The Phoenician Church was one of the most ancient or the original churches which came into being during the Apostolic Age. Early Church Fathers and scholars left written accounts of the valiant spirit which early Phoenician Christians maintained in their new faith. At the beginning of Christ’s ministry, and later during the beginning of Apostolic evangelization, the new faith was reserved for the Jews. Nevertheless, Phoenicians of all walks of life accepted the new faith and the Church recognized them as valid Christians particular after the first council of Jerusalem.
Phoenician Bishops Consecrated by the Apostles
Among the earliest records which indicate that Bishops of Phoenicia where consecrated very early in the Christian era is the following record by Pope St. Clement I (88-89 A.D.) disciple of St Peter. He indicates that St. Peter appointed John Mark Bishop of Byblos and also designated a Bishop for Berytus (Beirut).
Martyres and Saints
Although the Christian communities in Phoenician cities, during the first 3 centuries of the Christian Era, paganism remained preponderant until Constantine the Great (306-337 A.D.). During these 3 centuries, the Christian Church became radiant with many saints and martyrs. For example, Saints Perpetua and Felicity (martyred in 203 A.D.), Christina of Tyre (martyred in 300 A.D.), Theodosia of Tyre, Aquilina of Byblos (martyred in 293 A.D.), Barbara of Baalbeck Heliopolis (martyred in 237 A.D.).
One must not fail to mention that one of the first gentiles to believe in Jesus was a Canaanite woman from Sidon; and out of Tyre came a major saint and icon of the church, Phoenician Saint Frumentius, Apostle of Abyssinia and Bishop of Axum who brought the gospel to modern day Ethiopia.
Just as Emperors with Phoenician origins ruled the wide Roman Empire in its glory and majesty, so the historians tell us that religious leaders with Phoenician lineage occupied the highest ranks in the Catholic Church, and have assumed the highest responsability in the Church – The Holy See. They have ruled the universal church from the Vatican.
Historians have spoken of the first Pope from the Middle East: Anicitus, who lived in the second century. Five others in the seventh and eight centuries.
His Holiness Pope Anicitus (155-166 )
After the death of His Holiness Pope St. Pius I., 155, the high leaders met in the capital of the Catholic Church, and after having consulted the clergy and the people, they appointed (elected) a successor, a Bishop of Phoenician-Lebanese birth. He was very well known in Rome, where he lived the longest part of his life.
His Holiness, who is known by the name of Anicitus I, was famous for his hermit lifestyle, his humility, and his love for a simple, poor life. He was the first who taught the priests to cut their hair and wear long black robes. It was he who forbid the clergy to wear flashy, colorful clothing, allowing such dress only in religious celebrations.
During the time of his papacy, St. Policarpus, the Bishop of Smyrna, traveled to Rome for discussions with the Pope concerning differences of opinion between the various Christian groups. One of the most important issues being the set up of a common date for the celebration of Easter; at the Eastern and Western Church. But agreement was not reached.
Some years later, His Holiness Pope Victor I (189-199), tried to solve this case. Neither could he reach a positive solution.
The uniting of Easter celebrations was not reached during the second century. Since that time and until today. Christ�s Church celebrates the resurrection twice each year (mostly).
History tells that Pope Anicete I decided that the feast of Easter should be a Sunday.
Christians agreed on the Word of God and disagreed on the words of men. Their bells do not ring on one celebration day. The Messiah dies in one denomination and is resurrected in another. While one weeps remembering His death, the other celebrates His resurrection.
During most of the years, the difference between the Easter of those who are called �Western� and those who are called �Eastern� is a week, or two, or three, or even four; as occurred this year. It is indeed a rare occasion when Easter falls on the same day for both the Western and Eastern Churches.
The time has come for us to get rid of an unclear astrological calculation which is based on the appearance of the moon after the beginning of spring, which has caused seemingly eternal differences. It is now time to unanimously appoint and agree on a firmly based glorious Easter. It is best if it be in the month of April.
During the reign of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, His Holiness Pope Anicitus was martyred (in the year 166). His body was transported, through many churches. In the year 1617 it stopped and it remained in a gold covered, marble coffin, in Rome. This coffin, had previously been used to keep the late Emperor Alexander Severus who was also of Phoenician origin. On the seventeenth day of April, each year, the church remembers Saint Anicete.
John V (685-686)
John V was born in Antioch which in antiquity was part of Phoenicia Maritima around the year 630. He later moved to Rome where he lived for most of his life.
In the year 680, His Holiness the Pope Aghato sent him (John V) to be his personal representative in the Sixth Universal Council which is the Third Council of Constantinople called for by the Emperor Constantine IV. He had a special role in this Council. Because of it, his reputation grew in the East and West as a deep thinker and theologian.
After five years, on the 23rd July 685, His Holiness Pope Benedictus II was succeeded by His Holiness Pope John V to Saint Peter�s throne.
His must reorganizes achievements are inclusion of the churches of Sardinia into the sphere of the main church of Rome.
During his short reign, which only lasted a year, Emperor Constantine the Great died succeeded by his son Justinian II, who was a fierce enemy of the rebels (Marada) and also of Saint John Maroun, the first Patriarch of the Maronite Church.
John V, died on the 1st of August 686.
Saint Sergius I (687-701)
After the death of His Holiness the Pope John V, the papacy passed to Saint Sergius I in 687.
Sergius was born in the year 620, in Palermo, from a Phoenician family that had migrated from the East. He became very famous in Rome, where he was educated and where he taught in higher learning academies, before he was elected to the highest rank in the Church.
His election to the papacy took place in the midst of violent troubles in the Church. Two �fake� popes aspired to arrive at the papacy by illegal means. One of them being Theodorus, who backed up and submitted after a short period of time. The second was Pascal, who showed great stubbornness and was accused of practicing occult and magic. He was imprisoned in a convent where he died five years later, without reconciling with the Church.
The papal authority at the end of the seventh century grew and prospered greatly at the expense of the authority of the Emperor Ravenne, who�s power declined gradually. His Holiness was the first to establish the earthly authority of the papacy.
Charles Diehl said in this respect: �From all the Byzantine East, and Italian cities, and the Mediterranean island and from Africa itself, the people turned to the Archbishop of Rome for refuge and protection… Among the representatives of the Emperor and Pope, their choice was known beforehand… In the seventh century, Rome did not know a master with full authority but the Pope�.
This reality did not please the Emperor Justinian II. So, he called for a Council to be held in the year 691-692 in his castle in Constantinople. 208 Eastern Bishops took part in the Council – neither the Western Bishops nor the Pope were allowed to attend. The participants of the council considered it the continuation and conclusion of the Sixth Universal Council. Historians named it The Foreign Council of Constantinople..
His Holiness Pope Sergius did not hesitate, not even for a second, to go against the decisions taken by The Foreign Council of Constantinople. He then forbade any mention of it and declared it annulled. He preferred death rathen than surrender to it.
This angered the Emperor, who was known for his harshness, pride, and arrogance. Justinian II ordered Ravenne to go to Rome to capture the Pope and bring him as a prisoner to Constantinople.
The moment Justinian�s actions became public, the people were agitated. The army, and even the platoon that Ravenne was heading, defected and joined the cause of the defenders of His Holiness the Pope. Ravenne feared for his life. He tearfully repented and begged the Pope for forgiveness and protection. Pope Sergius protected him in bis own room and allowed him to travel to Constantinople safely and easily.
Generally, the people hated the Emperor Justinian II for his iron fist and his many evils. For this reason a revolution erupted. It led to his fall from the throne. Exile was his fate, his nose was amputated in the year 695.
One year prior to this incident, Justinian II went into violent war with Saint John Maroun, the First Patriarch of the Maronite Church.
As for His Holiness the Pope Saint Sergius I, he had doctrinal disagreements with the Emperor and completely understood the situation of the Eastern Churches, as he was of Phoenician descent. It was probably through the representative of the Pope in Jordan that John Maroun was elected as the first Maronite Patriarch over Antioch.
This stand of the Pope Sergius inspired one of his successors, Pope Benedictus XIV, to say: �At the end of the seventh century, while the heresy was saddening the Patriarchy of Antioch, the Maronites, to protect themselves, decided to choose a patriarch approved by Their Holinessess�.
This originally Phoenician Pope, like other Easterners, also became famous for his spreading of the cult of the Virgin Mary. He ordered great festivities in her honor, for example The Celebration of the Day of Annunciation, the Birth of the Virgin, and Her Ascension in Flesh and Spirit to Heaven. This worship was not yet a doctrine of the faith.
After an abundant life full of good deeds, God took him on the seventh of September in the year 701. Later, he was canonized and his feast was set on the ninth of September.
His Holiness Pope Sisinius (708)
His Holiness Pope John VII passed away to a better life on the 17th of October 707. About three months later Pope Sisinius born in Tyr (Lebanon) was elected (18th of January 708).
The priority of this old and ailing Pope was the fortification of Rome. Its walls were on the verge of tumbling down due to repeated Barbarian attacks. In the month of February, however, death surprised him quickly, before he could complete his important project; while he was at the beginning of his restoration project.
His Holiness Pope Constantine I (708-715)
His Holiness the Pope Constantine I was born in Tyre, as was his predecessor. He took hold of his Apostolic mission in the month of March of the year 708. He completed what the Pope Sisinius had started in the restoration of the walls of Rome. He then concentrated especially on the religious and theological subjects and condemned the doctrine that claimed that Christ had one nature which is inadmissible to the belief of the Catholic Church.
Historians tell us that Justinian II, the number-one enemy of the Maronites, after ten years of exile, with the help of the Bulgarian people, returned to Constantinople and took back the power – reflecting his harsh totalitarianism again.
Justinian insisted on meeting Pope Constantine I in Constantinople to discuss the last Council of Constantinople, of which the Pope Sergius I had refuted the decisions taken.
After some hesitation, the Pope left Rome toward the capital of the Empire on the 5th of October of the year 71. He was received in every city he passed through with all honor and hospitality. This arrival to Constantinople was comparable to a great victory.
His Holiness Pope Constantine was able to convince Justinian II to modify some of the decisions taken at the Council. About a year later, His Holiness the Pope returned to his base safe, strong, and victorious.
However, after his return, the Emperor attempted to go back on the modifications that had been agreed upon. But he did not find support from the Clergy and the people. Moreover, those responsible in the army did not allow enough time for this arrogant king to proceed. They revolted against him and killed him in 717.
As for the pope Constantine I, he died on the ninth of April of 715 and was buried in Saint Peter�s Cathedral in the Vatican.
His Holiness the Pope Gregorius III (731-741)
After the death of His Holiness Pope Gregorius II in the year 731, the people chose as his successor a bishop of Phoenician decent. He took the name of Gregorius III. As for the Roman authorities they simply accepted the people�s choice . The people called him: �The friend of the poor and miserable�. His qualities and high culture made him famous even before his accession to Peter�s throne.
Gregorius III started his work as the Head of the Church by cultivating his relationships with the religious and civil leaders. He sent his endorsement to the bishop Saint Bonifacius and asked of him to form new bishoprics in Germany. These bishoprics did not move to the authority of the Roman apostolic throne before the year 1000.
The pope called for a Council in Saint Peter�s Cathedral in the Vatican. 193 bishops attended. They upheld an opposite position to that of the Byzantine Emperor Leon III who had ordered the destruction of all the icons and images. Of the most important decisions taken were that whoever disfigures the image of Christ, that of his mother the Virgin Mary, or that of the Saints and Apostles would be excommunicated.
When the Pope�s representative was on his way to Constantinople to hand the Emperor the decisions taken by the Council, he was arrested and imprisoned by the Byzantine army, as were the other representatives of the Pope, in different Italian cities, where they were sent to publish the decisions taken by the Council.
The Emperor�s negative position toward the icons and religious images and those who made and distributed them provoked the emigration of the artists to Rome. That is how the Byzantine Eastern art was transported to the west and especially to the capital of Catholicism where it received strong encouragement from the Pope and the church authorities.
The Emperor Leon III tried to minimize the authority of the Pope and take over the properties of the Church in the cities of Sicily, Calabria, and others. For that purpose he sent a navy to declare war on the cities that still refused his authority. He then spread the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople to all the provinces of the south of Italy, only leaving the Northern provinces to the Pope. And even that, the Lombardians attacked.
At this point the Pope sought help from Charles Martel, the King of France. Papal possessions were placed under the protection of the French, and he was asked to recover Italy. The King of France, after his victory over the Arabs at Poitiers, in a battle that eternalized his name, sent a message to the Pope Gregorius telling him of the victory of the Christian army. He also wanted to make it clear to all of Gregorius�s enemies � among them Leon III – that he, Charles Martel, was the son of Christianity and its protector, and that he would not allow any humiliation, not even the slightest, against the representative of Christ on Earth.
Most of the kings of the West respected this new force, which started to grow with God�s help, according to the understanding of the European people of that time.
In the year 739, His Holiness the Pope Gregorius III tried to get strong and firm support from the French King against the nations striving to get hold of the possessions of Papal dominion. He named the French leader � The Righteous Christian King� and sent him the keys to the apostles grave. This present had important symbolic significance.
As for Charles Martel, he did not reply with a direct support, but he planted the idea of a covenant between the papacy and the French rule. He let this idea grow gradually in the hearts and minds.
In the days of the pope with Phoenician decent, the king of the Saxons went on a pilgrimage to Rome. When he returned to his country he established a yearly tax which he called �Saint Peter�s Dinar�. This tax remains to this day, and the bishoprics pay it to His Holiness the Pope to be used as charity where needed.
His Holiness Pope Gregorius passed away on the 27th of November of the year 741 after being at the head of Christ�s Church for ten years, nine months and twelve days, in difficult times and during complex international changes. He was later canonized. The church celebrates in his honor on the 28th of November. It is written about him in the books of the Roman Popes: �He would add to wisdom the knowledge of the holy books and he was an outspoken preacher and an eloquent speaker.
- Father Emile Eddeh, The Catholic Center of Information.
- The Catholic Encyclopaedia
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