Patriarch Estefan Duwayhi:
His Life and His Times
by Msgr. Ignace Sadek
He was known as “The Saint Patriarch,” “The Saint of the Patriarchs,” “The Father of Maronite History,” “Pillar of the Maronite Church,” “The Second Chrysostom,” “Splendor of the Maronite Nation,” “The Glory of Lebanon and the Maronites.”
Born: August 2, 1630
Name: Estefan (Stephen) after his patron, St. Stephen, first deacon and first martyr, whose feast day is August 2.
Place: Ehden, stronghold of the Maronites, in North Lebanon, 3,500 feet above sea level, with a rich religious history: three patriarchs, thirty-four bishops and many priests, hermits, monks and nuns.
He had pious and good parents: Deacon Mikhael Duwayhi and Mariam Duwayhi; one brother, Moussa; an uncle, Bishop Elias Duwayhi. He lost his father when he was three years old.
At age five, he entered the Parochial School of St. Peter in North Ehden, acquiring basics of arithmetic, Arabic and Syriac languages, and a solid Christian formation. He distinguished himself by his prodigious and precocious intelligence.
Aware of his intellectual capacity and of his religious and moral qualities, Patriarch Gerges Omayra Duwayhi and Bishop Elias Duwayhi, both from Ehden, sent him to Rome where he arrived in June, 1641; he was only eleven years old.
The Maronite College:
He joined the Maronite College of Rome, founded in 1584 by Pope Gregory XIII and directed by the Jesuit Fathers.
There, he astonished everyone by his superior intelligence, profound piety, and outstanding personality. His professor, Father Sparsa, testified: “I taught in many lands and in many universities, but I have not found the likes of Estefan, in the brightness of his mind and the purity of his life.”
Because of his intense studying, he became almost completely blind, but, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of God, he miraculously regained his sight, never having to wear glasses.
He learned all that the Eternal City had to offer to a brilliant student. He earned a Doctorate in Philosophy and Theology. Besides his canonical formation, he was fluent in Arabic, Syriac, Latin, Italian, Greek and Hebrew. Later he obtained some knowledge of French and Turkish.
In 1655, he brilliantly finished his intellectual formation and his reputation spread throughout Europe. However, he refused all tempting offers in universities and Royal Courts. He chose to return to Lebanon, after remaining in Rome for another six months, visiting all the libraries and gathering precious documents about the Maronites. He returned to Lebanon on April 3, 1655, following fourteen years in Rome.
He was ordained a priest on March 25, 1656 by Patriarch Youhanna at the Monastery of Sts. Sarkis and Bacchus in Ehden.
He opened a free school for children at the Monastery of St. Yacoub Al Ahbach in Ehden.
In 1657, he was sent to Aleppo (Syria) by Patriarch Gerges Bshebhely, to work for the unity of Christians and to help his friend, Bishop Andrew Agheejan, who became the first Syrian Catholic Patriarch.
Mission in Lebanon:
In 1658, he was named missionary of the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith and returned to his school in Ehden. That same year, he was sent by Patriarch Bshebhely to Jheeta, Kasrouan, Lebanon to teach and preach, and then to South Lebanon, to Saida, Bekah, Marjehyoun. Finally, he was appointed pastor of Ardee and the neighboring villages in North Lebanon.
In 1662, at the request of Patriarch Bshebhely and the people, he returned to Aleppo (Syria), where he was called “The Second Chrysostom.” He remained there for six years.
In May, 1668, Duwayhi returned to Lebanon and went with his mother and brother for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Upon his return from the Holy Land, he was surprised to learn he had been elected Bishop of Cyprus. On July 8, 1668, he was ordained Bishop by Patriarch Gerges Bshebhely.
Before leaving for Cyprus, Patriarch Bshebhely sent him to visit and comfort the parishes of Jebbee, Zawiya and Akkar in North Lebanon.
That same year, he entered the Diocese of Cyprus, establishing his residence in Nicosia, but visiting all the Maronite cities of the Island, preaching, gathering documents and organizing the Diocese which had been vacant for thirty-four years. Providentially, he left Cyprus on April 12, 1670, for a short visit to Lebanon. It was the day that Patriarch Gerges Bshebhely died.
May 20, 1670, Bishop Estefan Duwayhi was elected Patriarch. Two days later, he was ordained Patriarch at Qannubine, the patriarchal See at that time, in the Holy Valley.
Throughout his thirty-four years of Patriarchate, Duwayhi did not taste rest. Nine times, he was forced to flee from his See of Qannubine to Mar Challita Mekbes in Ghosta, Kesrouan, to Mejdelmhooch in the Chouf or in Jbeil and Batroun. Through his trials and persecutions, he personally sums up the whole story and destiny of the Maronite Nation. He was always on the move, hiding in caves and places almost insalubrious, carrying notes and documents, writing late into the night under very bad conditions, and caring about everyone and everything in the Maronite Church.
He built twenty-seven churches and many monasteries, ordained fourteen bishops and many priests. He protected the Maronite Church from Latinization, gave her the proper and distinguished identity, was instrumental in the foundation of the Lebanese Order and in the conversion to the Catholic Faith of the Melkite Patriarch Cyril and of the establishment of the first Syrian Catholic Patriarch. He reorganized the Maronite Church, reaffirmed her foundations and endowed her with the precious treasure of his writings.
Patriarch Estefan Duwayhi died, as he wished, at his See of Qannubine in the aroma of sanctity, on May 3, 1704.
Always engaged in traveling because of the political unrest and social situation, he nevertheless wrote thirty extensive books on history and Church liturgy, not including his precious commentaries and his enormous correspondence to Popes, Kings, Cardinals and civic leaders. Among his writings are: History of the Times; The origins of the Maronites; The Defense of the Orthodoxy of the Maronites; The Book of Ordinations; The Series of Maronite Patriarchs; The Lamp of the Sanctuary; The Book of Consecrations; The Book of Anaphoras; The Book of Rites and Benedictions; The Book of Syriac Tunes, and many others…
Patriarch Estefan Duwayhi was revered as a saint. Many miracles are attributed to him, both during his life and after his death. The Cause of his Beatification presented by the parish of Ehden was accepted by Rome and is advancing tremendously.
He was of average height, and had a large forehead, a long beard, a solid constitution, an aquiline nose and well-defined eyebrows.
He refused the Roman honors and tried to refuse the Episcopate and Patriarchate. He used to receive the poor and peasants the same as he would receive great leaders.
He was a man of prayer. He liked to seclude himself in caves or in hidden places for prayer and meditation. In Qannubine, he had made an opening in his room so he could look freely at the Blessed Sacrament and the Icon of Mary in the church.
He was very enduring and austere in his lifetime. According to his contemporary and biographer, Bishop Semaan Awad, later Patriarch from 1742 to 1756,“He never ate meat during his life, except when ordered by his medical advisor or his spiritual director and only for health reasons.”
He possessed all the qualities of a true scientist in history and liturgy. Everything he advanced was based on proof and documents. In Rome, he undertook a thorough investigation related to documents concerning the Maronites at the Vatican Library and Archives, at the Maronite College, and in many other places. In Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus, he visited almost all the Maronite churches, monasteries and houses, gathering very ancient and precious documents and manuscripts. Many events related by Duwayhi have been verified by later discoveries.
His love for his Church and country was always the guideline of his life. He visited almost all the parishes, reviewing and correcting the books he could find, and properly organizing their administration, or even paying their debts. Thanks to him, the Maronite Church was furnished with all the liturgical books needed for prayers, consecrations and benedictions. He has been rightly named, “The Father of the Maronite Church.” As for his patriotism, his books on history, many of his writings, and his entire life of trials and sufferings reveal an authentic national sentiment. To him, we owe the knowledge of many obscure points of our history.
He was a giant, a genius, so gifted a person that the world would not see the likes of him for centuries. His biographer, Semaan Awad said, “He was like an eagle flying above all the birds and was among his peers like the sun among the stars.” They talked about his miracles, but without doubt, the greatest miracle he ever performed was certainly his various and immense writings. Only a person inspired, encouraged and pushed from above can produce the giant-like and encyclopedic treasure he left for posterity to admire.