Biography of Mother Agnes-Mariam


Mother Agnès Mariam has a Palestinian father and a Lebanese mother. During her adolescence, seeking truth and God, she rebelled against society to join the hippie-movement. She traveled around the world with them. After having lived the Flower Power life she received the calling from God to join the Carmel monastery in Beirut, she was 19 at the time. Today she is the Superior of the monastery of St James the Persian in Syria, mother house of the Order that she founded, the Order of the Unity of Antioch.

 

I come from Lebanon. The Bible speaks of Lebanon as the symbol of the glory of God. Lebanon is composed of two mountain ranges: the Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon. Cedars grow on both mountain ranges.  Tradition tells us that they were planted there by the hand of God. These magnificent trees are for some more than 5,000 years old. Lebanon is a place of refuge for all people and especially for those who face persecution in the Middle-East. My father is among those people who sought refuge in Lebanon. Himself and my grandmother's family fled from Nazareth to Beirut in 1948, during the nekhba (the great Palestinian exile).


As a teen I used to prefer other cultures to mine thinking that the Oriental culture is old-fashioned. Afterwards I learned to appreciate my identity and the precious heritage of the Oriental Churches. I lived a normal childhood in a bourgeois family in Beirut.


When I grew up I lived through a lot of negative experiences like the rest of my generation from whom all self-confidence had been broken. When I was 13-14 years old I rebelled. I have somewhat of an extreme character and my rebellion led me to break with society. It was 1967: all the hippies were coming to Beirut because Lebanon had the best cannabis. I loved the hippies, they were free, original, and wore special clothes. One year later I joined them and the year after that I followed them to wander the earth. I crossed all of Europe, staying a long time in Amsterdam and in Denmark which were the hippie-capitals. During my journeys I had several conversion experiences. Then two times I made the pilgrimage to Nepal and India crossing by land mysterious countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan

 

My conversion

 

During all these travels I had my Bible with me and I can say that the Lord answered  my spiritual quest. Thus my journey turned into a pilgrimage to meet Him. This happened progressively in the Himalayas, when I saw the beauty and the might of nature, in India, when I felt the providence of God in the overcrowded trains and cities where I felt His Salvation purposes for mankind. He was infiltrating my heart with His love. But the event that changed my life forever happened in Amsterdam at an underground party where the Anointment of the living God revealed to my eyes the beauty of His image in me. How much are we loved by our Creator and how great is His glory!! If we knew what He has prepared for us in  eternal life we would be full of joy and gratitude, fearless.

 

One year later a force pushed me towards the Carmelite monastery in Lebanon where I entered in 1971.

The Carmelites of Harissa in Lebanon

 

(On the picture you can see our Lady of Mount Carmel - underneath this statue is the monastery of the Carmelites). How much  I thank the Lord because He called me to this life where I enjoyed a very intensive and durable ‘training’.

 

In 1983 a Lebanese monk visited our monastery. He was carrying a big icon of the Virgin Mary that had suffered a lot during the war. He asked us to restore it. When working on it I noticed that the icon had five underlying layers. These layers (the oldest one dating back to the 10th century) were like a resume of the entire history of the Syriac Church. When I studied the layers and the their history I made a discovery that changed my life: I discovered the Church of Antioch, my own church, of which I was in total ignorance! I was really shocked, how was it possible that I had left everything for Christ entering the Carmel and that I didn’t even know my own Church?

 

It dawned on me that the Christians of this region – of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Jordan – have a great mission but that they forgot about it. The persecutions and the hostile attitude towards them have made them tired. Today they see their lives in the country of their ancestors more as a survival – that is a material survival.

 

For a Christian everything begins with his cultural identity. During the Pentecost the Holy Spirit confirmed that identity. The Apostles, on whom the tongues of fire had descended, were proclaiming the miracles of God (Acts chapter 2). Everyone present heard the message of Salvation in his own tongue! This shows the importance that the Holy Spirit gives to the identity of every person and every people. Deut. 32:8-9: “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the LORD's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.”

 

Through this miracle of tongues the Lord wanted to reveal to us the true vocation of the Church: the Church needs to go out, to proclaim the Good News to others and not to draw others to her.  The traditional theology teaches us that there is a mission of the Son, of the Holy Spirit and of the Church. All of those missions go out. And the local churches are the fruits of that mission. They are the resume of the entire Salvation Plan of the Lord. The local Church, it’s us, but here and now, with Christ. Mat 18:20:  “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them, says the Lord. That’s the mystery of the local Church, the mystery of becoming human.  And off course we can speak here of the mystery of the identity. I thank the Lord that He introduced me into depths of the mystery of the local Church. At that time I started to study my local Church, the Church of Antioch.

 

Thus in 1992 I received the blessing in the Holy Spirit from my superior and my community to serve the Church of Antioch in my monastic vocation in the way the Lord would show to me. I was sent to France to study the old monastic traditions, Hebrew and Syriac. I was also able, at that time, to establish a network of contacts with the Vatican to inquire about financial and moral help to accomplish all my projects.

 

It was my intention to found a monastery in northern Lebanon, in the Holy valley, but providence guided me to the ruin of an old monastery from the sixth century in the Syrian Desert. I fell in love with the place and I asked the blessing of the bishop to restore it. He gave me the blessing with joy. In 1994 we began the works of restoration. Today we are a small but flourishing community with members from 8 different nationalities.

Foundation of the Community of the Unity of Antioch


Thus in 1992 I received the blessing in the Holy Spirit from my superior and my community to serve the Church of Antioch in my monastic vocation in the way the Lord would show to me. I was sent to France to study the old monastic traditions, Hebrew and Syriac. I was also able, at that time, to establish a network of contacts with the Vatican to inquire about financial and moral help to accomplish all my projects.

  

It was my intention to found a monastery in northern Lebanon, in the Holy valley, but providence guided me to the ruin of an old monastery from the sixth century in the Syrian Desert. I fell in love with the place and I asked the blessing of the bishop to restore it. He gave me the blessing with joy. In 1994 we began the works of restoration. Today we are a small but flourishing community with members from 8 different nationalities. To know the story of the foundation of the community, click here.