The Greek Catholic Community and its Collective Memories

Religious Orders, Monasteries and Confessional Dynamics in Lebanon

in Anthropology of the Middle East
Author:
Rodrigo Ayupe Bueno da CruzFluminense Federal University, Brazil royupe@hotmail.com

Search for other papers by Rodrigo Ayupe Bueno da Cruz in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close

Abstract

This article analyses the role of the Salvatorian and Chouerite monastic orders and their principal convents in producing collective memories among the Greek Catholic community in Lebanon. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Lebanon over the course of several months between December 2014 and 2020, I argue that the historical importance of both orders in the Patriarchate's foundation and the popularity of some of their local symbols, priests and museums have transformed them into privileged places to transmit community memories. Last, these collective memories have contributed not only to constructing a Greek Catholic identity but also to maintaining this community within the Lebanese political-religious field.

This article analyses the role of the Salvatorian and Chouerite1 monastic orders and their principal convents in producing collective memories among the Greek Catholic community in Lebanon. Within a national context marked by both a politicisation of religious confessions and the plurality of Muslim and Christian traditions, these collective memories become essential tools not only in constructing a Greek Catholic identity but also in maintaining this community within the Lebanese political-religious field.

According to Maurice Halbwachs’ definition (1950), collective memory is a remembrance or a set of recollections common to a group of human beings in a given social context. It happens as community members seek to transmit an idea of continuity, stability, and balance through these memories even in the face of the passage of time and social changes. In addition, Halbwachs states that collective memory is more than just facts and events that are remembered by members of collectivities, as it has the function of contributing to the existence and survival of each of these groups, whether religious, economic, political, family, or group of friends (Halbwachs 1950: 46–81).

Another relevant function of collective memory that Halbwachs emphasises is its role in forming each collectivity's self-awareness. Based on this consideration, the author reinforces the connection between memory and social identity, since the memories associated with a specific group contribute to its members’ perception of them as references for their collectivity, in addition to reinforcing the borders about other groups (Halbwachs 1950: 46–81). Following Maurice Halbwachs’ explanation, Joel Candau states that memory and identity are inseparable phenomena because there is no search for identity without memory. In contrast, the feeling of identity always requests a memorial search (Candau 2016: 12).

In addition, Candau argues that it is impossible to take for granted that memory, or identities, are shared by all members of a particular group. According to him, we can say that memory is a phenomenon related to transmission, based on a representation that members of collectivities, usually their official representatives, will produce a supposed memory that is common to all. Collective identity is also a representation since it is impossible to say that individuals from a particular social group are identical. According to Candau, this type of identity has a metaphorical function to define this representation or collective consciousness transmitted (Candau 2016: 24–25).

Within the Lebanese Greek Catholic community, the clergy of the Salvatorian and Chouerite monastic orders stand out as the most prominent agents in constructing and transmitting community memory. This research shows that there is not just one but several collective memories within the universe of this confession, among which those linked to the Salvatorian and Chouerite order assume a special status. This confirms Halbwachs’ argument that most religious collective memories are not a homogeneous phenomenon since it is possible to perceive within communities the coexistence among a plurality of them (Halbwachs 1950: 66–70).

There are several factors that have contributed to the prominent position of these religious orders. First, they have served as guardians of the Greek Catholic tradition as both arose during the Greek Catholic Patriarchate's foundation in the Middle East in 1724. Thus, they have the status of connecting the present community to a ‘chain of memory’ (Hervieu-Léger 2000), leading to the origins of this confession in Lebanon. Furthermore, from the foundation of this Patriarchate, the Salvatorian and Chouerite monastic orders, through their missionary work, contributed to attracting families to the Greek Catholic communion that gradually built and consolidated their political-religious community in Lebanon (Heyberger 2014: 400; Salibi 1988: 137).

A second contributing factor of these orders in the construction of the Greek Catholic's collective memories is the symbolic status of the Salvatorian monk Abūnā2 Bshara—the only Greek Catholic saint in the process of canonisation—and that of the first Arabic printing press in the Middle East, located in the central Chouerite convent. Although both religious orders, through their principal convents and these main symbols, contribute to the transmission of the memory of the Greek Catholic community, they do it in different ways. While the Salvatorian Order evokes a sacred memory through the figure of the Abūnā Bshara, the Chouerite Order evokes a profane memory through its printing press that represents modernity and Arab nationalism in Lebanon.

With regards to the transmission of Salvatorian and Chouerite's collective memories, I argue that there are several means that the community employs. On a broader scale, the clergy uses the official platforms of the Patriarchate such as the official website, the almanac (encyclopaedia with general information on the patriarchy), and the Lien magazine (quarterly publication with theological, philosophical, and political texts). On a more specific scale, the clergy circulates texts, imagery, speeches and discourses in their churches, monasteries and other sacred spaces.

Regarding the importance of sacred spaces in transmitting collective memories, Maurice Halbwachs argues that religions are solidly constructed from their territorialisation in space, as they become materialised by many ideas and images that express religious thought and the memory of a particular group. According to the author, religion manifests itself in symbolic forms that succeed and connect in the sacred space (Halbwachs 1950: 104).

In general, these sacred spaces are privileged places to attract the faithful, given that monasticism represents one of the most important references for Christian devotion in the Middle East, such as in Egypt (Doorn-Harder 1995); Syria (Poujeau 2014), and Lebanon (Mitri 1986). Furthermore, many of these monasteries are also pilgrimage sites and tourist destinations for national and foreign individuals or groups.

Among the monasteries of the Salvatorian and Chouerite orders, I will concentrate on their central convents, dayr almukhalliṣ (Convent St Saviour) and dayr mar yūḥannā (Convent St John Baptist), respectively. Due to the constant presence of visitors and devotees in these sacred spaces, both represent privileged places for the transmission of collective memories of the Greek Catholic community. Given this fact, in this article, I use Pierre Nora's concept of ‘places of memory’ as a reference to these sacred spaces. According to Nora, place of memory refers to the place where the memory of a particular social group is crystallised: ‘Memory is rooted in material and immaterial elements, assuming a symbolic aura and building communities, and reinforcing the identity ties of its members’ (Nora 1985: xvii–xxlx).3

Thus, through these religious orders and their central convents, the clergy and some members of the Greek Catholic community transmit important collective memories. Furthermore, using such memories as a basis, ecclesiastical leaders produce discourses to legitimise the existence of a collective identity of this political-religious community. However, it is also important to clarify that this is not the only identity they adopt. In many situations, such leaders use the same collective memories to connect the Greek Catholic community with a Christian collective identity.

The Greek Catholic Community and the Lebanese Political-Religious Field

The Greek Catholic community in Lebanon has as its ecclesiastical base the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, or simply Melkite Church. This Church is a Byzantine tradition institution which belongs to the Melkite4 Greek Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch, based in Damascus, Syria.5 This church was part of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch until 1724 when a pro-Catholic branch decided to officially separate and found its church.6 It became uniate, linked to Roman Catholicism, and obedient to the pope. On the other hand, it acquired from Rome the right to possess its Patriarch and preserve the Byzantine tradition (Heyberger 2014; Hourani 2001).7

Belonging to this Patriarchate lie the archdioceses and dioceses, concentrated mainly in Syria and Lebanon and located in other countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Diaspora. Also, this Patriarchate has a plurality of parishes and institutions spread across all regions and continents. Monastic institutions such as orders and monasteries are also attached to this Church. However, some of them, especially the oldest ones, such as the Salvatorian and Chouerite orders, enjoy administrative autonomy in relation to the Patriarchate despite a theological connection with this religious institution.

Regarding the religious tradition that the Melkite Church has built since its foundation, there is a combination of the Byzantine rite with Latin elements in doctrine, ritual, and imagery. Despite the overtures of the clergy to preserve its Byzantine liturgy, a shift occurred as the institution gradually incorporated doctrinal elements and Latin rituals brought by Catholic missionaries who arrived in the Middle East beginning in the 18th century. At this context, the Melkite Greek Catholic religious leaders began to adopt a dual stance. On the one hand, they allowed innovations which the missionaries proposed, such as the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in place of the Julian and the reduction of the time of the mass as a result of cutting specific prayers and chants. On the other hand, the church has sought to resist exaggerated Latinization to prevent a mischaracterisation of its Eastern Byzantine traditions (Hachem 1995; Heyberger 2014).

Therefore, Greek Catholic patriarchs, bishops and priests have constructed their religious tradition through the intersection between these distinct religious references. Moreover, they have used this tradition as the main characteristic of the Greek Catholic theological identity (Edelby 2003; Hachem 1995). In Lebanon, the clergy's constant effort to balance their tradition between Latin and Byzantine references and the affirmation of this identity has been fundamental to delimit the borders between other Christian communities in the country. Thus, the Greek Catholic community has differentiated itself from the Greek Orthodox, which are exclusively Byzantine, and from Uniate communities such as the Maronite, which has Latin elements in its religiosity.

Besides promoting this theological identity, the clergy has focused on constructing and affirming collective memories for maintaining the Greek Catholic presence in the Lebanese political-religious field. This strategy effectively illustrated what several theoretical studies have described as the construction of an imagined community (Anderson 2006) or as the invention of a tradition (Hobsbawn and Ranger 2012).

The notion of field used here follows the analysis of Pierre Bourdieu on the power relations between agents that compete for symbolic capital in a given social structure. According to Bourdieu, these relations aim at the monopoly of power, which is why their agents compete to acquire and mobilise a sufficient amount of symbolic capital to consolidate and legitimise their social position in the field (Bourdieu 1971). Therefore, I use this concept here as a reference to Lebanese society, in which it is possible to see the power competition among religious communities.

This characteristic of Lebanese society is a process that dates back to the period when the Levant region was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, especially after the consolidation of the Millet system in the 19th century (Heyberger 2013; Makdisi 2000). According to this system, each church configured an autonomous political unit while the religious leaders assumed the role of representatives to the imperial power.

After the Lebanese independence and the establishment of the National Pact, the elaboration of the confessional system expanded the political role of these communities. According to this system, the 18 officially recognised religious confessions (in Arabic—confession: ṭaiʾfāt; plural: ṭawāἰʾf) came to participate in the distribution of national power through parliamentary positions and executive positions, which is proportional to the population size and political strength of each community (Norton 1991; Salibi 1988; Traboulsi 2007).

The Greek Catholic community is one of the political-religious communities present in Lebanon. It represents the third most potent Christian ṭaiʾfāt in the country regarding demographics and political representation in the government, only behind the Maronites8 and the Greek Orthodox.9 In this context, Greek Catholics, like all ṭawāἰʾf, have participated in a competition for power and visibility at the national level, where communities with greater economic and political power have an apparatus of educational, health, and charitable institutions. Through these, they attract a network of clients who receive social welfare services in these locations. Thus, these confessions are strengthened in the field as these clients repay the benefits received with support to the political representatives of these institutions in municipal and national elections (Cammett 2014).

In the religious sphere, Lebanese interfaith competition manifests itself through the construction of sacred spaces and their promotion to attract the faithful. According to Victor Roudometof, the dispute between religious institutions is a phenomenon of globalisation. Nowadays, individuals have much more agency in constructing their religious repertoire and choosing the places they wish to attend, even from other traditions (Roudometof 2005: 5–7). Concerning Greek Catholics, just as in the case of this religious tradition in Eastern Europe studied by Stephanie Mahieu and Vlad Naumescu (2008: 1–33), in Lebanon, the clergy have used its Byzantine Catholic theological identity to become more competitive in the Lebanese religious marketplace and thus attract more faithful to its sacred spaces.10

However, despite the importance of promoting this official theological identity in Greek Catholic sacred spaces, the transmission of collective memories of this ṭaifāt has been fundamental for affirming its confessional identity and delimitation of symbolic borders with other communities in the country. Affirming the uniqueness of a collective identity becomes essential to keeping the Greek Catholic faithful within the places of worship of their community. In the Lebanese context, in which individuals usually go to churches and monasteries of other faiths, defining and communicating a singular identity represents survival in the Lebanese political-religious field.

Religious Orders and the Greek Catholic History

Religious orders are forms of monastic life composed of monks or nuns with the same religious purpose and a common rule. In addition to orders, there are also congregations or societies, which differ from the first in that they do not require confirmation of perpetual vows, requiring only a temporal vow, which allows a monk or nun to quit monastic life.11 Within Melkite Greek Catholic monasticism, only the first communities define themselves as religious orders: the Salvatorian, the Chouerite, and the Aleppine.12 The latter was initially part of the Chouerite Order but decided to be autonomous in 1829. Among congregations or societies, the Society of the Missionaries of Saint Paul stands out. Since its creation in 1903, it has built several monasteries, churches, and the famous Institute of Theology and Philosophy and Theology, located in Harissa, Mount Lebanon.13

The Salvatorian and Chouerite orders emerged in the decades before the founding of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in a context in which rivalries grew between pro-Catholic and pro-Orthodox groups within the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch. The creation of both was a clear result of European missionaries’ intervention, particularly the Jesuits, who proposed the initiative to the pro-Catholic clergy. Then, the rapid growth of these orders due to the support of believers made the Catholic clergy stronger within the Orthodox Church until the rupture took place in 1724 (Heyberger 2014: 85–86).

The Salvatorian was officially founded in 1683 on the initiative of Aftimyus Saifi, Archbishop of Tire and Sidon, one of the prominent representatives of the pro-Catholic group in the process of creating the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. The principal convent, called dayr almukhalliṣ, was built on ruined land purchased in Joun, Mount Lebanon, near Sidon. Monks went to live there after finishing the construction of the central church and lodgings in 1721 (Chammas 2010: 60–64). Alongside this sacred space, the Salvatorians still have in the region, a female convent, a school, a seminary (only a few kilometres away), and a series of other monasteries spread across the country, Syria, and in the Diaspora.

Like the Salvatorian Order, the Chouerite one also had its process of emergence and consolidation in the Lebanese territory before the foundation of the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate. This order was officially founded in 1700 when a group of pro-Catholic monks from Aleppo under Georges Samman's leadership quit the Greek Orthodox monastery of Balamand (north Lebanon) and decided to build a Greek Catholic convent in the Choueir region14 of Khenchara.15 Next, Chouerite monks have built many other convents, seminaries, and parishes throughout the Lebanese territory and abroad.

Due to their antiquity and contribution to Greek Catholic history in Lebanon, both orders have invested in producing collective memories and transmitting them to the community. When it comes to the Salvatorians, there is an emphasis on the achievements of Aftimyus Saifi. He stood out not only for having been the founder of this religious order but also for actively participating in the creation of the Patriarchate.

Another essential element of the collective memory of Saifi is a miraculous narrative in the myth of the origin of the dayr almukhalliṣ. The myth is about the central convent that emerged from a miracle experienced by a priest. After suffering an accidental gunshot wound in the chest, the priest immediately rose without any harm, upon the cry of Bishop Aftimyus Saifi: ‘yā mukhalliṣ al‘ālam khalliṣ hal abūnā’ (‘Oh Saviour of the World, save this priest’), impressing everyone present, including the bishop. According to the Salvatorian narrative, this event motivated the construction of the monastery with the name of dayr almukhalliṣ in honour of the phrase that Bishop Saifi said at the intersection of his priest's life (Sabbagh 2000: 16).

Among the places that transmit Aftimyus Saifi's memory, the Salvatorian central convent stands out. Several books there reproduce the narrative that associates this bishop's participation with the origin of the convent, the order, and the Patriarchate. Concerning dayr almukhalliṣ, the transmission of its myth of origin also occurs in a corridor (Foundation Gallery) that leads to the main church in the form of a miniature reproduction of the miraculous scene through puppets representing all the characters involved.

In addition, this collective memory is also transmitted from Salvatorian clergy's speeches. One of its representatives, an 85-year-old monk from the dayr almukhalliṣ, while leafing through a book with pictures and short biographies of the patriarchs and bishops of the Salvatorian Order, stated the following: ‘The Salvatorian order's history is the very history of our Church (Melkite Greek Catholic). Do you see how many patriarchs we gave to the Church?’ In that book, he showed Bishop Saifi's photo and reinforced that he was the founder of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. Besides this, in another interview, a monk of Orthodox background highlighted other Saifi's virtues, such as his spirituality and missionary work.

Thus, the narrative produced about Bishop Aftimyus Saifi generally connects his achievements as the founder of the Salvatorian Order, the dayr almukhalliṣ, and the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate. Furthermore, this collective memory still has a mystical appreciation by associating him with miraculous events and exemplary virtues. This model of production of mystical memory transmitted mainly in dayr almukhalliṣ illustrates Danièle Hervieu-Léger's explanation that many communities develop their memory chain from the election of a charismatic founder who legitimises the ties of belonging established among its members (Hervieu-Léger 2000: 140).

Chouerites, in turn, emphasise the connection between their religious order and the history of the Melkite Greek Patriarchate. They do it by valuing the participation of pro-Catholic monks from Aleppo who installed in the monastery of Balamand in the process of separation between Greek Catholics and Greek Orthodox in 1724. As the Salvatorians, this order connects this historical process to a mythical narrative that dates back to the emergence of the order. The Chouerite clergy sustains that the decision of leaving the Greek Orthodox monastery of Balamand and creating a Greek Catholic convent in Khenchara was due to pro-Catholic monks’ manifestation of boredom because of the lack of fervour of the monastic community of which they were members.

From this narrative that values the religious virtues of the first monks, members of this monastic clergy maintain that the missionary work of the Chouerite monks, especially under the management of Superior Nicolas Saïgh (1727–1729 and 1732–1756)—whom the order defines as a man of science and virtue—was essential to the consolidation of the newly created Melkite Greek Catholic Church. In addition, the Chouerite collective memory still contains the discourse that this initial period of flowering of the order throughout the 18th century made it enjoy significant prestige with Rome.16

The local library's books and clergy's speeches are the vectors that transmit the order's foundation's memory and its role in not only creating the Patriarch but also consolidating the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. Usually, these speeches circulate throughout the village of Choueir in Khenchara where most inhabitants are Greek Catholics. As an example of the clergy's speeches, I quote an interview conducted with a 36-year-old monk and priest who is a member of the monastic community in Khenchara. In his account he confirmed the version of Chouerite pioneering in the history of the Melkite Greek Church. When we talked about my fieldwork where I lived in a small monastery in a region called Faraya, he said: ‘I know this monastery (dayr alqiyāmat). It is very recent, but we are the oldest, we have convents all over the country and we are the founders of the Greek Catholic Church’.17

Therefore, the data analysed so far emphasise the relevance of both religious orders in producing collective memories of the Greek Catholic community. It is important to highlight that the memories’ transmission is on not only a local level but also a community one. In other words, the Salvatorian and Chouerite orders are not the only transmitters. The Patriarchate's official channels such as their website and almanac, for example, also play a role in the communitary transmission of these memories. On both platforms there is a section dedicated to each of them where locally created narratives about their role in the Patriarchate and the Melkite Church's history reach the members across the community.

The transmission of these memories on patriarchal platforms contributes to what Greek Catholic clergy aim for: to strengthen the community and construct a collective identity. To demonstrate this statement, I quote Patriarch Laham's text at the opening of the 2010 edition of the almanac. He declares that this book has the function of building a Church ‘more united, stronger and more coherent’. The adjectives ‘strong’, ‘united’ and ‘coherent’ can be interpreted as the community and collective identity empowerment.

Religious Orders, Symbols of Memory and Collective Identities: Abūnā Bshara of Salvatorians

Priest (Abūnā) Bshara became a reference symbol in the collective memory of the Salvatorian Order and the Greek Catholic community, in general, as the only saint of this ṭā ἰfat in the process of canonisation. Bshara Abou Mourad was born in 1853 in the city of Zahle and served as a monk and priest in dayr almukhalliṣ. According to Raymond Sabbagh (2000), Abūnā Bshara's importance to both the Salvatorians and the Greek Catholic community is due to the intensity of his ascetic life, which centred on prayer and fasting. In addition, he was known for his missionary and charitable work in Deir al-Qamar and Sidon as well as for a series of miracles attributed to him.

Within Salvatorian monasteries, a series of images and objects that belonged to Abūnā Bshara transmit his memory. In Joun, the region where dayr almukhalliṣ lies, the transmission is not limited to the monastery's borders as the entire village forms a ‘landscape of memory’ (Nowac 2008) with the saint's images. The closer to the convent, the more images are found.

Inside dayr almukhalliṣ, there is an image of him in every point of this sacred space. Yet the main vectors of memory transmission are the library, the museum and the principal church. Furthermore, within the library is a series of hagiographies of this monk, and a film in Arabic, French and English with his life story are available in the library. Still further, the museum includes an exhibition of his old belongings, such as his cassock, bible, crucifixes, and bed. At the central church lies his tomb next to a book for the faithful to write their petitions.

In turn, the incorporation of this transmitted memory generates, ‘disciplinary practices’ (Asad 1993) of devotion by monks and laypeople who, whenever they come close to the images and objects of the Abūnā Bshara, make the sign of the cross. When they enter the main church of the dayr almukhalliṣ after making the sign of the cross near his tomb, they touch his image, light a candle, say a prayer in a low voice, write in the book, make the sign of the cross in front to the grave and leave. The monks eventually also approach the site and repeat the same ritual, except for the writing in the book.

Regarding the discourses, many accounts transmit this embodied memory by emphasising Abūnā Bshara's role as a symbol of the Greek Catholics and the Melkite Church. For instance, when asked how he started to get involved in the Melkite Church, a human resources analyst and member of the Archdiocese of Zahle said that: ‘My interest in the church started when my parents took me to the monasteries in Zahle and also in Joun. There I got in touch with the spirituality of Father Bshara, a saint of our church. He prayed a lot and performed many miracles’.

Also, according to a young Syrian and nephew of one of the Salvatorian monks, it was possible to perceive not only the valorisation of Abūnā Bshara's memory as a symbol of the Greek Catholics but also its importance for this political-religious community in the confessional dynamics in Lebanon. The first time I was at the dayr almukhalliṣ, this young man who acted as a guide showing me around the monastery spent most of his time telling the story of this monk. He stated that Abūnā Bshara is important to Greek Catholics just as Saint Charbel is to the Maronites. When asked about the Orthodox, he replied that they inherited all the saints from Byzantine history, and that is why the Greek Catholics need to canonise their saint soon. He explained that among the most prominent communities in the country, the Greek Catholic community was the only one that still did not have its saint, and this process of canonisation is taking a while.

Regarding the delay in the canonisation process, a university professor and former student of the Institute of Philosophy and Theology Saint Paul makes the interfaith dispute even more evident. According to him, ‘the canonisation process is about the power of the community. When it comes to a Maronite saint, everything is easier and faster because they are powerful; now with the Greek Catholics, the process is difficult and slow’.

In this sense, the consideration of Abūnā Bshara as a reference symbol of the Greek Catholic community takes place above all in the context of competition with other confessions, especially with the Orthodox and Maronites. These communities already have their saints canonised. Although the Melkite Church was part of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate until 1724, the clergy does not consider the Orthodox saints such as St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, St. Nectarius as symbols of the Greek Catholic community. On the other hand, the struggle for Abūnā Bshara's canonisation is part of the process of competition with the Maronites. The latter have canonised saints such as Saint Marun and Saint Charbel, who have given greater visibility and power to this community.

In addition to the collective Greek Catholic identity, several speeches used this saint's memory as a reference symbol of generic Christian identity. To illustrate this, I quote an account of Patriarch Laham, a Salvatorian priest. He reinforces the connection of Abūnā Bshara with the Salvatorian Order. At the same time, he emphasised its importance for Eastern Christians once his spiritual virtues made him a symbol of devotion, identification, and unity of all Christians in an adverse scenario of Muslim domination. Here follows the excerpt:

I am working very hard for the beatification of the Salvatorian monk (like me) Bshara Abou Mourad. He is our Cure d'Ars.18 He truly lived as a ‘Cure of Ars’. He died in 1933 and served in more than twenty small parishes on Mount Lebanon. An intense spirituality and love for the poor define him perfectly. The pope wanted us to deal with the eastern dossiers as quickly as possible because our faithful need models and reasons for hope more than ever. (D'ornellas 2016: 36)19

The analysis of the speech reveals the common strategy among members of the Greek Catholic clergy to strengthen their political-religious community by assuming a political role in constructing a collective Christian identity in the Middle East (Cruz 2018). This strategy, also adopted by Maronite leaders, has been intensified in a scenario where Christians are increasingly in a minority position vis-à-vis Muslims both from a demographic and a political point of view. In the current context of the advance of Political Islam after the Arab Spring and the threats suffered by Christians in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, many Christian leaders, including in Lebanon, have promoted an identity among the various Middle Eastern Christian communities as an act of resistance to Muslim domination (Felsch 2016: 70–86). Thus, when the Patriarch says in the passage: ‘The Pope wanted us to deal with the Eastern dossiers as soon as possible because our faithful need more than ever models and reasons for hope’, he refers to the adverse situation that Christians has suffered in the last years.

The Printing Press of Chouerites

The printing press in Arabic letters was built in Lebanon by Abdallah Zaher, a Greek Catholic priest from Aleppo. He created the press in conjunction with Father Fromage, a French priest. At the time, Zaher was the superior of the Jesuit mission in the Levant and raised funds for the press donations from Europe and French merchants residing in Lebanon. Initially, priests put the equipment imported from France in the Greek Catholic convent of Antoura, in Zouk Mikael. However, soon afterward, it was transferred to dayr mar yūḥannā, in Khenchara, to provide more extensive facilities for the operation of this Arab press (Bacel 1908: 281–287).

Since the Melkite Church's foundation, its community tried to delimit its borders in relation to the Maronites. This helped the church gain prominence over time. The Maronite community was increasingly influential on the Mount Lebanon confessional dynamics due to its closeness with the missionaries and the French government from the 18th century. Whereas Maronites gradually leaned towards the Western world and valorised the use of the French language, Greek Catholics in various contexts resisted this process of Westernisation among Eastern Catholic communities by dedicating themselves to a project for the circulation of printed materials in the Arabic language. In particular, Chouerites played a fundamental role as they housed the printing press. In the 19th century, this relevance expanded due to the Greek Catholic's involvement with the Arab nationalism movement through the writings of Nassif Yaziji (Antonius 1969; Salibi 1988).20

As already mentioned, this institution lies in the dayr mar yūḥannā convent, located in the village of Khenchara, where the majority of the population is Greek Catholic. However, in the broader Matn region as a whole, Greek Catholics have represented a demographic minority in relation to the Maronites. In this sense, the Chouerite Press has provided visibility to the Greek Catholic community in the regional space and throughout the country, especially considering that this location has become an important tourist attraction in Lebanon. As a result, this visibility has contributed to making this community more competitive both regionally and nationally.

Just as Abūnā Bshara represented a symbol for the Salvatorians, the printing press represents one of the Chouerite's central symbols. Both became essential in constructing collective memories of the Greek Catholic community. However, unlike the Salvatorians who participated in constructing the collective memory of the Greek Catholics through a sacred dimension centred on Abūnā Bshara's religious virtues, the Chouerites participated in this process through a more profane dimension based on their printing press.

This difference between sacred and profane (Van Gennep 2019) can be seen in the different activities carried out among visiting groups to the respective monasteries. While the Salvatorian Order has concentrated its touristic activities on devotion to Abūnā Bshara, the Chouerite Order emphasises its Printing Press Museum to visitors. Also, another profane attraction in dayr mar yūḥannā is the Cave du Monastère Saint-Jean winery, one of the most important wine producers in the country.21

A 30-year-old Greek Catholic resident of Khenchara defined dayr mar yūḥannā as a touristic and religious place belonging to the Greek Catholic community. In his interview, he states that the importance of this monastery in Lebanon is due to the ‘presence of the oldest Arabic press in the Middle East’. He also mentioned learning about the historical importance of the printing press in school. Teachers emphasised this in history classes and organised tours and summer camps in Chouerite's central convent. In his account, it is possible to notice that the transmission of memory associated with the press is not limited to the space of the dayr mar yūḥannā. Despite the clergy's investment in its production and circulation, the support of educational institutions in the region has allowed for an even greater reach in Choueir-Khenchara village.

Like the teachers, monks and priests have usually emphasised the importance of the printing press in their speeches. During an interview with a former Chouerite monk, Priest Charbel Maalouf (2014), of the Julien Le Pauvre Church in Paris, reinforced the importance of the Chouerite printing press. According to him, this institution played a fundamental role in the history of Eastern Christians. Another priest, at dayr mar yuhanna, made a similar speech when he knew I never visited the museum: ‘I cannot believe that you have not visited our printing press yet, it is very important for the history of our church, everyone wants to come here and visit the press, yet you are here, and you have not seen it yet. You should go, it will help you a lot in your research’.

The same priest also reinforced the importance of the Chouerite printing press to other Christian communities. In his words, ‘everyone wants to come here and visit the press’, suggesting that it served as a multi-confessional attraction. In this sense, the museum has received visitors from other regions of the country and Christians of other traditions, mainly Maronites and Greek Orthodox.

Conclusion

Various religious communities have ritual and doctrinal similarities within the Lebanese society. In multi-confessional societies, studying the processes of constructing collective memories is a fruitful way to understand how each confession delimits its symbolic borders to others and defines its political-religious identities.

The Greek Catholic community has a historical and ecclesiastical tradition that implies similarities with other Christian traditions in Lebanon. Due to the same Latin Catholic influence, Greek Catholics are close to Maronites. They are also close to Greek Orthodox due to the same Byzantine rite. Given this scenario, producing and transmitting collective memories becomes a fundamental element in delimiting the Greek Catholic community's borders to these other communities and defining its collective identity. Regarding the Lebanese confessional dynamics and power competition, constructing and affirming a collective identity is essential to survive in this political-religious field.

In this sense, the religious orders and their sacred spaces studied here have represented resources of significant value to the Greek Catholic community. They are essential because they participated in this confessional history and also due to their special symbols of reference such as Abūnā Bshara and the Arabic printing press. Taking advantage of the unique characteristics of these sacred spaces, monks and priests of both orders have promoted activities to attract the presence of Greek Catholics. In doing so, they intend to transmit their collective memories and communicate their confessional identity.

Moreover, the Greek Catholic clergy used the collective memories produced and transmitted in the universe of these monastic orders as elements to attract other Christian confessions. In terms of identity, Greek Catholic leaders have justified the multi-confessional presence in its sacred spaces through discourses that consider these symbols as elements of Christian identity. The use of this generic identity referential has also fitted into a project of the Greek Catholic community to claim a role as a mediator for the union between Christians in a national and regional political scenario in which Christianity finds itself in an ever-increasing minority condition to Islam.

Notes

1

The Salvatorian Order's official name is Basilian Order of Saint Savior. Its central convent is dayr almukhalliṣ (In Arabic: dayr = monastery; mukhalliṣ = savior). The Chouerite Order's official name is Basilian Chouerite Order. Chouerite refers to the village of Choueir, the region where its central convent is located: dayr mar yūḥannā (In Arabic: mar = saint; yūḥannā = John the Baptist). The term ‘Basilian’, present in the official name of both orders, refers to monasticism, inspired by Saint Basil, which focuses on community life and devotion.

2

The transliteration of the Arabic alphabet into Latin follows the norms of the IJMES (International Journal of Middle East Studies) extracted from the official website: https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-file-manager/file/57d83390f6ea5a022234b400/TransChart.pdf.

3

Direct quotations in foreign language were translated into English.

4

Although the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch uses Melkite in its official name, this term appeared in the fifth century. The most common version of the origin of the word Melkite (from Syriac-maliki = king) is that it was given in the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD when Martian the Roman Emperor organized this event to debate the question around Jesus Christ's nature. Being decided that Christ has two natures (divine and human), Eastern Christians were divided into those who rejected and those who supported. Those who rejected pejoratively called the Council's supporters ‘Melkites’. After the split within the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in 1724, the Catholic side decided to leave the Patriarchate, founded a new institution, and officially used the old term ‘Melkite’ in its name.

5

It is noteworthy that the Melkite Church is not the only uniate Greek Catholic institution in the world. In addition to the Melkites, there are Greek Catholic churches in Eastern Europe such as in Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Albania, Slovakia, Poland, Greece and the Diaspora. While the Melkite Church and its branches in the Arab Diaspora belongs to the Patriarchate of Antioch in the Middle East, the European Greek Catholic institutions are autonomous and do not use the name ‘Melkite’.

6

The definitive division within the Patriarchate Greek Orthodox of Antioch took place when the clergy was not able to elect a new Patriarch in 1724. There was a deadlock between a pro-Catholic group that supported Silfastrus Al-Qubrusi as its official candidate and a pro-Orthodox group that supported Sarufim Tanas. As a result, the Greek Catholic group decided to set up its own patriarchate which was named Melkite Greek Catholic of Antioch.

7

Regarding the referential categories of the confession studied here, I will use in this article the term ‘Greek Catholic’ (in Arabic: Rûm Catholique) when referring to the community from a political-religious point of view. This classification was officially adopted in the 1932 census, in the Taif Accord, and media. I will only use the term ‘Melkite’ to refer specifically to the religious institution: The Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate and its Church.

8

The Maronite community's religious institution is the Maronite Church. John Marun of Sarum, a Christian defender of Monothelitism, founded this church in the seventh century. In the 12th century, this church became Uniate (linked to Rome), and then it changed its Monothelite doctrine and Syriac ritual tradition by incorporating Latin elements. After the 17th century, this process of Latinization intensified due to the more significant role of Western Catholic missionaries in the Middle East.

9

The Greek Orthodox community's religious institution is the Greek Orthodox Church. This institution officially emerged from the Great Schism in 1054. This historical process marked the separation Catholic Church in the West and the Orthodox Church in the East. The Greek Orthodox Church is the historical representative of Byzantine religiosity in the Middle East. This church conservates its iconic art in the ritual space, the liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Basil, the monasticism, and the Greek language's use in some moments of ritual.

10

It is noteworthy that many of these believers contribute financially to the religious institutions they attend and thus economically strengthen the confessions to which they are members.

11

Information extracted from the ‘Católicos na Rede’ website: https://catolicosnarede.wordpress.com.

12

The organization of the Greek Melkite monasticism into religious orders is a Latin influence on its structure and organization. Greek Orthodox monasteries continued to follow the Eastern tradition; therefore, they are not organized in this way.

13

Information extracted from the Greek Melkite Patriarchate's Almanac (2010: 203–212).

14

When the Convent St John Baptist was built, the village of Khenchara belonged to the municipality of Choueir. Currently it belongs to the municipality Khenchara-Jouar, situated in the Metn district.

15

Information extracted from the Patriarchate's Almanac (2010: 203)

16

Ibid.

17

This Chouerite discourse and many accounts of Salvatorian monks and priests, by emphasizing the pioneering contribution of their respective order in the founding of the Church, make evident the dispute for the most prominent role of the Greek Catholic collective memory. This reality demonstrates Maurice Halbwachs’ argument (1950) that the construction of the collective memory is not a homogeneous phenomenon since it is possible to see disputes between the different actors within a given social group.

18

Saint Cure of Ars was a French priest canonized by the Catholic Church on May 31, 1925. Ars is a small village where John the Baptist Mary Vianney served as a priest.

19

During the interview, Patriarch Laham reinforced from the beginning his Salvatorian origin. He also emphasized the importance of the convent in the order's history because saint Abūnā Bshara lived there. It is necessary to clarify that these monks define themselves by the names of their orders (Salvatorian, Chouerite, Alepine). However, the visitors and devotees continue to define themselves as Melkites or Christians.

20

The Greek Catholics’ attachment to Arab nationalism shows the ambivalent stance of their community in relation to the Greek Orthodox and Maronite confession. On the one hand, the Greek Catholic ṭāἰʾfat, in the context of separation to the Greek Orthodox, tried to reinforce the borders with this community by adopting Latin practices in their liturgy. On the other hand, to reinforce its differences in relation to the Maronites, the confession studied here comes close to Arab nationalism, following the Greek Orthodox ones.

21

Emphasizing the profane side of the Chouerites’ participation in the configuration of religious tourism to the Couvent Saint Jean Baptiste and in the construction of the collective memory of Greek Catholics does not mean neglecting their importance as a sacred space. This monastery has three churches that preserve the Byzantine historical tradition in its architecture and promotes several religious activities. In addition, there is a community of devotees that meets once a week to attend the masses of priest Abūnā Boulus Abu Rjeili. These devotees consider Abūnā Boulus a saint producer of miracles. However, devotion to this priest is not yet a dominant phenomenon among the Chouerites since the local clergy itself does not agree with those who consider him a saint.

References

  • Anderson, B. (2006), Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso Books).

  • Antonius, G. (1969), The Arab Awakening: The Story of the Arab National Movement (Beirut: Librarie du Liban).

  • Asad, T. (1993), Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Maryland: JHU Press).

  • Bacel, P. (1908), ‘Abdallah Zakher et son imprimerie arabe’, Échos d’Orient 11, no. 72: 281287.

  • Bourdieu, P. (1971), ‘Genese et structure du champ’, Revue Francaise de Sociologie, no. XII: 295334.

  • Cammett, M. (2014), Compassionate Communalism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press).

  • Candau, J. (2016), Memória e identidade. Translated by Maria Leticia Ferreira (São Paulo: Contexto).

  • Chammas, J. (2010), Abrege d'histoire de L'Église Orientale et surtout Melkite (Sidon: Saint Savior Convent).

  • Cruz, R. (2018), Lugares de interseção: Espaços sagrados melquitas e dinâmicas identitárias no Líbano (PhD dissertation, Fluminense Federal University).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • D'ornellas, C. (2016), Ne nous laissez pas disparaître! Un cri au service de la paix (Paris: Groupe Artège).

  • Doorn-Harder, P. (1995), Contemporary Coptic Nuns (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press).

  • Edelby, N. (2003), Souvenirs du Concile Vatican II (Raboueh: Centre Grec Melkite Catholique de Recherche).

  • Felsch, M. (2016), ‘The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Lebanon’, in Lebanon and the Arab Uprisings: In the Eye of the Hurricane, (ed.) M. Felsch and M. Wahlisch (New York: Routledge), 7086.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hachem, G. (1995), ‘Primauté romaine et conciliarité dans l'évolution de l'Église Melkite catholique: Essai de théologie historique’ (PhD dissertation, Louvain University).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Halbwachs, M. (1950), La mémoire collective (Paris: online edition).

  • Hervieu-Léger, D. (2000), Religion as a Chain of Memory. Translated by Simon Lee (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press).

  • Heyberger, B. (2013), Les chrétiens au Proche-Orient: de la compassion à la compréhension. (Paris: Éditions Payot & Rivages).

  • Heyberger, B. (2014), Les chrétiens du Proche-Orient au temps de la Réforme catholique: Syrie, Liban, Palestine, XVII—XVIIIème siècle (Rome: École française de Rome).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hobsbawm, E., and Ranger, T. (eds) (2012), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

  • Hourani, A. (2001), Uma história dos povos árabes (São Paulo: Companhia das letras).

  • Maalouf, C. (2014), Entre L'Orien et L'Occident: Histoire de l'Eglise Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, la Paroisse Grecque Melkite Catholique de Paris (Paris: Edition du Jubilé).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mahieu, S., and Naumescu, V. (2008), ‘Churches In-between: Introduction’, in Churches In-between, (ed.) S. Mahieu and V. Naumescu (Berlin: Lit Verlag), 133.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Makdisi, U. (2000), The Culture of Sectarianism: Community, History, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon (Berkeley: University of California Press).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mitri, T. (1986), Conscience de soi et rapport à autrui chez les Orthodoxes au Liban (1942–1975) (PhD dissertation, University of Paris).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nora, P. (1985), Les lieux de mémoire (Paris: Gallimard).

  • Norton, A. (1991), ‘Lebanon after Tai'f: Is the Civil War Over?’, Middle East Journal 45, no. 3: 457473.

  • Nowac, J. (2008), ‘Collective Memory and Religious Transmission: A Greek-Catholic Example in Western Ukraine’, in Churches In-between, (ed.) S. Mahieu and V. Naumescu (Berlin: Lit Verlag).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Poujeau, A. (2014), Des monastères en partage: Sainteté et pouvoir chez les chrétiens de Syrie (Paris: Société d'ethonologie).

  • Roudometof, V. (2005), ‘Introduction’, in Eastern Orthodoxy in a Global Age: Tradition Faces the 21st Century, (ed.) A. Agadjanian and V. Roudometof (Lanham: Rowman Altamira).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sabbagh, R. (2000), Bshara Abou-Mourad Prêtre (Beirut: Editions du Renouveau).

  • Salibi, K. (1988), A House of Many Mansions: The History of Lebanon Reconsidered (Berkeley: University of California).

  • Traboulsi, F. (2007), A History of Modern Lebanon (London: Pluto Press).

  • Van Gennep, A. (2019), The Rites of Passage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

Contributor Notes

Rodrigo Ayupe Bueno da Cruz is a social science professor and researcher with a PhD in anthropology from the Fluminense Federal University in Brazil. His research background is in social anthropology, anthropology of religion, contemporary history, oral history and migration studies. To date his research examines: Arab immigration in Brazil; politics in the Middle East; and Arab Christianity, specifically in Lebanon. He is the author of the book Primos em Minas, published in 2018. He is presently a post-doc researcher at Fluminense Federal University (UFF) — Anthropology Graduate Program (PPGA-UFF) — with a grant from the “Fundação Carlos Chagas Filho de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ) Email: royupe@hotmail.com

  • Collapse
  • Expand
  • Anderson, B. (2006), Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso Books).

  • Antonius, G. (1969), The Arab Awakening: The Story of the Arab National Movement (Beirut: Librarie du Liban).

  • Asad, T. (1993), Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Maryland: JHU Press).

  • Bacel, P. (1908), ‘Abdallah Zakher et son imprimerie arabe’, Échos d’Orient 11, no. 72: 281287.

  • Bourdieu, P. (1971), ‘Genese et structure du champ’, Revue Francaise de Sociologie, no. XII: 295334.

  • Cammett, M. (2014), Compassionate Communalism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press).

  • Candau, J. (2016), Memória e identidade. Translated by Maria Leticia Ferreira (São Paulo: Contexto).

  • Chammas, J. (2010), Abrege d'histoire de L'Église Orientale et surtout Melkite (Sidon: Saint Savior Convent).

  • Cruz, R. (2018), Lugares de interseção: Espaços sagrados melquitas e dinâmicas identitárias no Líbano (PhD dissertation, Fluminense Federal University).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • D'ornellas, C. (2016), Ne nous laissez pas disparaître! Un cri au service de la paix (Paris: Groupe Artège).

  • Doorn-Harder, P. (1995), Contemporary Coptic Nuns (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press).

  • Edelby, N. (2003), Souvenirs du Concile Vatican II (Raboueh: Centre Grec Melkite Catholique de Recherche).

  • Felsch, M. (2016), ‘The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Lebanon’, in Lebanon and the Arab Uprisings: In the Eye of the Hurricane, (ed.) M. Felsch and M. Wahlisch (New York: Routledge), 7086.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hachem, G. (1995), ‘Primauté romaine et conciliarité dans l'évolution de l'Église Melkite catholique: Essai de théologie historique’ (PhD dissertation, Louvain University).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Halbwachs, M. (1950), La mémoire collective (Paris: online edition).

  • Hervieu-Léger, D. (2000), Religion as a Chain of Memory. Translated by Simon Lee (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press).

  • Heyberger, B. (2013), Les chrétiens au Proche-Orient: de la compassion à la compréhension. (Paris: Éditions Payot & Rivages).

  • Heyberger, B. (2014), Les chrétiens du Proche-Orient au temps de la Réforme catholique: Syrie, Liban, Palestine, XVII—XVIIIème siècle (Rome: École française de Rome).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hobsbawm, E., and Ranger, T. (eds) (2012), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

  • Hourani, A. (2001), Uma história dos povos árabes (São Paulo: Companhia das letras).

  • Maalouf, C. (2014), Entre L'Orien et L'Occident: Histoire de l'Eglise Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, la Paroisse Grecque Melkite Catholique de Paris (Paris: Edition du Jubilé).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mahieu, S., and Naumescu, V. (2008), ‘Churches In-between: Introduction’, in Churches In-between, (ed.) S. Mahieu and V. Naumescu (Berlin: Lit Verlag), 133.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Makdisi, U. (2000), The Culture of Sectarianism: Community, History, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon (Berkeley: University of California Press).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mitri, T. (1986), Conscience de soi et rapport à autrui chez les Orthodoxes au Liban (1942–1975) (PhD dissertation, University of Paris).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nora, P. (1985), Les lieux de mémoire (Paris: Gallimard).

  • Norton, A. (1991), ‘Lebanon after Tai'f: Is the Civil War Over?’, Middle East Journal 45, no. 3: 457473.

  • Nowac, J. (2008), ‘Collective Memory and Religious Transmission: A Greek-Catholic Example in Western Ukraine’, in Churches In-between, (ed.) S. Mahieu and V. Naumescu (Berlin: Lit Verlag).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Poujeau, A. (2014), Des monastères en partage: Sainteté et pouvoir chez les chrétiens de Syrie (Paris: Société d'ethonologie).

  • Roudometof, V. (2005), ‘Introduction’, in Eastern Orthodoxy in a Global Age: Tradition Faces the 21st Century, (ed.) A. Agadjanian and V. Roudometof (Lanham: Rowman Altamira).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sabbagh, R. (2000), Bshara Abou-Mourad Prêtre (Beirut: Editions du Renouveau).

  • Salibi, K. (1988), A House of Many Mansions: The History of Lebanon Reconsidered (Berkeley: University of California).

  • Traboulsi, F. (2007), A History of Modern Lebanon (London: Pluto Press).

  • Van Gennep, A. (2019), The Rites of Passage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 260 260 16
PDF Downloads 151 151 11