By Susan Bailey
An ornate miniature wooden coffin with a first class relic of an ancient saint drew scores of men and women, young and old, to Our Lady of Mercy Maronite Church on June Street in Worcester on Monday and Tuesday.
“Pilgrims came from as far away as New Jersey, Maine and New York to pray in front of St. Charbel,” said the Father Alex Joseph during his opening remarks for Tuesday night’s Divine Liturgy.
People came forward in a steady stream, kneeling in reverence and laying prayer cards, rosaries and other objects on the relic for blessings from the saint.
Two full days of events included exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, recitation of the rosary led by young people of the parish, Maronite Divine Liturgy, the Litany of St. Charbel and Ramsho (Evening Prayer) of the Office of St. Charbel.
The devotion of the young people to the saint was evident.
“It is an honor to have something so sacred in our church,” said Louisa Tannous.
Tala Khoury agreed adding, “It is a true blessing to gather the parish and the faithful together.”
The girls assisted in leading the rosary along with Tony El Nemer, Joanna Youssef and Aya Khoury.
Emile Khoury was knowledgeable about the saint having done a report on him for Sunday School class.
“St. Charbel draws people together,” he said adding, “Many people pray to him.”
The children noted that the Divine Liturgy on Monday night had been well-attended with many Orthodox Christians joining in worship. Tuesday night’s liturgy was also well-attended.
Known as Youssef Antoun Makhloufin, St. Charbel was born in North Lebanon on May 8, 1828 to Maronite parents. Pious from his early childhood it was said that he was “infatuated with prayers.” He often prayed in front of the icon of the Virgin Mary while taking flocks of sheep to the prairie; such devotion has since drawn many pilgrims to a grotto he visited. He followed the paths of his uncles, entering hermitage life.
Upon professing his monastic vows in 1853, Youssef took the name of Charbel, a second-century martyr in the Antioch Church. He was ordained a priest in 1859 and lived out his monastic life at Saint Maron’s Monastery-Annaya and in Sts. Peter and Paul hermitage. St. Charbel was known for his fidelity in practicing a strict regimen of austerity and mortification. As a hermit he spent his time in silence, prayer, worship and manual labor in the fields. He was particularly devoted to the Eucharist.
It was after his death that this hidden saint became known. Pilgrims flocked to this tomb as reports circulated of the grave emanating “spiritual lights.” With the permission of the Maronite patriarchate the body of St. Charbel was placed into a special coffin and transferred to a new tomb inside the monastery. People came from far and wide seeking intercession and many were healed of their physical and spiritual illnesses.
A petition for Charbel’s canonization was submitted in 1925 and in 1950 his grave was opened to reveal his incorrupt corpse. After this discovery, many thousands of pilgrims came to the monastery to pray for intercession, and healings increased exponentially. As evidence mounted regarding these healings, a revival took place among the people of Lebanon regardless of religious denomination or background.
Father Alex revealed details about the coffin with the first-class relic during liturgy saying, “His name is carved into the wood in Arabic along with the story of the first miracle attributed to him.”
He went on to describe how then Father Charbel had asked a servant to fill his lamp with oil, but instead of oil, the servant filled the lamp with water. Yet miraculously the lamp was lit.
That miracle became a precursor to the spiritual light that Saint Charbel would give first to his own Lebanese people and eventually, to the world.
The relic of Saint Charbel was transported to its next destination in Springfield by Father Alex late Tuesday night as it continues on its tour of the country.
– Background information on St. Charbel taken from www.saintcharbel-annaya.com