A new order

After a long period of spiritual discernment Mother Agnes Mariam asked her superiors at the Carmel Monastery in Harissa, Lebanon, where she had been living since 1971, for permission to leave the cloistered life to discover and serve her local Church (the Church of Antioch) in order to start a monastic foundation with the aim of returning to the spiritual sources of Eastern monasticism as a powerful means of Christian witness in the face of the enormous challenge of Christian survival in the Middle East today. She received the blessing of the Holy Spirit from her superiors and left the walls of the Carmel monastery after 21 years of cloistered life. This was the year 1991-1992. Then she went to Paris to study the history of ancient monasticism, Hebrew and Syriac. There she met Sister Claire-Marie (French), who was also a Carmelite nun and who was seeking a vocation in the East. They joined forces in the same project. Divine Providence opened the way for them step by step. This article wants to guide you through these main steps.


28th of August 1993 until October of the same year


At that time, Mother Agnes Mariam was doing in-depth research on her local Church [Church of Antioch], without neglecting humanitarian aid, in which she was always involved, even when she was cloistered. Then she was invited by the superior of a Maronite monastic community to assist him. She and Sister Claire-Marie settled in this monastery, in the "Metn" mountain in Lebanon.

October 1993 - July 14, 1994


In August she went to Syria and visited the monastery of Mar Moussa [1] restored by Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, a Syriac Jesuit priest whom she had known since the 1980s and whose foundation work in Syria had greatly influenced her. Leaving the monastery to go to Homs, Father Paolo's companion, Brother Jacques Mrad, asked him to join him to Homs. On their way, they passed through Qara, a beautiful village along the highway. Brother Jacques suggested that they visit an old ruin on the west side of the village: a monastery dating from the 6th century attributed to Saint James the Persian. As she walked through the rubble, stones, fallen arches and doors, all built around a Roman tower (see photo here) she was inexpressibly touched by the majesty of the place, by the density of the silence that carried such a great story of holiness and hardship. She asked to whom the monastery belonged. Brother Jacques answered that it belonged to the Greek Catholic diocese of Homs and that he was on his way to the bishop's palace. She then decided to accompany Brother Jacques to visit the Bishop.


Bishop Abraham Nehme was deeply touched when he heard Mother Agnes Mariam's wish to rebuild the ruins and exclaimed, "I have been desperately looking for someone who is interested in this monastery for ten years”. They reached a verbal agreement. In February a written contract was signed. Then, on July 14, 1994, the restoration work began. Mgr. Nehmé asked seven of his seminarians to help for a month during their summer holidays. With them and with the help of some day laborers and children of the village the work began under the direction of a civil engineer who assisted Mother Agnes-Mariam. All these events and many others demonstrated the hand of God in this new foundation.


14 July 1994 - 15 September 1995


Mother Agnes-Mariam continued to stay in Lebanon and supervised the work by going back and forth to Syria. At the same time, she established, together with three universities in France, Belgium and Lebanon, the "Antiochian Institute" for the conservation and restoration of the cultural and religious heritage of the Churches of Antioch. During this period, she and Sister Claire-Marie moved from the monastery of the Maronite Sisters to the Monastery of the Resurrection in Faraya, Lebanon, with a lay community that wanted to serve there and requested the spiritual guidance of Mother Agnes Mariam. There she was involved in many spiritual activities where she guided several groups and individuals. She also continued the implementation of the Antiochian Institute.

In mid-September 1995, Mother Agnes Mariam and Sister Claire-Marie organized iconography courses in Faraya. Carmel Dawalibi, a young Lebanese woman, participated in the courses, and later joined Mother Agnes Mariam and Sister Claire-Marie in the foundation and received the name of Sister Carmel of Saint John the Baptist (photo). She became the faithful right hand and nurse of Mother Agnes Mariam.


15th of September 1995-1997

These years were characterized by an intense activity of the founding group: visits or stays in Syria, trips to Turkey to get to know the former Christians, who were becoming/are becoming persecuted minorities, activities and sessions of the "Antiochian Institute", which was renamed into the "House of Antioch" in 1996 and became a non-academic institution that provided much spiritual and material relief to many people in need (especially the handicapped, displaced Christians who were seeking to return to their villages, and people in Iraq who were under siege).


In 1995, the founding group moved to Qara, Syria, to the parish house, bringing many groups and individuals from Lebanon and abroad to visit the monastery and the village. In 1996, a serious car accident forced Mother Agnes-Mariam to return to Lebanon where she and Sister Carmel founded "The House of the Son of Man", an institute where they received the most marginalized of society: drug addicts, teenage prostitutes, people involved in occultism, ...




During these years, without stopping the preparations for the foundation in Syria and the activities of the "House of Antioch", she organized, with her team for four consecutive years, the Festival of the Son of Man in Beirut which was intended to prepare and celebrate the great jubilee of the year 2000. These Christian music festivals were the largest of their kind in the history of Lebanon. They were widely publicized in the local media and were attended by over 10,000 people each time. Admission was free and the Festival included many activities with the participation of Eastern and Western Christian music groups.


The year 2000


On May 13, 2000, in spite of the fact that Sister Carmel's mother was living her last days (she died on May 17 in the odor of sanctity), the monastic life effectively began in the monastery of St. James (Mar Yakub), which was already sufficiently restored. And on September 14, the feast of the Cross, in the jubilee year, the bishop issued a decree for the erection of the monastery constituting it "sui iuris eparchalis" (i.e. under the authority of the bishop) in the tradition of the Eastern monasteries. At the same time he decreed the birth of a new diocesan order, the "Unity of Antioch", whose mother house would be the monastery at Qara.




During this time the community began to obtain a structure and a small male branch was born with the arrival of three brothers. The restoration work was coming to an end and in the old church several reconstruction works were organized to renovate the frescoes dating from the 11th century.



The community became larger and truly international with the arrival of several vocations from all over the world from 2009. At the same time, the community opened itself to a diversified welcome: people started to come to the monastery without having a religious vocation per se, but who needed help on a spiritual and human level. Thus, these "residents" stayed with us for short or long periods of time, sometimes for several years. They came from Syria, Lebanon or other parts of the world.


In 2007 we started the construction of the new building. It has three floors, about 60 rooms, a very large church/conference room and a restaurant. To this day, the work is not finished. Today we use the big church of the new building as a storage place for the collies of food and health products we give to the victims of the war. 

 2009 ...


At this time, the community was formed in its present form.  More and more visitors came to visit the monastery during this period, reaching peaks of several hundred visitors per day during the summer months. In 2008 and 2009, a religious music festival was organized by the community in the monastery with the collaboration of the diocese of Homs.


The community was thus prepared by its spiritual development, by its visible structuring, and by its exercise of hospitality to face the difficult moments that were ahead. At the end of 2010, we heard of tensions and crises in neighbouring countries: Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and in March 2011, the Syrian crisis began...


[1] A holy Ethiopian hermit, Moses, a king’s son, who first became monk in Egypt and in Palestine, arrived in our monastery around 628 A.D. He left the Monastery to found a religious foundation 30 km to the East of us , which would later on receive the name of Saint Moses the Ethiopian or 'Mar Mussa' (P. Paolo dal’Oglio, Il restauro del monasterio di San Mose l’Abissino, Nebek, Siria, p. 11)