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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Christina Maksisi and Theresa Simon
Amos was one of the twelve minor prophets and was active during the rule of kings Jeroboam II and Uzziah in c. 760-755 BCE. Amos preached in the northern Kingdom of Israel, he preached against the increased gap between the rich and poor. The book of Amos is attributed to him.
Before he was called by God, Amos was a herdsman and Sycamore fig farmer. Amos is the first of the prophets to document the messages he received. He wished to preach in Bethel, where there was a royal sanctuary, although he was denounced by the head priest Amazuah to King Jeroboam II and was advised to leave the kingdom. Although, this did not discourage him, he began to write his messages so that if they were not heard, they were read.
Some themes of Amos’ Teachings
A God for all
Amos believed and preached that God was not only the God of Israel but for all around the world and this meant that all Men and Women were equal no matter what nation they belonged too, rich and poor alike.
Being a good Christian
Amos also preached that being just and exercising morals is more important than ceremonial worship.
“I hate; I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Dependence on God
Amos express that we need God in order to live, God gives us a purpose in life.
This is what the Lord says to Israel: “Seek me and live…”
Saint Antonia and Alexander were Christian martyrs in 313 from the town of Cardamon, with a similar story to Saints Theodora and Didymus.
The Roman emperor at the time was Diocletian, wanted to increase the number of native born Roman citizens, by criminalising intentional celibacy among women. All Roman women of suitable age were ordered to marry and produce children. At the same time Emperor Diocletian persecuted Christians.
Women who refused to be married were forced to work at a brothel. Antonia was sent to a brothel upon refusing to marry. Alexander was a Christian soldier who disguised himself at the brothel and asked for Antonia. He did not wish to rob her of her virginity but rather save her. He traded clothes with her in order for her to escape. Soon after, Alexander was captured and both Antonia and Alexander were burnt alive.
Their feast is celebrated in the Maronite church on June 9. It may be possible that they were given these names to tell their story, or that the story might be of Saints Theodora and Didymus, although this is not certain. Regardless, this is a story of great faith and martyrdom.
Lord, we pray that we have the strength to do what is right, to keep our faith in you always. Let us not be discouraged by others, and remain strong in our faith.
A Stylite is a Christian ascetic who lives on top of a pillar or column, they spent their time standing, exposed to rain, wind and any other natural weather. They stood preaching to those who come to seek their wisdom. The first Stylite to climb a pillar to remain in seclusion from the rest of the world was Saint Simeon, the elder whose feast is September 1. Saint Simeon the elder should not be confused with Saint Simeon, the younger, whose feast is celebrated on May 24.
Saint Simeon the Younger was attracted to the community of ascetics and sought spiritual direction from a pillar hermit named John. From a young age, Simeon had a pillar built where he would stand to pray and fast, he remained there for more than 68 years. Simeon was ordained a priest and would conduct mass from the pillar and his disciples would climb up a ladder to receive communion. There were a large number of miracles attributed to Saint Simeon, the younger. During the last years of his life he spent his time on a column near Antioch on a mountain named “Hill of Wonders” because of his miracles, and this is where he died.
We learn from the Stylite’s that prayer and fasting is crucial for us to grow spiritually in our faith. We pray that we learn from the Ascetic’s and integrate prayer and fasting into our lives more often.
Read about what a Stylite is here.
Saint Rita’s feast is celebrated on May 22 in the universal church.
Saint Rita is a patron for many women, including women enduring hardships of marriage, motherhood, domestic violence and more. She lived her life always praying and finding hope in God for many of the challenges she faced.
Rita was born in the year 1381 in the village of Roccaporena, near Cascia, Italy. From a young age she was drawn to the Augustinian nuns in Cascia although her parents had arranged for her to marry. In obedience to them she was married and spent 18 years in a challenging marriage, as her husband was cruel and harsh, often becoming abusive towards her. Through faith and constant prayer, Rita was able to convert her husband into a better person. Her husband’s family was one of the two Aristocratic families in the 14th century and consequently her husband was murdered by the opposing family. Rita feared that her sons would seek revenge, she tried hard to guide them and was unable to convince them, so she prayed to save their soul and that God would take her sons before they committed any sin, her sons fell sick and died before committing any crime.
After the deaths of her husband and sons, Rita sought to enter the monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene in Cascia but was turned away as the nuns were afraid of being associated with the family feud that had her husband murdered. Rita prayed and was persistent until she was permitted to enter the Augustinian monastery. She lived a prayerful life in the monastery and strongly desired to suffer with Christ. At age sixty, while praying before the crucifix she received a visible wound on her forehead. She bore this suffering with Christ for the next fifteen years and offered up her pain for others. The last four years of her life, she was confined to her bed, a relative from her hometown visited Rita and when asked what she desired, she only requested a single rose from her parents’ garden. Although, the roses were not in bloom in January, the woman returned to find one single rose in the garden and brought it back to Rita who was grateful. Henceforth, Saint Rita became associated with roses and impossible causes.
Rita died peacefully at age seventy-six on May 22, 1457. She lived a difficult life but remained hopeful in the Lord. Rita prayed and had faith in God.
We pray that Saint Rita will intercede for all those suffering hardships in their lives, may they find comfort in the Lord.
In our life we may come across people who are suffering, one common Christian response to them is to endure the suffering like the saints did. While we must all strive to be like the saints, they are from a different time. Rita endured her suffering as she had no other means to find help and the society she lived in did not have the sufficient support she would have needed to deal with family violence. As Christians we are called to help those who are most vulnerable within the community. No one should remain in their struggle when in our modern society we have so many resources to help.
In Australia there are many services ready to help
1800 737 732 is a 24 hour national sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling line for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk.
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.