On July, 2023, the Lebanon Report team conducted an interview with Mr. Raymond Nader, Founder and President of the Family of Saint Sharbel.
Here is the article and the transcript of the conversation between Mr. Raymond Nader and Lebanon Report, as featured in the August 3rd edition of Lebanon Report 2023, issue #7.
Receiving St. Charbel’s Message: Raymond Nader
By Christopher Hart-Moynihan
There is today in Lebanon a man who “knows” Charbel very closely, who spent countless hours in silence in the tiny hermitage on the mountaintop in Annaya where Charbel lived out the last years of his life, and who then received an intimate experience of the divine that changed his life. His name is Raymond Nader, 61.
Today, Nader is the Director of Télé Lumière, a television station based in Beirut that broadcasts worldwide. He has worked for many years to promote the unity of Lebanon through dialogue with the Sunni, Shia, Christian and Druze communities.
On July 26, 2023, I met Nader in person near Washington, D.C.
Nader speaks with great conviction and clarity, in a deep voice, about the importance of unity in Lebanon, and of the continued Christian presence in the country. But most of all, he is on a mission to share the meaning of his mystical encounter with St. Charbel and with the divine.
Nader and other devotees of St. Charbel are members of the organization The Family of St. Sharbel (which uses the alternative spelling of Charbel’s name). Established in 1996 in Lebanon, the group has thousands of members and seems to be trending towards becoming an ecclesial community, with a mission of reflecting and living the spirituality that Charbel and the other members of his order, the Order of Lebanese Monks, practiced during his life and up to the present day. Members of the group have told me that they seek to be “monks in the world,” and “set a Christian example” that will ultimately have the effect of drawing others to Christianity — “the eastern way of evangelizing.”
In the United States, The Family of St. Charbel has around 7 prayer groups with between 10 and 60 members each, and many more unofficial members. Through their focus on prayer combined with following Charbel’s example and living out the Gospel in the world, the organization has been growing rapidly in the United States since the first small American group was started in 2017.
Below is a transcription of Nader’s conversation with our Lebanon Report.
Childhood in a Maronite Family
Lebanon Report: So here we are on July 26, 2023, with Raymond Nader. We want to hear the very surprising, moving, profound, and transforming story of your encounter and friendship with St. Charbel.
Raymond Nader: I will start from the beginning. From the beginning, I had a big problem, and this problem was with the Christian faith. I will explain. I was born into a Christian family. And was raised to adore Jesus, to love him. Our mother Mary, the saints. Our house was full of icons, pictures. And like every Christian family we were raised to love God, to love Jesus. We were Christians: we prayed in the family, we would go to church on Sundays.
So my first problem was going to church on Sundays. It’s like all the kids of the world. No kid likes to go to Mass on Sunday. You know, because you have to be there, to sit for one hour without moving, without saying any words. And watch something that you don’t understand. So it was a torture for me, a real torture. Sitting without moving, without saying any word, without doing anything. Just watching something that was so weird.
So this was my first big problem. My second problem was that one who celebrated the Mass was my grandfather. My grandfather was a priest. So I had a double problem: first to attend the Mass, second to watch my grandfather, for one complete hour, doing things that I don’t understand. This is already acceptable. But the most intriguing problem was with this Eucharist.
So during that time, we didn’t buy the Eucharist, the hosts, from the market. We made it at home. So I spent most of the night on Saturday with my grandmother, baking the hosts for my grandfather. So we were baking maybe 500, 600 pieces. I ate half of them because they are so delicious when they are hot. And I would keep the rest — 200, 300 hosts for my grandfather for the Mass on Sunday. And on Sunday I’m there, sitting in the church, looking at my grandfather celebrating the Mass, doing these gestures. And at the end of the Mass, I see people standing in line, one after the other, to receive one of the hosts that I prepared the day before.
So I was thinking that this should be something stupid. Maybe I can teach them how to bake the host. They can make it at home, and eat hundreds of them, instead of coming to the church, spending one whole hour to receive one, just one host! So I was asking unceasingly to my grandfather, what’s happening in the Mass? What are you doing? Why can I bake 500, 600, 700 hosts and eat them? While at the Mass, you give them one by one with a lot of veneration, and we have to wait one hour. What do you do when you make these gestures above these hosts? What is happening?
I was so small, and my grandfather thought that I would not understand. So he was avoiding my questions, until one day he revealed to me his secret. He said “I’m a priest,” when I asked him about his job: “What is your job? What are you doing?”
And the job of the priest, he said, is to pray to God. And then God will descend from heaven, He will reside in these hosts and people will eat.
And because God is love, in this way, love will enter their hearts and they will start loving each other.
And he said, when you grow up, you will understand. So I kept this in my mind: my grandfather is a priest, he calls God, God comes down from heaven, He sits somewhere in these hosts, and people eat them, just to love each other. This is the way in which love can penetrate the hearts of people. And this was the main idea and everything revolved around this idea.
So I went to Masses looking at my grandfather and, after that, other priests, and thinking about this mystery. How can God the creator come down from heaven and be inside human beings? And I started my journey just trying to find, let’s say, reasonable answers to this mysterious question. So I started reading books, thinking, contemplating the stars at night, and just thinking how a huge God who created the universe can come down from heaven and be eaten through a small piece of bread.
And then, at my first Communion, I received a beautiful book, called Laplus belle histoire du monde [“The most beautiful story in the world”].
And that was the holy book, the Bible illustrated for kids. So I started reading the Bible. And I loved Jesus. I realized that he is so special. But I couldn’t connect God the creator with the Jesus-God, with the host, the Eucharist, with the Holy Spirit — because my father told me that God is inside of you, through the Holy Spirit. So I got confused. God is the creator, God is in the host, God is Jesus Christ, God is inside of me. God is something so complicated. So I started searching in science. I went into math, physics, biology, cosmology, just to resolve this question of creation, of God.
Then at the age of 13 — it was 1975 — the war started in Lebanon.
I was only 13 years old the first time I had a Kalashnikov in my hands, fighting against the Palestinians, who were very close to my house in Beirut. There was a camp called Tel al-Zaatar camp. It was a camp for refugees. But the refugees became an army — very well-trained, very well-armed. And then they attacked our villages to take over Lebanon. And we found ourselves defenseless. We had to take our weapons in our hands, and defend our houses and our churches and our schools. Because the army had dissolved — there was no army, no police, no armed forces. So we left our desks at school and we went to fight.
“School during the day… and going to fight at night”
Raymond Nader: We were beginners — we didn’t know how to fight. We learned quickly how to use these machine guns, and then we went to fight the Palestinians, who were very well-trained, and had a lot of experience. That’s why we had a huge number of casualties, because we were not professionals. We were just students going to war against very well-trained and well-armed Palestinians. I remember that during one attack, more than 300 young people were killed on the first day. Because we didn’t know how to really maneuver during war. And that night, seven of my friends were killed during this attack, and I was the only one to survive.
So then I started growing up fast. I went back to school, and I realized that I had grown a lot more than my friends at school. I saw them as kids. I had really grown up very fast. War and death and responsibilities make you mature quickly. And since that moment, I was deeply involved in the Lebanese [civil] war. I fought on almost all of the fronts of the Christian area. There was a Christian stronghold in Lebanon, surrounded by the Syrians, and the Palestinians, and the Iranians, and the Iraqis and the Libyans — and the Senegalis. There were armies from all over the Arab [world], fighting this small stronghold of Christians in Lebanon.
Lebanon Report: What would have happened if they had defeated you? Would you have been killed? Or put in prison, or into exile?
Raymond Nader: Exactly the same thing that happened to the Christians in Iraq, and the Yazidis. The same would have happened to us. Some would have been pushed to the sea, to flee, some would have been killed.
Lebanon Report: Was this war organized from above? How could these various countries all contribute their men?
Raymond Nader: It was under the influence of Yasser Arafat, who was, at that time, the head of the Palestinian resistance. So all the Arab countries were supporting Arafat with men, and weapons, and money.
Lebanon Report: But why did they turn against the Maronites of Lebanon, instead of the Jews of Israel?
Raymond Nader: Because there was a plan — the Kissinger plan was to replace Palestine with Lebanon. It was called the “alternate country”, because the Palestinians were looking for a country for themselves. They said, “instead of Palestine, we will give them Lebanon.”
Lebanon Report: And how close were they to succeeding?
Raymond Nader: Very close. Extremely close. In 1977 and 1978. I was, like all the young people of the Christian area, going to school during the day and going to fight at night — sometimes fighting during the day and studying at night. We were managing to study and fight at the same time.
Lebanon Report: What was the total number of your soldiers?
Raymond Nader: Not more than 3,000 fighting soldiers, approximately.
Lebanon Report: And for just 3,000, they were not able to take the country?
Raymond Nader: No. That was the surprise. When American Special Envoy Dean Brown went to Lebanon, he met with the Christian leaders there, and he was trying to convince them to leave the country. He said it was a hopeless case. “The only thing you can do is to flee the country, and we will take you on our own expense.” So the leaders then, Camille Chamoun and Pierre Gemayel, they refused. And they had a call on all of the radio stations, calling the young people to take weapons, and defend our country.
Lebanon Report: What was the voice of the Church at that time?
Raymond Nader: They were supporting the Christian resistance. Antonios Khoraish was the patriarch for two years, and after that Patriarch (Narallah Boutros) Sfeir (link) came. But at that moment, the [main] supporters of the resistance were the Lebanese Order of Monks. During the first two years, the Lebanese Order of Monks were selling many of their goods, their possessions, to get weapons and ammunition for the resistance. So at first, the first years, it was something like an autonomous defense [effort]. But it was so tiny, and so weak, in front of the Palestinians, supported by all the Arab countries. Yasser Arafat was receiving weapons and ammunition [by the] tons, while we were receiving a few bullets and a few old guns.
During the war, 17,000 fighters lost their lives. More than 144,000 civilians lost their lives, and 75,000 Christians.
During our Friends of Lebanon pilgrimage to Lebanon this September, we will be able to listen to the ancient hymns of the Maronite Church, sung in Syriac. Please consider joining us as we go in search of the ancient traditions that will help bring unity in a time of crisis. More information on the Friends of Lebanon pilgrimage can be found below.
The Mystery of St. Charbel
Lebanon Report: So you were studying, you were at university?
Raymond Nader: Yes, I finished my school and then I went to the School of Engineering at the Jesuit University of Beirut. I graduated in electro-mechanical engineering. And then I received a scholarship to go to London and specialize in nuclear engineering. So I went to London, I specialized in nuclear engineering, I came back to Lebanon, and I studied in the nuclear field just by, by Providence. I didn’t want to be a nuclear engineer, because Lebanon is not a nuclear country.
So I just wanted to know more about the configuration of the universe, how the universe is working. To know more about the atoms. About the ingredients of the universe, how it is working. Just to know more about God. Because I was always asking questions, about creation, about God, about the purpose of life. “Why did God create us? What is the final destination? What is the purpose of life?”
I was always thinking about these things, apart from the Eucharist and the Mass and all these things. So the idea of God was the main axis in my life. Everything was revolving around it. Especially when I saw people dying.
I was always asking, “Why is there death? Why did God create people, if in the end they will die? Why are we investing in this world, since in the end, we lose all the investments?” Whatever you do in this world, you will leave it one day, and you will go. And I was always asking the same question — “If I die today, where will I be tomorrow? Is there something? Or is there nothing?”
So I was reading the Bible a lot, praying a lot, thinking a lot. Studying a lot. I went so deep into science. And then the mystery of St. Charbel… attracted me.
So I started going up to Annaya to pray, to meditate, to think, to find answers to these eternal questions of youth.
The first enigma was the body of St. Charbel. St. Charbel died in 1898. The first day, when they buried him in the grave, some mysterious light started going out of his grave. It was seen all around the area there, in all the country of Jbeil. He died on Christmas Eve, so the light started going out of his grave on Christmas Eve, and then the second day, and afterwards weeks, and months. And after five months, in May, they decided to open the tomb, to see what was the source of this light. There was no electricity, no fire, nothing. Just a strange light coming out of this …
Lebanon Report: Nuclear!
Raymond Nader: Nuclear, exactly. [Laughs.] So they opened the tomb. They took out the body of St. Charbel. It was like [he was] sleeping. Exactly like [he was] a sleeping man. So they changed his clothes, because the clothes were rotten, they put another set of clothes on him, and they put him in a box, in a casket. They realized, the second day, that he was sweating. They found some sweat on his forehead, on his face, on his hands.
Lebanon Report: And the body was not corrupt?
Raymond Nader: No, it was exactly like sleeping. It was moving [sic], flexible, and sweating. It was sweating a kind of liquid which was pinkish. It was a mixture of blood and water.
Lebanon Report: Like in the Garden of Gethsemane…
Raymond Nader: Yes, exactly. So they were cleaning the body, changing the clothes, every day. And he was always sweating. A big quantity of this liquid, this mysterious liquid, coming out of his body. So the monks there, they tried to treat the body of St. Charbel. So they put it in the sun, sometimes they would wash him.
Lebanon Report: Oh, my goodness. It became an experiment.
Raymond Nader: Exactly. Because they [didn’t] want to wash him every day, to wash his clothes. It was a burden for them. So they tried to treat it, to stop this sweating. And they didn’t succeed. He kept sweating. And then they received an order to [once again] put the body in the grave, and stop playing with it. And in 1950, another wave of light started coming out of the tomb of St. Charbel.
They took him out again, after 52 years. [His body] was still uncorrupted and sweating as well. They found his casket full of liquid. So they took him out of this liquid. And thousands of miracles started happening at the tomb of St. Charbel. In one year, thousands of people visited Annaya and were healed. Some blind people were seeing, some lame people were walking. And thousands of miracles happened. So they put him in a new casket, and they changed his clothes, and he kept sweating.
So after that, in 1965, he was beatified, and declared Blessed.
And then his body stopped sweating. And it was just [as if he were] sleeping.
And after that, the flesh of his body disappeared, and the only thing that remained was the skeleton and the skin. And it is in the same state now. So this mystery of the body of St. Charbel was an enigma for me, as a scientist.
So I started thinking scientifically about the body of St. Charbel. He was sweating for 67 years. So, making a small calculation, a huge quantity of liquid went out of the dead body. It’s against all scientific laws. You know, the first rule in science is that nothing is created, nothing is destroyed. Everything is transformed. So here there is…creation. A body of 80 kgs. gave 30,000 liters of liquid over 67 years, 2 liters per day. It was amazing. They were just washing the body, emptying the casket, giving it new clothes. And they kept doing this for years.
So as an engineer, as a nuclear engineer, I was thinking scientifically about this body. “How can this happen?”
So I started going up to Annaya to pray, and I felt deep down inside of me that St. Charbel is still alive. So, there is something that will happen after our death.
When I started going up to Annaya, I was 24. And I kept going up to Annaya for 10 years. I would go up to the hermitage, pray there, spend the night praying, meditating, thinking, trying to find the answers to these questions.
“The flames of the candles were not moving”
Lebanon Report: And the civil war was still not finished?
Raymond Nader: No. I was going up during the war. During that time I was the Commander of the School of Officers of the Lebanese Forces. It was very close to Harissa, five kilometers [away]. I would finish there, come home to my family, take care of my family, my kids. And at night, at 10, 11, 12, it depends, I would take my car and I would go up to Annaya, spend the night, and then come back in the morning.
Lebanon Report: Did you ever sleep?
Raymond Nader: Yes, either a few hours before I went, or a few hours after I came back. I would go at least three nights per week.
Lebanon Report: You said you had a sense that [St. Charbel] was still alive. What was this sense?
Raymond Nader: You know, it’s not from my own experience, but when you are in Lebanon, you can hear the stories of St. Charbel everywhere. Every day, we hear stories that…he appeared to someone, he healed someone, someone went up to Annaya blind and came back with sight, someone was lame and he came back walking. A lot of miracles are happening, around the clock.
So I was hearing about St. Charbel everywhere. And in Lebanon, all of the Lebanese feel that St. Charbel is still alive. He is moving. A lot of healings are happening every day. So that’s why, when I used to go to Annaya to pray during the night, I was asking St. Charbel to give me a hint about what is going on on the other side of life.
So I would pray, read the Bible, meditate on the Bible, try to talk to Jesus, to find some clues about the “other life.”
And then, when I finished, I would close the door of the hermitage and go back to my car. While I was going, I always stopped and looked at the hermitage, talking to St. Charbel. I was telling him, “You know the truth. Please let me touch it. I want to know what’s going on on the other side of life.” And I would go back home.
So I was doing this for around 10 years, from 1985 to 1994.
And then, one night, it was November 10, 1994, my 33rd birthday.
That night, I went to Annaya, like every night. I usually would take with me the Bible, a few candles, to be able to read the Bible, because there is no electricity. I arrived to the hermitage at around 10, 10:30. I knelt down. I lit the candles and started reading the Bible. It was November 10; it’s extremely cold in Annaya, you cannot stand [outside] for more than a few minutes. So I started praying, like every day. And then, while I was praying, I felt a warm breeze, surrounding me. I felt warm; I was so happy to feel warm. But I was intrigued. “I am feeling warm in Annaya during the wintertime, in the hermitage. It is impossible.”
So I started thinking about this warmth I [was] feeling. And then, while I was thinking, this breeze was starting to be transformed into a strong, powerful, hot wind. So, in a few minutes, there was a hot wind blowing all around the place, shaking the trees, blowing the sand. And I was looking at the candles. I saw that the flames of the candles were not moving. They were standing still. There was a very strong, hot, powerful wind blowing and moving everything, except those flames of five candles. They were not moving at all.
So as a man of science, I decided to touch the flames, to make sure I am not hallucinating. I decided to stretch out my hand and touch the flames.
But before I moved, I was… transported to another world.
I lost all of my senses. I stopped hearing anything, feeling anything. I stopped hearing and feeling my body. I didn’t know at that moment if I was standing up or kneeling down. Then I found myself diving towards a huge light. It was like diving into the sun. I didn’t know where I was. I lost the notion of space. I started to not feel that I was inside my body.
So then when I went into this indescribable light — because I would never be able to describe it, because it’s something so strange, it’s a very powerful light. I can say frankly that it is billions of times more powerful than the sun. If you put the sun in this light, it would look like a candle. It’s so powerful, so bright. But it’s not the light that we know. So it’s not hot, it’s not burning. It doesn’t hurt the eyes. You could look at it for hundreds of years. It’s so smooth, so transparent. It looks like a crystal, like pure water. But it’s light, it’s not water. So powerful and so smooth at the same time. So bright and so clear at the same time.
And I felt a presence.
I felt that, “Someone’s here.”
I couldn’t see him. So I said to myself, “Maybe I am dreaming.” So this being, that I was not seeing, he said to me, “No you are not dreaming.” And he was talking without talking.
So he spoke to me without speaking, without any language, without a voice, without words. But it was extremely clear; he said, “No, you’re not dreaming,” without speaking. It’s hard to describe it but he was not speaking in Arabic, nor English, nor Spanish, nor French…
So when he talked to me this way, I said, “Maybe I’m not conscious.” Then he said to me in the same way, “Now you are conscious. You have never been as conscious in your life as you are now.”
So I started asking thousands of questions, in my head. First I said, “Ok, who are you, speaking to me?”
When I asked him who he was, he revealed himself to me in a special way. He didn’t show me his face, and he didn’t tell me his name. But when I asked him, “Who are you?” I felt something strange invading me. And then I started feeling something which is the most beautiful thing that a human being can feel. It was a tremendous feeling of peace, joy, freedom, and a huge — I don’t know how to describe it — it was a huge amount of love, tenderness, and affection. And then he said to me, “This is me.” This was how he claimed himself to be.
So he said, “This is me,” and at that moment I was so happy that I didn’t want to know anything — neither about this life, nor about the other life. All I wanted then was to stay as we were. So I said — I was speaking to myself — “I want to ask him to stay, and if he wants to go, to take me with him.” Then he said to me, “I am always everywhere.”
And then the light went off, and I found myself in the same place [as before]. What had changed was the candles. I looked at the candles and they were totally consumed.
I looked at my watch and it was 3:35 in the morning.
Four hours and a half passed like a second.
It was like I was out of space, out of time.
But even when I came back, I kept feeling the same feeling inside my heart. My heart was blowing [sic]. Full of peace, and joy, and love, and something that I cannot comprehend or describe.
Receiving the mark
Raymond Nader: So I went back home. While I was walking back to my car, I felt something on my arm. It was a slight pressure and a little bit of warmth. I didn’t think about my arm; I was thinking about the light, the candles, about this beautiful being that I was communicating with. And then, I started feeling that my sleeve was stuck to my skin.
So when I reached my car, and turned on the lights, I looked at my arm and I found five fingers printed on my arm, and blood and water coming out of the fingers. They were engraved in my flesh. So I started touching the fingers to see what was going on. I didn’t feel any pain. If you looked at it, and you saw it bleeding, you would say I should be screaming from [the] pain. But I didn’t feel anything. So I thought, again, that I might be hallucinating. So I went back home. The first person to see me was my wife, of course. And when she saw the fingers bleeding, she made the sign of the cross, and she asked me, “Whose fingers are these?”
So I was relieved, because I realized then that I was not hallucinating; my wife saw the same thing. And that night, I changed everything in my life. I decided to dedicate my life to Jesus Christ, to this light, to St. Charbel. So the second day, I left everything; I left my work, my activities — political, social, everything. I kept only my family — my wife and my kids. And I started a new life. We went with the founders of Télé Lumière, this Christian TV station. So I started this with them, we founded this TV [station], and I was dreaming of having a huge station, preaching and proclaiming Jesus Christ to the whole world — especially the Arab world. So we started a very tiny, small, TV station in Beirut, covering a few quarters of Beirut. And then we started growing.
So I had a dream of having this big TV [station], covering the whole world, and this dream came true. A few years ago we had nine channels broadcasting on six satellites, covering the whole world; different programs. Now we are passing through this economic crisis. We had 180 employees, now we are 30. We took down four of our channels, and we are broadcasting now on five channels, three satellites. And we are broadcasting in Arabic on these channels. And two years ago, we started an English channel. And I am still directing this TV station.
Lebanon is a very small country. This happened to me on November 10, and on November 11, all of the Lebanese were aware of what had happened in Annaya. It spread like lightning in Lebanon.
There was a rush of TV, and magazines, and radio, coming to interview me. So for a few days, I was becoming crazy [with] the media. It was like a wave of conversion for a lot of people. Especially the people who were fighting [alongside] me, the fighters of the Lebanese Forces, a lot of the army, a lot of people coming from all around Lebanon. We gathered every Friday night in Annaya. We had Bible study and then Mass, and then a procession from the monastery to the hermitage, praying the rosary. Thousands of people, every Friday, coming to Annaya to pray together. We reached 15,000 sometimes in the summer, during July and August. Between 10,000 and 15,000 people, gathered in Annaya to pray, have the Holy Mass, and then the procession to the hermitage.
And then we started the Family of St. Charbel. It’s a prayer group, which has now become like an organization. Now we are in 10 or 12 countries, where we have the Family of St. Charbel. People praying, converting, preaching. And so I kept going with this new mission, and then I went through the same experience several times a year: every time I see the same light, and some blood and water come out from the fingers [the mark on his arm] for a few days. Now it has happened 55 times, I think. And every time I receive a kind of message, I take notes, I give it to the Patriarch. Because these are the rules. And now, what I am doing is directing this prayer group called the Family of St. Charbel, the TV station, called Télé Lumière, and we founded this movement called the Liban Message movement, for reconciliation and spreading peace in Lebanon.
[End, Lebanon Report interview with Raymond Nader]
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