Saint Maron, Father of the Maronite Nation
The Maronite nation throughout the world, celebrate the feast of Saint Maron on February 9th. The historian Theodoretus, who was archbishop of Kouros from 423 to 458 referred to Saint Maron as the hermit priest. Saint Maron the paragon of hermits and one of the great saints, lived in Syria. By his model life and teachings he renewed the fervor and enthusiasm in the minds and hearts of the people for Catholic teaching and Catholic truths in an era when schism was rampant through that region of the world. The only reliable source of information that we have concerning the life of Saint Maron is the scholarly historian, Theodoretus, who was a contemporary of Saint Maron and who received his knowledge of the saint directly from St. Jacob, a disciple of the latter.
On the summit of Mt. Kouros, an area devoid of population, was located a pagan temple. It was to this temple that St. Maron came, in the latter half of the fourth century, to seek solitude and peace. The temple which had formely been used for the worship of false gods, was now consecrated to the worship of the One and Only God.
St. Maron would spend his days and nights worshiping his Creator under the canopy of heaven and would retreat to the shelter of his goat-skin tent only when the winds, rains or snows made it impossible for him to remain outside. As soon as the fury of the elements subside he would again return to his devotion beneath the open skies.
His life was very holy; his fast and abstinence severe, and he prayed continually meditating at length on the perfections and goodness of God. He would cease his meditation only to toil laboriously in the field where he exhausted himself physically that he may subdue his passions. In addition to his unceasing prayers he further mortified himself by wearing coarse garments next to his body, a mortification that lasted his entire life.
He preached the word of God to those who visited him and comforted the sick and the sorrowing. For this reason, Theodoretus tells us that God gave him the gift of healing. His fame spread far and wide, and crowds came from the surroundings territory to visit him. His devils were expelled and the sick recovered, only medicine being the prayers of the saint.
Saint Maron not only cured the ills of the body but the sickness of the soul as well. He would cure some avarice, others of anger, to some he taught justice and others he admonished to refrain from evil. As a result, he acquired many followers, both men and women, who were attracted by the hermitical life. They would live in the grottos and on the hills and the saint would visit and council them.
He laid down monastic rules and built monasteries for them, and monastic life flourished in that region. The mother-house, which was named after him, held 800 monks. Three hundred and fifty of these were martyred while defending the teachings of the council of Chalcedon concerning the two natures of Christ. These who escaped martyrdom wrote to pope Hormisdos in 517 A.D., relating to him what had hapenned and confirming their loyalty to the Holy See. The pope sent them a letter comforting them and expressing his paternal solicitude. In his diving providence, God vindicated his elected people. Anastasuis, the emperor, was filled by a bolt of lightening. Severus, the Jacobite Patriarch was deposed and his blaspheming tongue was cutt off. All this is related to us by the historian Theodoretus.
Saint Maron desiring solitude, fled from the crowds but they continued to follow him. His piety had won wide renown. St. John Chrysostom, from his exile, wrote to St. Maron a letter of spiritual love and profound respect, earnestly soliciting his prayers.
St. Maron died in 410 A.D. He is believed to have lived about 60 or 65 years. At his death crowds came to gain blessings from his holy remains. Many people attempted to claim him as their own and win the honor of burying him in their village. People from the vicinity of Aleppo won out and he was interred there, where a church was later built above his tomb.
According to tradition, when the Maronites moved to Lebanon they took along his head with them and above its burial place, at Kfar-Hai, in northern Lebanon, they erected a church much like the sons of israel who brought the remains of Joseph with them from Egypt to Palestine. A Latin missionary who had been in Lebanon, in order to preserve the sacred relic from the ravages of persecutors, took the head of St. Maron to Foligno, Italy, where it is believed to be buried to this day.
The feast of St. Maron in Lebanon is not only a religious holy day but also a national holiday when all activities cease. This is done because the Maronites constitute more than half the population of Lebanon and because of their magnificent efforts and deeds throughout ts history in preserving the very existence and independence of Lebanon.
History credits the Maronites with establishing and maintaining in Lebanon a home for Christians, amidst the Islamic nations of the Middle East. They not only preserved their own Catholic religin but gave refuge to other Christian elements who were persecuted for their beliefs in the neighboring states. Many of those persecuted were eventually converted to the Catholic faith.
If we look at the other eastern christian factions we will find both Catholic and Orthodox elements excepting the Maronite Rite. The Maronites have been and always will be, true children of the Catholic Church and proud of their adherence and submission to the church of Rome. We, Maronites, have a common saying: “Peter’s faith is my faith and my faith is Peter’s faith”.
What is remarkable and admirable is the fact that the Maronites who migrated from their homeland more than one hundred years ago, especially those who came to the United States where there are more than a half million of them, have held tenaciously to their faith and Maronite traditions. This is additional proof, if any is needed, Catholicism runs in their blood stream and is deeply rooted in the armor of their Catholic faith.
The Holy Fathers have never ceased in praising the Maronites for their adherence to Rome and have often referred to them as a Rose amongst thorns, and as men who never paid tribute to Baal.
It is said of Pope Benedict XV that he used to love the Maronites deeply. This came about because, as a child, he had often heard the phrase current in his home town:” he is as Catholic as a Maronite”. We have no doubts in our minds that the perseverence of the Maronites is their Catholic faith and true Catholic teachings and morals is largely due to the intercession of their Patron and founder, St. Maron and the other Maronite Saints.
We can therefore say that Lebanon is a holy land, not only because Christ and his apostles tod upon it but because it contains the remains of our fore fathers who lived in the love and fear of God. And we may say with justice that Lebanon is a holy land because the Maronites have given numerous saints to the church. To this day, in northern Lebanon is a valley called Wady-Adishad, i,e. the valley of the saints.
The Life of Saint Charbel
On May 8, 1828 in a mountain village of Biqa-Kafra, Lebanon, Charbel was born to a poor Maronite Family. From childhood his life revealed a calling to “bear fruit as a noble Cedar of Lebanon.”
Charbel “grew in age and wisdom before God and men.” At 23 years old he entered the monastery of Our Lady of Lebanon (north of Byblos) where he became a novice. After two years of novitiate, in 1853, he was sent to St. Maron monastery where he pronounced the monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Charbel was then transferred to the monastery of Kiffan where he studied philosophy and theology. His ordination to the priesthood took place in 1853, after which he was sent back to St. Maron monastery. His teacher provided him a good education and nurtured within him a deep love for monastic life.
During his 16 years at St. Maron monastery, Charbel performed his priestly ministry and his monastic duties in an edifying way. He totally dedicated himself to Christ with undivided heart and desired to live in silence before the Nameless One.
In 1875 Charbel was granted permission to live as a hermit on the hill nearby the monastery at St. Peter and Paul hermitage. His 23 years of solitary life were lived in a spirit of total abandonment to God.
Charbel’s companies in hermitage were the Son of God, as encountered in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, and the Blessed Mother. The Eucharist became the center of his life. He consumed the Bread of Life and was consumed by it. Though his hermit did not have a place in the world, the world had a great place in his heart. Through prayer and penance he offered himself as a sacrifice so that the world would return to God.
It is in this light that one sees the importance of the following Eucharistic prayer in his life:
“Father of Truth, behold Your Son a sacrificed
pleasing to You, accept the offering of Him who died for me…”
On December 16, 1898 while reciting the “Father of Truth” prayer at the Holy Liturgy Charbel suffered a stoke. He died on Christmas Eve at the age of 70. Through faith this hermit received the Word of God and through love he continued the Mystery of Incarnation.
To the Grave
Father Charbel spent the night before Christmas, 1898 in church, following his usual custom of twenty-three years, ever since he became a hermit at the hermitage of Saints Peter and Paul on the mountain of Annays. He did not waver from this praiseworthy custom. But that last night, he was lying down, neither awake, nor praying, nor meditating; he was asleep, sleeping the sleep of death. His soul, however, was with God, quite awake, in the eternal awakening. This was the last night Father Charbel would spend in the church of Saints Peter and Paul. Contrary to his custom and for the first time, Father Charbel was lying on the floor, over the mat of hair, with his face exposed.
Please note that people never saw his face when he was alive. He always kept his head down in church, at work or when walking, always looking to the ground. He would lift his eyes only to heaven. When in church, he always faced the altar with his eyes fixed on the tabernacle. However, when he died and was Lying face upward, his eyes were closed, still not looking at anyone, exactly as in his lifetime. Holding vigil at the body of the Servant of God in church, were his companions of the hermitage, Father Macarius Mishmshany, and Brother Francis of Artaba, along with a group of monks from the monastery of St. Maron. As soon as they learned of the passing of Father Charbel they rushed to the hermitage to kiss his hands and to be blessed by touching his body while bidding him farewell. Many spent most of the night kneeling near him, praying.
The snow was coming down heavily, accumulating on the hermitage and on the neighboring mountains and valleys. It was extremely cold and windy, to a degree that those keeping vigil around the saintly remains were trembling from the severity of the cold. And no wonder. The altitude of the hermitage is one thousand and four hundred meters above sea level, on a high summit exposed to the wind.
Those keeping vigil were asking one another, “If we are suffering so much for only one night in this severe winter, how was Father Charbel able to live twenty-three years here spending every night of his life, kneeling on bamboo, in pain from midnight until the time of his Mass at 9:00 o’clock in the morning, fasting and immobile as the stone statue erected on the floor before the altar. Truly, this hermit was a saint. He endured fatigue, hunger, poverty and cold with the courage of a martyr. Every minute of his life was martyrdom, without complaint. No doubt he is now finding the reward of his marvelous martyrdom, with God.” Who could dare venture out that night, from the hermitage, from the monastery, or from the neighboring villages? Heavy snow had blocked all roads with an accumulation of three to six feet in some places.
The monks were wondering if tomorrow they would be able to transfer the body of Father Charbel to the cemetery of the monastery in the extremely severe weather and with so much snow. How could they notify the people of the death of the saint under these circumstances? The neighbors would be very disappointed and sorry, not only because of the death of Father Charbel but also because they would be unable to bid him a last farewell and be blessed by him before he was buried. Thus were the monks thinking. But the news of his passing quickly reached all neighboring villages like lightning. In those days, there were no telephones and no automobiles.
The conversation of the villagers that night was about Father Charbel and his holiness. Each recalled what he knew of his outstanding virtue, his poverty, humility, angelic purity, his amazing obedience, his continuous prayer and hard work, his observance of the monastic rules, his meekness and especially his perpetual silence, that prudent and holy silence.
Also, people were remembering his continuous communication with God, his love of the Blessed Sacrament, his devotion to the Virgin Mary, his compassion to the poor and the sick and his miracles. The stories would end with these words: “We are happy for him. He is a saint who went straight to heaven.”
It seemed as if the angels themselves, who had announced to the shepherds of Bethlehem the nativity of the Savior of the world, now proclaimed that heaven had gained a newborn, in the person of Father Charbel a ripe fruit of the nativity of our divine Savior, Who himself was born humbly in a manger in Bethlehem.
That night everyone who knew of the passing of Father Charbel was wondering, “Will the snow stop tomorrow so we can visit Father Charbel for the last time, participate in his funeral, and bid him goodbye?”
On the morning of Christmas, 1898, the monks at the monastery and the people of the villages nearby, awakened early and saw the sky cloudy and dark and the ground, from the mountains to the valleys, covered with bright white snow with the trees shimmering like crystal chandeliers. No voice could be heard, only the howling of the wind. The cold was extreme, the roads were blocked. There were indications that more snow was on the way. They didn’t think they could make it to the hermitage for the transfer of the body of St. Charbel to St. Maroon’s monastery. They believed that those at the hermitage would have to bury Father Charbel in the church of the hermitage. Nevertheless, young men from Annaya and its neighborhood wore their winter clothes and their heavy boots. They wrapped some covering around their heads, so that only their eyes were visible. Each carried a shovel to clear the road from the snow and to lean on it as a support while making their way. With courage, they faced the mounds of snow, so they could see their “saint,” and have the honor of carrying his body on their shoulders down to the monastery and then to the grave.
At 8:00 A.M., a small group of these young men had gathered and joined the monks who were kneeling near the body of Father Charbel in church. Sorrowfully, together they prayed, their eyes fixed on Father Charbel who radiated the image of God in the most perfect way possible to man through the grace of God and because of his own voluntary efforts. Each one respect fully said, “He is a saint! Lucky him! God took him today to give him rest from his labors and to grant him reward of his virtues.”
At 9:00 A.M., they brought a casket made of three wooden boards nailed to a slab extending from both ends, so it could be carried on the shoulders ~ of the pallbearers. On it they put a mat of hair. Then the hermit, Father I’ Marcarius Mishmshany, the monks, and the brothers who had come from the monastery when Father Charbel died, carried the body and placed it in the casket. Father Marcarius, with tears in his eyes, and the monks, the brothers, and the young men carried it on their shoulders and began the descent from the hermitage to the monastery. The road was rugged. The strong men had shoveled some of the snow but more was falling, threatening to block the road again. The pallbearers were afraid they would drop the casket and the body because it was very difficult to walk the path leading to the hermitage. However, Father Macarius, the hermit, said to them: “Rely on God, do not be afraid; Father Charbel will make it easy for us.”
They had hardly left the door of the church when the rain, the snow and the wind stopped all at once. Little by little the clouds began to clear. The pallbearers had no trouble at all. In fact, carrying the body to the hermit age was easy. They exclaimed: “Miracle! This is one of Father Charbel miracles.”
George Emmanuel Abi-Saseen of Mishmash, a resident of Annaya, and one of the bearers, testified in the 17th Session, which took place on Oct. 13, 1926. After swearing to tell the truth and kneeling in the church with his right hand on the Holy Gospel, he said: “Father Charbel died on the eve of Christmas; the snow was heavy. We transferred him to the monastery on Christmas day. Before we moved him, the snow was falling rapidly and the clouds were very dark. When we carried him, the clouds disappeared, and the weather cleared.”
Brother Peter of Mishmash, of the Lebanese order, a servant at the hermitage during the life of Father Charbel, testified that he was present at the death and at the funeral (Page 38 of the Investigation). “On the day of the funeral, it was raining and snowing.”
How great is the Lord and how great is His mercy and love for those who fear Him. He send His angel before everyone of these “lest they das their foot against a stone” (Ps. 91:12).
He is the One who calmed the rough area and walked upon it. He is the One who gave orders to the wind: “Be calm,” and it became calm. He gave orders to the wind at the mountain of Annaya and commanded the tempest and the snow to “Stop!” and they did. The clouds disappeared the weather cleared. It seems that God provided that the angels cooperated and see the face of His servant, Job; His beloved Charbel has endured patiently the suffering and the weakness of the body and It ridicule of those who mock the deeds of Christian heroism and the monastic and hermetic life, those who laugh at abstinence and mortification.
The small procession continued slowly, quietly, from the summit Mount Annaya to the monastery of St. Maron, located at the foot of the mountain. There was none of the grandeur that usually accompanies the funeral of clergymen. Each one of the pallbearers was saying: “Father Charbel had died. The angels took his soul to Abraham’s bosom, and here we are taking his body to the grave, to the dirt. The soul of Father Charbel is whiter than this snow which covers the earth and dazzles our eyes.”
The sun appeared over those high mountains and over the valleys, and the rays created some of the most beautiful, incredible spectacles. It seemed as if the sun itself wanted to bid farewell to Father Charbel. This was the same sun that burned his body in the summer as he worked in the garden and the same sun, which he sought so that he could suffer its rays to mortify his body. The sun seemed to be blessing God, our Maker, for this precious treasure placed here on earth to be an ornament for the sons of Adam and Eve. God will be praised and glorified by it in reparation for the fall of our first parents and for the transgression of sinners.
The cortege continued to move humbly over the snow to the monastery of St. Maron Annaya. There the fathers and brothers met it as it carried the holy body to the monastery and placed it on a platform. All flushed to kiss Father Charnel’s hands, asking for his intercession with God, saying, “This man knew how to live his life, for the glory of God and for his own salvation, whether at the house of his parents, in the Order, or at the hermitage. He ascended the ladder of holiness to heaven with giant steps like the angels who, in Revelation, ascended the ladder of Jacob. And now, he has reached the destination. How fortunate for him!”
People from the surrounding towns started to pour into the monastery, from Ehmej, from Mishmash, Toraza, Ouainey, Kfar Baal, Annaya, even Hojula, despite the fact that the inhabitants of the latter are Shiite Moslems. Nothing stopped them from coming, neither the distance nor the freezing cold, nor the high accumulation of snow. They said, “All fatigue and weariness are nothing to us who wish to bid farewell to Father Charbel and be blessed by kissing his hands before his burial. This is more valuable than the whole world, in our eyes.”
As for the women in the neighborhood, they were sorry that they were unable to come to bid farewell to the saint. They wanted to be there very much. But women were forbidden to enter the monasteries of monks by virtue of the monastic law of cloister. Father Charbel himself, ever since he entered religious life, did not allow his eyes to see women, not even the face of his mother Brigita, nor his sister and his niece Rose (Wardeh).
At that time no one ever dreamed that in the future permission would be granted to the monastery of St. Maron Annaya to open the doors of its church and the cells of its monks to men and women and pilgrims coming from Lebanon and other countries of the world to see the body of Father Charbel, without its being subject to excommunication or other impediment. The miracle of April 22, 1950 was the incentive that caused the patriarch to remove the excommunication and allow all people, men and women, to temporarily enter the monastery for the benefit of the visiting sick and all the faithful.
At 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon of that day, the customary funeral service for monks and hermits was held in the church of St. Maron Annaya. When the liturgical prayers of the funeral were completed, those participating believed that the life of Father Charbel and his memory on earth had ended, and that this was the last prayer Father Charbel would attend in the church of the monastery.
The funeral was very plain. No one person eulogized Father Charbel because each and everyone present was in conversation praising Charbel for his attitude, his piety and his sentiments. He lived quietly and wanted to die and be buried without notice. His attitude about living and dying was in conformity with his humble life. In this sense, the fact that it was snowing and was frigid cold helped to simplify the funeral ceremonies. Moreover, the superior of the monastery, Father Anthony Mishmshany, well known for his prudence, his sagacity and his appreciation of pious monks, was absent for several reasons, one of which was that the Maronite patriarch, John Peter Hage was ill, and had died. Therefore, the fathers at the monastery of St. Maron did not know what to do in the absence of the superior to honor Father Charbel at his death in a manner befitting his sublime virtues.
After the funeral, the monks were about to carry the body to the common grave of the monastery, when some of them came up with the idea of placing Father Charbel in a coffin for the purpose of keeping him separate from the bodies of the other deceased monks. However, the vicar responded: “We cannot go against the rules without consent. According to our by-laws, we cannot bury the monk in a coffin without the permission of our superior.”
This is what the eye-witnesses, Brother Francis of Artaba, said in this respect (page 105 of Investigation): “On the glorious feast of Christmas, the funeral of Father Charbel took place. When the time came to bury him, some of the monks wanted him to be buried alone in a special place because the common grave was full of water. They felt he should not be buried there because he was a saint. Others, among them, the vicar to the superior, insisted that he be buried in the common grave. The vicar said ‘If he is a saint, he will preserve himself.’ And so Charbel was buried in the common grave.”
Saba Bou-Moussey, another eye-witness, testified as to the flow of people who came to attend the rite of the funeral. “We went to the monastery to attend his funeral. We found crowds who had travelled from all areas around the monastery, Christians and Shiites-Moslems from Hojula and its neighboring villages, the expression of sadness and sorrow on their faces attesting to the greatness of this loss. Most of them had not been asked to come. They came of their own volition out of respect for and to receive a blessing from Father Charbel.”
Brother Francis Artaba and Saba Bou-Moussey were not the only ones to testify. Many of those who were present at the death and burial also testified. We limited ourselves to two witnesses taken from the official investigation, for the simple reason of showing the source of our information (Father Mansour Awad wrote this account before Charbel was canonized in 1974).
After the funeral, the body of Father Charbel was carried on the shoulders of his brother monks to the common grave. All tongues were saying to him, “We congratulate you, O saint! Remember us before God. Pray us, so God may have mercy on us, and grand us a happy death.”
The Burial of Saint Charbel In the Common Grave at St. Maron Annaya
The funeral ended and there was a complete silence, like an eloquent euIogy to the hermit who spent all his life in silence. The fathers of the monastery approached, carried the holy body and placed it at the entrance of the common grave of monks. The custom was that in the funeral of clerics, members of the clergy carry the priest’s body first in procession and then to the grave. There, despite the freezing cold, a crowd of people gathered, among them women who had come to see the face of Father Charbel and to have a perfect view of the monk who had not allowed a full view of his face to ever be seen by women. It was the first and the last me they would see him, so they believed. None was able to foresee the future and know what would happen to this man of God and to his body. Who was capable of rolling away for these women, for their sons and daughters, the stone God used to seal the life of Father Charbel, the hermit, and place it at the door of death, the door of this grave, so they, the women, could see the face of Father Charbel before the day of Resurrection? The entrance of the grave was narrow and low to a degree where it was level with the ground, even below it. It was open!
Some clergy and lay people entered the grave to prepare a place for the body of Charbel. There they found no other body of the deceased monks preserved. They gathered the bones of the dead and placed them to one side.
What worried those who entered the grave to prepare a place for Charbel was the fact that the floor was full of mud and water leaking profusely from the ceiling and the eastern wall and especially through the door. The floor of the grave in the winter was like a little pond. When the condition of the grave was reported to the Vicar, in the absence of the Superior, he gave orders to have two planks placed on the floor of the grave over two large stones. When this was done, the body of Father Charbel was lowered into the grave and placed on two planks. His body was purposely positioned in such a way that it rested where the main altar was located.
In spirit he could join the monks in their prayers, meditations, Masses and visits to the Blessed Sacrament. Since it was impossible for him to be buried in the church, he was buried as close to it as possible.
All the monks and lay people who had accompanied the body of Father Charbel into the grave knelt down in the mud and kissed his hands and his feet. All were crying. The water was dripping on them from the ceiling and their feet were immersed in mud and water up to their ankles. After they came out of the grave, they put the stone over the entrance and covered it with dirt and snow. Then the final prayer was said by one of the fathers. They all were saying, “He is a saint! Lucky him.” Others said, “It is a shame that he is buried in the mud! If the Father Superior were here, he would not have allowed Father Charbel to be buried but in a proper coffin.”
Our description of the funeral of Father Charbel is not our own; we obtain it from the description of the grave as reported by the official investigation of 1926 on the burial of Father Charbel on December 25, 1898.
[The author is repeating details about the grave: again stating that there were no preserved bodies there, only bones, and mud and water. As a lawyer, Fr. Awad wanted to ask witnesses and consult records just to prove his facts. The body found uncorrupt later in the grave was indeed that of Father Charbel.]
After the burial, everybody returned home, telling their families about the ceremony, about their feelings, about how miserable the grave was and describing the mud and water, which filled it. They told their relatives, “No doubt the body of Father Charbel will decompose quickly because it is buried in a pond of mud and water. Father Charbel humiliated his body in life and now he seems to want to have it mortified after death, so it will be totally annihilated before God. He wanted his bones to be mixed with those of his brother monks, so he wouldn’t have any privileges over.
A Prophecy in the Recording Of Father Charbel’s Death
A week after the death of Father Charbel, the Superior of the monastery, Father Anthony Mishmshany, returned. He was a prudent, scholarly, and very intelligent and pious monk. When he learned of the death of Father Charbel, he said:
> This is a monk who knew how to best utilize his years when a monk, or a novice, or a student, and whenever he was stationed, at the monastery of Kfeefan, at the monastery of St. Maron Annaya, or at the hermitage. To him we can easily apply the saying of Pope Sixtus V: “Give me a monk who observes his spirit and the letter of his monastic rules and I will beatify him in his life! “The hermit monk observed the monastic and hermitic rules in spirit and in behavior all his life. < He sanctified the Monastery of St. Maron when he lived there; he sanctified the grounds of the monastery by the sweat of his brow for eighteen years, plowing the field day after day, except on Sundays and holy days. His work was continuous prayer. He sanctified the hermitage by the monastic life, which surpasses ordinary human capability. He sanctified the vineyard of the hermitage also, by his hard labor without his ever tasting of the grapes it produced. His entire life was a chain of fruitful work of soul and body. He detached himself from everything in order to dedicate himself totally to God. All his actions were performed by virtue of supernatural grace. This hermit will sanctify the cemetery of the monastery. From his grave, he will watch over the monastery, the hermitage, the neighborhood, the Order, the Maronite Church and Lebanon. I have a deep feeling that Charbel will be of great importance in his death. People outside the hermitage never felt his presence when he was alive as we did, because he was secluded in the monastery and on top of the mountain, living as a hermit. He was absolutely forgotten. But, in the grave, even if he is concealed, even after his body goes to the earth from which it was taken, his ashes will be holy and God will use him to perform great things. I am very sorry he died while I was away. I wished I was present to receive his blessings, which, to me, would have been like the blessings of Abraham to Isaac, like the blessing of Isaac to Jacob, like the blessing of Jacob to his children. If I were here when he died, I would have placed him in a closed coffin. To preserve his bones as sacred relics. Then this wise Superior went straight to the grave, knelt down in the mud nearby where Father Charbel was buried and prayed for half an hour. The monks, knowing that he was there, came and knelt down behind him. Most of them thought he was praying for the repose of the soul of Father Charbel. However, he was praying to Father Charbel, asking his intercession on behalf of the monastery where he had lived, for the hermitage where he had spent twenty-three years glorifying God, for his companions residing in these two places, for the Order and for the Maronite Church, because he believed Charbel was a saint. When the Father Superior stood up, the monks noticed the tears pouring down his face and onto his beard. Then he addressed his community saying, "With the death of Father Charbel, we have lost the lightning rod which was protecting the Order, the Maronite Church and Lebanon with his saintly life. We pray God will have mercy on us and grant that the mission of his servant, Charbel, will remain with us here on earth, just as God promised the house of David that their lamp would be extinguished on earth for the glory of his servant, David." I the Father Superior lifted up his eyes and prayed, "Lord, for the monastery, for the Order and for Lebanon, preserve the lamp of water, which you lighted for your servant, Charbel, in a miraculous way. Preserve this lamp shinning in his body, so that it will illuminate our way in this darkened world. Deliver us from the dangers that surround us. Help us to walk in the path of poverty, chastity and obedience, which we promised to follow in this life when we made our solemn vows. May we reach Heaven, the Promised Land, from this lamp of exile? Amen!" Afterwards, the Superior entered the monastery and went to his room, closed the door and knelt down in prayer. He took the Record of the Dead, blessed himself with the sign of the cross, and recorded the death of Father Charbel in this way: On the 24th day of the month of December 1898, Father Charbel, the hermit of Bkakafra, died after suffering a stroke and receiving the Sacraments of the dead. He was buried in the monastery's grave. He was sixty-eight years old. Father Anthony Mishmshany was the superior of the monastery. What God will perform after his death will be sufficient proof of his exemplary behavior in the observance of his vows, to a degree where we can say that his obedience was angelic, not human. The Superior of the monastery, Fr. Anthony Mishmshany, knew Father Charbel very well. He knew the miracles God performed through Charbel during his life; he valued his monastic virtues and the sublimity of his monastic perfection in the hermitage. When this Father Superior recorded the death of Charbel, no doubt he was inspired to predict the future miracles we have since seen with our own eyes of which thousands of people throughout the world have heard. In fact, the phenomena taking place continuously around the tomb of Father Charbel, especially since April 22, 1960, is enough to tell us what this great Father Superior omitted to say regarding the life of Father Charbel. Blessed be God who uses His people to record what God has decreed for all eternity. This prophecy of Father Anthony, which he had written in the Record of the Dead, was forgotten until the events of February 20, 1950 of which we will speak later. I was appointed Defender of the Faith by his Beatitude, the Maronite Patriarch, Anthony Peter Areeda, by a decree, dated March 19th, to open the tomb of Father Makhlouf and to inspect his body in the = of the Medical Committee.
Light on the Body of Father Charbel in the Church and on the Tomb
The night following the death of Father Charbel, one of the monks went at midnight to the church to visit the Blessed Sacrament. The body of Father Charbel was in front of the altar. The monk saw a light bursting from the door of the tabernacle, circling the body of Father Charbel, easing up to the chandelier above the coffin and back to the tabernacle.
Since the first night following the burial of Charbel, the peasants who worked for the monastery and who lived across from it, also reported seeing a bright light emanating from the tomb, circling the monastery, sometimes shining on the windows of the cells, and sometimes on the windows of the church, then returning to the tomb. The rumor spread and many peasants, men and women, asserted that they saw the light every night for a month and a half. The news reached the superior of the monastery. He gave orders to the peasants to give him a signal when they saw the light, so he could go to their homes and see for himself.
This is exactly what took place. When some of the peasants saw the light around the tomb, they fired a hunting gun, so as to signal the superior that they saw the light. The superior then awakened and with the monks, went to the tomb where they indeed saw the light. Other times, he went with some of the fathers to one of the peasant’s houses and from there, they would view the brilliance. The news spread in the neighboring villages and people from all over world come at night near the monastery to see the light. They saw it and told the monks and others that they had. Among those who came to the tomb were some Moslems (Shiits); they saw the phenomenon and were astounded! They also spread the news of this wonder to people of their faith and to others whom they knew.
One very dark night, Sheik Mahmoud Hamade, the administrator of the region, was searching for a criminal in that area. Some soldiers were with him. He and the soldiers saw also a light in the shape of a star shining above the east wall of the monastery.
They followed the light, as if guided by it, until they reached the monastery. Then the light disappeared. They knocked at the door and the administrator related to the superior what he and his companions had seen. They told him, “We thought the light was coming from the monastery.” The superior was not surprised, since he and many others had seen the light. His belief in the holiness of Father Charbel increased, and he was certain that God would perform a miracle in the body of the hermit.
All of this is recorded in the official report on the notoriety of the holiness of Father Charbel Makhlouf and the miracles attributed to him, and from another report promoting the cause of beatification in 1926 – 1927. Eyewitnesses, among them monks, priests, brothers, lay people and many others whose honesty and integrity cannot be doubted confirmed these miracles. We compared the testimony of the witnesses and determined that they all agree on the truth of the apparition of the light above the tomb of the monks at St. Maron Annaya, from the time of the death of Father Charbel until the time he was removed from the tomb. We found a little disagreement in relating some secondary circumstances but not in substance. This is an indication that there was no collusion, nor personal gain among the witnesses, especially since they are not related to Father Charbel and they are all pious monks, or devout people of deep faith. More credibility is given to their depositions because they were canonically sworn to tell the truth as required by law in the Causes of Beatification. As we mentioned several times in this book, truth is vital to Catholic belief, with severe punishment inflicted in this world and in the next on those who perjure themselves.
Here we begin with the deposition by Father Francis Sibrini, a monk of the Lebanese Order, given after oath on May 12 and May 14, 1926. He had known Father Charbel in the hermitage for thirteen years; he also was present in the monastery of St. Maron Annaya when Father Charbel died; he had helped to carry the body from the hermitage to the monastery at his death and at the time of his burial. The news about the apparition of the light on the tomb had spread when he was in the monastery. In answer to a question, he said,
The night before the burial, and after the transfer of the body from the hermitage to the church, Brother Elias Bmehrini visited the Blessed Sacrament, as was his habit, at midnight. After he had completed 15 decades of the rosary and the prayers of the visitation, he came running to me, trembling, saying: “I saw something extraordinary. I have never seen it before in my life. Come and see. It is a light flowing from the Tabernacle and circling the body of Father Charbel. Then it goes up to the chandelier above the coffin and from there back to the Tabernacle.” I hurried with him to the church but I saw nothing. I began to argue with him, but he kept assuring me, indicating with his finger, the light, exactly like someone seeing a reality before his eyes. Still, I saw nothing. I thought he was hallucinating. < Despite all of this, the same Father Sibrini said in his testimony: Since the first night after the burial of Father Charbel, the peasants who work for the monastery and who live in Annaya, which faces the tomb, came and told us that they had seen a brilliant light rising from the tomb and floating around the monastery, sometimes at the windows of the cells, sometimes around the windows of the church, and then back to the tomb. < One night, the administrator of the area, a Moslem, was coming with some of his soldiers to capture a fugitive. One of the soldiers was a Christian, and secretary to the administrator; his name was Abdallah Mouawad. They came down from Qwayneh to capture the criminal, and, as they approached, they saw the flow of light from the tomb. They followed it until they neared the monastery. Then the light disappeared. They knocked at the door, and told the superior that they had seen from a distance a bright light shining like a star, moving ahead of them gradually, until it disappeared at the door of the monastery. Abdallah Mouawad said, "I believe it was coming from the town of Father Charbel, the hermit, who died recently." The conversation continued and the Moslem administrator said, "I will contact the Patriarch and publish our account in the newspaper." I have known bishops and patriarchs who have died and I have gone past the tombs of many, yet I've never seen anything like this spectacle which has dazzled our eyes! One night, before retiring to bed, Father Anthony Mishmshany asked Brother Peter Mishmshany to get up and bring him some water from the fountain outside the monastery, near the tomb. He took a small pitcher and an oil lantern and went. He tarried for more than twenty minutes. The errand should not have taken more than five minutes. When he delayed further, Father Anthony Mishmshany and some of his companions opened the door and called to him. He answered from the vicinity of the tomb; "Father Charbel appeared to me in the form of a star. I couldn't go back because the lantern I had with me went out." They then took a lamp and went to fetch him. They found Brother Mishmshany sitting at the door of the tomb; his clothes dirty with mud and the pitcher still in his hand. He was shivering. He told them that while he was descending with the pitcher of water from the fountain, a blaze of fire in the shape of a multi-colored star, jumped out at him from the door of the tomb. He was stunned and fell to the ground (Report, page 25, 26). Meelade, the widow of Tannous Shahadi, a Maronite and a peasant, who lived at Annaya, gave a short but precious testimony in this report. She said, "The apparition of the light at night over his tomb became frequent; I saw it three times. We reported this to the monks, but they did not believe us. When the Superior, Father Anthony Mishmshany came to our house, which faces the monastery from the south side, he saw the light for himself. Soon after, the corpse of Father Charbel was removed from the tomb." Peter Sleiman Daher, a farmer at Annaya, on the property of the monastery, testified on page 28 of the report, as to why the monks took the body of Father Charbel out of the tomb, "Because they saw a light over his tomb which I myself, had seen twice. The body was removed from the tomb four months after the burial, as I recall." The testimony of Brother Peter Mifouki, (Mifouki is the name of his town), is of special value, despite its brevity. "The body of Fr. Charbel was taken from the tomb, after a light had appeared over it. Many saw it, peasants and others. One dark and rainy night, when a Moslem administrator came with his soldiers, they saw a light over the tomb, enabling them to walk and see their way clearly. When they reached the monastery, the light disappeared. They called on the monks to open the door for them. I answered them, 'The door is locked. It is late and the monks are asleep. This is no time for hospitality.' They urged, 'Open. When you know who we are you will not argue with us.' We opened for them. They told us about the wondrous glow. As time went on, the lights became more frequent." An inhabitant of Annaya, George Emmanuel Abi-Sasseen, originally from Mishmash, a Maronite, deeply religious and pious, said concerning Father Charbel, > After his burial and since the first night, we used to see shining over the tomb from our homes, a distance of ten minutes from the south, a brilliant light, different from ordinary lights, resembling an electric light, appearing and disappearing. No matter how long we looked at it, it remained constant. Because of the light, we could now see the dome of the monastery and the east wall of the church, opposite the tomb, better than we could see it during the day. We would come to the monastery and tell the monks but they wouldn’t believe us. We kept seeing this amazing spectacle every time we spent the evening in the house of our neighbor, which faced the tomb. All those who were spending the evening there saw it, too. Things remained that way until the tomb was opened and the body of Father Charbel removed. Then the light stopped appearing. From that time on, Father Charbel became famous and people started to visit his tomb to ask for his intercession.
No less important is the testimony of Joseph Elias Bo Sleiman, of Ehmej, a peasant at Annaya. He said,
> I knew Father Charbel for a long time; when he was a monk in the monastery, and when he lived in the hermitage, until the time of his death. I am not knowledgeable in these delicate matters about which you ask me. However, I will tell you simply and briefly what I know about him.
I was present at his burial in the common grave of the monastery. All those who attended his funeral said, “Lucky him! He is a saint, he went to heaven in his clothes.” This is a common expression [in his clothes].
After burial, other peasants and I saw from our homes facing the monastery, a brilliant light over the tomb in the dark night. We saw it many times. But I, personally, saw it three times. However, when the body of Father Charbel was taken out of his tomb, the light stopped appearing. < May we be allowed to relate the testimony of Father Peter Mishmshany? He lived at the monastery of St. Maron five years before the death of Father Charbel. He had visited Father Charbel during his last illness and participated in his funeral and burial. He said, "When a light was seen rising over the tomb, witnessed by many people, then the tomb was opened and the body was found to be sound, perfect, incorrupt." We conclude these testimonies with the valuable, eye-witness testimony of Saba Bou-Moussey Quwayny: > I don’t recall exactly how long after the burial of Father Charbel, but it was well known that the peasants, whose homes were facing the tomb from the south, many times saw a brilliant light coming out of the tomb where Father Charbel was buried. From them, the news reached Ehmej and Hojoula (a Moslem town), and Artba. The inhabitants flocked to visit the tomb. They said that the light would appear ordinary at first, but would become larger and wider the higher it rose. It happened that the administrator of the region, Moslem Sheiek Mahmoud Hamade, came one night with some of his soldiers to look for some fugitives from the government. He thought they were hiding in the neighboring woods close to the monastery. They tied their horses in the vicinity of my house (at Mount Quwayney) and walked toward the monastery. When they arrived they saw a light, at first dim, but becoming brighter as they approached the door of the monastery, east of the church. At first they thought that the criminals were hiding there. They hurried to where the light shone but found no one. They knocked at the door of the monastery and when it was opened they searched but found no one other than the inhabitants there. They then told the Superior and the monks what they had seen. The Superior, Fr. Anthony Mishmshany, answered them. “For a long time, we have been hearing that people see a light where you say you saw it, at the tomb of the monastery where the body of Father Charbel is buried.” Sheik Mahmoud answered him, “By God, the first chance I have, I shall tell His Beatitude, the Patriarch, of this matter.” A few days later, the Superior received orders from His Beatitude to open the tomb, to inspect the body and to report on its condition”.
We shall abstain from mentioning the testimony of those witnesses, who only heard of the appearance of the light, as we have related at length the testimony of eyewitnesses. These are enough, especially if we bear in mind that there is no reason for any doubt or illusion. We listened to a variety of witnesses; among them women, and the common and pious peasants. Moreover, electricity had yet reached that area and the inhabitants had not even heard of electricity. In those days, kerosene was the primary source of all light in the cells of the monastery, and the fancy lamp of kerosene used was thought to be an adornment, an extravagance in the monastery and the hermitage, in the peasants’ homes and in the entire region.
Despite the fact that the light appeared as described, the monks at first would not believe any story by anyone until they first checked it very ‘. Closely or verified it by personal experience.
What is consoling in this regard is the fact that the light at first appeared to simple people, even to women who were poor and illiterate. At the end, it appeared to the Moslem administrator and his soldiers. This way, no one can have any doubt that it was an exclusive experience. The monks at the monastery themselves were the most doubting, and the least believing of all. Most of them remained non-believers until they saw the body of Father Charbel preserved. The strength of the faith of the people and the miracles concerning this body overwhelmed them. They remind me of St. Thomas who doubted the Resurrection of Christ “without probing the nail prints in His hands, without putting his finger and placing his hand into His side” (John 20:25).
God allowed all this to take place, and we marvel at it. Nobody can say that the monks invented this story for their own benefit by seducing the public. This in itself is a sign from God to honor His servant, Charbel, the hermit. God, in His divine plan, has dealt with us before in a simple way. The Angels of God announced the birth of the Redeemer to the shepherds of Bethlehem. The light of God appeared to the Magi in the remote east. He sent a shining beam to precede them, lighting their path and showing them the way to the manger of Bethlehem, where they would see the Messiah, worship Him and offer Him their gifts of gold, frankencense ant myrth (Mt. 2:11).
Here again, God directs us to the condition of his faithful servant, Charbel, by means of light pouring from the darkness of the lowly tomb, marvelous brilliance seen by simple Christian people and Moslem men not by scientists, nor monks, nor hermits.
From the preceding testimonies, it seems that the appearance of the light on the tomb of Father Charbel was a primary reason for the opening of the tomb, to inspect the condition of the body and take the necessary steps to preserve it in a special place or in a proper coffin, regardless of whether or not it was intact. There was another immediate reason for the opening of the tomb and that was to determine what caused the light.
Another reason that prompted the monks was that rumors said the faithful from the neighborhood were determined to open the tomb by force in secret to see the condition of the body of the “saint and to be blesses by him. They believed that the light, which appeared around the tomb many times, was sent from God to honor Charbel. They wanted to divide Charbel’s body and bones among them, as saintly relics, which they intended to wear on their person and place in their homes to protect them selves from adversities and to assure them health of body, peace if mind and abundance of earthly goods.
The investigations show that some people had opened the tomb when the superior was absent from the monastery and that they saw the “saint’ floating on the water, as if he were still alive, sleeping, oblivious to the cold, the dampness, and the water from the rain pipe of the church. For four months, it had been dripping over Charbel causing a perforation in hi eye and deforming the tip of his nose.
These people upon seeing the body of the “saint” were extremely afraid and filled with awe. They took as a blessing relics and a few hairs from his beard.
In addition, the superior of the monastery and the monks had opened the tomb to ascertain the condition of Father
Charbel’s corpse. They were to report on it, to the Patriarch and ask for his permission to remove the body. According to the testimony of an eyewitness, Father Francis Sibrini a monk of the Lebanese Order:
More than three months after death and burial, when the news on the light coming from the tomb became more frequent, visitors started to journey from many villages, bringing along their sick. Some would rush to the entrance of the tomb to take a relic from the body of the saint. The monks asked the superior to allow the opening of the tomb. He agreed and when the tomb was opened, they found the body almost completely immersed in water. They returned to the superior insisting that he allow them to take it out of the water and bury it near the church in a dry place to protect it from dampness and corruption. He agreed, but first sent an emissary to the Patriarch to explain the situation, asking him what should be done. He also explained the story of the lights saying that no one could stop the visitors and turn them away from the tomb. His Beatitude gave orders to keep the body where it was, to remove the water from around it, to elevate it from the floor, and to take the necessary steps to prevent the water from seeping into the tomb. And so, the tomb was again opened. The monks went inside, removed the water, elevated the body on two planks over two blocks of wood, added soil to the roof of the tomb and flattened it, so the water would not seep inside. The first time that I, myself, saw the body with my own eyes, it had not decayed. I am positive that it was the body of Father Charbel because nobody was buried there after him. He had not changed. The body remained that way in the same place inside the tomb for about five months, until the Patriarch issued an order to remove it and place it in a hidden area, unavailable to visitors. The reason for this was because visitors were flocking from everywhere and had opened the tomb by force they saw the body and took hair from his beard. They removed pieces of his fingernails or his clothing and carried away dirt from the tomb. They took anything as a relic.
Why should we be amazed at what these pilgrims did out of their faith and devotion in order to take a blessing to the sick in their families, when the monks, themselves, who were in charge of caring for the tomb and guarding the body of Father Charbel, had initially opened the tomb without the authorization of the Patriarch.
Their successors in the monastery did the same thing, fifty years later, when the perspiration from the body of Father Charbel overflowed, gushing from the floor of the chapel near the tomb. The monks secretly opened the tomb in the darkness of night on February 25, 1950, without asking permission of the proper authority. When they saw the body of Father Charbel immersed in a blood-like perspiration, they inspected his clothing, then closed the coffin and sealed the tomb.
Afterwards, they had recourse to the Patriarchal authority to absolve them from excommunication, in case they had incurred it by their actions. At the same time, they requested that the tomb be opened, and the body examined of facially by knowledgeable people. The Patriarch acquiesced by issuing a decree on March 10, 1950.
The intensity of piety of the people of the East overcame their proper behavior, when experiencing extraordinary spiritual events, to a point where they sometimes disregarded the law. However, their good intentions, their love for the things of God, and their respect for the saints after death, all can be taken as a justification of their actions.
This enthusiasm dates back in early Christian history. We recall the pious women who followed Jesus and served him “very early,” just after sunrise, on the first day of the week when they came to the tomb. They said to one another, “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” (Mark 16:2,3). They were women and yet had the courage to come to the tomb, its door sealed by a large stone placed by the authority of the Roman Empire, guarded by the soldiers day and night. These women didn’t heed the fact that Jewish leaders, out of their fear of Jesus, were always alert and hostile.
Therefore, we cannot blame the people of the neighboring villages of the monastery of St. Maron, who had the audacity to open the tomb of Father Charbel by force and remove the small stone from its door in order to see Father Charbel and pray to him. It is enough to say that they only did what the monks and their superior had also done.
Their motives lie in their faith, hope and love and the belief that God would cure their sickness through the intercession of his servant, Charbel, especially if they could obtain a relic from his body. We even praise them for their actions, which motivated the superior of the monastery to present Charbel’s case to the Patriarch.
The star that was shining on the tomb of Charbel for three months was only the beginning of what God would perform through his servant, as is written in the prophecy in the Deaths Record of the monastery.
The Opening of the Tomb by Patriarchal Decree
After the appearance and reappearance of the bright light on the cemetery and around the monastery, since the death of Father Charbel Makhlouf, and in order to satisfy the wishes of the faithful in the neighborhood who wanted to know the secret of the apparition of that brilliant light, together with the insistences of the monks that the tomb be opened to visitors, Fr. Anthony Mishmshany finally agreed and opened the tomb with the help of the monks to inspect the condition of the body. He detailed to the late Patriarch Elias Peter Howayek all that took place around the tomb since the death and burial of the hermit. He described the condition of the body and asked for permission to transfer it to another location in the monastery. The Patriarch, at first, did not agree to transferring the body from the tomb. Instead, he gave orders to keep the body there and to take measures to protect it by stopping the water from reaching the tomb and eliminating the dampness from it. The monks acquiesced to the order of the Beatitude. However, the Patriarch himself later became aware of the possibility of visitors entering the tomb furtively and mutilating the body by taking a relic from it. He then authorized the Superior of the monastery, in an exceptional way, to open the tomb and take the body from it, despite the fact that only a few months had elapsed since the death and burial of Charbel. (The body had not been embalmed.) The Patriarch also instructed the monks to keep the body of the hermit in a special coffin and to hide it somewhere in the church where the faithful would not be able to prematurely give him the honor and veneration due only to saints as this would be contrary to Canon Law and the monks would be held responsible. The Superior and the monks obeyed the orders of the Patriarch; they opened the tomb, removed the body and put it in a poor wooden coffin, without a cover, then placed it in the middle of the church. They kept it there for one night. The following day, they exposed the body to the sunlight in the corridor of the monastery, removed the soiled clothing and replaced them with clean garments. They covered the coffin and carried it to a place inaccessible to visitors, inside the north wall of the church, in the upper part called “al-manbash.”
The Circumstances of the Tomb When Opened and the Condition of the Body Inside
Twelve monks were present when the tomb was opened the first and second time. Some had participated in the burial of Father Charbel on December 25, 1898. Now some of these monks, in April of 1899, opened the coffin, inspected the body of Charbel, dressed him in new clothing and hid his body in the “manbash.”
There were other witnesses, monks and people from the neighborhood, who were also present. All these eyewitnesses, and others who were present at the time of the burial and had entered the tomb, testified before the tribunal that the tomb at the time of Father Charbel’s burial, was empty except for some bones gathered in one corner. They testified that the center of the tomb was filled with mud and water and that water was seeping from the well and from the roof.
Most of these people also testified that the body of Father Charbel had been placed in the mud and water and that two planks of wood had been placed under it upon two stones, only when the Patriarch gave orders to do so in 1899.
All these witnesses who entered the tomb when the body was taken out in April of 1899 certified again that the tomb was a puddle of water and mud and gravel. They said that the body was immersed in water coming from the ceiling and the rain pipes on the roof of the church with the water pouring over the face of Charbel.
The body and clothing of the hermit were untouched by corruption. Despite all the terrible circumstances, the condition in which the body was found was exactly as it was when he died on the evening of December 24, 1898. His body was tender, his members were flexible, his muscles soft; there was no dryness in his skin and flesh; his beard was present in its entirety, the hair on his scalp was the same, and the monastic crown on his head was preserved as it had been at the moment of his death.
How amazing! Death and the sign of death could not prevail over the body of Charbel! His soul separated from the body, but many of the properties of a living remained intact for all these fifty-four years. (Fr. Mansour’s book was printed in 1952, Fr. Charbel died in 1898. That is why we state fifty-four years).
The following are testimonies of venerable and respectable monks who knew the truth. They testified as to what they had seen with their own eyes, without adding or diminishing anything of what they remembered. Here also are the testimonies of the lay people, neighbors of the monastery, told with the simplicity of little children.
First, the testimony of Sab Bou-Moussey, concerning the time the tomb was first opened. He was among the first who placed the body of Father Charbel in his grave and the last to bid him farewell. He was the first to run to the grave to see him and verify if death had returned the body to the dust from which was taken. He said, Yes, I was present when the tomb was opened. The reason I was present was that I had a pain in my back as the result of an injury when lightning hit my house two years ago. I had tried all kinds of treatments, to no avail. I was bent forward and in continuous pain. If I walked a few hours, I had to rest for two days. Therefore, when I heard that the Patriarch had ordered the Superior of the monastery to open the tomb and to check the body, I went to the grave with the hope of being cured because I was sure Charbel was a saint. I asked the Superior to allow me to be the first to enter the tomb and he gave me his permission. I entered bending down because the entrance was low and narrow. I felt a severe pain in my back; my feet were immersed in mud about two inches deep. I found the body of Father Charbel exactly as we had placed it on the day of his burial; his clothes were dry. I uncovered his chest and the rest of his body and found it covered with mold of a blue color.
Then, Brother Elias Bmahreeney asked the Father Superior to enter the tomb after me. He did and removed two pieces of flesh that had fallen from the heels of the hermit’s feet. I, however, wiped my hand over his back and his chest and rubbed my back with the blue mold that had stuck to my hand from his body, saying to Charbel “Now is your turn! You died in my hands and I did not ask you for anything. Cure me now.” His body, all his muscles were soft, flexible, as they were when he was alive. I remember very well that his thumb and the finger of his hand, which I lifted up for the Superior to see, had no mold on them. The Superior then asked us to come out of the grave and gave orders to close it. < The first miracle is summed up with Saba Bou-Moussey statement "After the closing of the grave, I went with the monks to Ehmej to attend the funeral of David Joseph Saad. I walked both ways, which took me two hours. When I came back home, my wife said to me," 'I see that you're not tired as usual. Did Father Charbel cure you?' I then came to the realization of the change concerning myself. I felt the spot on my body that had caused me so much pain and the hump on my back. I stood up and sat down. I bent to the right and to the left. I felt no pain at all!"
The Opening of the Tomb for the Second Time and the Removal of the Body
Then Saba Bou-Moussey reaffirmed the events of the opening of the tomb the second time and the removal of the body of Charbel as ordered by the Patriarch.
The tomb was opened and the body removed in the presence of Father Maroon Mishmshany, Father Joseph Mishmshany, and the hermit, Father Macarius, Charbel’s companion in the hermitage. Also present were Brother Peter Mishmshany, Brother Elias Bmehreeni, Father Joseph of Ehmej. As of 1952, three of these people were still alive. The body was then placed in the middle of the church on the bare floor. We asked that the mold be wiped from the body, but Father Maroon, who was in charge, refused. The body was left in the church until morning.
Father Maroon came early to say Mass. He was very much bothered by the odor of the mold. The monks and I entered the church and found the water running from under the body; this was most unusual. The odor from the mold on the body was very strong. We carried the body from the church to the corridor in the monastery, placed it on a mat of hair, took off the clothes, and wiped the mold from it with a large piece of linen, which I kept at home. The odor from the linen was moldy at first, and then it began to emit a sweet perfumed aroma. I kept it as a precious treasure. Many would ask for a piece of the linen as a relic and I would give it to them.
When we finished wiping the mold from the body, we found it in perfect condition from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet. It was as if the soul were present. The hair of Charbel’s beard was preserved with a little gray; the hair on his chest was white. One of his eyes was somehow sunken compared to the other because of the dripping of the water Iron the tomb’s ceiling during the winter season. On the flesh of his waist, one could see the markings of a chain of wire, but there was no wound. They put another clean monastic robe on the body, placed it in a plain wooden coffin, without a cover, and laid it in a small place on the upper part of the north wall of the church called “Manbash.”
Thus far, the testimony of Saba Bou-Moussey, May 10, 1926.
On May 15, 1926, the testimony of Brother Peter of Mishmash was taken. He was the server to the hermit, Father Charbel, and an eyewitness to events. He was among the first who took part in the burial of the man of God and one of those who inspected his body in the tomb and later removed it. He described in detail the condition of the body in the tomb when they took it out, confirming all previous testimony.
The Defender of the Faith asked Brother Peter, “Are you sure this body is the body of Father Charbel?”
Amazed at the question, he answered, “How can I not know Father Charbel? He is himself in all of his body; nothing in him has changed. In fact he looks exactly as he did at the moment of his death!” Then he said, “We took the body out. It was perfect as were the clothes covering it, even though they were stained with mud. The body and the clothes were not wet from the mud, and yet the handle of the shovel, which is made out of wood, disintegrated.” This was the shovel that was left in the tomb when Father Charbel was first entombed. This pious and simple brother continued to give his account as others had, adding, “The body was perspiring. We would wipe the perspiration with our handkerchiefs and keep them as relics. I also filled a jar with mold and perspiration. When people knew that I had a jar containing a blessing from the body of Father Charbel, they would take some of its contents believing it would cure them from their illness.”
It would have been enough to present the testimony of only two eyewitnesses. However, this event is unusual and of a great importance. For this reason, we prefer document the testimony of a few more eyewitnesses. We are certain that these testimonies will satisfy everyone who reads them, or any non-believer, amazed or not by the historic, unusual and astonishing events. We are relating what we learned officially, without any connivance, or motive of publicity. All testimony was taken in secret, where one witness did not know what the other witness had said. A witness could not discuss or tell anyone what the Judicial Committee had asked him, either before or after the inquiry, remaining silent under the most severe penalty of excommunication, of which no priest could absolve him, since absolution is a right reserved only to His Holiness, the Pope. Moreover, all the witnesses who testified in the cause of Father Charbel were old, pious monks, or lay people known for their deep faith and piety. Everyone of them would prefer to die rather than commit one mortal sin, especially one of this gravity.
Let us now listen to the testimony of Father Joseph of Ehmege, who in 1952 was still living at eighty years of age. In answer to question No. 46, he replied, “Yes, I was present when the tomb was opened and I saw the body of Father Charbel. I was sure it was him because his body was exactly as it was when he was alive, and there was no decay.”
He also said in answer to question No. 48,
When the body was taken out of the tomb, the hands were folded in the shape of a cross. The body was supple, soft and flexible. On the hands you could see the traces of white mold, like cotton, and the same could be seen on his face. When the body was placed in the ground, Saba bou-Moussey wiped the mold from the hands and the face; then the hands and the face appeared as those of a living man who was sleeping. Then, Saba, who was suffering from a backache for one year since being struck by a thunderbolt, wiped his own back with the mold and was cured instantly! He threw his cane away. From the waist of Charbel’s body, some red blood was oozing. Somebody filled a jar with the liquid. The body was intact and incorrupt.
Brother Elias Bmehreeny, of the Lebanese Order, and also an eyewitness, gave a brief testimony to corroborate what was said previously. On October 12, 1926, the Inquiring Committee called on Father Elias of Ehmege, a fifty-year-old monk of the Lebanese Order, to be an exofficiol witness. He had spent thirty-two years in the religious order, and knew Father Charbel personally. He was present when the tomb was opened the first and the second times, and gave similar documented, detailed testimony. He concluded that Charbel’s body was flexible, tender, exuding fresh blood as if he had died that very hour, with no sign of corruption. Joseph Elias Abou-Sleiman, an associate-worker at the monastery, said, “When the body of Father Charbel was taken from the grave, the light which used to appear on the grave did not appear anymore. I saw the body, and recognized it as that of Father Charbel.”
Just as significant is the testimony of Father Francis Sibrini on May 14, 1926, when the Chief Justice asked him to describe “the condition of the body when it was taken out of the tomb; was it dry or moist; was it exuding anything; did it have any sign of corruption?” Father Sibrini replied, “It was moist, flexible; its color, blackened; the stomach caved in, with the trace of injury where the iron cincture Charbel used to wear was tied. There was no sign of corruption. An unpleasant odor, of mold, however, was emanating from it. The body itself was perfect, as it was at the hour of his death.”
About the body, he said, “The monks, obeying the orders of the Patriarch, removed the body from the tomb to the arc of the church. During the night, they placed the body on the roof to allow the mold and the dampness to dry out. In the morning they transferred it to a simple coffin and buried it in a location in the church where it was practically impossible for visitors to see it.”
George Emmanuel of Annaya knew Father Charbel personally when he was alive, and one of those who carried his body from the hermitage to the monastery on December 26, 1898. He also took part in the burial of the “saint” in the monks’ common grave.
His testimony is essentially the same as the other eyewitnesses as to the aura of light, the incorrupt corpse, and the subsequent transfer of Father Charbel’s body to the staircase of the northern wall of the church.
The witness was giving his testimony inside the church. “When his clothes were removed, and others replaced them, I saw his hands, his feet, and his head. All appeared exactly as when he was alive; even his beard, his eyebrows and the hair on his head were the same but his right eye was a little whitened because of the dripping water. After the body was taken out of the grave, it was placed on the stairway in perfect condition.” At this the Defender of the Faith asked the witness, “You sound like you know everything that goes on in the monastery; as if you are one of the monks. Did anybody teach you what to say? Did anybody promise you money?” The witness replied, “Father, do not be surprised. I was an employee in the monastery, then I became a co-worker. When visitors arrive at the monastery, or when something special happens, we, the coworkers, come to serve. On holy days of obligation, even on working days, we attend Mass at the monastery; we labor at the monastery. When it comes to opening the graves and burying the monks, along with all manual tasks, we perform these duties without pay. Nobody instructed me regarding Father Charbel, neither today, nor any other day. Moreover, when we heard of the excommunication reserved to the Pope concerning perjured witnesses, we trembled with fear. When you ask us a question, we think carefully and examine our conscience ten times before we answer.
Moreover, I don’t see that the monks are very much concerned about the beatification of Father Charbel. On the contrary, I see many faces frowning, especially the Father Superior’s. The reason? There have been too many expenses incurred since the Inquisition Committee stayed here. And I think you, yourselves, have noticed the apathy.”
Father Nemetallah Mishmshany, Superior of the Monastery of St. Maron Annaya, said in his testimony, “They removed him from the tomb because of the many lights which appeared radiating from the tomb; not for the purpose of worshipping him. As for the permission of the Patriarch, I don’t know if it was written oral, since I do not have it among other documents in the monastery. The purpose of the transfer was to separate the corpse from the other bodies, to make it clearly identifiable. It gas he, Charbel himself”
Brother Peter of Myfook, well known in the Lebanese Order as one of the most venerable, respected monks, and who died on July 20, 1952, at the age of ninety-two, was asked the following questions: “Was the grave dry or wet? Did you, yourself, see the body of Father Charbel the day of the funeral, and when it was taken out of the grave? Was it the same body? And for how long was the body in the grave until the day it was removed?”
Here is his reply: “I placed him in the grave; along with others. Among them were Brother Francis of Artaba, and Brother Elias of Bmahreen. The grave was like a puddle of water and mud; water was dripping in abundance from the ceiling. Thus was the condition of the grave. When we removed the body, after less than five months, (the Superior had gone to attend a meeting of the Order), we found the shovel, which we had forgotten in the grave on the day of the funeral. The handle was rotted from the water and the dampness. We recognized the body of Father Charbel. It was he, himself; sound and incorrupt, the clothing and the body intact. I remember very well that his undergarments were dry, with no trace of moisture. Blood, however, was dripping from the body. We were incredulous at the fact that it had not disintegrated in that grave.”
Now we see that the prophecy of the Superior, which he had written in the Record of the Dead, has been fulfilled. “We don’t know when and if the chapter of his life will ever end. The years will go by, and he will stay forever with God.”
The Body of Father Charbel by Itself
A lengthy investigation was made to determine whether any other bodies buried in the tomb at St. Maroon’s Monastery of Annaya had ever been preserved from corruption. The fact that there are no records or witnesses of contempories indicates that previously buried bodies were not incorrupt. The records of the monastery began in 1828. It has been proven that the first burial was made on June 15, 1839. The number of monks, hermits and brothers who died before Charbel was thirty-two. The last burial before Charbel was Father Elias Mishmshany who died on Feb. 12, | 1897. Those who died after Charbel were buried in the same tomb numbered twenty-one. The last, up to now, (1952) was buried on May 25, I 1948.
All these bodies decayed naturally and only clear bones remained. Among these dead were men known for their great virtues and tremendous holiness. One such hermit was Father Hardini who taught Father Charbel and who was recognized by all as reaching a heroic degree in the practice of virtue. Yet, when Father Charbel was buried, all that was found in the grave were the bones of the decease’s religious. When the tomb was opened again, only Charbel’s body remained intact. There was another difference as well. When first buried, the body of Charbel was not perspiring blood and water. Now, after the opening of the tomb, the body was found exuding a blood-like perspiration. Of course, this was unnatural.
No doubt, the hand of God was responsible because the natural law, the law of, corruption of the body after death, did not apply to this body up to the present time. It was so from the year of 1898, when Father Charbel died, to 1952, when this book was written. To stop the effect of the natural law is something that God alone can do, since He is the Lord of nature. He gives orders to the elements, and they obey.
The fact that this body remained incorrupt is a sign that came from God to reward Charbel for his saintly and miraculous life. It is a call to all mankind to know God, the Father, and His only Son Who became Man, and His Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from both of Them, Who is consubstanial to Them, a call to love Him, to adore Him as one God and to thereby inherit His Kingdom. This was an example for all the monks and the hermits of the Baladite Order to imitate Father Charbel in observing their religious vows, and to be like him, a light on the mountain of Annaya, on the mountain of Lebanon, a light for all the East and the West.
On the evening of his funeral, his superior wrote:” Because of what he will do after his death. I need not talk about his behavior.” A few months after his death a bright light was seen surrounding his tomb. The superior opened it to find his body still intact. Since that day a blood-like liquid flows from his body. Experts and doctors are unable to give medical explanations for its incorruptibility and flexibility. In the year 1950,1952 and 1955 his tomb was opened and his body still had the appearance of a living one.
The spirit of Charbel still lives in many people. His miracle include numerous healing of the body and of the spirit. Thomas Merton, the American hermit, wrote in his journal:
“Charbel lived as a hermit in Lebanon —-he was a Maronite. He died. Everyone forgot about him. Fifty years later his body was covered incorrupt and in a short time he worked over 600 miracles. He is my new companion. My road has taken a new turning. It seems to meet that I have been asleep for 9 years—and before that I was dead.”
At the closing of the Second Vatican Council, on December 5, 1965 Charbel was beatified by Pope Paul VI who said:
“…A hermit of the Lebanese mountain is inscribed in the number of the blessed …a new eminent member of monastic sanctity is enriched, by his example and his intercession, the entire Christian people… May he make us understand, in a world largely fascinated by wealth and comfort, the paramount value of poverty, penance and asceticism, to liberate the soul in it’s ascent to God…”
The example and life-style of Charbel, hermit and saint, inspire the people of God to seek a desert of silence and solitude in this materialistic world of noise and loneliness.
On October 9, 1977 during the World Synod of Bishops, Pope Paul VI canonized Blessed Charbel among the ranks of the saints.
“The just will flourish like the palm tree, like the Cedar of Lebanon shall he grow.” (Psalm 92:13)
From the Church of the Hermitage to the Church of the Monastery
From the book, Three Lights From the East, by Father Mansour Awad.