SAINT CHARBEL OR SHARBEL
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In the highest village of the Middle East, North Lebanon, in Bekaa Kafra (1560 meters above sea level), Saint Sharbel was born in a Maronite Catholic family, in the year 1828.
Sharbel is the religious name that Youssef Antoun Makhloof chose for himself later when he joined the Lebanese Maronite Religious Order. Sharbel, which means in Aramaic “God’s story”, is the name of a Lebanese Christian martyr from the second century A.D.
Youssef was the youngest of five children born to Antoun Zaarour Makhloof and Brigitta Elias al-Shedyaq. At the age of 8 days, he got baptized in his parish Church, in May 16th, 1828. His father Antoun was forced along with his mule to work for the Ottomans. Away from his young family and home, and under the harsh forced work of the Turks, Antoun got sick and died. His family never had the privilege to pay him last respects.
At a very early age Youssef had to assist in supporting his family, and often he was in charge of shepherding few goats and sheep in the prairies surrounding Bekaa Kafra. There in the serenity and tranquil of nature, he would entrust his little flock to Mary Mother of God, and enjoy spending hours in a natural cave, where he kept her icon, in prayer and meditation.
Two great uncles, Youssef’s mother brothers, influenced deeply the boy’s personality. They were both hermits in the Maronite old monastery of Saint Anthony Qozhaya that is partially natural caves, and partially built by stones. The walk from Bekaa Kafra to Qozhaya is an approximate four hours, which the young Youssef enjoyed spending in prayer, meditating on his great spiritual heritage represented by the several cave-hermitages spread high in the deep valley of Qadisha.
Later, Youssef, at the age of 23, will join the same Monastic Maronite Lebanese Order (1851), but chose to be in a different far-away monastery, Saint Maron, Annaya. Sharbel, the new name that Youssef adopted signifies the young man’s desire to follow in the footprints of the early martyrs of the Antiochian Syrian Church, and his desire to die from the world and start a new life in Jesus, a life centered on community prayer and handwork. His decision of joining the monastic life went not without oppositions from his, his uncle and guardian Tanious, who wanted Youssef to continue working with him and his mother who wanted him to marry the young woman who loved him.
In his new family, the Maronite Lebanese Order, Sharbel strived to serve his Maronite Mother Church. He had two years of novitiate where he was initiated in the monastic traditions and learned how to seek and love Christ in his community. After that Sharbel went through six years of theological education that were crowned by his ordination to the sacred priesthood, by the laying of the hands of the Maronite Patriarch in July 23rd, 1859.
As a priest he returned to serve in the monastery of Saint Maron, Annaya, for the next 16 years. In February 15th, 1875, Sharbel was permitted to join the hermitage of Saints Paul and Peter in Annaya, where for years he longed to totally consecrate his life to Jesus under the austere rules of the monastic life.
Following are some excerpts from the monastic rules that Saint Sharbel adopted as a short cut to become holy like Our Father in Heaven:
- A hermit imprisons himself in his hermitage, adopting solitude and control of sense and mind. He does not leave his solitude but for an extreme necessity. He does not mix with people but with his brother monks, who are advanced in virtue, and speak little, because in the abundance of talking, even quality discussions, there is disturbance of prayer atmosphere.