SAINT MARON
350 -  410 AD - Feast day: February 9th


Saint Maron chose a solitary abode not far from the city of Cyrrhus in Syria. It is believed that the place was called "Kefar-Nabo" on the mountain of Ol-Yambos, making it the cradle of the Maronite movement. And there in a spirit of mortification, he lived mainly in the open air. He had indeed a little hut covered with goatskins to shelter him in case of need, but he very seldom made use of it. Finding the ruins of the heathen temple, he dedicated it to the true God, and made it his house of prayer. St. John Chrysostom, who had a great regard for him, wrote to him from Cucusus, the place of his banishment, and, recommending himself to his prayers, begged to hear from him as often as possible.

Maron was a disciple of St. Zebinus. He drew great crowds by his spiritual wisdom. He trained many hermits and monks and founded, three monasteries. It is believed the Maronites take their name from Bait-Maroun monastery where a church was erected over his tomb. His feast day is February 9th.

All that is known about Maron, the spiritual father and protector of the Maronites comes from Theodoret, the bishop of Cyrrhus. 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 Cyrrhus." 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 asserts 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 also 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 Cyrrhus, 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. It was in this milieu of hermits and ascetics that we learn of St. Maron. Maron decided to leave the world and to seek solitude on top of a mountain, probably somewhere south of Cyrrhus and northwest of Aleppo. He had been a disciple of the hermit Zebinas who was known for his assiduousness in prayer, spending all day and night at it. Our principal historical source on the life of Maron is Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrrhus (393-466), who wrote the Religious History of Syriac Asceticism. Theodoret tells us that the mountain Maron chose had been sacred to pagans. He converted a pagan temple that he found there into a church, which he dedicated to the "true God".

Maron lived an austere life. While he erected a small tent for shelter, he rarely used it and spent most of his time in the open air as a form of mortification. We are told that Maron was not satisfied with the ordinary exercises of piety but added to them. He would often spend the whole night standing in prayer. He practiced numerous other penances and fasted for weeks on end.

Maron became known for the gift of miracles and attracted many people, even from great distances. He accomplished many cures and exorcisms. Theodoret goes on to say: "He cured not only infirmities of the body, but applied suitable treatment to soul as well, healing this man's greed and that man's anger, to this man supplying teaching in self-control and to that providing lessons in justice, correcting this man's intemperance and shaking up another man's sloth."

Maron attracted a number of disciples for whom he became a spiritual father. Theodoret summarizes the work of Maron in poetic fashion: "By cultivating that spiritual field, he raised in it many wonderful plants in the realm of virtues, cultivating and offering to God this marvelous garden that now flourishes in the region of Cyrrhus."

We are told that after the death of Maron, the people of the various neighboring villages fought over his body. It was the belief that having a holy person buried close by would bring blessings and cures on the inhabitants. Theodoret informs us that the inhabitants of the nearest and largest village came in great numbers, took possession of the body, and built over it a magnificent church. While we do not know the exact location, it was probably between Aleppo and Cyrrhus. Theodoret tells us that the relics of Maron are venerated with great public solemnity in his day and are the occasion of many miracles.

The other historical source we have about St. Maron is a letter addressed to him by St. John Chrysostom. Chrysostom had been exiled from the Patriarchate of Constantinople to Cucusus in Armenia. From there he wrote to "Maron, priest and solitary", telling him that he is "joined to him in the bonds of charity and affection" and is comforted by the news he hears about Maron's holy life. He is concerned about his health and asks for his prayers. We believe that the letter was written around 406.

Based on the writings of Theodoret and Chrysostom, we usually date St. Maron's life from 350-410 (although some have placed his death as late as 423).

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.