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Christianity’s roots run deep in Lebanon. Jesus, writes St. Mark, “went off to the district of Tyre,” where he drove the demon out of the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman. Though divided by a multitude of customs, jurisdictions, liturgical languages and traditions, Lebanese Christianity is a key component of the apostolic church of Antioch, one of the great cities of the Roman Empire.

The Acts of the Apostles reports that the Gospel was taken to Antioch by disciples from Cyprus and Cyrene, men who reached out to the city’s Jews and Greeks. Before traveling to Rome, the apostle Peter made the city his base for seven years, and “it was at Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26).

Historically, Lebanon has been dominated by the Maronite Church, whose monastic hermitages and terraced communities have dotted the mountainous landscape since the ninth century. Today, it remains the largest Christian community in Lebanon, with as many as 1.53 million faithful.

Other major Christian communities are the Antiochene Orthodox and Melkite Greek Catholic churches. The former includes up to 530,000 people in Lebanon, the latter, more than 340,000.

Lebanon is also home to about 230,000 Armenians, most of whom fled to the country during the persecution of Armenians (and Christians in general) in Turkey after World War I. Most are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, led by Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, who is based in the Beirut suburb of Antelias. Some 35,000 Armenians belong to the Armenian Catholic Church and are guided by Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX, who also lives in Beirut. A smaller number belong to the Armenian Evangelical Church.

Two of the five patriarchs of Antioch and All the East also live in Lebanon: Cardinal Nasrallah Peter Sfeir of the Maronites and Ignace Youssef III of the Syriac Catholics.

Demographics. Despite its small size, Lebanon’s diversity baffles policymakers. An official census has not been taken since 1932, reflecting the sensitive nature of Lebanon’s religious diversity that buttresses the country’s political structure. Yet, most authorities believe between 4.1 and 4.5 million people live there, including 425,640 Palestinian refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and as many as 60,000 Iraqi refugees.

The country’s constitution, which was adopted in May 1926, officially recognizes 18 religious communities: Antiochene Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Armenian Catholic, Assyrian, Chaldean Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Maronite Catholic, Melkite Greek Catholic, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Syriac Catholic and Syriac Orthodox Christians; Sunni, Shiite and Ismaili Muslims; Jews; and the Alawi and Druze, which are esoteric sects rooted in Shiite Islam. Each community has competence to legislate family law according to its own customs, traditions and courts. Such constitutional recognition has also created a special political system to distribute power as equitably as possible, making Lebanon the most complex state in the Middle East.

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Tags: Lebanon Middle East Christians Emigration Maronite Church Socioreligious programs