St. Maro of Cyr

(Died A.D. 410)

Maro (or Maron) of Cyr was a Syrian hermit and monk who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries. Not much is known in detail about his annals, but the Syrian nation known as Maronites hails him as their spiritual and cultural forefather.

This noted abbot was born near Apamea, on the Orontes River in the Roman province of Syria Secunda. Called to the monastic life then so popular in the Mideast, he embarked upon the career of a hermit on top of a nearby mountain. Finding there the ruin of a pagan temple, he turned part of it into a small chapel. For living quarters he put up a goatskin tent. Practically speaking, however, he spent most of his time in the open air. Under the counseling of another hermit, he devoted himself to intensive penance and prayer.

In return, God gave him sharp wisdom and the gift of healing, so that before long, crowds were approaching him for advice and assistance. These he welcomed, and if they did not find too harsh his nightlong vigils spent standing, they were received into his company and assisted him in founding several other monasteries. Among his pupils were SS. James of Cyr and Limnaeus.

Father Maro was also a devoted friend of the great St. John Chrysostom, and joined him in denouncing the current heresy of monophysism, which held that Christ did not have two natures (divine and human) but only one.

According to his contemporary, Bishop Theodoret of Cyr, the saintly abbot’s last illness was brief. His weakness, said Theodoret, was due in large measure to his relentless penances. By the time Maro died, he was so revered in the Middle East that the provinces fought over his relics. The “home team” won this pious battle. As a shrine to his memory, they erected a large memorial church and monastery, named after him “Beit-Maron.”

The Christians who tended to settle around this shrine were to form the nucleus of the Maronite Church, which still exists, fully Catholic in membership. Its monastic background served to shape not only the religious but also the social and political unity of this people. Early victimized by heretics, schismatics and Moslems, the Maronites gradually moved up from the flatlands to the safer heights of the nearby mountains of Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon.

Even though this isolation confirmed their family spirit, the Maronites have continued to walk a hard road. In 1860, for instance, the Druzes, a Moslem sect, pounced upon them, unarmed though they were, slew 16,000 and pillaged and torched all of their villages. After World War I their country, called Lebanon, developed into a small but highly cultured nation. But as we well know, during the past couple of decades that nation has been practically destroyed as a field of battle for neighboring nations.

The Maronite Church follows its own liturgical rites. They derive from the apostolic liturgy of Antioch. Headed by its own patriarch (at present, His Beatitude, Cardinal Nasrallah Peter Sfeir), it has a worldwide population of 1.3 million. Some 500,000 still live in Lebanon; others dwell in Cyprus, Israel, and Egypt. Especially since 1890, thousands of Maronites have migrated to Canada and the United States. (A small number settled within the diocese of Rochester.) Since 1966, the American Maronites have had a diocese and bishop of their own, with a registered nationwide population of some 50,000. Since 1982, the Canadian Maronites have had their own bishop for the 100,000 registered Canadian members.

In both cases, these devout Mideast Catholics have given their North American diocese the name of their beloved patron: the “Diocese of St. Maron.”

--Father Robert F. McNamara