Youssef Antoun Makhlouf was born in 1828, in Bekaa Kafra (North Lebanon) to Antoun Zaarour Makhlouf and Brigitta Chidiac, a poor family. They lived in the village of Bekaa Kafra, possibly the highest in the Lebanese mountains. His father, a mule driver, died in August 1831, returning from corvée for the Turkish army, leaving his wife a widow to care for their children. Later she remarried a man who went on to seek Holy Orders and became the parish priest of the village.
From childhood his life revealed a calling to “bear fruit as a noble Cedar of Lebanon.” Charbel “grew in age and wisdom before God and men.” He had a true Christian upbringing, which had given him a passion for prayer. Then he followed his two hermit uncles in the hermitage of the St Antonious Kozhaya monastery and was converted to monastic and hermetical life.
At 23 years old he left his family village and headed to the monastery Our Lady of Maifouk monastery to spend his first monastic year, and then he went to the St Maron monastery in Annaya, where he entered the Maronite Order, carrying the name Charbel, a name of one of the Antioch church martyrs of the second century. After two years of novitiate, in 1853, he was sent to St. Maron monastery where he pronounced the monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.During his 16 years at St. Maron monastery, Charbel performed his priestly ministry and his monastic duties in an edifying way. He totally dedicated himself to Christ with undivided heart and desired to live in silence before the Nameless One.
In 1875 Charbel was granted permission to live as a hermit on the hill nearby the monastery at St. Peter and Paul hermitage. His 23 years of solitary life were lived in a spirit of total abandonment to God.
Charbel’s companies in hermitage were the Son of God, as encountered in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, and the Blessed Mother. The Eucharist became the center of his life. He consumed the Bread of Life and was consumed by it. Though his hermit did not have a place in the world, the world had a great place in his heart. Through prayer and penance he offered himself as a sacrifice so that the world would return to God.
It is in this light that one sees the importance of the following Eucharistic prayer in his life:
“Father of Truth, behold Your Son a sacrificed
pleasing to You, accept the offering of Him who died for me…”
On December 16, 1898 while reciting the “Father of Truth” prayer at the Holy Liturgy he was struck with an illness while performing the holy mass. He died on Christmas’ eve, December 24th, 1898, at the age of 70 and was buried in the St Maron monastery cemetery in Annaya. Through faith this hermit received the Word of God and through love he continued the Mystery of Incarnation.
Please note that people never saw his face when he was alive. He always kept his head down in church, at work or when walking, always looking to the ground. He would lift his eyes only to heaven. When in church, he always faced the altar with his eyes fixed on the tabernacle. However, when he died and was Lying face upward, his eyes were closed, still not looking at anyone, exactly as in his lifetime. Holding vigil at the body of the Servant of God in church, were his companions of the hermitage, Father Macarius Mishmshany, and Brother Francis of Artaba, along with a group of monks from the monastery of St. Maron. As soon as they learned of the passing of Father Charbel they rushed to the hermitage to kiss his hands and to be blessed by touching his body while bidding him farewell. Many spent most of the night kneeling near him, praying.
Few months later, dazzling lights were seen around the grave. From there, his corpse, which had been secreting sweat and blood, was transferred into a special coffin. Hordes of pilgrims started swarming the place to get his intercession. And through this intercession, God blessed many people with recovery and spiritual graces.
In 1925, his beatification and canonization were proposed for declaration by Pope Pious XI. In 1950, the grave was opened in the presence of an official committee which included doctors who verified the soundness of the body. After the grave had been opened and inspected, the variety of healing incidents amazingly multiplied. A multitude of pilgrims from different religious facets started flocking to the Annaya monastery to get the saint’s intercession. The saint’s body supposedly still had the appearance of a living one. The official site mentions: In this century his grave has been opened four times, the last time being in 1955, and each time “it has been noticed that his bleeding body still has its flexibility as if it were alive”; no mentioning of later openings. The Catholic Tradition website says: Father Joseph Mahfouz, the postulator of the cause, certified that in 1965 the body of Saint Charbel was still preserved intact with no alteration. In 1976 he again witnessed the opening of the grave; this time the body was completely decomposed. Only the skeleton remained.