Towards the end of the nineteen-sixties, I was in
Paris at the Priests’ Hostel and had the opportunity
to sit at table in the company of the Father Etienne
Sakr, Rector of the USE, and of the Rector of Cologne
University in Rhenan. The latter spoke of the civilization
of “The Tree”, of “The Book”, and of “The Rock”, and
of mankind in general. A country which loved and cultivated
the tree, a country which loves books with their contents
and democratization and propagation (the Internet
not yet existing at that time), such a country was
considered to offer a minimum of civilization and
to respect the being and its values. The conversation
was both long and lively. As for myself, I could not
help thinking of Lebanon Land of the Tree, cradle
of the alphabet and the book, of the great beauty
of our rocks like so many temples and cathedrals and
with unique sculptured forms. I thought also of the
pioneers and of the saints of this wonderful Lebanon.
I know all the trees of Lebanon, the olive and the
carob, the cedar and the oak, the nettle tree and
the sycamore, the eucalyptus and the pine. Many of
these trees are a thousand years old, particularly
those glorious oaks to be found in the central squares
of our villages and close to our churches, the latter
where in the past the priest would give lessons to
the little peasant children.
This oak tree is made in our likeness, bowing and
kneeling to no one, proud before the rays of the sun
from which its deep shade gives shelter. Some of these
oaks have become mythic, such as that of Ain Traz,
which bears witness to the history of the illustrious
El-Saad family and to the history of Lebanon itself.
In ancient times these trees were considered to be
the origins and sources of life, a tradition borne
out in Deuteronomy 12:2, I Kings 14:23, and Isaiah
57:5 and by the story of Abraham at Mambre. We learn
in Genesis, chapter 18, that Abraham pitched his tent
under the oak of Mambre and there met the Lord. As
in the case of the oak of Ain Traz, these trees are
rooted in our past history, in our heritage, in our
traditions and customs. This particular tree was cared
for by the Saad family and became their symbol and
inspiration. Under its shade there were meetings and
gatherings of people from all over Lebanon. How many
presidents, powerful figures, ambassadors, clergy
and lovers have been seated beneath it, enraptured
by its imposing presence!
Here is a unique presence, one a thousand years old,
imposing by its shape, its grandeur, its branches
stretching forty and more feet, its mighty trunk over
thirty feet round, its height, its colors, its leaves,
and its flowing lines.
At present it is cared for and protected, and its
branches are propped up so they may weather the storms.
It raises them up to heaven like the belfries of our
churches to take us into a world of visions and to
call us to prayer. It stands beside the Palace of
the Saad family, whose history can be traced back
to the sixteenth century, and whose ancestor was a
priest, Father Beshara Mubarak of Ghosta in Kesserawan.
His descendants were very close to the Shehab emirs
(princes). Their distinguished ancestors, with at
that time two Consuls of France, built the Palace
for their descendants, who included the second President
of the Lebanese Republic, Habib Basha el-Saad. The
Saads have a family history closely bound up with
the history of Lebanon and with that of the oak tree.
The seminary school was either granted or sold for
a purely symbolic sum to the Greek Catholic Melkite
In those days of Ottoman occupation one could own
a carob tree as a possession on the condition of having
a deed of ownership for the tree, since from the carob
one could extract treacle, the only sweetening available
to poor people. But the oak tree, which has entered
into our minds and prayers and beautiful songs, is
not possessed by anyone, rather it possesses us, and
we feel that it is an inseparable element of our existence.
The oak tree of Ain Traz is a monument just like Heliopolis,
Sidon or Byblos; it is no mere refuge for birds but
has a presence that is bound up with all us Lebanese.