Today is the feast day of the fascinating and excellent Saint Sharbel Makhlouf, who really needs to be better-known than he is, particularly in an age where Eastern Christians are being challenged and persecuted to rather vague notice.
Charbel Makhlouf was born on 8th May, 1828, in the small village of Biqa-Kafra in the high mountains of Northern Lebanon. His parents were poor but religious, and their fifth child was attracted at an early age to prayer and solitude. In spite of the opposition of his family, he left home at the age of twenty-three and entered the Monastery of St. Maroun at a place called Annaya. Ordained priest in 1859, he spent sixteen years there before receiving permission from his reluctant superiors to retire to the nearby hermitage of Saints Peter and Paul.
Yeah, sounds pretty benign, I know, but go read this really wonderful hagiography from CNEWA.
The tomb attracts the greatest number of pilgrims on the 22nd day of each month. And when that day falls on a Sunday, as it did in March of this year, the number of pilgrims reaches the thousands. The day has been associated with the power of Sharbel’s intercession since 22 January 1993, when Nohad El Shami, a Lebanese woman who had suffered a paralyzing stroke, was healed miraculously.
Soon after her stroke, Mrs. El Shami’s son visited Sharbel’s monastery and collected soil and the oils that emanate from the saint’s remains. When he applied them to her body, she felt a tingling sensation in her paralyzed limbs. Later that night, she dreamed she was at the saint’s hermitage, where the holy man appeared and gave her Communion.
Then, on 22 January, she again dreamed that the saint came to her.
“I saw a blinding light fill my room,” said the woman, “and two monks approaching my bed; one of them placed his hand on my neck and said, ‘I am here to operate on you. I am Father Sharbel and have come to perform the operation.’ I felt a pain in my neck and unconsciously I touched the spot. I realized I could use my disabled arm and I could move my leg under the blanket.”
Miraculously, she was able to stand up and walk to the bathroom. When she looked in the mirror, she saw two incisions, one on each side of her neck.
A week later, she had another dream in which St. Sharbel told her, “Don’t leave the people. Keep your faith.” He then asked her to visit his hermitage and tomb on the 22nd of every month for the rest of her life.
And so, on the 22nd of every month, Mrs. El Shami visits Sharbel’s hermitage, and with a group of pilgrims, she walks from there to the monastery and church — about a mile away — to celebrate the Divine Liturgy.
Yeah, he’s totally that fascinating. Saint Sharbel has been a favorite friend of mine for a while, and I don’t pay enough attention to him, either! Today I mean to rectify that.
Brad Miner with more on Sharbel
Charbel, the Movie