al Hardini and Blessed Stephan Nehme
Two Modern Saints
When speaking of Man,
one finds his nature to be complex, attractive,
enigmatic, brilliant, and drawn by fantasies. He
has morals, customs and principles of unending variety,
with his concepts, sentiments and personal tendencies.
This Homo sapiens, capable of great achievements
of holiness science, and art, or deeds of crime
and terror, swings between good and evil. But any
man who devotes himself wholeheartedly, with love
and strong will, to any discipline, science, art
or road to sanctity, whatever you will, can reach
the highest summits, becoming a saint, a scholar
or an artist.
In Lebanon, in simplicity of life, in faith in God,
people led a life that could not be more holy, drawing
nourishment from the light, the Good News, sacrifice
and purity. Once one spoke of the miracle of Greece,
on account of that country’s achievements in the
realms of philosophy, thought, vision and civilization.
Can one not speak likewise of the miracle of Lebanon
in the realm of holiness? Lebanon a great Nation,
bound in a small and mountainous country on the
eastern shore of the Mediterranean, crowned with
eternal snows, whose sons have all had the experience
of sanctity, a land which in the shortest of times
has given numberless saints to humanity – saints
in their hundreds and thousands, as in a hive of
This bold Lebanese, who despite the terror imposed
by the Ottomans and others has been able to stand
upright through the ages, finding refuge in prayer,
in the blue robes of the Virgin, in the mystic light
of the Lord, radiating from the churches and the
monasteries built by the sweat of monks toiling
with the blessing of God.
There was no Cluny here with its three thousand
monks, for our communities even in their golden
age never counted more than some eight hundred monks.
These ascetics devoted their time to meditation,
prayer and hard manual labor, as farmers, raisers
of livestock, builders, carpenters, tailors and
bakers, while each religious house had its particular
note, charm and taste of its bread.
There were seminaries and novitiates, where every
monk had to spend some time receiving his proper
formation, before being appointed by his superior
to some particular monastery where he would pass
the rest of his life. These places were just a few
hours’ walk from one another, making an earthly
paradise given over to God.
Two monks draw our attention, one learned, a scholar,
an administrator, and the other a simple peasant
brother, barely literate. But each labored in his
own domain, day and night, offering all his effort
to God, two beautiful and holy souls.
One was Saint Neamatallah Kassab el-Hardini, that
is to say from the village of Hardeen. The other
was Blessed Stephan Neami el-Lehfedi, from Lehfed.
Their monastery was that of St. Kyprianos at Kfifan,
nearly thirty-five miles from Beirut at an altitude
of some 1,500 feet. The name Kfifan means the little
locality, where some old houses with roofs and arcades
were to be found.
In the nearby village of Kfifan there are some surviving
basements and old inscriptions dating back to the
emperor Hadrian. Several wells surrounded by a wall
on the north side of Kfifan still exist with traces
of a fort. But what distinguishes Kfifan is the
historic monastery of Saints Cyprian and Justinian,
going back to the Crusades of the 11th century,
and once the seat of the Maronite patriarchate.
In the village there are also several churches.
This is the place, the foundation, where hundreds
of holy monks would be called to follow the road
of religion. Two of these have now been raised to
the altars. One of them was Saint Neamatallah el-Hardini,
novice-master, teacher of philosophy and liturgy,
thinker and researcher, a fine man, robust and tireless,
who chose closeness to God as the atmosphere for
his activity. Poor, pure, chaste and obedient, he
passed on his faith and his way of life to all his
pupils and successors, among them Saint Sharbel
Makhlouf and Blessed Brother Stephan.
Born in 1800 in Hardeen, a locality in the heights
of Batroun, he had as maternal grandfather the Reverend
Father Yusuf Yaacoub of Tannoureen, and grew up
in a family that was strongly united and deeply
Christian. As a boy he often helped his father by
working in the fields. He pronounced his vows on
October 20th, 1816 and was ordained priest on September
30th, 1823. He celebrated Holy Mass with great piety
and when he was ill he accepted his suffering and
died on Christmas Eve in 1858. Miracles were attributed
to him soon after his decease and he was canonized
in Rome on May 10th, 1998.
We have already mentioned another great saint who
also lived at Kfifan. This was Blessed Stephan Nehme,
born in Lehfed in 1889, the youngest of three brothers.
He entered the monastery of Kfifan in 1905 and died
on August 30th, 1938 at the age of 49. At the present
time his body is still intact.
All day long the monk Stephan used to repeat, “God
sees me.” He lived under the tutorship of God, as
a worker. Trained as a carpenter, he looked after
the grounds and the farmland of the monastery, “laboring
in the vineyard of the Lord.”
Pious, praying with deep love, united to the Lord
in meditation, and studious, he was called by his
brethren the Little Angel. It is said that it was
he who discovered the subterranean spring of the
Badger, el-Ghoreir, still kept in order and bubbling
up near the house of his birth.
In the basement of the monastery of Kfifan he passed
every day before the mortal remains of Father Hardini,
praying and asking his aid in carrying his daily
cross. Having pronounced his vows in 1907, he lived
always submitting to the orders of his superiors.
He recited the Rosary morning and evening and was
always ready to lend anybody a hand. In 1951, thirteen
years after his death, the monks opened his tomb
and found his body intact.
The monastery of Kfifan has become famous, a unique
place of pilgrimage with its two great saints of
our own times. The faithful flock there from all
sides and now the light of the saints of our land
shines over all humanity.
Joseph Matar - Translation from the French: K.J.
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