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In contrast to the Cyprus Maronites and those in the diaspora, Lebanese Maronites have grappled with identity challenges. To this day, they struggle to pinpoint their precise origins, whether they descended from an ancient group known as the Mardaites, if they identify as Arabs, or if their roots trace back to Syriac Aramaic ancestry.
Additionally, the origin of the term “Maronites,” whether attributed to Saint Maron or an ancient Syrian Monastery, remains a topic of uncertainty. This confusion arises from the lack of documented Church history for the Maronites before the 17th century.
Considering Vatican references and written accounts from travelers and historians two centuries ago, it is widely accepted that a portion of the Maronites were initially Syriac Orthodox and Jacobians until the 16th century, after which they all transitioned to the Roman Catholic Church. However, some continued to uphold the monothelitic nature of Jesus Christ (PBUH), signifying the union of both human and divine natures in one will and power within Jesus Christ (PBUH).
Yet, one enigmatic aspect remains: the notable figure among the Maronites, Gabriel Idn Al Qilai (died in 1516), argued that the Maronite Church was Orthodox when accused of monothelitism.
Historians have varied conclusions regarding the attribution of the Maronites. Some attribute their origins to Saint Maron in the early 15th century or to the monk John Maron in the late 17th century, the first patriarch of the Maronites.
Others contend that the Maronites initially referred to themselves as Maronites but later abandoned the name in the 17th century. Bishop Yousef Debs claimed that the Maronites used this name in the 5th century but were also known as the Marodiates, signifying rebels, during their rebellion against the Byzantines in the 17th century, coinciding with their settlement in the Lebanese heights and surrounding areas during the early Umayyad rule of Syria.
The role of the Maronites escalated in Lebanon, and their patriarchs played an increasingly significant role in internal matters, particularly in the 18th century. Several factors contributed to this rise such as the conversion of the Shihab Dynasty from Druze, disguised in Sunni veneer, to Maronites; the Maronites gained influence due to their affiliation with the Pope in Rome; the early emphasis of the Maronite Church on education.
The Maronite Church exhibited a substantial financial commitment to bolster education. A Maronite Church Council convened in the Monastery of Lady Louaize underscored the importance of education and advocated for Arabic language acquisition.
Various foreign powers that governed Lebanon demonstrated keen interest in the Maronites. The Ottomans initially marginalized them, but they gained significant importance in the 19th century under French rule. The Maronites’ focus on education over the past three centuries propelled them into prominent political, military, and financial roles. Their emphasis on education enabled them to be the first in Lebanon to secure commercial agencies, operate banking institutions, and succeed in global ventures.
It is crucial for our government to recognize the importance of education quality, following the Maronites’ example, not merely by allocating necessary funds but by implementing strategic measures that prioritize education as a cornerstone of progress and development.
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By Ahmad alsarraf
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