When following the Shekka-Amyoun-Besharri highway, one is struck by a unique view, on the left as one goes up, in the depths of Wadi Qadisha, the view of a picturesque thousand-year-old monastery, worn by the ages, and deeply ensconced in the rocks where one finds the caves and grottoes once inhabited by the anchorites who prayed to the Lord God day and night. Some four hundred meters vertically down below there flows a river. This monastery dedicated to the prophet Saint Elisha together with the Church of our Lady of Qannoubin was the work of believers strong in their faith. Their work seems to you to defy nature as you climb up a stairway to the main door.
The place seems hewn and carved out of the living rock, with all its material taken from the worksite itself. It dates back to well before 1315, from which date onwards its history has been recorded. Its belfry rises there, making itself heard, with its musical note ringing out from this rocky symphony.
In 1315 the monastery was the seat of the archbishop and of the bishopric of Besharri.
In 1533 it underwent a first restoration.
In 1643, the Discalced Carmelite Fathers started an occupation that continued until the beginning of the 18th century. It was here that the holy French hermit Father François de Sastinel ended his days.
In 1696 the Mariamite Aleppine Fathers made it their motherhouse.
In 1704 it was the scene of the reception of the French consul at Tripoli.
In 1739 one wing of the monastery was ravaged by fire.
In 1874, the monks abandoned the monastery to make another on a great rock on a hill opposite. It now became a hermitage.
In 1951 a general restoration was terminated, one that had begun with the introduction of cement in 1906. Electric current and the telephone were installed and also running water, taking advantage of the many springs in the locality.
The monastery has now become a center of pilgrimage and a source of light radiating in the spiritual Church of the East, one where thousands of faithful come to pray and meditate.
Something has made the monastery yet more popular recently, namely the presence of a holy hermit priest, Father Antonios Tarabay. Born in 1911 shortly before the First World War, Gabriel Tarabay was brought up in a believing Maronite family. On November 12th, 1928 he entered the noviciate at Zouk, near the capital Beirut. He pursued his studies in a monastery at Ashqout and took the habit on May 1st, 1930, taking Antonios as his name in religion.
From 1930 to 1935 he studied philosophy and theology and was ordained priest on Sunday, February 3rd, 1935 at the monastery of Our Lady of Louaize.
Up till 1944 he carried out duties and missions of several kinds. Then at his own request he took up the life of a hermit withdrawn from the world in a hermitage at Beit Shebab, being also appointed by his superiors spiritual counselor for the nuns of Hrash. In 1949 he was transferred to Saint Elisha’s near Besharri, the ancient monastery in the Holy Valley, where he led a life of holiness with prayer and spiritual labor and retreats.
In 1981, when he had become sick and exhausted, he was placed in the Christ the King Sanatorium, where on June 20th, 1998 he gave up his soul to God. He was buried in a grotto near the monastery where he had spent thirty-three years as a hermit, and now this is a center where thousands of the faithful and pilgrims kneel in prayer.
I have summarized the life story of a saint, one of thousands who in this glorious Lebanon would not have known themselves as such yet led the same life. They are enthroned in Paradise beside their Lord God.
- Monastery of Saint Elisha: >> View Movie << (2006-06-01)