October / November 2019 - Vol.106

St. Charbel
                  Monastery in Lebanon
Amazing Ways of an Angelic Monk:
Saint Charbel of Lebanon

By Fady Noun
This is an English translation of a lightly modified excerpt from a new book written in French by Fady Noun, entitled' Prier 15 Jours Avec Saint Charbel, (Praying for 15 days with Saint Charbel). Fady Noun is a noted Lebanese journalist, author, and member of the People of God community in Lebanon.

Saint Charbel Makhlouf of Lebanon (1828 - 1898), is revered by Christians and Muslims as a holy man of God, who devoted his life to prayer and intercession as a Maronite monk, and later as a hermit, at the Monastery of Saint Maron, Aannaya, Lebanon.  His intercession led to many extraordinary miracles, healings, and answered prayers for thousands of people. The crypt where his mortal remains are kept is filled with innumerable letters of answered prayers and the walls are lined with many crutches left by people who were cured through his intercession. Today, thousands of Christians and Muslims come to visit the monastery and pay their respect at Charbel's tomb. And many return home with thanksgiving and spiritual blessing.

The book is written as a short meditative guide on the spiritual life of St. Charbel, a holy "monk who behaved on earth more like an angel than as man" to quote his religious superior, Abbot Antonios Michmichani.

“For you has he commanded his angels to keep you in all your ways” – Psalm 91:11

In introducing St Charbel, we suggested that he must have been led down some  extraordinary pathways without ever letting this be apparent, ways which his superiors had not thought to record in writing, although it seems unthinkable that they would not have noticed what was happening.

There is, however, one account which stands out – the text of the death notice in the convent register entered by his superior, abbot  Antonios Michmichani.  Fr Antonios spares himself the trouble of writing a long commentary on St Charbel’s life by simply pointing out that “the work he will do after his death” will speak eloquently enough “of a monk who behaved on earth more like an angel than a man”. The stunning precision of this prediction was, nevertheless, to be expected in the light of the signs and wonders accomplished in his lifetime by the saintly monk.

We have only sketches of these extraordinary paths along which he was led. One of his brother monks relates how once, when St Charbel was worshipping in the church, he seemed to be “talking to someone”. Without solid evidence though, this may have been just an impression. In addition to this, there are several other examples describing a profound stillness suggestive of a deep state of contemplation or prayer.  According to St Teresa of Avila, this could be classed as one or other state of “ecstasy” or “union with God”, which she could speak about with discernment, as a doctor of the church. But here too, there is a lack of real evidence.

Charbel absorbed in prayer when lightning and fire filled his hermitage chapel
There is one example, however, of St Charbel’s state of ecstasy when he was in contemplation. It happened in the winter. During a thunderstorm which swept through Annaya, lightning hit the hermitage chapel with a great crash. The explosion shook the walls and the electrical charge produced a smell of burning which almost suffocated the two hermits sitting by the hearth in the kitchen. It was so bad they were on the point of fainting. When they came to their senses, they rushed into the chapel and were surprised to find Charbel on his knees and completely absorbed in prayer. This was despite the lightning scorching the altar cloth and the gold-embroidered chasuble laid on it. The lightning must have, at the least, brushed against the saintly monk.

This incident was without doubt extraordinary and we are entitled to believe that when the lightning struck the chapel, the saint was in ecstasy. When the monks from the main convent arrived, having rushed down in the dark to check on the damage, they reproached him for letting the fire damage the altar cloth and the precious chasuble. St Charbel simply replied “what could I have done? It was all over in a flash!”  Was he just unruffled? Should he have been more concerned about his companions? Or was he trying to divert attention from his ecstasy? This is not unlikely. In any case, we can be sure that on that night he was protected in a very special way….

Supernatural favours
Some other incidents in St Charbel’s life could also be categorised as “supernatural favours” by virtue of the fact that his contemporaries could not understand them- for example, one day he was on the road to the coastal town of Amchit, which is just below Annaya, to pray for the healing of a local dignitary, Gebrael Sleimane, who was on his deathbed. At the time typhoid was rife in the area. Charbel and his companions were travelling after dark, as he refused to leave before nightfall,  not wanting “to see or be seen”. The house he was visiting was not far from Ghorfine and his father’s grave. Suddenly, when they were still half way to Amchit, he stopped and told the others “There is no point in going on – they’re saying he has died”. “They?” “Who do you mean?” they asked him. But Charbel was silent. It was only after they had insisted on continuing their journey that he agreed to go on, dragging his feet. As they approached the destination, they were able to hear in the distance the wails of the mourners at the dead man’s house.  On asking them the time of the man’s death, they were told the patient had died at the exact time that St Charbel had stopped on the road.

Ministry of healing and miracle-working
 Of course, we have already emphasised that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not necessarily signs of sainthood, but rather tools for the edification of the faithful. On the other hand, the regular exercising of a spiritual gift can become a permanent service to the church, a ministry. This was definitely the case with St Charbel. Early in his monastic life his superiors had taken note of his extraordinary ministry of healing and miracle-working. They did not deprive themselves of its use. St Charbel prayed on two occasions, at the request of this superior, for the monastery’s storage jars of oil and wheat to be filled and his prayers were answered.

As for the voices he heard on the road to Amchit, in the story of the dying man, the mystery remains complete. Anyway, if this was an inner voice it was not always ignored by others. On two other occasions, in Michmich and in Amchit, he was warned that the person he was being sent to visit had already died. In both cases, his companions believed him and spared themselves the trouble of going. It has to be said that quite often influential locals, despairing of being cured by medical means, would call on the holy monk. Once, when he was back from sitting for weeks in Kesrouane at the bedside of some children, his brother hermit asked him what he had seen on the journey. He gave the famous reply: “I went off this way and came back that way”…

A monk “drunk on God”
That St Charbel became more and more aware of being led along extraordinary pathways is without doubt. “Drunk on God”, as his biographer Paul Daher described him, he was also constantly looking out for his brothers and sisters. We can well imagine him at the hermitage in the latter period of his life. He had acquired unparalleled self-control and inner equilibrium.

As with St Paul, it was “no longer he who was living, but Christ living in him” (Galatians 2 verse 20).

People would flock from the surrounding villages to attend his masses on Sundays and weekdays. We could say that the Holy Spirit was constantly whispering to him to speak and act as he did. A worried father (from the village of Kfar Baal, near Jbeil) came one day to ask for prayer for his children and was amazed to be welcomed with kindness and reassurance before he had even opened his mouth to explain.

In another case, when a father came to Saint Charbel to solicit his prayer for his children, and was about to hurry home with some holy water, Saint Charbel  reassured him that his children were out of danger and he didn’t have to hasten so quickly. Following the example of divine Wisdom,  Charbel “found his delight” in giving joy to his brothers (Proverbs 8 v 31).

[translation by Nadia Thompson, London, UK]

Avec Saint
                                                Charbel by Fady Noun
                                                book cover

Prier 15 Jours Avec Saint Charbel

[Pray 15 days with Saint Charbel] text in French

Fady Noun

by Fady Noun


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