The Maronite Hermits: From The Fourth To The Twentieth Century
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The Maronite Hermits:
From The Fourth To The Twentieth Century
By Father Paul Sfeir
Dean of the Pontifical Faculty of Theology, Holy Spirit University, Lebanon 
Guita Hourani
Chairperson of the Maronite Research Institute (MARI)

The lives of Maronite hermits starting with Patron Saint Maron in the Fourth Century and concluding with the present day hermits will be described in the first of this two part series. Part II will review the current way of life of Maronite hermits as the Third Millennium begins.

Special acknowledgment is due Abbot Boutros Fahd, Father Cesar Al-Ashqar, Fr. Sharbel Al-Balaa and Father Hanna Al-Tayar for their assistance in research.


A Maronite Hermit
Photo source: Les Ermites dans
l'Eglise Maronite
by P. Sfeir, 1986, p. 156

The Greek noun "eremos" means inhabitants of the desert and is the source of the English words "eremites" or "hermits". They are also called anchorites. They choose to live alone in solitude in order to avoid all contact with their fellow men. However, not all of them sought total solitude. Some had companions who were generally called students or disciples. Others performed pastoral role for people who came to visit them and live near them.

Ascetic living in Syrian Christianity existed in the second and third centuries but sources are scarce and fragmented. However, it "may be traced back to the presumed Syrian origin of the Gospel according to Matthew, with its emphasis on the theme of discipleship, on a following of Christ involving celibacy (19:11-12), poverty (19:21) and homelessness (19:29) in the service of announcing the kingdom, in a proclamation to be accompanied by miraculous signs of exorcism and healing (10:7ff)" (Price 1985: XX). 

However, the expansion of this kind of living in ancient Syria and Asia Minor in the fourth and fifth centuries is mostly linked to the end of the Roman persecution of the Christians. Hence the end of the possibility of martyrdom. Ascetic living became second best to witnessing to Christ through martyrdom. 

The hermits in ancient Syria and Asia Minor were great ascetics. Some chose to live for years on the top of a pillar and were called stylites, like Saint Simon the Stylite. Others shut themselves away in one place and were called recluses like Marana and Cyra. 

In the early centuries of Christianity, many of those seeking Christian perfection were trained in the ascetic life by an older hermit whose way of life and Christian virtues they were expected to observe and emulate. The guide exemplified the monastic rule and the disciples were to mirror his way of life and behavior.

Most hermits left no written records but their example and their deeds have survived. They had learned spirituality from the teachings of the Bible. They nourished it by partaking of the mysteries or sacraments and by emulating the virtues, heroism and sanctity of the Desert Fathers and the older hermits.

To make a serious study of the monks of the Maronite Church, some of whom were leading ascetics in the early centuries of this movement, one must start with Saint Maron the Hermit and progress to Saint Sharbel in the nineteenth century. This Article treats of some most noble Maronite hermits starting with Saint Maron and his disciples who lived in the Cyrrhus region in Syria Secunda and ends with Saint Sharbel, the hermit Saint of 'Annaya, Lebanon.

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