December 24 – Eugenia of Rome; Charbel Markhlouf

Eugenia of Rome (d. ca. 258) was born there, but grew up in Alexandria, of which her father was prefect. Somehow she got hold of a copy of Paul’s letters, and longed to become a Christian, but the Christians had all been driven from the city (if you imagine an illustration from “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” at this point, you’re in good company), so she dressed herself up as a man, took her trusty servants Protus and Hyacinthus (one under each arm), and went looking for baptism.

Meanwhile, Bishop Elias (probably not the Bishop Elias you’re thinking of) had a vision apprising him of their impending visit. They met at “a certain monastery” (funny how one says “a certain monastery” when one is not certain which monastery it was), and the three were baptized (fully clothed, apparently, for Elias didn’t know that “Eugene” was a woman). Eugenia eventually became abbot (of course), and received the gift of healing.

One day she healed a certain woman, who took a fancy to her (to put it nicely). When “Eugene” declined to recline, the woman accused “him” of attempted seduction. (Projection existed long before the projector.) Eugene was brought before the prefect (her father), and was able to demonstrate her innocence to everyone’s satisfaction (we do not ask how). A tearful family reunion ensued, and Dad was converted, ultimately becoming bishop.

Eventually the (pagan) fiancé one of Eugenia’s converts reported her to the authorities. Eugenia was brought into the temple to worship the idols, but as she entered, the idols fell down and got smashed (the opposite order of someone drinking too much). After various tortures, Eugenia was decapitated, on the Feast of the Nativity.

Charbel Markhlouf (1828–1898) (né Youssef) was born three years before his father, a conscript in the Turkish army, died. (See what I did there?) Youssef was either raised by his widowed mother in an atmosphere of piety, or by an his uncle who disapproved of his piety. (Insert boilerplate complaint about inconsistent sources.) As a shepherd he would take his sheep to a small grotto, wherein he had affixed an icon of the Virgin, and pray all day, while the sheep wandered around outside, biting the grass.

At twenty-three he entered the (Maronite) Monastery of Our Lady, later moving to the the St. Maron monastery. There he was monkified, taking the name Charbel from a second-century Antiochian martyr (he was done with it). He studied philosophy and theology at a third monastery, was priested, and returned to St. Maron’s. He worked in the vineyard and olive orchard, prayed, read, and asceticized. At 47 he moved to a four-cell hermitage with three other monks (the math works; I checked it). They ate but one meal (of vegetables!) (and NO FRUIT!) (let alone meat!) (emphatic punctuation added to actual details!) daily, spoke to each other only when necessary, and drank no wine (other than the Eucharist).

At seventy years of age, Charbel suffered a stroke, and died on Christmas Eve. A heavy snow was falling, but the clouds opened up and the sun shone when his body was moved from the hermitage to the monastery. A few months after his burial, bright light was seen around his tomb. Opening it, the monks found his body was incorrupt (it was still so in 1927 and 1950).

Many people have been healed through Charbel’s posthumous interventions, some, one source marvels, not even Christians! One healee was Nohad El Shami, a paralyzed woman, who saw two Maronite monks operate on her neck in a dream. When she awoke, she had two wounds on her neck, but could walk (a decent trade). Charbel appeared to her a second time, saying it was he, and asking her to pray in his hermitage on the 22nd of every month. She did.