Our Church: An Historic Overview
The idea of having a Maronite church in Jacksonville started with a conversation, developed into a thought, then a dream blossomed and culminated into a reality. Eleven years have passed and it seems as if it was yesterday when Bishop Peter Tayah, then Pastor of Our Lady of Lebanon parish in Miami, celebrated the first Maronite Divine Liturgy in Jacksonville in San Jose Catholic church. His Excellency Archbishop Francis Zayek of the Diocese of St. Maron of Brooklyn, delegated him to visit the Maronites of Jacksonville and report about this new and dynamic community that was making itself noticeable in North East Florida. Bishop Tayah was so impressed that he arranged for Fr. Peter Boulos, then pastor of St. Jude Maronite Mission of Orlando, to visit Jacksonville once a month. Eventually, as Fr. Joseph Akiki replaced him, the visit became biweekly. A few months later Fr. Akiki was assigned to be the first resident pastor of the newly created Mission under the name of St. Maron of Jacksonville.
On August 17, 1996, Mr. Elias Shami was ordained to the order of Subdeacon by Chorbishop John D. Faris, Vicar General of the Eparchy and acting under a special mandate from Archbishop Zayek. During the same Mass the acting Parish Council members were officially recognized as the first Parish Council of the Mission.
On October 2, 1996, following the departure of Fr. Akiki, Fr. George Zina was asked to provide pastoral visits to Jacksonville on a weekly basis every Sunday to celebrate the Liturgy in the small chapel of Christ the King Roman Catholic church. This church was made available through the boundless kindness of Christ the King’s successive pastors. Later on Fr. Zina became the interim administrator of the Mission and was replaced subsequently by Fr. Peter Boulos, pastor of St. Joseph Maronite church of Atlanta.
Another major milestone in our Mission’s history came in June of 1997, when through the outstanding generosity of the Beit Maroon community of Jacksonville, an amount of $130,000 was raised and the property on Bowden Rd was purchased.
With the appointment of Fr. Elie Abi Chedid as a resident and permanent pastor, on November 4, 2000, the Maronite community in Jacksonville acquired the stability and leadership it needed for the final realization of its goal of building a Maronite house of worship in town.
Our existing church/hall, which is phase one of our future plans, was blessed by His Beatitude and Eminence Nasrallah Peter Sfeir, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East for the Maronites, then under construction, during his Pastoral visit to the community on February 28, 2001; the church/hall was later completed and inaugurated on Palm Sunday in April 2001. The church /hall was furnished and equipped to accommodate 250 people with full commercial kitchen.
Few years later, plans started preparing for the construction of a sanctuary. With God’s help, and under the guidance and support of Most Reverend Gregory Mansour, Bishop of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn, and through contributions from parishioners and benefactors, and through various fund-rising activities, and a grant from “Catholic Extension Society” and a loan from the Diocese of Saint Augustine, our Mission was able to build a permanent church. The big challenge of the construction project was undertaken by the pastor with the help of a few parishioners; it also included site improvement and renovation works on the hall, rectory, retaining pond and sign, along with the erection of a replica shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon national shrine in Harissa-Lebanon. The construction started in late 2010 and lasted for four years.
The design of the new sanctuary was made to fit the needed size and the property’s structure that the Mission owns. The design reflects the architecture of the Maronite Eastern Tradition. The size of the new church allows the occupancy of over 400 people.
Currently an estimated 90 families of Maronite and non Maronite Eastern Christians attend Sunday’s Divine Liturgy. The community embraces a highly educated class comprised of mainly professionals and businessmen. The different Maronite families in Jacksonville trace their origin to all four corners of Lebanon.
Our mission statement is : To practice our Church faith, and witness to it according to one of the oldest Traditions of the Catholic Church, the Aramaic Antiochian Tradition, which is pure origin is our Lord Jesus and His Apostles.
Explanation of the main mural
The mural, in the apse of the new church, illustrates Maronite history and
The risen and glorified Lord with the wounds of his crucifixion is the focal
point of the mural; he is the center of our Christian faith. The yellow and golden
halos around his head represent the illumination of the empty tomb, the
resurrection and life eternal. The Lord is seated on a throne as we confess in the
creed: “He is seated at the right hand of God the Father”. With his right hand Our Lord is granting his peace: “Peace be with you” (Jn 20/21,26); and in his left hand he holds the Bible indicating that he is “The Logos” the Word of God incarnate. Jesus’ blue and red garment indicates His human and divine nature. His gentle and merciful eye-gaze follows everyone in the church indicating His omni-presence.
All saints depicted around our Lord are in standing position symbolizing the
resurrection. They illustrate the purpose of Maronite ritual that is worship and
metanoia (transformation through repentance from a life of self-centeredness to a life centered on God).
Saint Maroun priest and monk (+410), stands on the right of the Risen Lord
in his monastic dress indicating the monastic spirituality of the Maronite Church; he holds in his left hand a miniature church model signifying that he is the founder and the Father of the Maronite church; and in his right hand he holds the Antiochian staff with its three-bars cross indicating the Antiochian tradition of the Maronite Church. The Aramaic characters on his stole read: L moryo Teshbohto – To God be praise; it indicates the Aramaic spiritual heritage of the Maronite church.
Next to Saint Maroun is Saint John Maroun (+707) the first Maronite
patriarch who canonically established the Maronite church taking refuge in
Lebanon. He was both a civil and a religious leader. He brought the Maronites
under one banner and made them an independent nation and an autonomous
Church; his Roman vestment, miter and stole indicate the full communion of the Maronite Church with the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy See of Rome. On his stole the writing in Aramaic reads: Eeqoro d Lebno’n-The glory of Lebanon-; the saying “The glory of Lebanon is given to him” (Isaiah 35:2) has been applied to the Maronite patriarch.
On the left of the glorified Lord are the three great Maronite saints: St.
Charbel, St. Rafqa and St. Hardini, three modern witnesses of Maronite rich
The landscape represents Lebanon with its challenging geography where
Maronites escaped persecution by hiding in caves and rocky mountains to preserve
In the scenery is the monastery of Saint Maron’s on the Orontes River were
Maronite monks cultivated and conserved Maronite spirituality and Catholic
doctrine for years before they became an institutional church. The Orontes river
(Nahr al-‘Assi), is called “’Aassi” = resistant in Arabic because it runs against
natural course. The Orontes rises in the great springs of Labweh on the east side of the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, and it runs due north, parallel with the coast, falling 2000 feet (600 m) through a rocky gorge. It runs across Syria reaching Antioch in Turkey.
In the forest scenery, the cedar trees are most relevant; the cedar is the symbol of Lebanon (spiritual home of Maronites) and the symbol of immortality.
The mural was painted by Artist Joseph Puskas.