was still alive when Theodoret wrote about him.
James was instructed in the heavenly way by the great Maron who loved him very much. He lived with Maron for a while and then went off to live by himself. However, James excelled his master in his acts of penance and good deeds. Maron accepted as his dwelling the ruin of a temple, and for clothes he used the skins of goats to protect himself from the cold and the rain. James refused all of this and lived in the open air, saying that the skies were his roof. James thus exposed himself to the intemperate weather, quite often being drenched with rain and submerged in the snow and the ice. In the summer, he was exposed to the burning sun. He accepted everything with great patience, as if he were not enduring all of the sufferings in his own body, but in the body of a stranger. He sustained everything with the strength of the Spirit. It seemed that this body did not suffer from all of these mortifications. Indeed, it seemed as if he did not have a body at all, saying with Saint Paul, “We do indeed live in the body, but we do not wage war with human resources. The weapons of our warfare are not merely human. They possess God’s power for the destruction that raises itself against the knowledge of God; we likewise bring every thought into captivity to make it obedient to Christ. We are ready to punish disobedience in anyone else when your own obedience is perfect.” (2 Corinthians 10: 3-6)
He spent his time looking for exercise of virtues. In seeking solitude, he went to the mountains, far from the city. This mountain became famous because of him and people would go there and take soil from this place, which they considered holy. It is still referred today as “Sheikh Khouros,” or “the holy one from Khouros.”
Bishop Theodoret wrote that he himself went out to see James and to observe him. After remaining with the holy hermit, Theodoret wrote of many examples James’ holiness and life of penance. May his prayers be with us. Amen.
James the Intercisus
James was born of a noble family in the region of Suze in Persia, during the first quarter of the fifth century. For some time, the Christian Church had experienced a time of peace. However, one of the zealous bishops, Abda, burnt a pagan temple which was dedicated to the god of the sun. The people were outraged and the Christians began to be persecuted.
The king, Yazdegerd, ordered the bishop to rebuild the temple he had burnt. The bishop refused and the king ordered him to be executed. The king also ordered that Christians be obligated to present sacrifices to the sun god. If they refused, they were to be tortured. James, though a friend of the king, numbered among the Christians. At first, he burnt the incense at the pagan temple in order to avoid the wrath of the king. However, his wife and mother threatened to leave him if he continued in his rejection of the Christian faith. They implored him to abandon these practices and assured him he had nothing to fear because the glory of martyrdom was greater than any earthly treasure. These entreaties greatly moved James and he decided to profess his faith publicly. He ran through the streets shouting, “I am a Christian.”
The king ordered that James be brought before him. He questioned James as to how he could openly declare his Christian faith and ordered him to offer incense to the god of the sun. James refused and the king ordered him to be tortured. In 420 James was dismembered and decapitated (the name ‘intercisus” means “cut up”), thus winning the glory of martyrdom.
Joachim and Ann
As the early Church began to reflect on the privileged role of Mary as Mother of God, it naturally began to wonder about her parents and the other members of her family. Various traditions regarding the early life of Mary were collected and published in what have become known as the apocryphal gospel. Although the Church has never accepted these writings as being inspired, they give us some insight into the popular stories that circulated about Mary and her parents.
A fourth century manuscript of the Protoevangelium of James gives the names of Joachim and Ann to the parents of Mary. Joachim, according to this tradition, was a Levite from Nazareth of the lineage of David. He and his wife Ann desired children, but remained childless. Ann made a vow to the Lord that if he would grant her a child she would offer the child to the service of the Lord in the temple. When Mary was born her mother fulfilled her vow and Mary was accordingly raised in the Temple.
Whether the story is accurate or not we have no way of telling, however, we can be sure that Mary’s parents must have prepared her for her as the Mother of the Savior by sharing with her their faith and love.
Devotion to Joachim and Ann spread throughout the East and it was eventually introduced into the Western Church. Many churches are dedicated to the parents of Mary in Lebanon. May the prayers of Joachim and Ann be with us. Amen.
John the Apostle
John was born in Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee. He was the brother of the apostle James and the son of Zebedee and Salome. He earned his living as a fisherman. At first he was a disciple of John the Baptizer, later he became a follower of Jesus and his beloved disciple. During the Last Supper it was John who rested his head on the chest of the Lord and followed him up to the cross. After the death of the other apostles John lived at Ephesus and according to tradition, spent his last days on the island of Patmos where he died at an advanced age. The fourth gospel, three epistles and the Book of Revelation are attributed to him. May his prayers be with us. Amen.
Beheading of John the Baptizer
Without a doubt we can learn much from the life and death of John the Baptizer. His life was on of penance and he called the people of Israel to repentance, thereby preparing the way of the coming of the Lord. John was not concerned for personal gain, but rather, he desired only that Jesus increase and that he decrease.
His great courage was especially evident in his confrontation with king Herod. The king had entered into an adulterous marriage with his brother’s wife and Kohn publicly denounced him for his sin. Without regard for his own life he called Herod to repentance (Mark 6:9). He was thrown into Jail and was eventually executed in order to appease Herod’s wife. Before his death he sent his disciples to Jesus.
John, who declared the truth of God’s commandments before Herod was privileged to point to the incarnate Truth, Jesus Christ, and call the people to follow him. John’s death, which we recall today, points to Christ and his death on the cross. John died in fidelity to God’s truth. Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, died to reconcile us to the Father and each other. May the prayers of John the Baptizer be with us. Amen.
Birth of John the Baptizer
In both the scriptures and in the Church’s liturgy John the Baptizer is referred to as an angel, prophet, apostle hermit and martyr, for these terms well describe his life work. John, like the angels was sent from God to be the messenger of the Lord. His message was that of the prophets who came before him: repent for the messiah of God is at hand. Like the apostles who followed him, John pointed to Jesus and proclaimed him as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” He prepares for his ministry as a hermit in the desert, living a life of prayer, fasting and continence. And, like all those who dare to proclaim the truth, he suffered a martyr’s death in fidelity to the world of God.
John, in fact, closely resembles the Lord Jesus in his birth, life and death. And Jesus was perfect, so John sought out, not only personal perfection, but also the perfect One, Jesus Christ.
The birth of John was announced by the Archangel Gabriel who would also announce Christ’s birth. His birth like that of the Lord, was surrounded by the improbability and wonder: for an aged couple, with no hope of offspring, the angel gives the joyful news of the birth of a son, John. While in the womb, John was sanctified for his mission of preaching repentance and pointing our the messiah. Before their births Jesus and John encountered each other in the persons of their mothers. As Mary greeted Elizabeth, John (still in the womb) jumped for joy as he recognized the presence of Jesus in the womb of Mary. Thus John was born to grace before his human birth. Since he was to prepare the Lord’s way, it was only proper that he should be prepared by God’s grace for his prophetic work. May the prayers of John the Baptizer be with us. Amen.
Praises of John the Baptizer
After the celebration of a great feast, the author of that feast is celebrated or congratulated. After the Feast of the Birth of our Lord, the Church celebrated the praises of the Mother of God. After the Feast of the Birth of Mary, the Church commemorates Anne and Joachim, her parents. Now, after the Feast of Epiphany, the Church calls to memory John the Baptizer, the one who fulfilled the will of the Father and who witnessed the manifestation of the divinity of Jesus. This feast is celebrated in all of the churches of the East.
John witnessed to the Lord; he pointed him out, saying, “There is the Lamb of God!” Afterwards, he was put in jail because of his criticisms of the lifestyle of the king. Even though he was in jail, John’s interest did not leave Jesus. Like the other Jews of his time, John was expecting Jesus to conquer the world for his people. However, Jesus was to be another kind of King. He heard of his miracles, his preaching, and sent his disciples to inquire of Jesus whether he was indeed the awaited Messiah. Jesus told the disciples of John about the miracles he was performing and how he was fulfilling the predictions of the prophets.
After John’s disciples had departed, Jesus himself began to praise John the Baptizer. (Perhaps John never heard of these praises.) He did this by asking three questions: “What did you go into the desert to see?”
“A reed swayed by the wind?” Jesus was telling everyone that John was not in jail because his teachings and exhortations were false, but rather because he would not bend in the face of the powerful or evil. John was a strong reed, a courageous martyr.
“A man dressed in luxurious clothing?” John is not like those people who are found in royal places (the ones who cast him into prison). Instead, he is a man of asceticism and holiness. He is a light pointing the way to the kingdom of God. He is calling us to conversion by doing penance himself.
“A prophet?” Yes, John has all of the characteristics of a prophet and is indeed a prophet, but much more. The prophets preached in the name of the Lord; John is announcing the imminent coming of the Lord. John is the link between the Old and the New Covenants.
Jesus closes his praise with the declaration, “I assure you, there is no man born of woman greater than John. Yet the least born into the kingdom of God is greater than he.” The Lord is assuring us that if we personally believe in him and commit ourselves to the kingdom of God, we can be even greater than this holy man of the desert, John.
In 349 John was born in Antioch, a center of both culture and heresies. His father, Secundus, was a high-ranking army officer and probably a Roman and a Christian. His mother, Anthusa, was Greek and praised by her son for her piety and virtues. After a classical education, John was baptized during Easter 368.
He then aspired to become a monk and practiced severe austerities for several years, which led to an impairment of his health.
Ordained to the priesthood in 386, he began his illustrious career as a preacher. After twelve years, he succeeded Nectarius as the Patriarch of Constantinople. He instituted many forms in the ecclesiastical life of the patriarchate, a project which made him unpopular with some of the clergy. His bluntness also created many enemies at court, one of them being the impress, Eudoxia. In 402 John was exiled and underwent great sufferings while traveling from one place to another. He died on September 14, 407. His renown as a preacher won for him the name of “Chrysostom,” or “Golden Mouth.” For this reason, he is the patron of preachers.
It was John Chrysostom who took the Antiochene liturgy to the imperial court at Byzantium and who wrote the liturgy which bears his name. In addition to being a Father and Doctor of the Universal Church, he is patron of the entire Byzantine Church and the patron of preachers.
Today the Maronite Church celebrates the memorial of its first patriarch of Antioch, John Maron. Since in the Second half of the seventh century the See of Antioch was vacant, the Maronites elected a patriarch from the monastery of Saint Maron on the Orante. John Maron was a spiritual leader and patriot who defended his people and accompanied them to Lebanon during their persecution. Tradition says that he died and was buried at Kafr Hayy (Batroun) in the sanctuary which is consecrated to him. Previously our Church celebrated his feast on March 9, Patriarch Joseph Estephan transferred his memorial to this date in 1778. May his prayers be with us. Amen.
While Saint Maron lived in the early part of the 5th century as a priest and hermit in the mountains of Apamea along the Orantes river, Saint John Maron lived in the late 7th century and became Patriarch.
Since the days of Saint Maron, his disciples, having inherited the ancient and venerable tradition of the Syriac church, set out to complete the evangelization of all the surrounding frontiers with the gospel of Christ. By the time Saint John Maron became a bishop about 275 years later, the efforts of the Maronite monks had born abundant fruit in all directions, spreading east to the Euphrates, north to Antioch, west to Cyprus, and south to Lebanon. It was this last evangelical front which became a refuge for Maronites during the terrible persecutions, especially from the 7th century on.
In the late 7th century, the Patriarchal Seat of Antioch became vacant due to great political turmoil and much persecution. It was during this tumultuous period that a Maronite bishop, St. John Maron, was elected as Patriarch of Antioch by the bishops affiliated with the famous monastery of St. Maron (built by the disciples of St. Maron.) St. John Maron subsequently moved the Patriarchal Seat to Lebanon. He was a strong spiritual leader and became a pillar of strength for the persecuted flock during uncertain times. Tradition says that he died and was buried at Kafr Hay (Batroun.) The day of his birth into heaven is celebrated on March 2nd. May his prayers be with us. Amen.
Saint Joseph was the spouse of the Virgin Mary and foster father of Jesus Christ our Lord. He was of the line of David and worked as a carpenter at Nazareth. God chose him for the greatest mission ever conferred upon a man. His humility, his sanctity and his confidence in God were remarkable. Devotion to Saint Joseph had its origins in the West. The whole Church now venerates him; the Maronite Church also commemorate shim on the Fifth Sunday of Announcement as it prepares for the Birth of our Lord. May God guard us by his prayers. Amen.
Jude the Apostle
Jude is known by several names. In Lebanon he is called Lebbeus, Levi, or Laba and is venerated in the town of Hosroun. The Maronite Synaxarion says that he was one of the Seventy disciples of the Lord and calls him by the name of Thaddeus. According to one tradition, he suffered martyrdom in Raha, and according to another, he died in Beirut.
Today he is considered to be one of the Twelve (Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13). Mathew 10:3 and Mark 3:18 refer to him as Thaddeus so as to avoid confusing him with Judas Iscariot (John 14:22). The name Thaddeus in Aramaic means, “chest” and in Hebrew the name Lebbeus means “heart”.
Jude was the brother of James the Less and Simon who were the first bishops of Jerusalem. After the Last Supper when Jesus promised to manifest himself to everyone who would love him, Jude asked the Lord why he didn’t manifest himself to the world, since he thought that Jesus was to be a secular messiah, an earthly king.
A brief epistle is ascribed to Jude and most scholars accept Jude as the author of this letter. Little is know about the preaching or death of Jude, although some have said that he died in Persia.
Devotion to Saint Jude is very strong in the Maronite Church and many churches are named in his honor. He is known as the patron saint of hopeless causes. May the prayers of Jude be with us. Amen.
Mammas was born of Christian parents; his mother brought him into the world while in prison for her faith in Christ. After his mother’s death another Christian woman took care of him. He was a shepherd and was loved by all the peasants for his good humor. He was arrested because he was a Christian and the judge demanded that he burn incense to idols, but Mammas refused. After undergoing severe torture he was beheaded in the year 279 at the age of 15. Many miracles are attributed to him and one of the more ancient churches of Mount Lebanon is dedicated to him: the Church of Saint Mammas at Ehden, dating from the year 748. May his prayer be with us. Amen.
Mark the Evangelist
Mark was the son of a Christian named Mary, whose home in Jerusalem became a place of gatherings for Christians (Acts 12:12). He was also a relative Barnabas, the Cypriot levite. He had both a Jewish name, “John” and a Roman name, “Mark”. He traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch, with Paul and Barnabas, in order to preach the gospel. He then continued on to Cyprus, Asia Minor and Pamphilia where he left Paul and Barnabas and returned to Jerusalem. Later on he again accompanied Barnabas. We find him with Paul, who was imprisoned at Rome, and with Peter, who called him “Mark, my son.” He transcribed the preaching of Peter at Rome into Greek around the year 65. The establishment of the Church of Alexandria is attributed to him as is evident from its title, “The preaching of Mark.” The various accounts of his life agree that he was martyred at Alexandria on Easter Day around the year 70; the pagans seized him, put a rope around his neck and dragged him through the streets of the city all day. May his prayers be with us. Amen.
All that is known about Maron, the spiritual father and protector of the Maronites comes from Theodoret, the bishop of Cyr. In approximately 444, Theodoret undertook the project of writing a religious history about his religion. Theodoret never knew Maron personally, but only through the disciples of this holy man. He described Maron as “the one who has planted for God the garden which flourishes now in the region of Cyr.” Little is known of the birth or youth of Maron because Theodoret was unconcerned about that aspect of his life. He felt that Maron was a man born not for this world, but for heaven. In his description of the beginning of Maron’s life, Theodoret assests that Maron had “already increased the number of saints in heaven.”
According to history, Maron was never satisfied with the ordinary practices of asceticism, but was “always seeking for new ways to accumulate all the treasures of wisdom.” Maron was the spiritual leader not only of the hermits who lived near him, but of all the Christian faithful in the area. He used to counsel them, heal their bodily and spiritual ills. All of these apostolic endeavors manifested wisdom and holiness of the hermit Maron.
Some hold the opinion that Maron and John Chrysostom studied together at Antioch before 398 and that the famous letter sent by John Chrysostom was indeed sent to this hermit Maron and not to some other anchorite with the same name. If the monk referred to in this letter is from the region of Cyr, it is indeed our spiritual father, Maron.
The date of Maron’s death is placed somewhere between 407 and 423. Because of his great popularity among the people, riots broke out at the time of his death because everyone wanted to save his remains in their village.
The Maronite Church formerly celebrated the feast of this great saint on January 5th. (This is the day in which the church of Kfarhai was consecrated in his honor.) However, in the seventeenth century, the feast was transferred to February 9th. Lebanon has proclaimed Maron as its patron saint and Pope Benedict XIV granted a plenary indulgence to everyone who visited a Maronite Church on February 9th.
The gospel tells us that a tree is known by its fruits and we know from Theodoret that the garden of Maron flourished after his death. One is able to number approximately twenty saints among Maron’s disciples, three whom were women. Theodoret describes these disciples of Maron with these words: “These anchorites were virtuous and heroic, totally dedicated to a life of contemplative prayer. They were strangers to any other consideration in the world. They were obedient to Church authority and tried to imitate their predecessor in their exercises of austerity. At times, their acts of penance and mortification were excessive, but they were always obedient to ecclesiastical authority.”
After the Council of Chalcedon, Bishop Theodoret worked to construct the famous Monastery of Saint Maron. In addition to being a stronghold for the defense of the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon, this monastery was for a long time the center of the cultural and theological heritage of Antioch.
The Massabki Brothers
In the course of the fighting in Syria and Lebanon in 1860, a great number of Christians died for their faith. Among them were the Franciscan Fathers and the Massabki brothers who were all martyred at Damascus in Syria. The Franciscan Fathers Ruiz, Colta, Escanio, Solar, Alberca, Binazo, Fernandez, and Colanda were murdered during the night of July 10th.
Among the thousands of lay Christians who shed their blood for Christ were the Massabki brothers. On that same night they fled to the Church for safety, but their assailants were able to enter and demand them to abandon their religion. In the name of all, one of the brothers, Francis, refused their demand and said:
We do not fear the one who kills the body…
a crown is prepared for us in heaven,
we have our souls…and we do not wish
to lose them, we are Christians and we wish
to die as Christians.
They were martyred in the Church before the altar and their bodies were buried in the Maronite Church of Damascus. Pope Pius XI declared them blessed on October 10, 1926. May their prayers be with us. Amen.
Michael the Archangel
The name “Michael” in Hebrew means “He who is like God.” In the Old Testament, Michael is the “great prince who stands over your people.” He is described as the heavenly spirit who watches over Israel (Daniel 10:13, 21). In Jude 9, he is referred to as an archangel. Michael and his angels are described in Revelation as battling the dragon (Satan) and the other angels who lost their place in heaven (See Revelation 12:7-9; Isaiah 14:12; Ezekiel 21:12).
Michael the Archangel is the source of strength and consolation for God’s people in times of difficulties. Because of his vigilance over the People of God, he is invoked as a protector of the Church of Christ against the powers of evil. Churches in his honor date from the fourth century and his cult is widespread. In the East, he is venerated as having a care for the sick.
Praises of the Mother of God
In Palestine at the time of Jesus, the birth of a boy was the cause of great joy. When the time of the birth approached, friends and musicians gathered at the house. When the birth of a boy was announced, everyone was jubilant and broke into song. It is still the custom in the Middle East to rejoice on the occasion of the birth of a son. Friends and relatives hurry to congratulate the happy parents.
Of course, such a celebration did not occur for Jesus, who was born in a manger, far away from friends. The angels themselves replaced the friends and musicians.
It was the custom of the early Church to celebrate not only the birth of the saint, but also the feast of the parents of the saint. After the birth of Mary, the feast of Anne and Joachim is celebrated. Therefore, the Eastern celebration of the Praises of the Mother of God is probably very ancient. It probably dates back to the time of the discussion concerning the title, Theotokos, since the feast commemorates only Mary and not Joseph.
Mary is praised for the virtues already manifested in the Sundays preceding the Feast of the Birth of our Lord: her faith, her love and charity, her zeal, her silent trust in the Lord, and of course, her virginity both before and after the birth of Jesus. The notion of Mary’s perpetual virginity is an important topic for the Aramaic fathers. Ephrem wrote of Mary as a true mother, but a mother whose virginity remains intact. For James of Serugh, it was blasphemous to assert that Mary did not remain a virgin after the birth of Jesus.
However, the principal object of the feast is Mary’s pre-eminence as the Mother of God. It is from this that her greatness flows. In praising Mary, the Mother of God, Ephrem says: “To replace the bitter fruit which Eve plucked from the vine, Mary gave to mankind her sweet fruit. The virginal vine yielded a cluster of grapes whose wine will bring consolation to those who seep.
come to me you wise and intelligent heralds of the Spirit, you prophets … you farmers who sowed and slept in hope, arise and exult at the sight of the harvest of fruit. Look in my arms, I hold the Wheat of Life, which gives bread to the hungry and satisfies the needy. Rejoice with me because I have received the Sheaf of Joy.”
the Eucharist is nothing other than another aspect of the Incarnation; it is the same reality under a different form.
On the feast of the Praises of the Mother of God, the Church praises Mary, the New Bark, loaded with a treasure, sailing with the richness upon the waves of the sea.
Presentation of the Mother of God
Today, the Church commemorates the offering of a young girl, Mary, by her parents for service in the temple. The Feast of the Presentation was celebrated in Jerusalem from the sixth century. The Churches of the East used to celebrate the feast under the name of “Entrance to the Temple.” The feast came to the West in the middle of the fourteenth century.
The Mosaic law required that the first born male be dedicated to God (Exodus 13:12). A private pious practice of dedicating a first-born female may also have arisen. There were buildings in the Temple area where girls and women stayed and served the Temple. There is documentation which proves that girls were dedicated to the service of the Temple and also studied Sacred Scripture.
The New Testament does not mention the childhood of Mary, but there is an abundance of apocryphal literature on the subject. The proto-gospel of James narrates how Joachim wanted to offer Mary when she was two years old, but Anne wanted to wait another year. Thus, when Mary was three years old, she was taken to the Temple, where she was kept by the high priest and educated until she was fifteen or sixteen years old. In order to enter the Temple it was necessary to ascend a long staircase; it was said that when she entered the Temple, Mary ran up the steps without turning around to see her parents.
The object of the feast is not so much the physical entry of Mary in the Temple, but rather her total consecration to God, her desire to serve God, and her search for virtues that would prepare her to become the Mother of God. In offering herself to the Lord without hesitation or reserve, she thus became the example and model of all who desire to follow the Lord.
The Feast of the Presentation of Mary is dear to all those who prepare themselves for the priesthood or the religious life. “O Lord, my allotted portion and my cup, you it is who hold fast my lot” (Psalm 16:5). They prepare themselves like Mary in order that they might give Christ to the world.
Blessed Nimatullah Kassab Hardini
Joseph Kassab was born in the year 1808. His father was George Kassab and his mother Marium Raad. He entered the school of the monks of St. Anthony at Houb from 1816 to 1822. He entered the monastery of St. Anthony Ishaia and bacame a novice on November 1828. There he adopted the name Fr. Nimatullah Kassab Hardini, then he learned to bind books. He professed his first vows on 14th of November 1830. After he finished his theological studies, he was ordained a priest under Bishop Seiman Zwain in the monastery at Kfifan on 25th of December 1833. He became a member of the general council three times from 1845 to 1848, 1850 to 1853, 1856 to 1858. As a member of the council he continued to bind books. He taught in monastic schools, especially in Kfifan.
Father Nimatullah lived a very holy life. He was a man of prayer, totally “enraptured by God.” He spent days and nights in meditation, prayer and adoration of the Eucharist. The Virgin Mary was his patron and Father Nimatullah prayed Her Rosary. He was also a very humble, sensitive and patient person who lived his monastic vows of “obedience, chastity, and poverty” to perfection. His fellow brother Monks and the people who knew him called him “The Saint” while he was still alive. One of his students was Charbel Makhlouf (St. Charbel), 1853 to 1858.
Father Nimatullah Hardini died in the monastery of Kfifan on 14th December 1858. He passed away after struggling ten days with a high fever which he contracted from the cold winter wind characteristic of northern Lebanon. He was only then fifty years of age. He died holding a picture of the Virgin Mary, his last words being: “O Virgin Mary between your hands I submit my soul.” People who were nearby at the moment of Father Nimatullah’s death witnessed a heavenly light illumination his room and an aromatic smell which remained in his room for a number of days afterwards. When the then Patriarch, Boulos Massad, heard of Father Nimatullah’s death he commented: “Congratulations to this monk who knew how to benefit from his monastic life.”
Some time later, the monks opened Father Nimatullah’s tomb and to their surprise they found his body had remained incorrupt. He was then removed and placed in a coffin near the church. After obtaining due permission from the local ecclesiastical authority, from 1864 visitors were allowed to see Father Ninatullah’s intact body until 1927. In that same year the Committee of Inquiry set up to investigate the Cause of Father Nimatulah finalized its investigation. Father Nimatullah’s body was then reburied in the curving wall of his monastic cell, before being transferred to a little Chapel where masses are celebrated for visitors.
Following the instructions given by the Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Boutros Cardinal Sfeir, the tomb was opened and the corpse was transferred to a new tomb on 18th May 1996. Through his intercession many humble cures occured: blind, paralyzed in a chair, chirld raised from the dead, cure of another child, cure of nervous system, cure of cancer.
Nouhra is particularly venerated in the churches of the East. He is believed to be the same person as the martyr called Lucein, who came from the city of Manhur in Persia. He traveled preaching the gospel and he suffered martyrdom at Batroun in Lebanon. His name mean “Light” and for this reason he is the special patron of those who suffer from diseases of the eyes. May his prayers be with us. Amen.
Our Lady of Lebanon
First Sunday of May
Today we celebrate the memorial of our Virgin Mother under the title of “Our Lady of Lebanon”. The Maronite Church has always had a special devotion to the Virgin, as is evidenced by the great number of churches which are dedicated to her both in Lebanon and in our own country. Mary, moreover, plays a special role in the Church’s liturgy: there are numerous hoosoyeh dedicated to her, qoley and hymns which extol her virtues, and constant petitions which beg her intercession. And yet Mary is always seen in the Maronite liturgy as the Mother of the Lord, the Theotokos, in whose womb the Word took flesh:
Hail Mary! In your virginity, you became the mother
of the mighty One who fills heaven and earth.
Hail Mary! In your virginity, you became the mother
of the ancient One whose name was before the sun was created.
Hail Mary! In your virginity, you became the mother
of the Creator who formed Eve and gave her to Adam.
Blessed are you, Mary, in whose womb dwelled in holiness
the only begotten Son who is one in nature and is splendor with the Father.
It is because of Mary’s unique position of Mother of the Lord that the Church knows that it can turn to her and seek her intercession with her Son:
O Mother of the Life, petition your divine Son
to keep away from us all the effects of evil,
to preserve us from all animosity
and to strengthen us on our way.
As we honor the Virgin Mother of the Lord under her title of “Our Lady of Lebanon,” we pray for the land of our ancestors in the faith, for the whole Maronite Church, and for those parishes which are dedicated under her patronage. May Our Lady of Lebanon assist us by her prayers. Amen.
Our Lady Of The Seeds
Today the Church celebrates the memorial of our Virgin Mother under the title of “Our Lady of the Seeds”. In origin this is an agricultural feast that arose from the needs of the farmers to seek God’s help for a fruitful harvest. The farmers were at the mercy of the elements and depended upon sufficient rain and good weather. As a result they sought God’s assistance and begged the intercession of Mary for their crops.
In the ancient texts for the divine office we find this text refers to the agrarian feast of the Virgin:
The dew spread all over the region where John wrote
the Book of the Virgin, in which is found:
“Let the memory of the blessed One be celebrated
three times a year: in January for the seeds; in
May for the ears of wheat; in August for the grapes
which symbolize the sacrament of life: Bless them!”
The ancient texts speak of Mary’s protection not only in material terms of the crops of the field, but also of her role in the incarnation as the Mother of the Source of Life, Jesus Christ. Saint Ephrem speaks of Mary in this regard when he says that Mary became the field who received the grain of wheat in her womb and this grain of wheat, Jesus Christ our Lord, gives life to the world. Through the harvest we receive the gifts of bread and wine, which become for us the body of Christ in the Eucharist. Hence we pray during the transfer of the offerings:
I am the Bread of Life, said our Lord.
From on high, I came to earth, so men might live in me.
Pure Word without flesh, I was sent from the Father.
Mary’s womb received me like good earth a grain of wheat.
Behold! The priest bears me aloft the altar.
Alleluia! Accept our offering.
Let us put all our lives and the crops of the fields under the protection of Our Lady of the Seeds. May she assist us with her prayers. Amen.
St. Peter & St. Paul
Peter was originally from the town of Bethsaida on the shores of the Lake of Tiberias in the region of Galilee. In Aramaic, his name was Simon, son of John and the Lord gave him the name Peter, which means rock. He was married and worked with his brother Andrew as a fisherman at Capernaum. Almost nothing is known about his family life. Peter and Andrew were disciples of John the Baptizer and, when called by Christ, they became his followers.
Peter had a fiery temperament and was, at times, somewhat hot-headed. Yet he loved Jesus and followed him with all his spirit. At Caesarea Philippi the Lord handed the care of the Church over to Peter and confirmed Peter’s primacy after the resurrection. After the ascension Peter exercised his authority over the Church through his preaching and teaching in Antioch, Corinth and Rome. Peter wrote two epistles and the gospel of Mark preserves much of his teaching. He suffered and died in Rome where he was imprisoned and eventually crucified upside down on the Vatican Hill on the twenty-ninth day of June in the year 67. The Emperor Constantine constructed a church over his tomb.
The Apostle Paul was born at Tarsus in Cilicia around the year 7. He called himself “Saul” and says concerning himself that he was “circumcised on the eighth day, being of the stock of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrew origins; in legal observance I was a Pharisee, and so zealous that I persecuted the church… But those things I used to consider gain I have now reappraised as loss in the light of Christ” (Philippians 3:5-7). He acquired knowledge of both the Greek and Hebrew cultures and studied theology in Jerusalem under the great Rabbi Gemaliel. He assisted in the persecution of Christians and was present at the death of Stephen. He was converted when the Lord appeared to preach the gospel to the gentiles. He traveled throughout the Mediterranean and some claim that he went as far as Spain. He was arrested and brought before the Jewish and Roman authorities. Because he was a Roman citizen he appealed his case to Rome where he was beheaded. The letters of Paul are an incomparable standing of Christ.
To the Lord, who chose Peter to be chief of the apostles and Paul to be the apostle to the nations, be glory and praise for ever! May their prayers be with us. Amen.
The Blind Mystic of Lebanon
By: Most Rev. Francis M. Zayek, S.T.D., J.C.D.
Bishop of the Diocese of St. Maron — U.S.A.
The Lily of Himlaya
She was born in Himlaya, a small village near Bickfaya (Metn), on June 29, 1832 and was given the name Petronilla as a reminder that she was a daughter of St. Peter, on whose feast day she entered the world.
The Land of Rafka
The Land of Rafka is Lebanon: a country, torn by four years of war, in search of peace and tranquility. The wealthy, big powers have brought their conflicts there and are trying to resolve them there. The greatness of that Land lies in the fact that it has always been a land of refuge.
The Land of Rafka is the land of the Canaanites and the Phoenicians, and is mentioned with enthusiasm and wonder more than sixty times in Holy Scripture.
Like Therese of Lisieux, Rafka, “The Little Flower of Lebanon,” the “Purple Rose,” the “Silent and Humble Nun,” had to tell her life story to her Mother Superior some months before her death. Obedience to this request is the reason why today we are able to know something about this woman who sought for nothing else but to be forgotten by men and live only for God. However, the perfume of this violet immediately spread after her death and has attracted the attention of the ecclesiastical authorities.
The Cause for Beatification of the Servant of God, Rafka, is currently in Rome. It will now be up to the Holy Father to make the final decision regarding her virtues and the graces obtained through her intercession, as to whether he will elevate her to the ranks of the saints. As we anticipate and pray for this glorious day, we submit ourselves to the decision of the Church and patiently wait.
Bride of the Crucified
Rafka’s condition grew more serious. The pain she was enduring in her eyes became excruciating. Her Superior sent her to Tripoli for treatment. The treatments were most painful, too, and she lost a great deal of blood. However, during all of this time, she kept repeating, “With your sufferings, O Lord, for your glory.“…
The Total Gift
In 1897, a group of nuns from the convent of St. Simeon of the Horn moved to the new convent of St. Joseph Ad-Daher. Mother Ursula, who was to be the Superior of the new foundation, asked to have Sister Rafka included in the group. She wished to have her example before the eyes of the sisters as they met with the hardships that are always inherent in establishing a new foundation.
Rafka was not to disappoint Mother Ursula. Her example and assistance proved invaluable in establishing the new convent. The novices especially were impressed with the blind nun’s spirit of prayer, humility, and charity. Many years later, after her death, several of Rafka’s sisters who had either come with her to the new foundation, or who had been novices during the seventeen years that she lived at St. Joseph Ad-Daher and had never forgotten what they had observed of their sister’s life, testified regarding her holiness…
…Rafka suffered for seventeen years as a blind paralytic. Only God knew how much she had to endure. Her pain was continuous night and day, yet the other sisters never heard her murmuring or complaining. She often told them that she thanked God for her sufferings, “…because I know that the sickness I have is for the good of my soul and His glory” and that “the sickness accepted with patience and thanksgiving purifies the soul as the fire purifies gold.“
She was always quiet and calm, smiling, enduring even the greatest pain with patience, hoping in the Lord who promised to increase the glory of His faithful servants in heaven (Lk. 21:19).
By her patience, she can be compared to the greatest of the saints.
A Light Shining in the Darkness
A few years before she died, Rafka’s Bridegroom granted her two more favors to show His acceptance of her offering of herself as a Victim of Love.
One day, mother Ursula noticed that Rafka seemed to be suffering much more than usual and, touched by pity for the poor sister, asked her,” Is there anything else you want from this world? Have you never regretted the loss of your sight? Don’t you sometimes wish you could see this new convent with all the natural beauties that surround it–the mountains and rocks, and the forests?”
Sister Rafka answered simply, “I would like to see just for an hour, Mother-just to be able to see you.”
“Only for one hour?” asked the Superior. “And you would be content to return to that world of darkness?”
“Yes,” replied the invalid.
Mother Ursula shook her head in wonder and began to leave Rafka’s cell. Suddenly, the paralyzed nun’s face broke into a beautiful smile and she turned her head toward the door. “Mother,” she called, “I can see you!“
The Superior turned around quickly and saw the glow on Rafka’s face. That alone was enough to tell her that her daughter was not teasing, but she wanted to be certain that the phenomenon was actual and not just a trick of the mind of the poor nun who had been blind for so many years.
Desperately trying to conceal her emotions, she walked back to the bedside.
“If it is as you say,” she queried, “tell me what is lying on the wardrobe.” Sister Rafka turned her face toward the little closet and answered, “The Bible and the Lives of the Saints”–she could hardly contain her excitement. But, she reasoned, perhaps Rafka knew that these were the only two books in her cell as she had no need for others and the sister who read to her usually only used these two titles–knowing that the invalid loved them best.
Another test would have to be tried and this time, witnesses were called in the testify to the miracle.
There was a lovely multi-colored cover on Rafka’s bed. Mother Ursula called her attention to it and began to point to the colors one by one, asking the newly-sighted nun to call out the names of the colors as she pointed to them. The three sisters who assisted the Superior in the test verified that Sister Rafka named each color correctly.
As she had requested, though, this new sight lasted only for one hour during which time she conversed with Mother Ursula and looked around her cell, at her sisters, and through the window to catch glimpses of the beauties outside.
After this time, she fell into a peaceful sleep. The mother Superior remained at Rafka’s side for a short time and then decided to waken the nun to see if she would be able to see again…
From the Dust of the Earth
Charity Khoury, widow of Saad Peter Khoury, Mayor of Mazraat Ram (Batroum) declared on November 23, 1925:
My son, Peter, who was three years old, became very ill when his body began to store up uric acid. The quantity of acid increased to such an extent that his body became swollen and his eyes were closed. Dr. Elias Anaissi forbade him to eat anything except milk, but the child did not like milk and refused to take it. We used to put rose water in the milk and force it into his mouth, but he would just vomit it back up and finally refused to take any more.
The doctor insisted that the only medicine for his condition was milk and advised that if he didn’t take it, he would die, so we kept forcing him to drink the milk. I was very frightened. This situation continued for thirty or forty days and Peter was close to death.
I had heard about the miracles of Rafka, so I made her a conditional vow: “If my son gets well so that I can feed him any kind of food without hurting him, I will visit the Convent of St. Joseph with him.”
That very night I saw in my dreams an old lady with a cane in her hand. She told me, “Do not be afraid for your son. Give him whatever he wants to eat. He will not die.” I realized that this was Rafka.
Romanos, Martyr of Antioch
In the Maronite synaxarion, two saints by the name of Romanos are commemorated. The other Romanos is described as the Father of Monks and is celebrated on February 27th. The Romanos commemorated today is also commemorated on March 1st.
Romanos was born in Palestine in Caesarea and ordained a deacon in one of the villages belonging to this province. When the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, began his persecution of the Christians both in the East and in the West, especially at Antioch, Romanos immediately decided to go to the city when he heard that many of the Christians there were abandoning their Christian faith. The emperor threatened to cut out Romanos’ tongue, but the future martyr continued preaching and urged the people to confess to no other savior but Jesus. Finally, he was arrested, thrown into prison, and in 303 beheaded.
There are many who assert that Romanos originated in Antioch and not in Palestine. This confusion arose from the fact that the early Christians attributed martyrs to the place where their blood was shed rather than the place where they were born.
Romanos still lives in the memory and lives of the Maronite faithful (in Lebanon and the United States) who have churches named in his honor.
Ruhana is the Syriac name for Saint Cyriacus who was called “the spiritual one” – in Syriac, Ruhanan. He was born at Corinth in the year 446 and became a monk in Palestine under the direction of Saint Euthymus. He became the superior of his monastery and was a model for all because of his piety, wisdom and exhortations. He died at the age of 107. Certain Maronite calendars refer to him as Ruhana, “the singer”. Many churches and monasteries in Lebanon are dedicated to him. May his prayers be with us. Amen.
Sarkis & Bacchus
Sarkis and Bacchus were two courageous leaders of the Roman army. They died for the Christian faith around the year 307. Devotion to them was very popular in the East and Christian Arabs drew the images of Saints Sarkis and Bacchus on their banners. A great church was built at Rosafa, known as the town of Sarkis, in his honor. Devotion to these two saints is still very vibrant in Lebanon and there are numerous churches there dedicated to them. May the courage and prayers of Sts. Sarkis & Bacchus be with us, always. Amen.
Shalita, who is known as Artemius, was born in the fourth century. He achieved high rank in the Roman army and was eventually given responsibility for the Roman troops stationed in Egypt. He remained a faithful Christian despite the danger of loosing his position and even his life. Hea was summoned before the emperor in Antioch for having destroyed the temples and idols of the pagan Gods. It is said that his boday was taken to Constantinople by Artisa, who was a deaconess of the Church in Antioch. May the faithful prayers of St. Shalita enlighten us. Amen.
Shalita is held in great veneration by the Greek Church under the name of Artemius. Many churches and monasteries in Lebanon have been named in his honor and he is considered the patron of animals. May the prayers of Shalita be with us. Amen.
Sharbel Makhlouf was born in Lebanon on the Plain of Kafra in the year 1828. He entered the Congregation of Lebanese Monks and for sixteen years lived at Annaza. Eventually he chose to live the solitary life of a hermit. After twenty-five years as a hermit he died in the year 1898. After his death his body continuously sweated perspiration and blood. numerous miracles have been attributed to Sharbel and he was accordingly beatified at the end of the Second Vatican Council, on December 5, and was canonized on October 9, 1977. Sharbel was conspicuous for his humility, works of penance, love of silent work and constant prayer. May his prayers be with us. Amen.
Shmooni And Her Seven Sons
Today’s feast commemorates eight martyrs of the Jewish people: Shmooni and her seven sons. Their martyrdom took place around the year 170 before the birth of Christ, under the reign of the Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanes. This king attempted to impose the pagan cult of Jupiter upon the Jewish people and even desecrated the temple in Jerusalem. Under the threat of persecution and even death many Jews abandoned their religion.
According to an ancient tradition, it is said that the death of Shamooni and her sons took place in Antioch, and from there the relics of these martyrs were brought to Constantinople and finally Rome where they rest in the Church of Saint Peter in Chains.
Although her name is not mentioned, tradition gives the mother the name Shmooni or Salome. the account of the death of the mother and sons is found in chapter 7 of the Second Book of Maccabees. The story of their martyrdom teaches us of their fidelity to the Jewish traditions, the great mercy of God for his people, their hope in the resurrection of the body, of God’s reward to those who are faithful to him and of his judgment on those who turn away. Shmooni’s example of faith as she saw her sons slowly put to death should be a sign to us when our faith is tested. May the prayers of Shmooni and her seven sons be with us. Amen.
Simon the Stylite
Simon is the most famous of the stylites or saints who spent their days seated on high platforms or pillars. The immense monastery, which had been built around his pillar, still exists in the environs of Alepo. The celebrated historian Theodoret, who was a contemporary of Simon, had personally met him and wrote about his life. Simon was born near Antioch in the year 392. While still a young man, he gave himself over to the service of God in the desert. When he later sought solitude away from the crowds that pressed around him, he established himself on a pillar which grew higher and higher above the crowds. He thus lived between heaven and earth for about forty years, preaching and exhorting the crowds from high upon the pillar. Numerous individuals who came to him were converted by his preaching. He died in the year 459. Devotion to Saint Simon spread throughout Syria and Lebanon. The monastery named after him and the sight of his pillar were the objects of pilgrimages throughout the East. May the prayers of St. Simon the Stylite be with us. Amen.
Simon The Zealot
This is not Simon, the son of John, but rather the one whom Matthew refers to as “the Canaanite” (for Cana of Galilee was his village) and whom Luke calls, “Simon the Zealot.” Although nothing is known about his life, it is said that he evangelized Ethiopia and Persia. He lived and died witnessing to Christ. May his prayers be with us. Amen.
Stephen (the name itself means “crown”), was a member of the Hellenists, the Greek-speaking Jews of the Diaspora, many of whom came to visit or remain in Palestine. Concerning the Jewish faith, they were more liberal in their views and education and had their own synagogues in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9). Stephen was the most distinguished of the Hellenist converts, a man filled with faith and Holy Spirit…”
A complaint from the Hellenist widows that they were not receiving their share of the daily allotment of food. This led the apostles to assemble the faithful and inform them that they could not relinquish their duties of preaching and other spiritual functions to attend to their needs materially. Therefore, they selected seven Greek men who were of good character and filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom. The assembly agreed to this proposal and the first one they chose was Stephen, “a man full of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5).
As the first among the seven, Stephen had a primacy and precedence among the newly-elected deacons. He went about preaching the good new of Jesus Christ with courage and eloquence. Many became converts in Jerusalem as a result of his preaching.
The success of Stephen aroused envy and jealousy among the Jews, who were determined to stop him. A conspiracy was formed by certain members of the so-called “Synagogue of Roman Freemen,” that is, the Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia (Acts 6:9). They attempted to debate with Stephen, but they soon discerned that his wisdom and eloquence was far superior to their own. They attempted another way to discredit Stephen by engaging false witnesses who charged him with blasphemy against God and Moses. Consequently, he was brought before the Sanherden, who took him to the high priest Caiphas. There he was given the opportunity to defend himself.
The main accusation against Stephen was that he stated the Temple would be destroyed and that the Mosaic sacrifices were mere shadows and no longer acceptable to God. Jesus was the New Temple and the New Sacrifice. The Sanhedrin could not accept this and their anger was such that they took him to the outskirts of the city and stoned him to death. The future apostle of the Gentiles, Saul, was in the crowd. While he was dying he was heard to pray, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” and died (Acts 7:59-60).
After the Council of Chalcedon, Syria was divided between those who upheld the Council and those who opposed it. The monastery of Saint Maron and those who gathered around it supported the declarations of the Council. Patriarch Severus, however, was the head of those who rejected the teaching of the Council that in the person of Christ there was both a human nature and a divine nature. Severus and his followers held that in Christ, the incarnate Word of God, there was but a single human-divine nature. In the year 517 a group of monks left the monastery of Saint Maron and went to the monastery of Saint Simon the Stylite near Alepo. The monks were arrested by a troop or partisans of the “one nature” of Christ who killed three hundred and fifty of the monks. Many of the monks who were wounded in the attack were able to escape. Alexander, the superior of the monastery of Saint Maron, and the superiors of the neighboring monasteries wrote to Pope Hormisdas in order to inform him of the events that had taken place. The Pope responded on February 10, 518 and encouraged them to persevere in the Catholic faith and praised the faith of the martyred monks. May their prayers be with us. Amen.
Thomas the Apostle
Thomas, also called “the twin”, originally from Galilee. He was quick tempered and so attached to Jesus that he readily said to him: “Let us go there also, and we will die with you!” He was a witness to the sufferings and abasement of Christ and was so upset by then that he doubted the resurrection: “If I do not see his hands and the mark of nails and unless I put my hand in his side, I will not believe.” But the Lord appeared to him and showed Thomas his wounds. Then, full of faith, Thomas cried out: “My Lord and My god!” An ancient tradition reports to us that he evangelized the region of Edessa new India. Even today the Syro – Malabar and Malankar Churches consider him as their father in faith and venerate his tomb.
Tranfiguration on Mount Tabor
While Jesus and his disciples were in the region of Caesarea Philippi, near the borders of Lebanon, the Lord took Peter, James and John up a high mountain and was transfigured before them. His appearance was changed and he reflected the glory of his divinity. He was joined by Moses and Elias, who represented the Law and the prophets of the Old Testament of which Christ was the fulfillment. We do not know the precise date or place of the transfiguration, and the present date of August 6th marks the day upon which the Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor was dedicated. In fact, an ancient title for the feast was “The Feast of Mount Tabor”. In 1457, Pope Celestrine III extended the Feast of the Transfiguration to the entire Church. Glory and honor be to our Lord and God for Ever. Amen.
Annunciation Of The Virgin
The Maronite calendar commemorates this feast twice during the year: today and on the Second Sunday of Announcement. Today’s feast goes back tot he fourth century, when it was decided to celebrate Christmas on December 25; the Annunciation was naturally celebrated nine months before. This is a great feast in both the East and the West since it recalls the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin. May the prayers of the Blessed Virgin protect us. Amen.
The Assumption of the Virgin
Ancient tradition tells us and our own faith assures us of what the Church has solemnly proclaimed: The Virgin Mary has entered, body and soul, into heaven. After her death the Virgin Mother of God, without undergoing corruption, has entered heaven, by a special privilege of God, with her body glorified as was her Son’s. As God has preserved her as a virgin, so also has he brought her to himself in her integral human nature of body and soul. The origins of this feast are very ancient and date to a period some time before the sixth century. Although it has been an ancient tradition to venerate the bodies of the saints, there never had been any mention of there being any veneration to the body of the Virgin. This is an added witness to the truth of the bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary. This feast is celebrated in the Churches of both East and the West under a variety of titles. May our Virgin Mother intercede for us and may her prayers protect us. Amen.
Birth Of The Virgin
A tradition, which comes from the apocryphal gospels, tells us that the parents of the Virgin Mary were childless. When their prayer was heard, and Mary was born, her parents brought her up tot he Temple where she passed her days up to the time when she was engaged to Joseph. Today the Church honors Mary, who is blessed among women, and considers this day as the beginning of our salvation in her Son, Jesus Christ. The name, “Mary”, comes from Aramaic and signifies either “the Elevated One” or “Queen of the Sea.” May the prayers of the Virgin, our Queen, protect us. Amen.