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The Eastern Catholic Churches / The Maronite Church

The Maronite Church

Number of faithfulapprox. 3.5 million
Title of First HierarchPatriarch of Antioch of the Maronites
See of the First HierarchBkerké (Lebanon)
Current incumbentCardinal Béchara Boutros Raï, born 1940, in office since 2011
Bishops and dioceses49 bishops; 29 dioceses (including 11 in Lebanon)
RiteWest Syrian
Liturgical languageArabic and old Syriac
Presence in Austriaapprox. 300 faithful; 1 parish, 1 priest
Presence in Germanyapprox. 4,000 faithful; 8 parishes, 4 priests

The Maronite Church is the oldest of the Eastern Churches united with Rome and at the same time, the only one in which it was possible to bring an existing local Church fully into communion with Rome, so that today there is no parallel Eastern Church separated from Rome. The name of this Eastern Church is derived from St. Maron († 410), a hermit who gathered a group of disciples and later founded the monastery of Beth Maron, situated between Aleppo and Antioch. In the Christological disputes of the 5th century, the Maronites sided with the Council of Chalcedon. It was not until the 7th century that it was separated from Chalcedonian orthodoxy, on the one hand, because of theological issues (teaching of monotheletism) and on the other hand, because of political differences (relationship with the Islamic caliphate). Persecuted by both supporters and opponents of the Council of Chalcedon, the Maronites fled to the impassable mountains of Lebanon and Cyprus. In the 8th century, they elected their own patriarch and gradually developed their own church.

During the Crusades, the Maronites established contacts with the Latin Church without any problems. In terms of their self-understanding, they were never separated from the Roman Church. Nevertheless, the union with Rome was formally confirmed in 1182. Soon after, the Maronite Patriarch Jeremiah II (1199-1230) visited Rome, where he also attended the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. After the Crusaders were driven out, the Maronites were initially persecuted by the Mamluks, but later enjoyed a degree of autonomy in the Ottoman Empire. As in many other Eastern Churches united with Rome, there were also tendencies in the Maronite Church in the 18th and 19th centuries to Latinize this Eastern Church, which, however, has returned more strongly to its Syrian roots in recent decades. To this day, the Maronite Church is primarily based in Lebanon, where it forms the largest church grouping and, according to the constitution, the president must always be a Maronite Christian. There is also a strong Maronite diaspora today due to the civil war in Lebanon (1975-92). The Maronite College founded in Rome in 1584 and the Holy Spirit University in Kaslik (Lebanon) ensure the high level of education of the Maronite clergy.


  • E. Loosely, The Maronite Catholic Church. History and Identity, in: One in Christ 42 (2008) 29-45.
  • W. Hage, Die Maronitisch-Katholische Kirche, in: ders., Das orientalische Christentum, Stuttgart 2007, 380-397.
  • H. Suermann, Die Gründungsgeschichte der Maronitischen Kirche, Wiesbaden 1998.