St John Maroun (St Yuhanna or Yohanon Maroun)

The history of the Maronites under Islamic rule is a sober and often a sad one: because of the Miaphysite debate and the supervening Arab conquest, the seat of Antioch was practically vacant from 610 to 742. Yet the faith was preserved. How was this possible? A lot of the credit can go to the movement of the Church from Syria to Lebanon, which began under St Yuhanna Maroun, whose feast we celebrate on 2 March. I present a much-shortened version of a lecture I once prepared for a university course on Maronite history. I have removed footnotes.


The Maronite Patriarchate, probably established by St Yuhanna Maroun provides the key to understanding how this people, isolated from Europe, could nonetheless believe themselves to be truly one people of one faith with other Christians. Suermann summarises the legend of St Yuhanna Maroun as follows:

St Yuhanna Maroun was born at Sarum, in the area of Antioch, and studied at the monastery of St Maroun and at Constantinople. His intellectual work caused him to be nominated as bishop at Batroun in 675, by the Pope’s representative in Syria. Thanks to his missionary work, he not only converted nearly all the people of Lebanon to the Roman faith but also would also have found many supporters in Asia Minor and Palestine. The clergy elected him patriarch in 685/686. Accompanied by the pontifical legate in the Orient, he visited the Pope, who confirmed his election. After his return, he was first installed at Antioch, then, being pursued by the troops of the Emperor Justinian II, he fled to Lebanon.  From that point on, he wrote and distributed theological works to sustain the people in the faith. Yuhanna Maroun also combatted the Arabs with the aid of the Mardaites, and finally entered a pact with the Emperor Justinian II against the Arabs. He died on 9 February 707.

In the Maronite Syriac tradition, his name is given as Yuhanna d,Maroun, which means “Yuhanna of Maroun”, and of course “Yuhanna” is the Arabic equivalent of Yuhanna, and “of Maroun” must mean from the monastery of that name, or something similar. There are two ancient traditions saying that there was a St Yuhanna Maroun who was Patriarch of the Maronites. There is no reason which I can see to disbelieve the tradition that St Yuhanna Maroun founded his patriarchal see in Kfar Hayy, about ten miles to the east of the town of Batroun.

It is known that the author of the “Exposition”, which is attributed to St Yuhanna Maroun had access to Syriac sources which were not available after the seventh century. When an ancient text survives, and is attributed to someone, it is hard to see why all the evidence should be rejected.

There is also a legend that St Yuhanna Maroun did a lot of work among the afflicted during a plague and that he wrote a Mass, I presume an anaphora, which is used in times of plague. Exactly how St Yuhanna Maroun was made Patriarch of Antioch is unknown. It may be true that when St Yuhanna Maroun moved to Kfarhayy and founded the patriarchate seat there (until in the mid-fifteenth century it was moved to Qannoubine), he brought with him the skull of St Maroun. Because there are two old chains of tradition for him, I think that the tradition that he was the first Patriarch of the Maronites is accurate: if not, how is it that there is no other tradition of someone else being the first Patriarch at all? Further, if, as I have conjectured, the move to Lebanon and the election of a Patriarch went together, then it would make sense for the new Patriarch to bring a relic of St Maroun with him. It served to indicate continuity and to lend authority. This was a new beginning. It also raises the possibility that the relics had been kept at the monastery of St Maroun, probably from its establishment, and the other relics were lost when the monastery was destroyed.

The “Exposition” attributed to St Yuhanna Maroun

 The title of the “Exposition” is krTysô d.hymnwtô: “Exposition of the Faith.” It comprises the scribe’s introduction, and then the following:

  1. Our profession of faith (sections 2-25)
  2. Supporting arguments from the letters of the Fathers (26-52)

III.       Explication of the patristic teaching:

  1. a) On the subject of the formula “one nature of God the Word Incarnate” (53-85)
  2. b) On the subject of the essence and of the subsistence (86-104)
  3. Conciliar statements of faith (105-131)
  4. Questions and answers against the Monophysites (132-146)
  5. Seven questions against the Nestorians (147-167)

VII.      An annexure which has nothing to do with John Maroun

 It said that the original by Yuhanna Maroun was in Syriac. I present some extracts from the text:

[1]        With the help of the consubstantial Trinity, we begin to transcribe this little book on the faith of the holy Church, written by that blessed man – from the holy monastery of the holy man endowed by God, Mar Maroun – named John, who became Patriarch of Antioch and all the region around Damascus and Syria.

When the doctrine of Nestorius and the accursed Eutyches began to spread, a doctrine which divided the unity of our Saviour, and corrupted and confounded the two glorious natures brought together in the Lord, and this doctrine was received by the followers of the those two aforementioned, then John called Maroun, undertook to faithfully combat them and always to oppose them with the testimonies of the Fathers which we will set out later [and also against the followers of Maximus, who confess two wills according to the kings of this time] that he left us in this small book.

[2]        We, sons of the holy and catholic Church, believe and confess as we have learnt from the prophets and the apostles, and from the third order, that of the holy teachers, who at all times have made the true faith of orthodoxy to prosper, and through four synods have fought the good fight against those we have just named

The four synods meant must be Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451).

[3]        (omitted)

[4]        In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Spirit of Holiness, the glorious Trinity, equal in essence (šwit one godhead, one nature but three persons united, neither separated, not divided in their one blessed essence. We confess that from this glorious Trinity, One who is consubstantial (with the Trinity) and most adorable, Who is God the Word, by the will of the Father and the Holy Spirit, in the last times, for the salvation of the human race, without change and without modification, was incarnated of the Holy Spirit and from the holy and glorious Mother of God, Mary the pure and ever-virgin. This flesh has the same essence as ours, and is equal to ours with the exception of sin; it could suffer as ours can, and was animating with an intelligent and understanding soul (nafšo), for He was formed from two natures, having each (nature) completely.

[5]        Through them, he is recognised (to be) in truth, one son, one Lord, one Messiah, one prosopon [approx. “person”]. We do not refuse to say: “One Nature (kinō) of God the Word incarnate”, as the holy Fathers said. For his divinity is of the same essence as the Father’s, and his humanity is of the same nature as ours. Able to suffer in the flesh, but impassable in his divinity; limited in the body but without limit in the spirit; for he is at the same time terrestrial and celestial, visible and knowable.

[6]        Even while we hold to these (teachings) in professing them, we do not say that there are two Sons, nor two Messiahs, nor two persons (qnūme)  nor two persons (frSufe). But we say that Our Lord Jesus Christ is one Lord, Son of God and God the Word, who was incarnated, and we confess that the same is the God eternal and at the same time became human, at the end of time, to save the human race. He became man not by changing his divinity, but by union with humanity, for he possesses the nature of God the Word without either change or modification, and as such was engendered by the Father before the ages. All that can be said of the Father can without doubt be applied to his only Son, since he was engendered of the same essence.

Here, Breydy makes the interesting point that after the phrase: “nor two persons,” the version in the Kitāb al-Huda adds the words: “nor two wills nor two energies”. This would rather support the notion that this text was written before the Monothelite controversy.

We have seen the few facts known of his life, and something of the legend. This alone would make him one of the great figures of Christian history. But with his writings, if indeed the Exposition is by him, we have another dimension of achievement, and another reason to see him as one of the absolutely major figures in Maronite history, almost equal to holy St Maroun.

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