Christianity in Lebanon

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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 persisted in mountaintop strongholds.



St Maron (died sometime between 406 and 423), founder of the Maronite spiritual movement. Since the 17th century, his feast day has been celebrated on 9 February.

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. [nb 1][1][2] 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.[3] Paul also preached in Lebanon, he had lingered with the early Christians in Tyre and Sidon.[4] Even though Christianity was introduced to Lebanon after the first century CE, its spread was very slow , particularly in the mountainous areas where paganism was still unyielding.[5]

The earliest indisputable tradition of Christianity in Lebanon can be traced back to Saint Maron in the 4th century CE, being of Greek/Eastern/Antiochian orthodox origin & the founder of national and ecclesiastical Maronitism. Saint Maron adopted an ascetic recluse life on the banks of the Orontes river in the vicinity of HomsSyria and founded a community of monks which began to preach the gospel in the surrounding areas.[3] By Faith, liturgy, rite, religious books and heritage, the Maronites were of Orthodox origin.[5] The Saint Maron Monastery was too close to Antioch to enable the monks 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; the Maronites monks finally settled in the Qadisha valley.[3] During the Arab conquest the Christians, particularly the Maronites were persecuted, the persecution culminated during the Umayyad caliphate; nevertheless the influence of the Maronite establishment spread throughout the Lebanese mountains and became a considerable feudal force. It wasn’t until the Crusades that the western world knew of the existence of the Maronites.[3] In the 16th century, the Maronite Church adopted the catechism of the Catholic Church and merged with it.[5] Moreover, Rome dispatched Franciscan, Dominican and later Jesuit missionaries to Lebanon to secure the conversion of the Maronites to Catholicism.[3]

Spurring from their turbulent history, the Maronites formed a secluded identity in the mountains and valleys of Lebanon,_led by the Maronite patriarch who voices his opinion in temporal issues_ identify themselves as a unique community which by religion and culture is distinct from the predominantly Muslim Arab world.[5] 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 Maronite ambitious 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).[6]


The number of Christians in Lebanon has been disputed for many years. There has been no official census in Lebanon since 1932. But official records confirm that in 1926 when the state of Lebanon was officially announced and recognised by the allies the Christians formed 84% of the population. Many argue over the percentage and population of Christians in Lebanon. One estimate of the Christian share of Lebanon's population as of the late 2000s is 39%.[7] The country has the largest percentage of Christians of all the Middle Eastern nations.

Lebanese Christians[8][9][10][7]
Year Percent

The Maronite Church, a church in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest and politically most active and influential denomination of Lebanon's Christians. The Greek Orthodox Church forms the second largest proportion of Lebanese Christians. The Armenian Apostolic Church also forms a large portion of the Christian population in Lebanon. Other branches of Christianity, including the Greek Melkite Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic Church loyal to the Pope, are very common in Lebanon. The Latin Rite Roman Catholic Church, the Coptic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Syriac Orthodox are also important Christian churches within Lebanon. These branches of Christianity are very influential in daily business and in the economy of Lebanon. In the Lebanese Parliament, Christians hold 64 seats in tandem with 64 Muslim seats. The Maronite Catholic church holds 34 seats, the Greek Orthodox 14, and the Armenian, Greek Catholic, and Protestant make up the remaining 22.

Churches and monasteries in Lebanon

Maronite Church of Saidet et Tallé in Deir el Qamar, Lebanon

The head of the Maronite Church is the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch, who is elected by the bishops of the Maronite church and now resides in Bkerké, north of Beirut (the Maronite Patriarch resides in the northern town of Dimane during the summer months). The current Patriarch (from 2011) is Mar Bechara Boutros al-Rahi. When a new patriarch is elected and enthroned, he requests ecclesiastic communion from the Pope, thus maintaining the Catholic Church communion. Patriarchs may also be accorded the status of cardinals, in the rank of cardinal-bishops. They share with other Catholics the same doctrine, but Maronites retain their own liturgy and hierarchy. Strictly speaking, the Maronite church belongs to the Antiochene Tradition and is a West Syro-Antiochene Rite. Syriac is the liturgical language, instead of Latin. Nevertheless, they are considered, with the Syro-Malabar Church, to be among the most Latinised of the Eastern Catholic Churches.

File:Basilica of St. Paul.jpg
Basilica of St. Paul, Harissa, Lebanon

The main Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, is St. George Orthodox Cathedral, which is situated in the middle of Centerville in downtown Lebanon. The Seat of the Maronite Catholic Church is in Bkerké. There are monasteries in Lebanon which run by both the Maronite and Orthodox Church. The Holy Monastery of Saint George in Deir El Harf, Saint John the Baptist Monastery in Douma, both date back to the 5th century. The Balamand Monastery in Tripoli is a very prominent Orthodox monastery that has a seminary and a University associated with its monastery.

Current political and religious issues

The Taif agreement helped establish a power sharing system between the Christian and Muslim Lebanese political parties [2]. The political and economic situation in Lebanon had improved greatly. Lebanon had rebuilt its infrastructure. The past affairs between Hezbollah and Israel have threatened to deteriorate Lebanon's political and economic situation, growing tension between March 8 and March 14 alliances are threatening Lebanon with strife. The Christian community is currently divided with some aligned with The Kataeb party, Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, and the Leader of the Lebanese Forces Movement Samir Geagea, and others with the various March 14 Christian leaders. Although the taif has been considered by some that it would degrade the Christian role in Lebanon removing much of the president's role (which is given to the Maronites) and increasing the roles of the prime minister (a Sunni), but the Lebanese Christian President still plays a major role in the Lebanese Politics as he is still the Commander in Chief of the armed forces and no governments can be formed without his approval and the presidential seal. Many Lebanese leaders including world leaders are currently reviewing the reinstatement of some of the powers of the President of the Lebanese Republic that was removed at the Taif agreement.

Christians also holds the position of the head of the army which formes the role of the Head of all armed forces that reports directly to the Commander in Chief The President of the Republic, this position is given to the Maronites since the establishment of the Lebanese army. The president of the Lebanese Central bank is also a position held by Lebanese Christians as the majority of the banking systems and private banks in Lebanon which forms the strongest and biggest banks in the middle east these banks are largely owned by Christians.

Syriac Christianity

Maronite Syriac Church of Antioch

The Syriac Maronites are the largest Eastern church in Lebanon and represent an indigenous church. They are also the largest Christian sect in Lebanon, representing 22% of the Lebanese population. Maronite communion with the Roman Catholic Church was established in 1182, broken thereafter, and formally reestablished in the sixteenth century. In accordance with the terms of union, they retain their own rites and canon law and use Arabic and Aramaic in their liturgy as well the Karshuni script with old Syriac letters. Their origins are uncertain. One version traces them to John Maron of Antioch in the seventh century A.D.; another points to John Maron, a monk of Homs in the late fourth and early fifth centuries (this is considered by many to be the true origin of the Maronite church). The words maron or marun in Syriac mean "small lord." In the late seventh century, as a result of persecutions from other Christians for the heterodox views they had adopted, the Maronites withdrew from the coastal regions into the mountainous areas of Lebanon and Syria. During the Ottoman era (1516-1914) they remained isolated and relatively independent in these areas. In 1857 and 1858 the Maronite's revolted against the large landowning families. The revolt was followed by a further struggle between the Druzes and Maronites over land ownership, political power, and safe passage of community members in the territory of the other. The conflict led France to send a military expedition to the area in 1860. The disagreements diminished in intensity only after the establishment of the Mandate and a political formula whereby all sects achieved a degree of political representation. The Maronite sect has been directed and administered by the Patriarch of Antioch and the East. Bishops are generally nominated by a church synod from among the graduates of the Maronite College in Rome. In 1987, Mar Nasrallah Butrus Sufayr (also spelled Sfeir) was the Maronite Patriarch. Besides the Beirut archdiocese, nine other archdioceses and dioceses are located in the Middle East: Aleppo, Damascus, Jubayl-Al Batrun, Cyprus, Baalbek, Tripoli, Tyre, Sidon, and Cairo. Parishes and independent dioceses are situated in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Côte d'Ivoire, and Senegal. There are four minor seminaries in Lebanon (Al Batrun, Ghazir, Ayn Saadah, and Trablous) and a faculty of theology at the University of the Holy Spirit at Al Kaslik, which is run by the Maronite Monastic Order. The patriarch is elected in a secret ceremony by a synod of bishops and confirmed by the Pope.

Leaders of the sect have considered Maronite Christianity as the "foundation of the Lebanese nation". The Maronites have been closely associated with the political system of independent Lebanon; it was estimated that in pre-Civil War Lebanon members of this sect held 20 percent of the leading posts.However roles have been shifted due the Taif Agreement theoretically balancing the power out.[11]

Assyrian Church of the East

The Nestorians in Lebanon were refugees who had fled their native lands ever since the rise of Islam. In more recent history, a number of Nestorians fled Iraq and Turkey during and after World War I due to the Assyrian Genocide. Even today refugees continue to flee from Iraq into Syria or Lebanon due to continuous religious killings by radical Islamists.

The Archdiocese of Lebanon, Syria & Europe of the Assyrian Church of the East is based in the Mar Gewargis Church of Sad El Bouchrieh, Beirut, Lebanon. After the recent passing of the archdiocese's late Archbishop Mar Narsai D'Baz, Archbishop Mar Meelis Zaia of Australia and New Zealand temporarily took over the archdiocese, handling all church related issues in the Lebanon. The current bishops: the Bishop of Europe and the Bishop of Syria, oversee their individual dioceses until a new Metropolitan is appointed.

Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch

The doctrinal position of the Syrian (Syriac) Orthodox Church is "that the incarnate word of god has one person of two, and one compound nature without confusion or mixture or change. Since this child is real god and real and perfect man and his mother was theotokos or good-bearer" (from The Syrian Orthodox Church). The church follows the Syriac liturgy of St. James and has an independent hierarchy under the Patriarch of Antioch, whose seat was formerly at Mardin in Turkey and is now at Damascus, Syria.[11]

Other Christian Sects

Melkite Greek Catholic

Greek Catholics are the second largest Uniate community in Lebanon. They emerged as a distinct group in the early eighteenth century when they split from the Greek Orthodox Church. Although they fully accept Catholic doctrines as defined by the Vatican, they have generally remained close to the Greek Orthodox Church, retaining more of the ancient rituals and customs than have the Maronites. They use Arabic and Greek and follow the Byzantine rite. In Lebanon, when one speaks of Catholics, one is referring to this group, not to Roman Catholics or the Maronites. The highest official of the church since 1930 has been the Patriarch of Antioch, who resides at Ayn Traz, about twenty-four kilometers southeast of Beirut. The patriarch is elected by bishops in a synod and confirmed by the Pope in Rome, who sends him a pallium (a circular band of white wool worn by archbishops) in recognition of their communion. Greek Catholic churches, like those of the Greek Orthodox, contain icons but no statues. The Greek Catholics live primarily in the central and eastern parts of the country, dispersed in many villages. Members of this sect are concentrated in Beirut, Zahlah, and the suburbs of Sidon. They have a relatively higher level of education than other sects. Proud of their Arab heritage, Greek Catholics have been able to strike a balance between their openness to the Arab world and their identification with the West, especially the United States. Greek Catholics are estimated to constitute 3% of the population.

Greek Orthodox

St George Orthodox Cathedral in Downtown Beirut

The Greek Orthodox adhere to the Orthodox Eastern Church, which is actually a group of autocephalous churches using the Byzantine rite and are the second largest Christian denomination within Lebanon. Historically, these churches grew out of the four Eastern Patriarchates (Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople). The final split took place in 1054. From that time, with the exception of a brief period of reunion in the fifteenth century, the Eastern Church has continued to reject the claim of the Roman patriarchate to universal supremacy, and has also rejected the concept of papal infallibility . Doctrinally, the main point at issue between the Eastern and Western Churches is that of the procession of the Holy Spirit. There are also divergences in ritual and discipline.

The Greek Orthodox include many free- holders, and the community is less dominated by large landowners than other Christian denominations. In present-day Lebanon, the Greek Orthodox have become increasingly urbanized, and form a major part of the commercial and professional class of Beirut and other cities. Many are also found in the southeast and north, near Tripoli. They are both highly educated and well versed in finance. The sect has become known in the past for its pan-Arab orientation, possibly because it exists in various parts of the Arab world.However present and past circumstances have slightly shifted this outdated stereotype, from the 1958 Lebanon Crisis to the Lebanese civil war. The church has often served as a bridge between Lebanese Christians and the Arab countries. Members of the sect constitute 5% of the population.


The Protestants in Lebanon were converted by missionaries, primarily English and American, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They are divided into a number of denominations, the most important being Presbyterian, Congregational, and Anglican. Typically, Lebanese Protestants are educated and belong to the professional middle class. They constitute nearly 1 percent of the population and live primarily in Beirut.[11]

Armenian Orthodox or Gregorian

The Gregorian Church was organized in the third century and became autocephalous as a national church in the fourth century. In the sixth century it modified the formulations of the Council of Chalcedon of 451 that confirmed the dual nature of Christ in one person. Instead the Gregorian Church adopted a form of Monophysitism that believes in the single divine nature of Christ, a belief which is slightly different from the belief of the Copts and the Syrian Orthodox Church. The Armenian Orthodox Church has five patriarchs, of whom the Catholicos of Etchmiadzin in Soviet Armenia is the most revered. It also has an Armenian liturgy. The Armenians in Lebanon were refugees who had fled Turkey during and after World War I and the Armenian genocide . They reside mostly in Beirut and its northern suburbs as well as in Anjar. They are admired by Lebanese for their skills as craftsmen and diligence, which have enabled them to gain prominent economic positions. Politically it could be indicated Armenians advocate compromise and moderation.During the civil war the main stance of the Armenians was not to pick a side between Muslims or Christians and stay exempt mostly from the fighting. The largest Armenian community in Lebanon is found in Bourj Hammoud.[11]

See also

  • List of cathedrals in Lebanon


  1. ^ Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. (Mark 7:24-26)


Maronite Women at the Fountain (Émile Vernet-Lecomte, 1863)

1. Frank Chatah ( history of the maronite church )

  1. ^ Edwards, Sue; Kelly Mathews, Henry J. Rojers (2008). Mixed Ministry: Working Together as Brothers and Sisters in an Oversexed Society. Kregel Publications. pp. 261. ISBN 0825425247, 9780825425240. 
  2. ^ Matera, Frank J. (2001). Strategies for Preaching Paul. Liturgical Press. pp. 186. ISBN 0814619665, 9780814619667. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Atiya, Aziz Suryal (1980). A History of Eastern Christianity. Kraus International Publications. ISBN 9780527037031. 
  4. ^ Brown, John. A dictionary of the Holy Bible. University of Lausanne. pp. 535/749. 
  5. ^ a b c d Moosa, Matti (2005). The Maronites in History. Gorgias Press LLC. pp. 404. ISBN 1593331827, 9781593331825. 
  6. ^ Korany, Bahgat; Ali E. Dessouki (2008). The Foreign Policies of Arab States: The Challenge of Globalization. Cairo: American university in Cairo press. pp. 515. ISBN 9774161971, 9789774161971. 
  7. ^ a b CIA World Factbook, Lebanon
  8. ^ The collapse and reconstruction of Lebanon
  9. ^ Lebanon – International Religious Freedom Report 2010 U.S. Department of State. Retrieved on 14 February 2010.
  10. ^ [1] Contemporary Religious distribution of Lebanon's main religions
  11. ^ a b c d

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