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Panoramic Views > Mount Lebanon > El Maten > Mar Elias, Elijah the Living

Mar Elias el-Hayye, or Elijah the Living, at Antelias

Efforts have been made to find out from where this name originally came. The people of the locality say that it refers to Elias the Prophet but others connect it to Anthony-Elias.

Father Lamens has explained the name by reference to Antilias, meaning Facing the sun. Others, among them Freiha, analyze it by En or Ain, the Source, and Talynsa meaning the young, the small, the little spring, which is a possibility given the presence of such a spring. There is the cave where the remains of a Neanderthal were found, Antelias Man!

Of those saints who wield a sword or a lance, one, Saint Michael, has wings; another, Saint George, rides on a horse; and the third, Saint Elijah the Living, is swept up into heaven in a chariot of fire, disappearing into sidereal space in a flash of light.

From the coast to Heliopolis-Baalbek and as far as the frontiers in every direction, there is not a village without a church, a sanctuary, a monument, or a convent or monastery bearing the name of Saint Elijah the Living.

“And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elias into heaven by a whirlwind...” 2 (or 4) Kings 2: 1-12.

The church in Antelias bearing the name of Saint Elias is the church of the parish in the center of the town, about five hundred yards from the sea and alongside the Antelias river. Formerly, the church and the adjacent monastery were surrounded by trees, gardens and verdure, with a nearby watermill, but now one sees concrete, asphalt, and main roads encroaching on all sides.

The old church, still in use, has now at its side a large and spacious modern cathedral. The church has a monastery annexed to it and dominates the central square of Antelias. Above the façade is a tiled roof and an old-fashioned belfry. Inside, a mural above and behind the main altar represents the tall figure of the holy prophet with a sword in one hand and a finger of the other pointing upwards.

This old church retains vestiges of the main events of the difficult years from 1820 to 1860. In the fifth century, over the ruins of a pagan Roman temple near the shore, close by the river in the area to be known as Antelias, the local inhabitants put up a church dedicated to the prophet Elias (Elijah), who had lived during the ninth century B.C., a small church to be used by the Christians of the place for prayer and worship.

All the eastern Christians have long been attached to the prophet Elias and honored him. Antelias was where he was most venerated, coming second in this respect only to the town of Sarafand (Sarfet), not far south of Sidon (Saïd-fond, Sarephta, where sand was melted for glass-making and where there was a considerable blown glass industry.) Later on, Christians, Druze and Muslims alike were to come to pray and to demand the protection of Saint Elias and his intercession with God for him to answer their prayers. The church of Antelias and its monastery were attached to the monastery of Tameesh (1685) before passing into the hands of the Anthonine Order. The church had both parochial and national standing, being the only church on the coast between Beirut and the river Nahr el-Kalb. To settle any conflict or dispute it was enough to swear by Saint Elias for the matter to be settled.

This church is one of renewal, of rebirth, of liturgical and missionary renaissance, with religious and secular concerts, social activities, new horizons, and developments in every field. Both monastery and church have been renovated several times, with the former in particular being enlarged and modernized according to modern demands. Attached to it there used to be a school run by the monks. Formerly there were only four monks in residence but now there are more than a dozen, not counting personnel who are employed.

The ascetic Saint Elias (Elijah) used to live and to pray in the desert at the time of King Ahab (874-853 B.C.), and then made a stay in South Lebanon at Sarepta, now known as Sarafand. He put up at the home of a widow, bringing back to life her dying child. During the three years of his residence her jar of oil remained always full, as did her sack of flour. Although marked by his rigorous fasting, this prophet was also a combative man, sustained by strength from on high and ready to fight; he was an example to his fellow believers, today the Maronites, noble, heroic and faithful to their religion.

Since the darkest antiquity, our existence has been one of resistance against all those forces which have sought to enslave the peoples, whether these were Greeks, Romans, Hittites, Pharaohs, Persians, Babylonians, Arabs, Ottomans or others, bowing down only to the Eternal One.

The prophet’s name Elias (El-I-Yah) is itself a protest against the invasion of the cult of the Canaanite god Baal. It means My own God, with Yah, a root to be found in Yahwa and in Yu-pater, Yu-piter, Father of the Gods. It is the God of Gods of Melki Sadek of Genesis 14: 18. Lebanese of every community feel at home with Mar Elias the Living, destined to return.

During the tragic events and bloody massacres that occurred between 1840 and 1860 under the disastrous Ottoman occupation, several communes were formed in the Christian regions of Lebanon, for example Lehfed, Batroun and Antelias.

On June 8th, 1840, all Lebanon was gathered at Antelias with a committee representing the twelve leaders of those in revolt against the Egyptian and Ottoman power. Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholics, Druze, Shiites and Sunnites, all swore fidelity on the altar of the Maronite sanctuary of Saint Elias and drew up a political proclamation demanding the formation of a Council of the Communities responsible before Emir Bashir II and the suppression of conscription and requisitions.

With the modern cathedral, Saint Elias continues to be the center of a great variety of activities adapted to modern times and to the needs of today’s young people according to the dizzy evolution of customs, means, technology and science. Most notable is a Book Fair every month of March in which all the bookshops of Lebanon consider it an honor to take part.

Joseph MATAR

- Saint Elie
- Mar Elias: >> View Movie << (2013-06-15)



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