3. The Maronites: Their Sacred Sites
  Instructor: Father Fadi Kmeid

  Click HERE to go to Section I. Click HERE to go to Section II.

Historic / Sacred Sites

Section III

1- The most prominent historic site in Hardine


Researchers unanimously agree that the term “Hardine” is of Syriac origin, and it means “those who are afraid”. An interpretation of the term says that “those who are afraid” means “those who fear God” i.e. those who are pious and devout. Some researchers suggest that the term could be composed of two Semitic roots combining “saw” and “judgment”.


The town of Hardine is situated in the high mountains of the Batroun region in the governorate of Mount Lebanon and on the borders between Jibbet Bsharry and the Koura, both of which lie to the North-West of Hardine’s jurisdiction area; it has an altitude of about 1300m above sea level, and located at 91km from Beirut.


This town has a number of rocky plates most important of which is the “Hardine’s plate”. It also contains a number of caves, sarcophaguses, Roman canals, pottery and coin remains, in addition to the big temple known as “the roman castle of Hardine” decorated with Ionic structure. Hardine also has other religious landmarks; it is famous for more than thirty monasteries and churches, most important among which is:


The monastery-home of Saint Neematallah Kassab al-Hardini


The Maronite Order bought this house and restored it in 1971. Father Joseph Khashan exerted a lot of effort to transform the house into its present state ornamented with arched crossed vaults. This revered father completed the reconstruction aided by some of the villagers who took the initiative and sent father Khashan a letter carried over to him by Elias Khoury. The letter states in one of its sections, “…when I got to know that the appeal to the beatification of our father Neematallah Hardini was in process at the Vatican, and as it was well known world-wide that the place where a saint was born and brought up has to be preserved, I wished to write to you being the owner of the estate where our holy father Neematallah was born and raised that probably you wish to buy it, and it becomes a shrine in the future after his beatification… and if you have knowledge…whether the Order would take this project into serious consideration, you would have thus performed a gigantic and eternal deed that would immortalize your name in Mount Lebanon as did others in the village of Saint Charbel Makhlouf…”


[Saint Neematallah Kassab al-Hardini: Early life

He was born Youssef Kassab, in 1808 in the village of Hardine, one of the seven children of George Kassab and Mariam Raad, the daughter of a priest of the Maronite Church.

As a boy, Youssef attended the school run by the monks of the Lebanese Maronite Order at the Monastery of St. Anthony in the village of Houb. After finishing his studies there in 1822, he entered the Monastery of St. Anthony in Qozhaya, entering the novitiate of the Order which had taught him in November 1828, at which time he took the monastic name of Nimatullah, by which he is now known.


As a new monk, Father Nimatullah was assigned by the Abbot of the monastery to learn how to bind books. Yet he spent the period of his initial formation in the monastic life in frequent prayer, sometimes passing the night in prayer in the monastery church, praying to the Blessed Sacrament.

Father Nimatullah made his religious profession of vows on 14 November 1830, after which he was sent to the Monastery of Saints Cyprian and Justina in Kfifan, in the Batroun District, to pursue higher studies in preparation for ordination, which took place on Christmas Day 1833. After ordination, he was assigned by the abbot to teach at the Order's seminary and to be the director of the seminarians. Among his students was a famed member of the Order, St. Sharbel Makhluf, venerated by the entire Catholic Church.

As a monk, Father Nimatullah spent his entire life in prayer and the service of his Order. He served on its General Council for most of the period 1845-1858, also serving as Assistant Abbot General during this period by appointment of the Holy See, in addition to his duties in the seminary. He refused, however, to be named Abbot General. He was severe on himself but a model of patience and obedience to his fellow monks, to the point where he was reprimanded for his leniency. He bore all this as part of the challenge of monastic life. One of his brothers, who had also entered the monastery and had become a hermit, advised him to seek a similar solitude. Nimatullah declined, saying that community life was the true challenge for a monk.


Father Nematullah Kassab fell ill in the winter of 1858, dying after suffering nearly two weeks of pneumonia on 14 December. In 1864, his tomb was opened for re-burial and, to the surprise of the monks, his body was found to be intact.

The cause for Kassab's canonization was formally accepted by the Holy See on 7 September 1978 and he was declared Venerable. On 2 May 1996, Bishop Khalil Abi-Nader, retired Bishop of the Maronite Diocese of Beirut, obtained the permission of Cardinal Sfeir to start the investigation of the miracle of Andre Najm.

On 26 September 1996, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome began to study the miracle. On 27 February 1997, the five-member medical team unanimously voted to accept the cure of Andre Najm as a miracle. On 9 May 1997, the seven-member theological team also voted unanimously to accept the miracle. On 1 July 1997, the General Assembly of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which includes twenty-four cardinals, accepted the miracle attributed to the intercession of the Servant of God Nimatullah Kassab.

On 7 July 1997, in the presence of Pope John Paul II, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints published the decree accepting the miracle.

Kassab's beatification by Pope John Paul II was held at Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome on Sunday, 10 May 1998. The Maronite Church celebrates his feast day on December 14. He was later canonized on Sunday, 16 May 2004, by the same pope.]

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nimattullah_Kassab_Al-Hardini


2- The monastery of Saint Maroun – Hermel


“Hermel” is an Aramaic word which means “the pyramid of God”. Al-Hermel city is the center of the Hermel Caza which is the furthest Caza from the city of Zahlé the capital of the Bekaa governorate. It is at an altitude of 750m above sea level located at 143km. from Beirut. This town is considered a meeting point connecting both governorates of the Bekaa and North Lebanon. The Monastery of Saint Maroun is one of the most important religious landmarks in Hermel.


There are no available documents to attest to the history of the monastery’s construction. Yet, some information affirms that it was built during the fifth century. The Jesuit father Henri Lammens says in his book “Tassrih al-absar fi ma yahtawi Lubnan min athar” (The Wandering of Eyes Over Lebanon’s Archaeological Sites), “…some monks seized the opportunity of the presence of prominent rocky beds in the place to dig underneath; they dug deep and built fences in front and outer walls in which they made loop holes thus creating a roofed corridor. Behind that corridor, they also dug out rooms and cells linked to the foot of the mountain with a narrow tunnel leading all the way to the Assi river bank. Today, the building is desolate and uninhabited.” Only three levels are left of the whole building.


[3- The monastery of Saint Anthony The Great - Valley of Qozhaya


THE TERM "Qozhaya"


"Qozhaya" is of Syriac origin and means "the treasure of Life".


a) This "treasure" is CHRIST who represents for the monk the necessity to abandon worldly goods for a life dedicated to prayers and detachment.


b) "Life" here is the abundance of water, which endows nature, a symbol of prosperity, with its majestic verdure.





The Monastery of Saint Anthony the Great (Mar Antonios al-Kabir) is situated at a height of 950 meters above sea level in the celebrated Valley of Qozhaya, " the Living Treasure ", in the Zghorta district of North Lebanon. The pine trees and oak trees cover the great hills surrounding it. Fruit trees of every description grow all along the valley which extends into the Valley of Qannubin to form the great Qadisha Valley, thus bearing witness to the history of eremitic life and the quest for holiness in Lebanon.


Historians and scholars suppose that this Monastery was first built and began to be occupied by hermits at the beginning of the fourth century. It was several times looted, set on fire and razed to the ground, but there still remain vestiges dating back to the seventh century. We may obtain a rough idea of the antiquity of this Monastery from some rare documents which have come down to us, especially:


-a cooking-pot and its lid left to the Monastery of Qozhaya by Father George (Jerjes), a priest serving the village of Qarhin, ill the year 1000 of the Christian era.


-The nomination in 1154 by Patriarch Peter (Butrus) II (1154-1173) of one of the monks of the Monastery of Qozhaya, named Isaiah (Ishaaya) , to be superior of the monks of Saint John's (Mar Yuhanna) Monastery at Cosband (Koutsobentis) in Cyprus ( Cf. manuscript of Rabboula, 586 A.D., f. 7b).


-A silver-plated copper dish in the Monastery engraved with the date 1168.


-A title deed at the Monastery attesting that the monks of Saint Anthony's Monastery at Qozhaya had bought a plot of land in 1179 (575 of the Hegira).


-A bull of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) dating from 1215, addressed to Patriarch Jeremiah (Ermiya) al-Amshiti (1199-1230) and recalling that the Qozhaya


Monastery constituted the first Maronite episcopal see.

The Monastery has always been the stronghold of eremitical life within the Maronite Church as well as a school for the formation of monks. Its hermitages, in particular that of Saint Bishai, have always attracted ascetics wishing to live a life of mortification away from the world. Among these austere hermits, one can cite patriarchs Moses (Moussa) al-Akkari (1524-1567), Michael (Mikhayel) ar-Rezzi (1567-1581), Sergius (Sarkis) ar-Rezzi (1581-1596), and Joseph (Yusuf) ar-Rezzi (1596-1608). It is worth noting that, according to certain sources, it was during the time of Patriarch Sergius ar-Rezzi that in 1584 the first printing press was introduced into the East, and the psalter was printed the first time in 1585. A second printing press was in Qozhaya in 1610, and the library of the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik conserve a copy from the psalter printed in that year .


After being handed over to the Lebanese Order in 1708 by Bishop John (Yuhanna) Habqouq, the Monastery was in the direct charge of one of the founders, Father General Abdallah Qaraali (1699-1716). It served as the Mother House of the Order from 1708 to 1723 because of its historical, ecclesiastical and social importance.


After they had lived some time at the Monastery of Qozhaya, the Lebanese Monks found that the produce of what they possessed was not enough to meet all their expenses. So they rented arable land, some of it belonging to the local inhabitants and some of it public property known as the Baklik. They also rented from Sheikh Issa Hamadeh, at that time governor of the country, the farmland of Ain Baqara, for the sum of ten cents (piastres) a year. This farm lies north of the town of Ehden, above the villages of Ban and Kfarsghab. The monks worked and improved the land so effectively that finally they actually purchased it in due form, and quite recently they have added reservoirs of water to irrigate its extensive orchards.


It was from the Monastery of Qozhaya that the Order spread and grew, with more and more monks scattered all over Lebanon. The Monastery became the pillar and reference-point of the Order until it was even called " the Order of Qozhaya ".


The Monastery fell victim to several natural catastrophes, like the one which in 1714 cost the life of one of the founders, Father Joseph (Yusuf) al-Bitn. The monks suffered persecution from oppressors who several times drove them out of the Monastery, beat them, and threw them into prison. Pressure was even exerted on them by certain religious authorities.


In 1723 the monks were obliged to leave the Monastery because of the oppressive measures of the rulers of the country, who crushed them under the weight of taxes. They were able to return only because of the insistence of the Consul of France in Tripoli. But in 1726 they had to leave once again, this time for two years, and go to Kesrouan.


In 1847 the General Chapter decided to build the monasteries of Saint George (Mar Jerjes) at Aashash and Saint Anthony the Great at Jdaydeh in Zghorta, to each of which was attached part of the property of the Monastery of Qozhaya. Other property of the Monastery of Qozhaya was divided among the Convent of Saint Simon Stylites (Mar Simaan al-Amoudi), Qarn Aytu, and the monasteries of Our Lady of Deliverance (Saydet an-Najat) at Bsarma, Saint Joseph (Mar Yusuf) at Ban, and Saint Anthony (Mar Antonios) at Shikka.


In 1877, the monks of Qozhaya were persecuted by the Governor (Mutasarref) Rustum Bacha, who was preparing a plot with some religious and political authorities against the Monks of the Monastery of St. Anthony of Qozhaya.


During the First World War (1914-1918) the Monastery received and fed a great number of refugees. As a result of this generosity it ran up heavy debts, which however it lost no time in honouring.


In 1926 the monks had the old building demolished, leaving only the church, the large basement (the present museum), and four cells of the corridor of Father Ignatius (Ghnatios) Shikri. Two new storeys were constructed, work finishing in 1928.


In 1993, the Monastery was restored. In 1994 the great underground basement was restored and now serves as a museum in which are gathered what remains of the printing press of 1783 and various manuscripts, liturgical objects, ancient pottery, and a crozier offered by Louis IX, King of France (1226-1270).


The museum was inaugurated on November 10, 1994, on the occasion of the opening of the celebration of the tricentenary of the Order, by Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Butrus Sfeir (1986 ), with the attendance of the Apostolic Nuncio, the Maronite bishops, and the Superior Generals, Mother Generals and monks of the two Orders, Mariamite and Lebanese.


In December 1998, the Monastery Saint Anthony of Qozhaya, all the valley of Qadisha and the Cedars of Lebanon were classified by the UNESCO as worldwide cultural heritage.


In 1999 the work of restoration was continued, both inside and outside. A new fruit gardens were planted and exploited.


It must be mentioned here that the Monastery of Qozhaya possesses a library containing archives, scholarly compendia and Syriac manuscripts. As in its early days, it is still a center of pilgrimage and prayer for those in search of a place suitable for prayer, recollection and solitude, and those wanting cures or advice. Pilgrims also come to consult the hermits Father Anthony (Antonios) Shina, who entered the hermitage dedicated to Saint Paul of Thebes (Mar Boula), first hermit of the Egyptian desert, on May 30,1982, and is still there; and Father Dario Escobar, from Colombia, who is living in the Hermitage of Our Lady of Hawqa since August 15th, 2000.


The Monastery remains a beacon of salvation and holiness; this is the fact that imparts to it all its charisma and fascination!]


Source: http://www.kobayat.org/data/documents/qozhaya/qozhaya.htm




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