Watch Saint Sharbel Movie on www.saint-charbel.com
Fr. Ziad Antoun
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.
By Thomas Held
“Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord
(1 Kings 19:12).” These were the very words uttered to Elijah and
we can well imagine dear Lord that these were also the very same
words you whispered to Your glorious servant Saint Sharbel the day
he went forth to follow You into the mount.
We can also imagine that You manifested Yourself to Your saint and
our patron in very much the same manner that You did to Your
All powerful Lord of heaven and earth we know that if You willed to
do so You could rent mountains and break rocks into pieces with
wind, fire and earthquake but we also know that You are a most
humble Lord and often come in the gentle breeze – like that of a
whisper. Lord help us to overcome the noise of the world so that we
too, like Elijah and Saint Sharbel, may hear Your gentle whisper in
Elijah was summoned to the mount where he encountered You, O
Lord and it has been made known to us through Holy Mother Church
and the testimony of many of her faithful servants that Your dear
Saint Sharbel encountered You there also. In fact we know that he
had only two companions in his mountain retreat, the Son of God as
encountered in Scripture and in the Eucharist, and our Blessed
Mother. Yet Lord, when Elijah heard Your voice he covered his face
with his mantle in fear. But what of Saint Sharbel? It almost seems
that this is where Elijah and he part ways.
For it has bee testified to that he was never known to have shown his
face except when he was standing before You in the Blessed
Sacrament. But how can it be that unlike Elijah he was not fearful of
You? Ah! But alas O Lord, could a child fear his loving mother or could a man fear a Brother, Savior and God who would deign to come to earth at the hands of an unworthy priest and dwell among his brethren for all eternity in the Blessed Sacrament and even dare to call us friends? For unlike Elijah our Lord told Saint Sharbel through Saint John the Apostle that Jesus said “you are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friend, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15-15).”
Lord, we thank You for making Yourself known to us through Your
eternal presence in the Eucharist, Your Holy Catholic Church, Sacred
Scripture, Your Most Holy Mother, all the angles and saints, and especially on this day Your Saint Sharbel whom we honor for his
service to You and all the faithful and we pray that through his intercession we may grow in holiness and intimacy with You until
we come face to face in the eternal glory of heaven.