*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 9th of February 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

A very happy St. Maron’s Day! What? Do you say you are unfamiliar with this holiday and feast? That’s ok. But it’s a fascinating story that helps us see the church both in its inception and the plight of some fellow Christians today.

Very briefly, St. Maron was a priest, monk, and healer who, in the 300s, moved to Mount Taurus in Syria, not far from Antioch. And we should start there. Antioch was in modern Turkey. Check Acts 11:26- "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” So this was an important place- one of 5 critical places for the early church- something we call the “Pentarchy.” Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria made up the 5 “sees,” each with their own head. Jerusalem was seen as the head of the 5, but with the Arab conquests after the time of Mohammed Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria (in Egypt) fell. Sort of. Many churches in the East see their lineage as coming from one of these original centers of Christianity.

But, as we have seen on this show in the past- today, North Africa, the Levant, and the Middle East are some of the least Christian regions on the planet. Most Christians fled various waves of invaders between 600 and the time of the Crusades from about 1000 to 1200.

But there is an exception in the Middle East today- one place whose Christian population has doggedly hung on. This country? Lebanon- home of the Maronite Christian community… and now you see why this St. Maron might be an important guy.

Maron’s followers were paying close attention to the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Some Eastern Christians argued for Monophysitism- that is, that Jesus had one nature, a divine nature. The followers of Maron opposed this, thus ingratiating them with the victors of the council who condemned Monophysitism.

It is suggested that one of the reasons St. Maron went into the mountains of Syria to escape what he saw as excessive bickering over the human and divine nature in Jesus. Maron’s followers would worship in Syria-Aramaic, evangelize the surrounding area, and eventually, under Abraham, the Hermit moved into modern Lebanon to convert the masses.

In 687, the Maronites- who still considered themselves part of the tradition of Antioch named John of Maron their patriarch. This enraged the Byzantines at Constantinople, who had started to build the church of Antioch back up and in its image. But the Maronites named their patriarch.

This led to persecution by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian II- as a Byzantine, he wanted those churches to the East to either join the Greeks or pay. Reports are that Justinian was responsible for the slaying of at least 500 monks- but the Maronites held their ground- especially in the mountainous regions of Lebanon. The Ummayads- the Muslim Caliphate- were more respectful of the Maronites and, fearing their mountainous guerrilla tactics paid them (!) A tribute to stay out of their hair.

The Maronites stayed relatively secluded until Crusaders had to make their way through the region- the chronicler William of Tyre reported that these secluded Christians swore their theological loyalty to the Western Roman church (the Roman and Greek churches had already split). Today, the Maronite Church is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church as a Catholic, eastern rite church.

In the 16th century, Jesuit missionaries set out to enfold the Maronites into the Roman Catholic Church of the Counter-Reformation. In the traditional Counter-Reformation style, the Pope opened the Maronite College in Rome- a center for ethnic Maronites to study for the priesthood.

The 19th century was particularly rough for the Maronites as they were harassed and ultimately massacred by the Ottomans. This injustice would lead to the Maronites being given rights not generally afforded Christians- when the state of Lebanon was officially created in 1943, Maronite Christians were the dominant ethnoreligious group, and the constitution reflected this. The President must be Christian, the Prime Minister must be Sunni, and the Parliament speaker must be Shi’ite. Once called the “Switzerland of the Middle East,” it is the only republic in the area and remarkably diverse for the region.

An ongoing Lebanese diaspora had lessened the cultural significance of the Maronites (they once outnumber Muslims but now are outnumbered roughly 2 to 1). There are an estimated 3 million Maronites today across the world (that’s more than the population of Chicago). If you know one, you can now wish them a happy St Maron’s Day in honor of the hermit priest who established that ancient church.

The Last Word for today comes from Acts 11- Peter is explaining to Jewish Christians why he ate with Gentiles.

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles, God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 9th of February 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517. org.

The show is produced by a man whose favorite Maron’s include the saint Maron from Dragon Ball Z and Jordan Maron- a YouTube personality named Captain Sparkelz. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who wishes he had a cool online name like Captain Sparkelz. Lieutenant? Colonel? I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.