The canonization of a Lebanese monk is undeniably
a historic event and a new expression of the ecumenical
movement in the Church.
Saint Charbel is the heir to an oriental spiritual
heritage rich in its variety and its harmony which
has flourished in Lebanon throughout the centuries;
he is a true witness to the nobility of hidden virtue
and to the triumph of the spirit.
He sums up the various religious traditions - not
only Christian but Sunnite, Chiite, Druze and all
the other beliefs in that mosaic of faiths which
goes to make up the great family of the Lebanon.
Each one can find his own features in the face of
With one of her sons honored in the highest degree
of holiness, Lebanon today is secure in her glory
- the glory of people who have endeavored throughout
the centuries of history to endure as a stronghold
of the values of the spirit.
Throughout their history,
the Maronites have always been passionately attached
to life in the mountains, however hard and austere
it might be. By their efforts and the sweat of their
brow, they have transformed rocky soil into fertile
arable land and orchards. One such summit can be
seen at Annaya in the Jbayl district of Mount Lebanon,
a mountain situated 1000 meters above sea level,
half way between the Jbayl coastline and the heights
In 1367, after the murder of Patriarch Gabriel (Jibrayel)
II of Hjoula (1357-1367), the Maronites were scattered,
leaving the district to the Shiites. But once again
they worked together with the Shiites on a sharecropping
basis which enabled them to earn back their property.
Among these sharecroppers were two anchorites, Joseph
(Yusuf) Abu Ramia and David (Daoud) Issa, the latter
being later ordained as Father Peter (Butrus). They
took back from the Shiites the locality of Ruwayssat
Annaya, the site of the present hermitage, where
there were the remains of an ancient place of worship
which they restored in 1811 and close to which they
built for themselves a habitation. In 1814, during
the superiorate of Father General Ignatius (Ghnatios)
Bleybel (1811-1832), they left the premises to the
Order, so they might share its spiritual benefits,
having first obtained the approval of Patriarch
John (Yuhanna) Helou (1809-1823), who requested
them to dedicate the church they were building to
the two Apostles Peter and Paul (Butrus wa Boulos),
so it would no longer be called Church of the Transfiguration
as at first.
However this land held in mortmain was not enough
to support the monks, and the site was not suitable
for building a monastery. For this reason the Order
chose to have a hermitage there and in 1820 bought
other property from the inhabitants. It also built
some cells and a small church in the place known
as al-Hara, where there was a threshing floor.
In 1826 the Order decided to transfer the present
monastery from its former to its present site. Work
on the construction of the present monastery church
was finished in 1828. Between 1838 and 1841 all
the basements were built.
In 1842 disaster struck the monastery when the people
of the village of Hjoula attacked it, looted it
and set it on fire, killing one of its monks, Brother
Alexander (Iskandar) at-Tartjani. As a result, the
monks abandoned the place intermittently for fifteen
years, until 1860.
Once the monastery had been completed, the hermitage
was attached to it where monks outstanding for their
goodness and piety decided to spend their lives
cut off from the world, among them Father Elisha
Kassab, brother of the Venerable Father Naamatallah
Kassab al-Hardini, who passed forty-four years there.
The monastery then became a noviciate where seventy-eight
monks pronounced their monastic vows, among them
Brother Sharbel Makhlouf (Saint Sharbel), who took
vows of religion on November 1, 1853, before going
to the Monastery of Saints Cyprian and Justina (Qibriyanus
wa Yustina) at Kfifan in order to study philosophy
and theology and prepare for the priesthood.
After having been ordained priest on July 23, 1859,
at the church of the patriarchal seat at Bkerke,
Father Sharbel returned to the monastery of Annaya,
where he spent sixteen years. On February 15, 1875,
he went to the Hermitage of Saints Peter and Paul
(Butrus wa Boulos), having first obtained the approval
of his superiors. He spent twenty-three years there,
before passing away aged seventy on the eve of Christmas,
1898. His mortal remains were transported to the
cemetery of the monastery.
God worked many miracles by his intercession and
accorded many graces, and in 1926 the cause for
his beatification was introduced at the Holy See
in Rome. On December 5, 1965, at the end of Vatican
Council II, Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) proclaimed
Father Sharbel blessed. On October 9, 1977, he was
canonized. In 1974 the new church built for the
occasion and dedicated to him was inaugurated.
The Order has continued renovating the monastery,
equipping the premises and arranging the surroundings
to receive visitors and to respond to their spiritual
and other needs. It has arranged a museum showing
the liturgical vestments of the saint, the sacred
vessels he used and the votive offerings left by
sick people who have been cured by his intercession.
In order to meet the growing demands of the pilgrims
it has constructed a separate building near the
monastery called The Oasis to receive visitors wishing
to pray or to make a stay close to the tomb of the
On December 20, 1997, the Lebanese Maronite Order
inaugurated the first centenary (1898-1998) of the
death of its son, Saint Sharbel, with a Holy Mass
celebrated by Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Butrus Sfeir
(1986-Ö) at Saint Sharbel's Church, Annaya.
Because of the presence of the sepulcher of Saint
Sharbel, in recent times the Monastery of Saint
Maroun at Annaya, like the other great sanctuaries
of the Christian world, has become an important
place of pilgrimage visited by thousands of faithful
from the country and from all over the globe, who
come to pray, to repent and to better accomplish
their spiritual duties. The monastery receives letters
from all over the world demanding a blessing or
the intercession of the Saint of Lebanon.
of Saints Peter and Paul
In this open-armed
and sacred land of Lebanon, holiness is like oneself.
Saints bathed in mystic light appear in every corner
of the land and create the atmosphere needed that
the elect, the holy, may flourish.
In the tradition of monastic life, each religious
house had a retreat two or three kilometers away,
an annex formed of one or several cells with a chapel,
so that any one of the monks could withdraw there
and be alone with God. In Lebanon one may still
find these retreats where holy men have withdrawn
to pass their lives in meditation and in prayer.
At Mar Koshaya, at Houb, at Tamish, at Annaya and
elsewhere, there are still to be found such sacred
hermitages to recall the past. At Annaya a large
monastery of the Lebanese monks was built, the monastery
of Saint Maroun, and a hundred yards away higher
up, fifteen minutesí walk away, are six narrow little
cells clinging to a mall church that predates the
main monastery. From here on this versant summit
at an altitude of four thousand feet one has a view
on all four sides, stretching to the sea, to Torzaya,
to Tamish and to Elmat. In 1798 the plot of land
was bought from Shiites by Yusuf Abi Ramia and Daoud
Moussa Khalifeh, and there they built the chapel
and the hermitage in question so they might leave
the world and devote themselves to prayer and mortification.
The chapel was dedicated to the Transfiguration
of Our Lord but in 1812 the Patriarch changed the
name to dedicate the place to Saints Peter and Paul.
Daoud Moussa studied theology and was ordained priest
and in due course several youths joined the two
holy men to share their way of life.
After the construction of the Mar Maroun Monastery
between 1838 and 1841, all the little group in the
hermitage asked to be integrated in the Maronite
Order and the hermitage was annexed to the monastery.
The first hermit to occupy a cell in what was now
a hermitage was Father Elysius Hardini, brother
of Saint Naamatallah el-Hardini.
The second was the monk Yuhanna el-Akoury, the third
was Yuakim el-Zouki, and the fourth Father Lebaos
el-Rawati. The fifth was the great saint of Lebanon,
Saint Sharbel Makhlouf.
The hermits prayed and worked, sowing some difficult
terraces, digging and planting from April till September
and the rest of the time preparing the soil. Snow,
rain, storms and bitter cold dominated the site.
In one of the rooms blackened by the smoke of winter
fires one sees thrown together the tools of the
hermitsí labor. The hermitís own room was narrow
and low-ceilinged, while his bed was a horsehair
mat on the ground, with a wooden log as a pillow.
One may see crude and time-worn holy pictures hung
on the walls. Outside is a wide-spreading oak and
rocks worn smooth by time and tempest sticking out
from among the trees.
The sixth hermit was Father Macarios of Meshmesh,
the seventh Father Antonios el-Ghalouni, the eighth
Father Antonios of Hsarat and the ninth the monk
The hermits lived in total poverty. Several performed
miracles while still alive and passed through ecstatic
states of communion with Christ their Savior.