by Subdeacon Peter Zogbi
One of the largest annual events that Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Seminary hosts is a celebration of the Feast of St. Maron. For two years in a row, the seminary has invited a host of guests from the The Catholic University of America to share the Liturgy, dinner, and conversation on the feast of this most beloved saint. This year’s celebration is one that we will all remember.
The evening began with the Liturgy, which was celebrated on the vigil of the feast. The seminary chapel was filled to full capacity as professors, priests, lay students, and seminarians took their seats. Some of them had been in a Maronite Church before, but for many, this would be their first experience of the Maronite Qurbono. Many commented afterwards on the atmosphere of prayer that was created through the sweet-smelling incense, the uplifting hymns, the rich prayers, and the fervor that the celebrant and congregation brought to the heavenly table. The liturgy was celebrated by the seminary’s rector, Monsignor Peter Fahed Azar, who preached eloquently on the life of the saint and the need to follow his example. Concelebrating were the Rector Emeritus, Chorbishop Seely Beggiani, the Vice Rector, Fr. Armando Elkhoury, Monsignor George Sebaali, Fr. Rodrigue Constantin, and several local Latin priests.
After the liturgy, the celebration moved to the dining hall where the guests feasted on kibbe, kabobs, and various other foods and sweets. The seminarians had prepared a video presentation on the life of St. Maron and his significance for the Maronite Church. This video was published shortly afterward on the evangelization initiative Ignite the Maroniteand is available for viewing on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
Among the many who stayed after dinner, some went to the living room for Praise and Worship. Others went to the basement for ping-pong, video-games, and a competitive game of Spoons. Still others continued in conversation, eager to learn about the history and culture associated with the Maronite Church. I think we all came away with a deeper love for the traditions of the Maronite Church. Seeing others eagerly inquire and appreciate our rituals led even us Maronites to see our traditions with new eyes and a deeper appreciation.
A lot of work went into this event, and it certainly paid off. Our seminary community worked hard creating invitations, decorating, preparing the chapel, shooting the video presentation, and making countless other arrangements. All of the preparations had an unanticipated side-effect. The work brought the members of the seminary closer to one another. That semester, three new members joined the seminary, bringing the total number of seminarians living in the building to eight. Our Lady of Lebanon Seminary has not had numbers that high in at least four years. This event served as a way for all of us to get to know one another and establish a brotherhood.
Of course, the celebration loses its significance if we lose sight of why we gathered in the first place. We must ask, “Why is the life of St. Maron worth celebrating?” In every Maronite liturgy, the priest prays the following words to God, “You have assumed what is ours and you have given us what is yours for the life and salvation of our souls.” This simple statement is an excellent summary of Christian life. We surrender ourselves to Christ out of love, and He also gives Himself to us, holding nothing back. The result is that we can all end up saying with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20). St. Maron is an example of someone who did not hold anything back but gave everything he had and everything he was to Christ. The outcome was extraordinary. He became another Christ, going about curing bodily illnesses and healing wounded souls. Through his witness, we also can find the confidence to surrender ourselves totally to Christ, holding nothing back.