The History of Christians in Lebanon

Christianity in Lebanon has a long and continuous history beginning with the visits of Jesus to the southern territories, where he is said to have performed many miraculous healings. Biblical Scriptures reveal that Peter and Paul evangelized the Phoenicians, whom they affiliated to the ancient patriarchate of Antioch.

The spread of Christianity in Mount Lebanon was very slow where paganism (Muslim, Judaism) persisted in mountaintop strongholds.

A 2015 study estimates some 2,500 Lebanese believers in Christ have Muslim ancestry,  whereas the majority of Lebanese Christians are direct descendants of the original early Christians.

Proportionally, Lebanon has the highest rate of Christians in the Middle East, where the percentage ranges between 39% and 40.5%, followed directly by Egypt and Syria where most likely Christians account for about 10 percent.

History

Before the Christian faith reached the territory of Lebanon,  Jesus had traveled to its southern parts near Tyre where the scripture tells us that he cured a possessed Canaanite child.

Christianity in Lebanon is almost as old as gentile Christian faith itself. Early reports relate the possibility that Saint Peter himself was the one who evangelized the Phoenicians whom he affiliated to the ancient patriarchate of Antioch.

Paul also preached in Lebanon, having lingered with the early Christians in Tyre and Sidon.  Even though Christianity was introduced to Lebanon after the first century AD, its spread was very slow, particularly in the mountainous areas where paganism was still unyielding.

The earliest indisputable tradition of Christianity in Lebanon can be traced back to Saint Maron in the 4th century AD, being of Greek/Eastern/Antiochian Orthodox origin and the founder of national and ecclesiastical Maronitism.

Saint Maron adopted an ascetic and reclusive life on the banks of a river in the vicinity of Homs–Syria and founded a community of monks which began to preach the gospel in the surrounding areas.

By faith, liturgy, rite, religious books and heritage, the Maronites were of Orthodox origin.

The Saint Maron Monastery was too close to Antioch to grant the monks their freedom and autonomy, which prompted Saint John Maron, the first Maronite patriarch-elect, to lead his monks into the Lebanese mountains to escape emperor Justinian II’s persecution, finally settling in the Qadisha valley.

Nevertheless, the influence of the Maronite establishment spread throughout the Lebanese mountains and became a considerable feudal force. The existence of the Maronites was largely ignored by the western world until the Crusades.

In the 16th century, the Maronite Church adopted the catechism of the Catholic Church and merged with it. Moreover, Rome dispatched Franciscan, Dominican and later Jesuit missionaries to Lebanon to secure the conversion of the Maronites to Catholicism.

Due to their turbulent history, the Maronites formed a secluded identity in the mountains and valleys of Lebanon, led by the Maronite patriarch who voiced his opinion on contemporary issues.

They identify themselves as a unique community whose religion and culture is distinct from the predominantly Muslim Arab world.

The Maronites played a major part in the definition of and the creation of the state of Lebanon. The modern state of Greater Lebanon was established by France in 1920 after the instigation of ambitious Maronite leaders headed by patriarch Elias Peter Hoayek, who presided delegations to France following WWI and requested the re-establishment of the entity of the Principality of Lebanon (1515AD-1840AD).

With the creation of the state of Lebanon, Arabism was overcome by Lebanism, which emphasizes Lebanon’s Mediterranean and Phoenician heritage.

In the National Pact, an unwritten gentleman’s agreement between the Maronite President Bshara el-Khoury and Sunni Prime Minister Riad as-Solh, the seats of presidency were distributed between the main Lebanese religious denominations. According to the pact, the President of the Lebanese republic shall always be a Maronite. Furthermore, the pact also states that Lebanon is a state with an “Arab face” (not an Arab identity).

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