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The Monastery of Our lady of Tamish

The Monastery of Our Lady of Tamish belongs to the Lebanese Maronite Order (OLM). It is 12km north of the capital, Beirut, and situated 250m above sea level. In 1994 the monastery became the seminary of the OLM, where young monks undergo formation.
Monks come to Tamish after two and a half years in the novitiate. They receive formation here for a further five years. Today, there are 38 seminarians living at Tamish. They are well looked after by seven senior monks.
The people of Christ deserve ministers committed to life-long learning and growth in holiness. The OLM has dedicated the Monastery of Our Lady of Tamish to giving monks the best formation in all fields. The seminary provides post-graduate and advanced ministerial degree programs, as well as ongoing formation for those already engaged in ministry.

I - HISTORY

The Temple of the Goddess Artemis
It is said that King Ptolemy V Epiphanes gave an order to build a temple to the goddess Artemis in 187 BC. We do not know much about this temple, but we do know that by the Middle Ages it was in ruins and used by shepherds. Already by that time the area was called Tamish. The word "Tamish" could have come from "Artemis". In the 17th century monks arrived and repaired as much as they could of the temple, building an altar, installing an icon of Our lady and living there as hermits.

A new monastery
In 1670 the Maronite Bishop of Aleppo, Gabriel, restored and rebuilt the temple and converted it into a monastery, giving it the name of Our Lady of Tamish. The monastery became famous because of its unusual monastic structure: monks and nuns used to live together but in different wings (they only shared the church). In his diary the Maronite Patriarch Estephan Al Douaihy (1670-1704) expressed pride in the monastery.

God’s Plan for the New Monastery
In 1695 three young Maronite men visited Patriarch Al Douaihy to ask for his blessing to become monks on Mount Lebanon. The Patriarch sent them to the Monastery of Our Lady of Tamish. There, one of them, Abdallah Qaraali, was inspired to found a religious order. Accordingly, he returned to the Patriarch and asked for his approval to launch the order. The Patriarch encouraged him and gave him a small monastery called Mart Mora at Ehden in the north of Lebanon. Abdallah Qaraali, Gibrael Hawwa and Youssef El Bitin were presented with their monastic hoods by the Patriarch on November 10th 1695. This date was the beginning of the first organized order in the East. Later that year a young man called Gibrael Farhat joined them. The new order was named the Lebanese Maronite Order because it was founded on Mount Lebanon.
The order grew quickly in numbers and in holiness. In 1727 the OLM was asked to take over the Monastery of Our Lady of Tamish and ever since the OLM has run the monastery.

Tamish from 1670 to 2011
Maronite monks have lived in Tamish for more than 340 years. There is naturally a great deal to speak of during this period. Here is a brief sketch of some key events;

a. In 1700 the superior of Tamish, Fr Solomen Iben Al Hageh, was so impressed by the new order, the OLM, that he left the monastery and founded a new order called the Antonine Order at Mar Chaaya at Maten Mount Lebanon. The Antonine Order was fully supported by the Monastery of Our Lady of Tamish.
b. Tamish was the mother house of the OLM from 1772 to 1913. Many significant events took place during this period.
c. One of the great saints of the Maronite Church is St Nemetallah Al Hardini. He lived for nine years at Tamish as a General Assistant.
d. In 1994, Tamish became the place of formation for all monks of the OLM.

The Hermitage
As with most Maronite monasteries, the hermitage at Tamish is not far from the monastery itself. It houses those monks who have a vocation to be hermits. In order to become a hermit a monk must obtain the permission of the authorities. Tamish's hermitage is named after St Antony the Abbot. We believe that the hermitage is very old but unfortunately there are no detailed records about it before 1926.
Today, we have a well-known monk in the Maronite Church called Fr Youhana Khawand, who lived in Tamish's hermitage for thirteen year before he was moved to the hermitage of Saint Boula in Qozhaya Valley on 11th of September 2011, in the north of Lebanon. Fr Khawand entered the hermitage, with the permission of his superiors, on January 17th 1998.
Tamish's hermitage or the monastery are both greatly respected by the Lebanese people who come from all over the country to receive a blessing or to seek a spiritual advice.

 

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F. Raphael Matar

How Fr Raphael Inspired Me On My Monastic Path

It was a cold afternoon in March 1991. I was still a Brother, a seminarian at the University of the Holy Spirit. I walked all the way from the monastery of the Brothers, striding through the busy corridors of the university building. I went into the chapel of the Holy Spirit, bowed for a few seconds before the Tabernacle and passed the prie-dieu where Fr Raphael spent hours each day kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament in the early morning. Behind the chapel, next to the sacristy, was Fr Raphael's room. With some hesitation I knocked on the wooden door “Come in,” a trembling weak voice said from behind the door. I opened the door and stepped inside. Fr Raphael, who was then 85, was sitting in his armchair, head bowed. I wasn't sure if he had seen me. “Here is the medicine, Father,” I said, placing it on his desk. The room smelt pleasant. Sometimes you could smell the scents of the Mediterranean Sea in it. Although it was cold, the window was open. We lived in a city where noise was amplified, but Fr Raphael's room was incredibly still. On his desk there were many books and papers. It was always like that. Fr Raphael was a distinguished writer and poet. From his writing (mainly in Arabic) you sense how much he loved St Ephrem the Syrian. Fr Raphael was also known as a skilled spiritual director. You could see from the kinds of tasks that his superiors gave him that he was regarded as an extremely devout and dependable monk. He spent most of his years teaching in schools and instructing young monks. The Second Vatican Council led to new responsibilities. He oversaw revisions to all the Maronite Arabic liturgical texts. By returning to the sources, Fr Raphael and his liturgical committee gave us the most beautiful prayer books. Fr Raphael's armchair was old and he rarely used it. He spent most of his time in the room at his desk. He worked for countless hours sitting on a very uncomfortable wooden chair. He was famous for his industriousness. In his room you could rarely find anything except books and papers. I stood next to his desk for a couple of seconds trying to work out if he was about to say something. Normally he said nothing. “Augustine.” Finally a word had emerged from his mouth. His voice was very low, slow and wavering. “Yes, Father,” I said eagerly, hoping that he would ask me to do something for him. Fr Raphael was very independent and liked to do everything by himself. Despite his age and weak body he never allowed me to clean his room or do other chores. He did them all alone. His head was still bent over. And I was waiting to hear what he was about to say. At last he said: "Can you please call the doctor and tell him that the medicine is finished and there is no improvement?” “I certainly will,” I replied, a little disappointed. I had been hoping that he would ask me to perform a bigger task through which I might have been able to express how much he was appreciated by the monks, especially the young ones. He asked me to contact the doctor because I was responsible for the sick monks at the monastery at that time. (The doctor examined him later that day and concluded that his health had started to deteriorate. Fr Raphael would ultimately die at the age of 89 on January 28, 1995, the feast of St Ephrem.) I waited a few more seconds beside his desk in case he wanted to say something more. He lifted his head very slowly and looked at me, wondering why I was still there. It was very rare to make eye contact with Fr Raphael. Behind his glasses only one eye could see, though you never would have known that if no one had told you. His gaze always gave you a good feeling. His facial expression was unchanging and, just like his writings, it was necessary to read and re-read his expression to grasp its deep meaning. You could never tell if he was happy or sad, in pain or contented. You would seldom see him smile, but his face always somehow carried the suggestion of a smile. But what you could discern for certain from his features was that he was a man in touch with God. He was looking at me, no doubt, but was also present to another reality, to eternity. In order to live so far apart from other human beings he must have had a profound relation with something -with Someone - more important, more attractive and more convincing. I was fascinated to discover who this Someone was. I always went to Confession with Fr Raphael, but that day he was too weak and I felt it was inappropriate to ask him. He was still looking at me, his eyes fixed on me, knowing that I had something to say. I eventually had the courage to say: “It is not urgent, but whenever you can I would like you to hear my Confession, Father.” Suddenly, the light that he mentioned frequently in his prayers lit up his face. Without saying anything, he rose from his armchair, his soon-to-be-dead body resurrected for a moment. He stood steadily before me, then walked to his desk, before lowering himself into the wooden chair slowly. Like a generous father, the joy of giving, clearly gave him strength. I could see that he had been writing an article at his desk. Despite his advanced years he could not stop doing what he had dedicated his life to. From a very young age he had devoted himself to the Word. The purpose of his existence was to spread that Word. He spent all his life listening to the Word, reading the Word, teaching the Word and putting the Word into his own texts and actions. The Word was incarnated in his works. I knelt on the carpet in front of Fr Raphael and started to prepare myself for Confession. In Fr Raphael’s room I always felt as if I were in a church: it contained the same sense of God's powerful presence. Fr Raphael seemed to become a different person when he heard confessions. The sacrament seemed to give him an extraordinary vitality. I began my Confession. I felt as if I had dragged Fr Raphael from the heavens back down to earth. With great concentration he listened. His long ascetic life had taught him to be a good listener. If he had succeeded in listening to God and conversing with Him, then it would not have been hard for him to listen to me with holy concern. I only said few words, then Fr Raphael, who rarely spoke, began to talk. It was as if a dam had been breached and words came tumbling out. For 10 minutes he spoke without pause, staring all the while at his desk. There was in fact nothing on the desk for him to look at. But the way he looked at it suggested that there, on the desk, he was reading the words that were written on my soul. In just few minutes he gave me the benefit of a lifetime's experience, the knowledge he had gained by reading and praying, and the surpassing peace that God had given him, most probably during one of his ecstasies. His words were too sweet, too deep and too beautiful to speak about. He knew exactly what I needed. His One Trinitarian God taught him how to unite all virtues in one, and gave him such grace that he and the Word were united. After he had finished speaking he stretched out his hand and gave me absolution. Feeling very blessed and happy, I thanked God and Fr Raphael. I stood up and bowed to kiss his hand, but he was fast and snatched his hand away, not allowing me to kiss it. His parents gave him the name Maroun but when he became a monk he was given the name Raphael, which means "God has healed". My confessor who carried this name was indeed a healer - and his medicine was the Word. Before I left I asked him: "Can I do anything for you, Father?" "God bless you," he said, his head bowed as he remained sitting. I left the room, allowing him to return to his world. Fr Raphael made an unforgettable impression upon me and to this day I am still discovering new graces from my encounters with him.

 

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Retreats

Spiritual Retreat: Spiritual Acmes in the life of a Monk Introduction The book of Laws of the Lebanese Maronite Order rule 76 says that a monk must be committed to an annual spiritual retreat. Moreover, different kinds of spiritual retreats are mentioned in rules 136, 162, 169, and 321. We also have a very rich and powerful article around 15 pages, about the annual retreat in the book “Kitab Al Adab Al Rehbanie” by Father Moubarak Tabet which was published in 1920. In the Catholic Church, spiritual retreats are very common. Bishops, priests, monks, nuns and lay people, all are encouraged nowadays, to commit themselves to spiritual retreats on a regular basis. The most famous spiritual retreats in the Catholic Church are those of Saint Ignatius of Loyola which were made around 1524. The retreat can be up to one month and several times a year. It is also called ‘spiritual exercises’ and was approved by Pope Paul III in 1548. Spiritual retreats are not only made by Catholics or Christians but by many kinds of religions and different kinds of people. Out of a long experience in the Catholic Church we can say that spiritual retreats are vital. Today, more than ever, spiritual retreats are considered necessary. Why do we need retreats? 1) Stress, hatred, materialism, egoism, and many other things are abolishing peace from our families, our communities, and our society. The monk, who is the man of peace, is responsible to bring the peace of Christ to our society. Retreats work for the body, mind, and spirit by helping individuals to find greater inner peace. When a monk finds inner peace, that individual moves the world toward peace. This is why it is imperative to escape from the world's bombardment of sounds and images and take time for the mind, heart, and spirit to come to tranquillity. 2) We are becoming workaholic. No doubt that the harvest is plenteous and the labourers are few, but we cannot work nonstop. We cannot work more than we can, or else we become robots. It is true that work can never be finished, but we can stop it. Our body, mind, and soul need to relax. We need a retreat in order to give a respite to our body, mind, and soul. Retreats break the boundaries of our mind built by our work and daily routine. We need to stop all the work and go on a spiritual retreat, and let no borders to our minds, but endless space. 3) We need to do retreats because Jesus, who does not need retreats but did them in order that we will imitate Him: Luke 5:16, So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed, Mark 1:35, Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed. Matthew 14:23, when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. Luke 6:12, now, it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. Matthew 26:36, Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there”. Luke 9:10, When the apostles had returned……….. He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. In these verses and in many others we see Jesus either alone or with His disciples on a spiritual retreat. 4) We need to meditate. Descartes concludes that he can be certain that he exists because he thinks: “I think, therefore I am”. To believe in the existence of God I must believe in my existence first. Wisdom is required by people and by God. Jesus says: ‘Be wise like serpent’ Mth 10:16. Wisdom is thinking. We must think, but the nonstop ringing phone, the unopened mail, the non replied messages, the accumulated problems to be solved, the clashed appointments and many other things will not allow us to think correctly. Meditation isn’t it thinking? This is why retreats are badly needed. These and many other reasons beg us to look after ourselves and go on spiritual retreats. You might tell me: ‘but I can do all these without going on a retreat’. Yes, you may be able, which I doubt it personally, but I am sure you will agree with me that immersing yourself in a long bath is better than taking a 5 minutes shower. Meditation Out of the many reasons why should we do retreats, I preferred to speak about meditation. In a spiritual retreat, we relax, we pray, we repent, we listen to directions, and we meditate. Serious meditation could be to many, unpleasant and even painful; this is why it is rare. We cannot become good retreatants if we are not good meditaters. We cannot become good meditaters in an overnight. There are several factors that help us become good meditaters: Silence What we truly lack in our retreats is this silent meditation. Meditation is rare because it requires silence. I think our most dangerous disease of our society today is this undesirable silence. The noise inside and outside us is silencing our conscious. Sometimes we are afraid of silence, because this stillness will enable us to see the truth of ourselves. We cannot understand God or listen to Him or meet Him except in silence. God lives within us in silence, and only there we can conceive Him. This is why we tend to import canned thoughts about the truth or about God rather than meeting them face to face in silence. Thinking Meditation will awaken our creative thoughts. It will hurt our brain, I assure you, but just to make it a creator of new and useful ideas. Meditation is thinking and rethinking over and over again about something that we already have, but needed to be developed. For instance, prayer; it is not something new, all we need to do is to collect some of the information about it and start thinking how can we apply it on ourselves in a better way, and take my time in thinking without interruption. We need a place and time to do that. Our Nature is incredibly beautiful; our monasteries are extremely prayerful, we just require choosing the time and a place, switching off all noisy and distracting things, submerge in an ocean of silence, and starting meditating, starting discovering or rediscovering the truth. To meditate we need material to start with, and we have many. Pythagoras in the fifth century BC travelled the world searching for knowledge. Nowadays, the whole knowledge of the world is a click away from us. We park ourselves in big offices full of books, computers, and internet. We sit on comfortable chairs. We have at least one secretary, yet we do not have time to think about the unfathomable subjects that concern ourselves and our people. Fr Raphael Matar in his small bedroom sitting on a very uncomfortable wooden chair gave us the creation of breathtaking ideas. Because of the multimedia, our young people are absorbing alien and dangerous thoughts. Henry David Thoreau says: ‘What should we think of the shepherd’s life if his flocks always wandered to higher pastures than his thoughts?’ We have to be ready for every intelecual chalange. We have great thinkers in our Church, like Saint Paul, Saint Ephrem, Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Thomas Aquinas…. and we have us, yes us, why not? How did our Saints meditate? I have a question to ask: “How did our saints: Charbel, Hardini, Stephen, and Rafca get to holiness? Did they think about it or it was a present which was given to them by heaven on a silver plate? Did they get to perfection because they were thoughtless or because they were clever? In my opinion, our saints were exceptionally smart. When Saint Hardini said: ‘The bright is the one who saves his soul’, by using the word ‘bright’ didn’t he mean that the one who uses his brain? Saint Charbel in his deep silence, what was he doing? He was not just praying. He was thinking and thinking and thinking. And Saint Stephen when he said: ‘God sees me’, didn’t he think about it? I have to confess that some time in my life I did underestimate the sharpness of some pious monks who I thought that they were just simple. Later on, I found out that no, these people do think gravely. They think about their inner life. They think of how they can have both feet firmly on the ground to be able to see clearly on earth the Heavenly Kingdom. Our saints did not use magic, their biggest miracle was that they used their brains. They had knowledge less than we have, but for sure they had time to meditate, they had time to think and simply they used their wits for the coming of the kingdom of God. We speak about introspection and metacognition, aren’t they important? Shouldn’t they be the priority of all our work? I think this is what our saints were busy with. This is meditation. The ‘idea’ Meditation is not inventing new ideas, and imposing them on others, and be upset if they were not excepted. Meditation is exceedingly personal. There is nothing at all in the life of the individual more private than meditation. It is discovering the truth and living it. Meditation is taking our time of thinking of a certain thought. Every idea has a multiple ideas. It is like an onion, there are many layers to it. Just when we think and rethink about it, we realize that there is another layer and then another and another... till we get to the inspiration. Meditation is a trinity: My God, my soul and my mind. When I can put these three together in silence, then I am meditating. Conclusion Retreats make us more prayerful, better thinkers, better discipliners, better listeners, better creators. They teach us how to analyze, evaluate, and reconstruct our thinking and help us to rethink and think again. They give evolution to our ideas. Retreats offer us better willpower, better deduction. Retreats award us the real peace. They give us the space to control our emotions and use them to the best. They make us consider alternative points of views, make us know better our values and beliefs. Help us to study better our mistakes, and reach the core of an issue. By retreats we can be inspired, and by retreats we can be united with God.

 

 

 

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Pope in Lebanon

The Pope gave us the Joy of Life

It is 3pm, and the square in Bkerké where Benedict XVI will meet the young people is nearly full. My 30 seminarians and I are blessed with good seats where we can see the whole square. There are still three hours before the Pope arrives. The sun is boiling, and the silence of the young people is remarkable. The sacrifices they have made to be here are many. They know that the Pope is a good speaker, but what the Pope is going to tell them is not what made them take pains to be here. “Lebanon, this distinguished country….” With these words the BBC News narrator started his commentary, revealing how Muslims and Christians live together in this country. All religious figures in Lebanon, and there are many, approved of Pope Benedict’s visit and all came to meet him, proving that coexistence is still alive. In spite of the endless troubles in the area, the media of the Middle East have been busy talking about, imagining and speculating on the visit in great quantities and with great optimism. Young people today suffer from uncertainty about their future. The political situation is never stable. The economic situation never gets better. The scars of the long civil war are there. People are aware the Pope’s visit will not alter their situation instantly. A fear of the future will stay and they will continue to be unemployed. But just by him visiting, he gave them the joy of life. I am sure these 50,000 youths, some of whom have been waiting since 10am, are mature in faith. They do not want anything from him. On the contrary, they want to know what they can do to keep the Church strong and alive. Fifteen years ago the Lebanese young people waited happily for hours for their beloved Pope John Paul II. Today they are waiting with all their hearts and with great faith for the successor of Peter. Music starts to play. Before 6pm the square is overcrowded and we can feel and hear the youths become anxious and excited. The hour has come. Suddenly, the ocean of people stands up, all hands in the air, cheering. In one very amplified voice they chant in French: “Benedict, we love you”, as the popemobile travels for 15 minutes through the crowds. Looking at these youths, all I could see was a supernatural energy, a force that we do not see every day. There is a tornado inside them. This scene brought tears to the eyes of many people. These young people know that they are not hailing a mortal pope; they are hailing the head of the immortal Church they believe in. They can see that he doesn’t hold in his hand a magic stick that will solve their countless problems, but they do believe that in his hand he carries a beacon which is the light of the world. The Maronites have throughout their history fought tooth and nail to protect their full communion with Rome. Today, the symbol of this unity is among them. They are not expressing their respect just to an 85-year-old man. They are declaring openly and proudly their unbreakable attachment to the persecuted and suffering Church that he carries on his shoulders and in his heart. The tour of the popemobile finishes and the service starts. In silence all eyes are suspended on the white figure in front of them, and they hang on his every word. They know Pope Benedict XVI is a great scholar, but they are not looking at a theologian, they are looking to a holy icon that speaks theology without words, an icon that is blessing them. The young people bade the Pope farewell the same way they welcomed him. One thing was missing: they could not hug him. No one left Bkerké the same person, not even the Pope.

 

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Orphanage of Saint Charbel

Job 5:16

'So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts its mouth.'

Please visit the 'Orphanage of Saint Charbel' on Face Book, and give it the best support you can.

Thank you very much. May God bless you.

Father Augustine Aoun OLM