The Maronites of Cyprus
Edward Bowron

This document herein presented is an article written by Edward Bowron in the Eastern Churches Quarterly in 1937. We are furnishing his article verbatim without changing even the misspelled words and without any alteration or correction to grammar or syntax. The views and opinions expressed in this document do not reflect those of al-Mashriq, but rather of the author alone.

“The Maronites of the Lebanon in Syria can justly claim to be a great eastern people, and their history is that of their church, for in common with other oriental races their nationality and religion have been to them for centuries one and the same thing. Unlike the Armenians, for example, who have become divided into dissidents (“Gregorians”), Catholics and Protestants, all the Maronites belong to the national church in communion with the Holy See: through bitter persecution under Mohammedan domination they have remained true to their faith.

Cyprus is not far from the Lebanon, and the Maronites have had colonies in Cyprus ever since the seventh century. From writers such as William Dandini, who was sent from Rome by the Holy See on a mission to the Cypriot Maronites a few years after the Turkish occupation, it appears that they have moved from place to place, but they still inhabit many of the villages mentioned by him, e.g., Kormakiti, their most important center, Asomatos, Kampyli, and Karpassia.

The Maronites of Cyprus are, of course, subject to their Patriarch of Antioch, who lives in the Lebanon. There is a Maronite bishop of Cyprus under the Patriarch, who also generally resides in the Lebanon, at Kurnet Sahwan; the present bishop is Mar Paul Auad.
A chief difference between Cypriot Maronites and the others is their language. In spite of the efforts to the monks who are in charge of the parishes, many of whom were not born in Cyprus, to revive and sustain the use of Arabic, the local faithful speak Greek, and the epistle at the Liturgy is read in Greek. A different language tends to engender a foreign mentality and the opposition to Greek is strong amongst the monks, but one would rather see more interest taken in their ancient national language Syriac, which is still spoken in one or two remote Lebanese villages. This is the language of the Maronite Liturgy.

In common with the rest of their race the Cypriot Maronites are unwilling to admit that their church has ever strayed from orthodoxy, but the facts of history are against this contention and there is a submission of Maronites in Cyprus recorded so late as 1445. It is said that prejudice against orientals was so strong at that period that these submissions and refutations were forced upon them, and that they, fearing on the one hand the civil power and on the other to break the union which they sincerely valued, had to accept the indignity of making them. The general behaviour of the Latin hierarchy in Cyprus during the middle ages at least gives colour to this contention.

The Antiochene rite, of which the Maronites use a romanized form, is that of the undivided patriarchate of Antioch, replaced centuries ago by that of Constantinople by the Byzantine Catholics and Orthodox who live in that part of the world but retained by the Jacobites, Catholic Syrians and Maronites. It is not possible to place all the blame for the hybridization of the Maronite rite on the mediaeval Latin bishops in Cyprus and on the later Western missionaries working in the Near East generally. That these missionaries of the Latin rite, often openly working as political agents for certain “Catholic powers,” frequently latinise the native Catholics is admitted: Leo XIII had to inflict severe penalties for it. They know little or nothing as a rule about oriental rites, and there was founded at Rome in 1917 the Oriental Institute, one of the chief objects of which is to instruct Western clergy on these matters. All this, and more, is true: yet the chief blame does not lie with these foreigners.

In Cyprus, as elsewhere, most of the Maronite churches are not built and furnished in a manner conformable to the Antiochene rite, but copied from those Latin churches into which the “Liturgical movement” of the West has not yet penetrated. They are full of awful plaster and even wax statues and yet the Maronites, in common with the other eastern Christians, have a great veneration for the holy eikons (pictures), and in Cyprus, where there are so many very beautiful ones, some of the best are owned by the Maronites; it is difficult to understand why these should be hidden away in corners and the churches decorated with European commercial junk and artificial flowers. It was in the sixteenth century that the Maronites began to abandon their traditional vestments in favour of “fiddle-backs.” If they only abolished all the statues and returned to the use of Antiochene vestments their rite would be greatly improved. It was not until the synod of Lebanon in 1736 that unleavened bread was adopted and communion of the laity confined to one kind, and they suffered very badly from the not-liturgical movement of the eighteenth century that did so much harm in the Western church and was amongst the Maronites known as that of Aleppo; it was responsible for the ruin of several of their Syriac offices, especially in the Book of Needs.

The centuries of uninterrupted union with the Holy See of the Maronite Church has abated nothing of her rights: she still elects her own bishops without reference to Rome, she is still bound by her own canon law. In an ultimate analysis nobody but herself can be blamed for the hybridisms that have been introduced into her rites and customs.