What the Lebanese Revolution can teach us on this Renewal Sunday

This Sunday in the Maronite Church we commemorate Renewal Sunday in preparation for the start of the liturgical year.

Over the past 24 days we have been witnessing a revolution in Lebanon. As a child of the diaspora, I know well that the problems in Lebanon stretch back further than 30 years. I was born in Australia and my story is a familiar one. My father, like many of his generation, came to Australia nearly 50 years ago, even before the civil war, for a better life and greater opportunities.

One of the triggers of the Lebanese revolution were bushfires. Anger raged among the people as it was revealed that the Lebanese government had failed to maintain the air equipment that was needed to fight the fires. In the last month fires have also raged in the Amazon and California. This week in already drought-stricken parts of Australia we have also witnessed bushfires. In NSW over 150 homes have been lost, three people killed and almost an entire native koala population has been wiped out.

Creation is God’s revelation to us and right now Creation is crying out in pain for the damage we are causing to it. In the developed world, we continue to live in denial of the damage we are causing.

Something has awoken in the Lebanon. It is no secret that developing countries will be the first to feel the effects of climate change, pollution and degradation. Already Lebanon is experiencing an increased rate of environment related cancers and is drowning in its own waste.

Over the past two weeks, the world has witnessed as this small nation rises and demands better of its politicians. Collective voices are demanding change which will bring an end to the corruption and the exploitation of people and the environment. We have watched as people take their own initiatives to clean waste and recycle. Lebanon has become a message to all of us around the world. The entire world needs change and renewal, because all around the fires of destruction are raging.

Indigenous Australian’s long managed the environments using fire. They controlled fire rather than letting it control them. They used fire as a means to renew the bush rather than destroy it. We are all looking to Lebanon and are watching and willing, that in peace control the fires of rage and transform it into genuine change. The revolution is giving us all hope to demand the changes that all the world needs.

On this Renewal Sunday, let us pray and seek renewal from the burning fire of the Holy Spirit. Guided by the Spirit’s wisdom, let us seek renewal for ourselves, our families, our Church, our nations and most importantly Creation.

Saint Charbel – An Inspiration to Holiness

If the world was to ask us what St Charbel famous for what would we answer? He did not come from a noble family and was not a renowned theologian or philosopher. No dignitaries were present at his funeral.

What is it that makes St Charbel so special? Holiness! Plain and simple holiness. This holy man who is the very blood of our blood and bones of our bones, achieved sainthood by living the simplest life in prayer, humility and work. His eyes were always gazing at the floor but his heart, mind and soul were always lifted to the Lord. He did not concern himself with what the world would think of him, rather he concerned himself only with the Lord.

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St Charbel Statue in Annaya, Lebanon. Copyrighted to Living Maronite

St Charbel’s life may seem to the world unremarkable. He was born on 8 May 1828 in the village of Bekaafra, high in the mountains of Lebanon.  His Maronite parents Antoun Makhlouf and Brigitta Chidiac named him Youssef Antoun Makhlouf. His father died when he was 3 years old, leaving Brigitta a widow with five children. She later remarried a man who joined the priesthood and became the parish priest of the village.

In 1851 at age of 23, Youssef left his family and entered the Lebanese Maronite Order at the Monastery of Our Lady of Mayfouq. It is at that monastery that the famous Maronite icon of  Our Lady of Elige is located. One could imagine Youssef spending many nights praying before an icon, seeking the intercession of Our Lady.  Later, Youssef transferred to the Monastery of St Maroun in Annaya, where he took the name Charbel, after the Christian martyr, Saint Charbel of Edessa.

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St Charbel church in Annaya, Lebanon. Copyrighted to Living Maronite.

Charbel then began studies at the Monastery of Saints Cyprian and Justina in Kiffan. One of his professors at the seminary was Father Nehmtallah Kassab, who later became the Maronite saint, Nehmtallah Hardinie.

Charbel was ordained a priest in 1859 at 31 years of age. He was sent back to the Saint Maroun Monastery, where he lived a life of asceticism. In 1875, Charbel was given permission to live as a hermit at the hermitage of Saints Peter and Paul. He lived for the next 23 years as a solitary hermit.

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St Charbel’s Room in Annaya, Lebanon. Copyrighted to Living Maronite

On Christmas eve, 1898, while serving the liturgy, Charbel collapsed at the altar and died from a stroke at the age of 70. His death was a quiet affair and his funeral was attended by only four monks. It was only long after his death, when many miracles were attributed to him, that St Charbel became known. He was canonized as the first Maronite Saint on 9 October 1977, by Pope Paul VI.

For those not familiar with the area, Baakafra, where St Charbel grew up, is located above the Qadisha valley in North Lebanon.  Nearby, in Becharre, are located the Cedars of God. Over time, this entire secluded area has become a refuge and sanctuary for many Maronites and the perfect place to search for God. It is no surprise that St Charbel, who was born high in Baakafra, developed a love of silence. St Charbel did not rely on words to attain sainthood. He would have come to know silence well in his 23 years in solitude at the hermitage of Saints Peter and Paul. It is that great simple, contemplative silence which has marked Maronite asceticism for generations and it is that silence which the world needs now more than ever.

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Ba’kafra, Lebanon where St Charbel grew up. Copyrighted to Living Maronite.

The desire to want nothing (not even words), but to be with our Lord, has been the way of the Syriac monastics from the beginning. No doubt, if St Charbel was here with us now, he would inspire us to turn off social media and phones and all the many distractions of our time and grasp just a moment to build up our souls in contemplation of God.

Contemplation is not only for monks, like St Charbel we can look to detach from the things in this world, the things keeping us away from God. We can all regularly abstain and fast and moderate the things of the flesh. We can be inspired by St Charbel to have a preparedness to pilgrim to a place of holiness deep within ourselves where in solitude we can just be with God and be ‘wakeful and pray’. (Matt. 26:41). We all need to carve out our own space and our own time and find silence in the noise of each day.

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St Charbel’s robe. Copyrighted to Living Maronite

St Charbel died while serving the liturgy and there can be no doubt that the liturgy would have been the centre of St Charbel’s life.  God uses the physical to make known the intelligible. God the Son clothed himself in humanity so we may come to know him. In the same way, the liturgy raises our mind to the spiritual realities. Like the incarnation in which the invisible Word of God became visible, our liturgy inspires us to deepen the spiritual dimensions of our lives. Be inspired by St Charbel to visit the liturgy regularly. The liturgy is our ladder to salvation and at its summit is the life-giving Eucharist.

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Burial place of St Charbel, Annaya, Lebanon. Copyrighted to Living Maronite

So as the Maronite Church celebrates this great feast and the bells in the mountains of Baakafra ring out in joy to the rest of the world, we look to St Charbel to inspire the world by his example of simplicity and humility to strive for holiness.

Amen


Christina Maksisi and Theresa Simon

Saint Timothy and Mora – May 3

Saint Timothy and Mora, a married couple who suffered persecution for their faith.

Timothy, a deacon from Upper Egypt was charged with possession of Christian books, the emperor ordered to be confiscated and burned. Timothy was tortured and this resulted in his loss of his eyesight. Timothy gave thanks to God for the torture and remained faithful. His wife Mora was also brought in and to be tortured. Mora also endured the suffering with joy and also thanked God. Seeing the great faith the couple had, the governor Arian ordered them both to be crucified. They hung on crosses facing one another for ten days.

Saint Moura is well venerated in the Maronite Church. Several churches have been dedicated to the Martyr in Lebanon, including a monastery in Ehden. It is in this monastery that the Lebanese Maronite Order was founded in 1694 by three Maronite young men from Aleppo, Syria under the patronage of Patriarch Estephan El Douaihy.

On this feast, we pray for married couples, may their union be strengthened by your love. Guide them in their struggles and protect them from things that may divide their marriage. Bringing them together in your name, may Saint Timothy and Mora be an example of a good Christian marriage, trusting one another in even the toughest trials they face.

Christina Maksisi