Eastern-rite community centered in Lebanon (see Eastern Rite Church). It traces its origin to St. Maron, a Syrian hermit of the 4th–5th century AD, and St. John Maron, under whom the invading Byzantine forces were defeated in 684. For several centuries the Maronites were considered heretics, followers of Sergius, patriarch of Constantinople, who taught that Jesus had only a divine will and not a human will. No permanent affiliation with Rome took place until the 16th century. A hardy mountain people, the Maronites preserved their freedom in Lebanon during the Muslim caliphate. In 1860 the Ottoman government incited a massacre of the Maronites by the Druze, an event that led to the establishment of Maronite autonomy within the Ottoman empire. The Maronites obtained self-rule under French protection in the early 20th century. Since the establishment of a fully independent Lebanon in 1943, they have constituted a major religious group in the country. Their spiritual leader (after the pope) is the patriarch of Antioch, and the church retains the ancient West Syrian liturgy.
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