ST CHARBEL HISTORY (PART 9): DEATH & BURIAL
ST CHARBEL’S DEATH AND BURIAL
Father Charbel (St Charbel) suffered a stroke on December 16, 1898 while he was reciting the prayer of the Holy Liturgy: “Father of truth, behold Your Son, a sacrifice pleasing to You. Accept this offering of Him who died for me…”. As he fell to the floor, he kept his hands clasped around the Holy Eucharist.
His companion, Father Makarios Al-Mishmeshani the Hermit and some other monks helped him to his cell. Eight days later, on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1898, he died while murmuring the names of Jesus, His Blessed Mother Mary and St Joseph. This marked 23 years of solitude lived in total abandonment to God.
When Father Charbel (St Charbel) died, Father Antonios Mishmeshani, the Superior of the Monastery was away at the Patriarchate because Patriarch John Peter el-Hage was dying. When the Superior returned to find that Father Charbel (St Charbel) had died, he wrote prophetically about him. A paragraph from the Monastery’s official Death Record states:
“On this day, the 24th of December 1898, Father Charbel of Bekaa-Kafra, the Hermit, died of a stroke in the mercy of God after receiving the Sacraments of the Church. He was buried in the graveyard of the monastery at 68 years of age when I, Father Antonios Mishmeshani, was the Superior. Because of what he Charbel is going to accomplish after his death, I excuse myself from giving details of his life, especially in regard to the extent to which he kept his vows so that we can say his obedience was angelic and not human”.
The body of Father Charbel (St Charbel) was then laid out in the Church of the hermitage. The monks knelt near the body all night, praying and contemplating the life of their religious monk.
On the morning of Christmas Day, a small cortege of monks and people from neighboring villages left the hermitage. The procession set out towards the Monastery of St Maroun of Annaya for the burial ceremony, proceeding solemnly in prayer down the hill through the snow. The blessed body, clothed in the monk’s habit, was laid on a stretcher made of three wooden planks. As the procession moved toward the Monastery, a Priest incensed Father Charbel (St Charbel) body, while the mourners chanted in Syriac the psalms of the burial service.
As the cortege drew near to St Maroun monastery, the tolling of the bells could be heard more clearly. Despite the glacial and cold weather, the men and women villagers who had heard about Father Charbel’s (St Charbel) death came to pay their respects and obtain the blessing of the holy Father.
All the monks from the Monastery were waiting outside, reciting the rosary and chanting in Syriac “Open your doors, O Celestial Jerusalem!” The ceremony continued and the body was laid upon a catafalque draped with a pall in the nave of St Maroun’s Church. In keeping with custom, the monks and the people came forward one by one and kissed the hands of Father Charbel (St Charbel) . As the crowd and the assembly of monks left, the body was left alone in the church illuminated by candlelight.
Early the next morning, Father Charbel’s (St Charbel) body was carried to the grave located outside the monastery and adjacent to the wall of the church. After the Funeral Service was recited, a wooden board was lifted from a large pit which contained the bones of the other deceased monks. Then Father Charbel’s (St Charbel) body was lowered into the grave without a casket, covered only by his monk’s habit and hood with a Cross in his hands.
Water was dripping into the pit and mud covered its floor. Seeing the miserable condition of the grave, some monks and villagers asked that the body be buried in a private tomb or put in a coffin. However, the monk in charge explained that there was no exception to the rule. Father Charbel (St Charbel) was to be buried just like the other monks in the order. The grave was subsequently covered with a stone, sealed with concrete and then sprinkled with holy water.