Deir Mar Elyshaa
The ancient Monastery of Mar Elyshaa, Bsharry.
You go down to the venerable Deir Mar Elyshaa by the road of the Holly Valley, surrounded by the most spectacular natural scenery imaginable. This monastery, so rich in history, reveals itself to your eyes far under the overhang of mighty soaring cliffs, where its remoteness has for centuries made it fitting retreat for holy monks and hermits turning their backs to the world. indeed a world apart. From here they sent up their pure prayers to the Almighty joined to the spiced smoke of incense curling up from their winging thuribles, practised austerity, mortification, fasting and manual labor, and pored over the sacred books to prepare themselves for their apostolate of teaching and preaching.
Mar Elyshaa is one the most important monasteries in the Holy Valley, comparable to Our Lady of Qannoubine, Our Lady of Howqa and Anthony Qozhaya. It is the scene of one of those uplifting Maronite sagas which make up a long history of holiness, of intellectual life and of heroism, cradled and flourishing in Lebanon but casting its rays over the whole Middle East.
Deir Mar Elyshaa is also of great antiquity. Many centuries ago, as the Maronites moved up into the Holly Valley, monks sought refuge in its first primitive structure and enlarged it little by little, year after year. For a very long period it was the residence of the bishops of Bsharry.
Bishops who resided at Deir Mar Elyshaa.
1 - Bishop Butros (Peter): in the year 1315, according to the learned scholar Stephen ad-Doueihi, Boutros, Bishop of Bsharry, occupied Deir Mar Elyshaa in the Qadisha Valley, of which he was also the superior, during the reign of Patriarch Simmaan al-Hadathi.
2 - Bishop Gergis ben Harwass (Georges, Son of Harwass): in the year 1533, the mosk Gergis ben Harwass of Aarjis renovated and enlarged Deir Mar Elyshaa , with the help of the Moqaddam Abdul Menhem Hanna and the nun Sarah, spending the sum of 13,750 Dirhams. On this occasion, the builder was a certain Ibrahim el Hasrouni, son the paternal uncle of the priest Moussa. In consideration of his merit and his labors, Patriarch Moussa al-Akkari (1524-1567) raised him to the episcopate, in the year 1556.
3 - Bishop Moussa al-Aarjassi: in the year 1600, Patriarch Youssef ar-Rizzi (1597-1608) appointed him bishop of Deir Mar Elyshaa, where he took up residence.
4 - Bishop Yuhanna (John) Quazzouh: on November 20th, 1625. He was consecrated bishop for Deir Mar Elyshaa and for the town of Deir al-Ahamr in the Beqaa. In 1643, Patriarch Gergis ben Aamirat (1633-1644) presented the monastery to the Carmelite friars, who occupied it for some fifty years.
The Hermit Francaois De Chasteville.
In August of 1585, in the southern French town of Aix-en-Provence, a son François was born to pious parents, Louis Galoppe and Françoise Gadenet. On 6th September 1632, François set foot in Lebanon, and visited Saida (Sidon), passing to nahr al-Kaleb (The Dog River), Trablus (Tripoli), Hasroun, Ehden and Quannoubine. He led the life of a hermit in Deir Sayyidat al Howqa (The monastery of Our Lady of Howqa) and later in Mar Yaaqoub al-Ahbash (St. Jacob of the Ethiopians) and in Mar Sarkis an-Nahr in Ehden.
Towards the end of November 1643, he came to Deir Mar Elyshaa in the company of the Carmelite, Father Celestino, and remained for six months. This hermit became renowned for his piety and for the fervor of his worship "after becoming an authentic example of Christian life for the people of the country and reaching the spiritual heights by fasting, vigils, the study of the holy books, the conquest of the flesh and meditation on divine things" (Doueihi). On 14th May, 1644, the night of Pentecost, this holy recluse passed away in Deir Mar Elysahh, where he was buried.
A Cradle of Monastic Life.
We know that the religious life as practiced by the early Maronite ascetics was a solitary one, led in isolation on the mountains and in caverns and gorges, or a communal one lived in monasteries each of which enjoyed independance in its rule, headship and administration. We also know that this kind of eremitical existence was still in existence when the Order of Maronite Monks was founded.
- Gibrail Hawa, 1668-1752
- Abdallah Qar'ali, 1672-1742
- Youssef al-Betn, 1659-1714
On November 10th, 1693 the founders came fom Aleppo to quannoubine to present Patriarch Stephen ad-Doueihi with their plan for a religious order under the patronage of Saint Anthony the Great, having a community life according to a common rule, to be followed equally by all its members under one higher authority for the government of all things temporal and spiritual. The Patriarch welcomed them warmly and encouraged them by providing them with a place where they could put their vision into practice.
On November 10th, 1694, the Patriarch settled them in the monastery of Mar Maura in Ehden for a trial period, giving them the angelic skema and habit without however imposing on them as yet the monastic vows.
In 1694 they were joined by Gibrail Farhat.
In the summer of 1695 they took vows of poverty and gave their new community the name of the Maronite Aleppince Order, after their home city Aleppo, placing it under the protection of St. Anthony the Great.
In That same year of its foundation, the Order was given Deir Mar Elyshaa by the people of Bsharry. This monastery was in the state of ruin, but the monks repaired and enlarged it, an operation which cost them 5,360 qursh.
Deir Mar Elyshaa, springboard of the new Order.
On November 10th, 1698 the new Order held its first chapter in the monastery and appointed its officials as follows:
- Gibrail Hawa, Superior General.
- Abdallah Qar'ali, Assistant and Superior of the Motherhouse.
- Gibrail Farhat, Assistant and Superior of Dei Mar Maura.
- Youssef Betn, Assistant General.
We see that Deir Mar Elyshaa was the monastery in which the new Order and in which its first chapter was held. It was the cradle of the Order, where a new religious life was started, according to a Rule of fifteen chapters.
On 18th June, 1700, The Rule was confirmed by Patriarch Stephen al-Doueihi, and the monks in Deir Mar ELYSHAA, to the number of thirteen, took the three religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for the first time.
In the year 1707, by agreement with the Patriarch, the community was named the Lebanese Order of Saint Anthony, in view of its having been founded in Mount Lebanon.
On 23d November, 1725, Patriarch Yaaqoub Awwad (1705-1733) confirmed the Rule and Constitutions a new, adding three more chapters, concerning humility, brotherly lvoe and persistence.
On 31st march, 1732, Pope Clemenet XII (1730-1740) added his confirmation under the title "Constitution and Rule of the Syrian Maronite Monks of Saint Anthony in Mount Lebanon, founded in Deir Mar Elyshaa of Bsharry. "
The Patriarch Takes Refuge in Deir Mar Elyshaa.
In 1726 patriarch Yaaqoub Awwad sought refuge in Deir Mar Elyshaa from persecution by the Melkite Orthodox and the Shiite Muslim soldier of Trablus (Tripoli). When the latter failed to find him in the monastery, on account of the monks having concealed him in a secret hide-out, they took two hostages, the Superior and one of the monks, and carried them away to the region of al-Koura, releasing them only on reception of a large ransom. Finally they were unable to lay hands on the Patriarch himself, who was safely hidden in the caves of Quannoubine and refused to leave the region.
The Split in the Order and its New Name.
In 1793 the community of Deir Mar Elishaa numbered fifteen monks. On 19th July, 1770, the Order split into two: the Aleppined, now known as the Miriamites, and the Baladites, or Contrymen, now known as the Lebanese. In the division of property, made during the reign of Pope Clement XIV (1769-1774), Deir Mar Elishaa fell to the Aleppines.
In the year 1969 the Lebanese Aleppines again changed their title, wanting to be named after the Virgin Mary, and they are now known as the maronite miriamite Order.
Mar Elyshaa's Period of Re-Eminence.
During the eighteenth century, Deir Mar Elyshaa became the major monastic center in the Middle East. It was visited by the Anthonines, the Greek Catholic shweirites, Aleppines, Armenians, Chaldeans, and others. They adopted the monastery's regulations which helped numbers of them not only in their advance towards holyness but also in their rendering great service to the church, Lebanon and the whole Orient.
As the spiritual focal point of the Holly Valley, Quadisha, deep in whose heart it lays, the monastery gave hospitality to the Patriarchs, among them Patriarch Yuhaana al-Hajj, who stayed an entire summer when he was laying the foundation of the principal residence at Dimane. There were numerous bishops, priests, monks, chiefs, ministers, travelers with intellectual or political interests, tourists, orientalists and fervent faithful on pilgrimage. Over the generations, its monks rendered spiritual, social and intellectual services in a spirit of love and generosity. Even today this monastery remains by the help of God a center of prayer, labor, and apostolate, for the Miriamites there still render the highest services to the people of the surrounding region and to every visitor.
An Intellectual Center.
From the day the monks took over Deir Mar Elyshaa, a school was founded in it for the instruction of the youth of the Quadisha valley, where they were instructed in Syriac and Arabic. The first teacher was one of the founders of the Order, father Abdallah Qir'ali. When Bishop Germanos Farhat was in residence, he composed Bahth al-Mataleb: this was the most influential book of Arabic grammar to be composed, being used during three centuries. Other publications followed, including the translation of the Maronite liturgy bboks from Syriac to Arabic. Various monks and pioneers of learning shared in the composition and compilation of various books which were to play a vital role in the intellectual renaissance of the region.
The Restoration of the Old Building.
In 1991 the Maronite Miriamite Order undertook the restoration of the monastery following the indications in the possession of the Committee of Antiquities. This was possible thanks to the help of benefactors and of lovers of the temple of the Lord, people who deplored the condition into which the building had fallen.
The New Monastery.
In 1874 the Order founded a new monastery of Deir Mar Elyshaa, situated on a rocky pinnacle above the cliffs flanking the Holly Valley, in the Mar Nohra district. It had a stupendous view over the gorge and the mountains and all their natural scenic beauty, and had the additional advantage of closer proximity to the neighboring towns and villages, bringing it closer to the people and more in touch with them at all times and places in everything concerning the spiritual life and the mission to them.
In 1970 the Order undertook its modernization, while preserving its traditional aspect; the original stones were sculpted anew, bringing out the full beauty and wonder of the skillfully constructed cloister arches.