Saint Charbel of Annaya
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.