Thursday, February 09, 2006

Feb. 9: Maronite Feast of St. Maron

Saint Maron lived as an anchorite in the mountain valley of the Orontus river towards the end of the fourth century. His admirable virtues are described by Theodoret who was elected bishop of Cyr in 423 AD. He said that on the mountains about the city the anchorites spread themselves out everywhere "like bright stars that shone to the ends of the universe." Theodoret was penetrated with lively admiration for the ascetical lives of the monks of his diocese. When in 444 he wrote his Religious History, he consecrated nearly half of it to writing about his anchorites. Writing of Saint Maron, he explains that Saint Maron, living beneath the uncovered sky, was the initiator of a form of monastic life lived in the open air called "hypethrism". Theodoret described the different modes of Syrian asceticism: "In his desire to lead the human race to its ruin, the common enemy of men found many ways of vice. In the same way the nurturers of piety invented many different ladders for climbing up to heaven. Many, whom I have mentioned, decided to have neither cave nor cavern nor barrack nor hut but exposed their bodies freely to the air enduring the different qualities of the seasons, now frozen by the rigours of the cold, then burnt by the fires of the sun. And among these ascetics their practises were different. Some remained continually standing, other at equal intervals of the day stood, then sat; other encircled themselves with a little wall without being able to communicate with anybody, other refused such a screen and gave themselves up to the gaze of those who wished to see them." Then Theodoret makes known that Saint Maron is not only the initiator of this way of life in the open air, but he is also the animator and the founder of this monastic movement of cyrrhestical life. "He it is who has planted for God, the spiritual paradise, this garden which flowers today in the region of Cyr."

This monastic life was considered more difficult than the life of a recluse. When such a recluse named James was hardened by the combats of the life of a recluse he undertook the way of life initiated by Saint Maron. "Coming to this mountain, he was to be seen by all who would come; for this monk had neither cave nor tent, nor cabin nor wall nor even a circle of stones on the ground for his cloister, he was seen by all, in prayer, in repose, standing, sitting whether he was well or suffering from illness. All spectators could see him continually leading his life of combat. He had no other roof but heaven, and dwelt exposed to the elements. One day he would be drenched by the rain, another day frozen by the ice and snow; yet another day burnt and devoured by the rays of the sun." To choose Saint Maron's open air monasticism was, according to Theodoret of Cyr, to opt for the most rigorous way to heaven, the most heroic way of detachment, sacrifice and mortification.
(Courtesy of the Redemptorists)