MARONITE ORDER IN MELBOURNE
The Antonine Monks arrived in Melbourne (from Lebanon) on 9th February 1998. The two Monks who were sent at the time were Father Charbel Chidiac and Father Edmond Andraos.
The Order decided to send the two Monks to assist the Maronite Community in Melbourne by sharing their spiritual experience. Their vision was to aid people spiritually by providing more avenues and opportunities to pray.
Father Charbel and Father Edmond spent five years in the Parish House next to the Church in 199 Rathdowne Street Carlton.
Shortly after, the Monks purchased a Monastery in Coburg and after cleaning it and making alterations / repairs, they moved in. The main purpose for the Monks was, and still is, to continue working with Our Lady of Lebanon Parish; in further developing and broadening Parishioners' knowledge and actively support the work of the Parish.
Changes happen within the Maronite Order every few years and the Parish Community have seen many Monks arrive in Melbourne and leave after one or two years. Father Charbel Chidiac has returned to Lebanon in a new role within the Monastery.
Since then, the Monastery has seen Father Chucri El-Khoury and Father Kozhaya Karam and many more. In early 2007, Father Charles Hitti arrived in Melbourne and has been involved in the Monastery and the Church Community. He and Father Edmond Andraos, the Superior of the Maronite Order in Australia, reside in the Monastery in Coburg and support the work of the Maronite Parish.
HISTORY OF MARONITE ORDER
Saint Anthony the Great
The ideal of fervent Christians in the first centuries had been to give their
lives for the Lord in the torture of Martyrdom, but since the peace
of Constantin in 313 this hope had no further possibility. In the decadent
and weakened roman empire of the 4th century, the Christians who now
were no longer required to shed their blood, suddenly found themselves
clothed with honour and a freedom which risked to bring both lukewarm
half-heartedness and mediocrity.
It is in this context that at the extreme south of the empire, a few Egyptians, wishing to live a life conforming to the spirit and radical requirements of the Gospel, decided to quit both towns and villages to live in the desert.
In Greek, the word monachos already existed to name these recluses, but tradition
makes Saint Anthony the first, and in any case the most celebrated of
these hermits of the beginning of the 4th century.
Anthony was the only inheritor of a wealthy family. His parents has
just died leaving him vast wealth, when one day he entered a Church
at the precise moment when the Priest, reading the Gospel of the day,
spoke the words which the Lord said to the rich young man: "if you wish
to be perfect, go sell all that you possess and give it to the poor,
and you will have a treasure in heaven: then come and follow me". He
took this message as being addressed to him personally, and at once,
he gave away all that he had and retired to the Egyptian desert, living
in a tomb hewn from the rock.
He did not remain alone for long, as many other Christians, who felt the need to put the desert between themselves and the world rallied around Anthony, whose wisdom and kindliness they admired. He became the example of all those who retired from the world and consecrated themselves to God.
Anthony lived to be more than one hundred, and when he died around
356, hundreds and maybe thousands of hermits, who recognised him as
their Spiritual Father, from then on fed their inner life with the words
of wisdom he had left them.
All the monks of Christendom, whether recluse or in Community, recognise
Saint Anthony as their Father; their example and their patron, particularly
in the Oriental Church.
The TAU or "Saint Anthony Cross" is well known as a heraldic emblem.
But what does it signify precisely? Several explanations have been proposed:
it is said that in his old age, Saint Anthony leaned on a stick in the
form of a "T". When he visited one of his disciples for a religious
discussion, he propped his stick at the entrance to the grotto or hut
of the hermit.
That signified "do not disturb, Anthony is speaking of God".
The Hospitaller Order of the Antonine of Dauphiné (regular canons
of Saintt Antoine-en-Viennois) founded in 1095, had the TAU as emblem.
You can still see it today on the door of their Church.
They considered it to be a crutch: the crutch which was used by the victims of bubonic plague whom the Antonine helped. This order was dissolved in 1776.
The Antonine Maronite Order of Lebanon, when their Constitutions were
approved by Pope Clement XII, adopted the TAU as their distinctive emblem.
At that period they could also find a resemblance in it to another form
of crutch which they used daily: the stick in the form of the "T" on
which they leaned during the long night services where they sang standing
for many hours around a lectern, where the big book of song copied by
hand and written in Syriac occupied the place of honour. The TAU then
represented perseverance in ordered and sung prayer.
In any case, the TAU remains today the Antonine emblem. It is worn
in bright blue, over the heart, on their black Monks habit, so differentiating
them from the other two Lebanese Orders, the Baladites and the Mariamites,
showing their attachment to both the personality and the spirituality
of Saint Anthony.
The reputation of Saint Anthony spread during his own lifetime throughout
all the Roman Empire and even to Mesopotamia. It is there in Nisibin,
that the poet and musician Saint Ephrem had in his "Carmina Nisibana"
sung of the kindliness and the graciousness of the "Father of Monks"
explaining that "the closeness of his contact with God made him ever
more condescending and correct with all men".
The influence of Saint Ephrem had been large in Syriac Monastical
life which, during the subsequent centuries, developed in an extraordinary
way in northern Syria. All forms of consecrated life: Asceticism in
the open air, hermits, Monks in Community, and stylites, all developed
there, as you see from Theodorus of Cyrrhus and John Chrysostom.
In effect the monastical conceptions of St. Ephrem were very wide
in scope, putting together or separating monastic Communities and hermits,
from monastic life and pastoral work. He himself as a deacon, was surprisingly
active in the Nisibin Church and later in that of Edessus (Urfa), and
yet he was a man of intense spiritual life.
In his "Carmina", he invites "everyone everywhere to become one with
God but pluralist in regard to all men, insulated from the world, yet
available to all". It is a remarkable fact that in praising the virtues
of a bishop-monk, Ephrem underlined as a rare virtue, his charisma of
"Adaptation to his Time".
These, among others, are the factors which the Antonine have adopted
and which they endeavour to practice in their daily life. The Antonine
ideals are inspired by the great monastic law makers of the past. Saint
Pacôme and Saint Ephrem meet on the essential traits of poverty and
celibacy in monastic life, but on the other hand Ephrem like Saint Basil
is a "preacher of the Gospel by practical virtue and actual work". Like
Saint Benedict he has "a love of the consecrated place and the sense
of ordered prayer".
He created glorious texts which were kept in use after his time, and which are still in use in the Syriac missal.
But the monastic ideas of Saint Ephrem seem more supple; more intertwined
in the works of the Church, and better attached to daily life. Saint
Benedict taught that "the Monk must always keep his silence", whereas
Saint Ephrem considers that "to speak and to be silent are both as necessary
as day and night".
The Antonine Monk, it is true, does not specifically follow the monastic
ideas of Saint Ephrem, yet each day he does receive the influence of
his spirituality, as the liturgical Syriac prayer of the Maronite Monks
owes much to the musician of Nisibin.
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Gabriel de Blawza
Half way between Ehden and Bechare, on the rim of the Holy Valley, is the little village of Blawza. There Gabriel was born around 1625, into a fervent Maronite family. His father John was a Subdeacon and local tradition says that his grandfather was Bishop.
The ancient Church of Blawza, where personally Gabriel was baptised, no longer exists. It has been replaced by a much bigger building, but the site of the old one is very well known to the local inhabitants: it has become the village cemetery.
In the Lebanon of long age, traditionally opposite to the Church there was an oak tree, in whose shade the Priest taught school to the children of the Parish. The expression "school under the oak" remains as an expression in dialect Lebanese, as it is a fact that entire generations there received the basic elements of their education: essentially reading and writing in Syriac, the catechism and liturgy.
At Blawza, the centennial oak of the old Church lives still and under its branches Gabriel made his first classes. The view seen by the young pupil from this promontory is most impressive. On the other side of the valley, the rock cliff, steep and brooding, looks very frightful. You can see the openings of caves which seem inaccessible, yet where the hermit Monks passed their life in penitence. (In one of these caves, severed mummies were discovered recently).
Learning over the precipice, right at the bottom of the valley, you can see the green of Qannoubin with its cultivated terraces and orchards. The slope is so steep that a visitor will wonder if even audacious alpinists equipped with rope and pitons, would dare to go down. But in fact, the men of Blawza centuries ago cut an extraordinary path in the living rock, in zigzag or rather as an accordion, by which the vigorous mountain people can get down in half an hour, and back up again in less than one hour.
Young Gabriel must have been able to go down to the Monastery of Qannoubin quite often, where maybe his grandfather lived, and where in any case, he could meet quite remarkable men, the enthusiastic Monks and courageous ascetes.
It is not surprising that in such surroundings of fervour and faith, Gabriel de Blawza wanted also to consecrate his life to prayer and penitence under monastic rule as it was practiced in the Holy Valley.
So, when still young, he entered the monastery of Saint Anthony of Qoshayya, and received the Monks Habit there. We know that he led an exemplary life there, and he was ordained as Priest, but we have no other details on these years of a life voluntarily silent and hidden.
In 1663, when the Bishop of Alep, Monsignor Joseph of Hassroun, died, the Patriarch Georges Sebel appointed Father Gabriel de Blawza as his successor. In obedience the Monk was obliged to leave Qoshayya. He was enthroned as Bishop by the Patriarch, and then went to take possession of his Bishopric in North Syria.
At this time Alep was the uncontested centre of Christian culture in this region, which had already been sanctified by many Monks, and also often mentioned by Theodorus of Cyhrrus and by John Chrysostom. The new Bishop took his Episcopal duties very seriously, without losing his monastic ideals and as far as possible keeping to the practice of his asceticism.
A manuscript in the library of the Archbishop of Alep, dated 1671 relates how Monsignor Gabriel de Blawza works to create a commission of leading citizens for the practical and financial administration of the Diocese: and how he knew how to choose excellent Priests as spiritual ministers, and how he devoted himself to rewriting the books of liturgy in order to make the celebration of the Maronite Rite in his Church both more to the point and more authentic.
In 1672 Pope Clement X appointed Monsignor Gabriel de Blawza, together with Monsignor Hobeich to deliver the pontifical "pallium" to the new Patriarch Monsignor Etienne Douaihi.
On many occasions the Bishop of Alep would have to support the prelate throughout the 34 years of his Patriarchate, which was a continual succession of persecutions and trials. Very often Patriarch Douaihi would be forced to hide the caves of the Holy Valley. And it was at Qannoubin he wrote his "Annals", on which he worked until his death in 1704.
However at Alep, Monsignor Gabriel surrounded by pastoral duties, greatly felt the lack of monastic ambiance, and the idea was born to found a Monastery which at the same time could be the seat of his Bishopric.
At that time, the geographic division of the Dioceses was rather peculiar in the Maronite Church, and the territory of the Patriarchate extended up to the mouth of the Nahr-el-Kalb or Dog River (the Lycus of the Ancient world) north of Beirut. It was there that Monsignor Gabriel chose a hilltop with some few remains of a Phoenician temple as his residence. A Monastery was built there in 1673 and was called Our Lady of Tamish.
Monsignor Gabriel de Blawza, whilst continuing to administer his Diocese, lived for several years in this Monastery, of which he was the Superior. There he initiated young Lebanese into the life of religion, and ordained as Priests the best among them.
You must not have mistaken ideas about a Monastery at that period. Whilst Qannoubin had acquired the name of the "Monastery of the 200 Monks", in reality at that time there were not more than forty.
But the small Auto-Cephalic Convents founded all over the Lebanon, either by a family or as in this case by a Bishop, often had only four Monks on even less.
Twenty years after the foundation of Our Lady of Tamish there were only nine Monks there united around their Bishop. And this undoubtedly is one of the reasons why Monsignor Gabriel had another dream. He thought that the time had come to create a Religious Order modelled on those which existed in the western world, with many congregations grouped under the authority of a General Superior and following a single Rule.
On the Patriarchal lands, near Broumana, there were the remains of a Monastery built in the 9th or 10th century by the Monks of Saint Isaiah who came apparently from Mesopotamia, and who wished to make a stop-over for themselves on their pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
The green hilltop on which they installed themselves had always been known as the Hill of ARAMTA, because a Phoenician Temple dedicated to the goddess Aramta had been there. But when the Monks built their Convent there in honour of Saint Isaiah, the place became for all the region "the Hill of Mar Chaya" because in Syriac Isaiah is called ICHAYA or CHAYA.
No one knows when or why the Convent was abandoned, but the ruins and the hilltop land remained as patriarchal property. Around 1693, Monsignor Gabriel sent three Monks from Our Lady of Tamish to Mar CHAYA, with as mission to build a Monastery there intended to become the focal point of a monastic Order.
But the violent opposition of the Druze in that area had not been foreseen apparently, and they made life impossible for the three Monks. It is said that they destroyed during night, all that the Monks had built during the day. In any case, seeing the impossibility to complete their mission, the Monks returned to Tamish.
Monsignor Gabriel did not allow himself to be discouraged, and resolved to complete his ideas when the opportunity presented itself. Around 1684, he meet with three young lay people from Alep: Joseph al Betn, Gabriel Hawa and Abdallah Qaraali.
Apparently the enthusiasm of the Bishop for monastic life had impressed them strongly and they thought to found a religious order themselves under the patronage of St. Anthony the Great. Monsignor Gabriel invited these young folk to live for a while at Our Lady of Tamish to get to know Religious life as it was lived there.
In effect they stayed there for several months and liked the discipline of the Convent very much, but one thing they did not like: the presence at Tamish of a Community of Nuns, housed in a separate building, but who shared the Church with the Monks.
This system of a mixed-Monastery was quite normal at that time because the Monk of the two Communities was so complimentary and made life so much more convenient, that the Bishop admitted quite simply that "the Monastery could not exist if the Nuns left".
However this practice would be prohibited strictly by the Lebanese Synod in 1736.
Monsignor Gabriel advised the three young men to go to see Patriarch Douaihi at Qannoubin. The Patriarch received them happily and approved their project, and installed them in the convent of Mart Moura in Ehden, and giving them the Monks Habit authorised them to found an Order which they named the "Maronite Order of Alep" because they were all three of Alepan origin. This happened in 1695.
These events could only encourage the Bishop of Alep to take up his project of a foundation at Mar Chaya once more. Remembering the unfortunate trial in 1693, Monsignor de Blawza this time took the initiative to place the operation under the patronage and protection of the Druze Emir Abdallah Bellama, who governed the region.
The Emir felt flattered by the Bishop's approach, and realising perfectly that a Monastery at Mar Chaya would attract Christians onto his lands, to the great benefit of both agriculture and artisanat, he promised his support and even gave a generous grant to the new foundation.
A manuscript note found much later in a daily prayer book states exactly: "In 1698, I Peter Bazouni, a poor sinner, one of the Monks of Tamish was sent by my venerated Superior Monsignor Gabriel Bluzene - may God keep him long as our Superior - to the Convent of Saint Isaiah, this blessed place which was in ruins. In the beginning I was alone. In 1699, Moses the Priest from the Convent of Moses, joined me, and we have dug out an oven for chalk and have cut stones with which to build the Church. In 1700, with Gods help we have completed the Church, also helped by the kindness of the Emir Bellama who gave me 200 piasters. May God grant him long life and protect his sons".
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On the 15th August 1700, at the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the first Mass was solemnly celebrated at Mar Chaya, by one of the reformers of monastic life in the Maronite Church, Monsignor Gabriel de Blawza surrounded by his Monks, and this is the date which the Antonines consider as that of the official birth of their Order.
Monsignor Gabreil delegated Father Salomon Hage as Superior, who came from Mechmech and had been a Monk at Tamish for twenty years. He gave him as associates, Father Atallah Kraiker of Beit Chebab, Father Boutros Bazouni whom we have just mentioned, and Father Moses Zammar of Baabdate, the same who came to help in the construction.
The new Monastery very quickly became known in the region, and it began to attract vocations. In truth it still does today, as the novitiate of the Antonine Maronite Order is still on this same hilltop, where the Lord continues to lead those whom he called to religious life. The country around Broummana, very pleasant and near to Beirut, has become a residential area as well as a centre for summer vacation, but the hilltop of Mar Chaya whilst giving a warm welcome to visitors and pilgrims alike, has been able to keep its detachment, and at 875 meters in altitude, is isolated by a wild valley of which the silence is broken only by the birds singing and the yap of jackals.
The first problem faced by the Monks of the new Congregation was that of the Rule, even more important as this Rule would have to be followed by all the new Monasteries to come.
The secular practice of the Convents: choral song, silent prayer, manual work, abstinence and mortification, constitute a basis which now must be arranged legally.
The young Congregation of Alepins had been faced with the same problem a few years previously. "At this time, writes Karaali in his notes, "the Superior and the Monks were preoccupied in the elaboration of he Constitutions and to choose that which we think nearest to our ideal in the Scriptures of both the Eastern and the Western worlds.
At the end of the 17th Century there were Capucins, Franciscans, Carmelites and Jesuits in Lebanon, but there were no Communities such as the Benedictines, the Chartreux, or the Cistercians. In the time of the Crusades the Cistercians had founded the Abbey of Balamund near Tripoli, but when the Crusaders had gone, they also had to withdraw. In any case, this type of life did not quite correspond to Maronite custom. Ascetic practice and liturgical prayer come foremost in traditional monastic Lebanese life, but there was also in second place, apostolic work.
The Alepins who from now on were installed at Saint Elisée in the Holy Valley took time to elaborate their statutes. They had been inspired by the oriental tradition of Saint Basil, of Saint John Climax and of Saint Ephrem, but at the same time they wanted to inaugurate a centralised organisation with its proper hierarchy. When the drafting was completed, it was specifically approved by the Patriarch Etienne Douaihi on the 18 June 1700.
The Monks of Mar Chaya thought that the Constitutions for the Alepins, elaborated seriously and well adapted to that time and place, might well suit them also. Also Patriarch Douaihi strongly counselled them to adopt them.
And the Fathers Salomon, Atallah, and Moses, went to the Convent of Saint Elisée. There they found Father Abdallah Qaraali, whom they had known at Tamish, and who had become General Superior. He gave them a copy of the Rule and the Constitutions. Father Salomon and his companions returned to Mar Chaya, and according to their biographer "The Father Superior then took his vows with all the Monks, following this Rule…from then on the fame of the Monks spread around in the neighbouring towns and villages. All those who sought goodness and piety went to them, and many became their disciples".
In 1704, when the Patriarch Etienne Douaihi died, Monsignor Gabriel de Blawza in turn was elected Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the Orient. He then had the pleasure to give his approbation of the adaptation of the Rules of the Alepins by the Monks of Mar Chaya, and so to finalize the work he had begun. He died in the peace of the Lord on 31st October 1705.
Slowly but surely the numbers of the Community and of the postulants at Mar Chaya increased, and in 1712 it began to go beyond the possibility of the Convent to house them. Then the R.F. Salomon providentially had the occasion to purchase the Convent of Saint Elias at Ghazir which had belonged to a Family of the region until then, and which became the second Convent of the Congregation of the Antonine.
A few years later it was necessary to branch out again. This time the Monks installed themselves at Mar Abda, el Mouchammar on the bank of the Nahr-el-Kalb, where there was a sanctuary dedicated to Saint Abda Patron of small children. It was a place of pilgrimage visited particularly by married couples without children.
A Convent was built there and later a hermitage also. Actually, even if the Antonine Monks live in a monastic Community, they not disapprove of hermits, "ad normas Constitutionum". After passing long and edifying years in Community, an Antonine Monk may be authorised to retire as a hermit near to a Monastery.
And the history of the Antonine Order preserves the remembrance of a dozen particularly fervent hermits at Mar Abda, Mar Chaya, Ehden. or at Qattin. As an example - Father John Gitawi who, after twenty eight years of religious life, passed on to the hermitage of Mar Abda, where he lived twenty five years in prayer, in the most austere penitence and in manual work.
The Father Kyriakos served the Congregation for twenty-one years and then settled into the Qattin hermitage, where he was an example of pious life. Father Wehbé Hage Boutros, an exemplary monastic Monk, retired to the hermitage of Mar Abda. It was the same with Father Seraphion Chemali, and for Father John Hayek.
Father Germanos Deryani, after years of communal life at Mar Chaya, retired to the hermitage at Qattin. But as he did not find this to be solitary enough, he asked to be transferred to Mar Abda. He lived there as a hermit for fifty four years, giving the most surprising example in purity, prayer, penitence and work.
Father Saba Nosrallah, after seventeen years of monastic life, led a life as a recluse in the hermitage at Mar Chaya. Remarkable his prayer, his mortification and his humility, he died as a saint in 1900. The Antonine Calendar of Martyrs can quote several others. Today, even though several hermitages remain inhabitable, not one Antonine feels called to the life of a solitary.
Remember also, that opposite to Mar Abda El Mouchammar, on the other bank of the Nahr-el-Kalb, are the famous caves of Jeita, which were not known of at that time.
In 1723 the Antonine Monks took into their charge another place of pilgrimage, the sanctuary of Saint Elias at Antelias, on the coast north of Beirut. It was a simple wooden Chapel, but was constantly frequented by the faithful, who under the protection of the saintly prophet, came to solicit cures of all sorts, which apparently he granted generously.
The Monks built a Church and a Convent, and that in time became the centre of a Maronite Parish so important that later it was necessary to build a new sanctuary of imposing size, under which an underground basement was built to house the offices for all parochial works.
The year 1736 is an important date in the History of the Church in Lebanon. Actually, in this year the Lebanese Synod was held, under the Pontificate of Clement XII with the participation of the Apostolic Delegate Monsignor Joseph Assemani, himself born in Hassroun, which was intended to put the decisions of the Council of Trent into effect.
Father Simon ARID who at that time was the General Superior of the Antonine Order took part in the Synod, where he distinguished himself as one of the most active members.
At the same time, the Apostolic Legate had been directed to make a canonical visit to the Lebanese Orders. He was very impressed by the observance of the Antonine of Saint Isaiah, as is brought out in the report he wrote later and where he quotes the successive Patriarchs "who have honoured the Congregation by their support, after they had seen the good conduct of the Monks and recognised the great service given by them to the nation in making a good example, in organising missions, in the opening of schools in their Convents, all in complete obedience to the ecclesiastical hierarchy and their fidelity to the saintly Rules. Also they have become predeceasing to their Superior and to the Maronite people, and are an example for the other nations of the east.
But one of the decisions of the Lebanese Synod stipulated the obligation for the religious Congregation to obtain Apostolic approval of their Rules and Constitutions in good order.
Actually the approval by Clement XII for the Antonine was already clearly expressed in the short "Apostplatum officium" of 21st March 1732, where in approving the Congregation of Mount Lebanon the Holy Father wrote: "There are twin Congregations of these Monks in Syria: the first, older and more numerous which began in the Monastery of Saint Elisée and which is called that of Mount Lebanon, and the other more recent and created in imitation of the first, which took the name of Saint Isaiah from the Monastery where it began".
But to obtain a brief specifically approving the Rule and Constitutions of the Antonine Order of the Maronite Monks of Saint Isaiah, the General Superior sent two of his assistants to Rome: Father Peter Ataya and Father Binine Hage Boutros, furnished with letters of recommendation from the Patriarch and the Lebanese Bishops.
On the 17 January 1740, Pope Clement XII promulgated the Brief "Misericordiarum Pater" which is a formal and definitive approval.
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