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Life of Saint Charbel Also Read The Call of the Desert
 
From the Church of the Hermitage to the Church of the Monastery
From the book, Three Lights From the East, by Father Mansour Awad.

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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.


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From the Church of the Hermitage to the Church of the Monastery
From the book, Three Lights From the East, by Father Mansour Awad.
 
Also Read The Call of the Desert
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