Beirut, Lebanon, Jan 28, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- Raymond Nader had spent years searching for the meaning of life, when during a moment of prayer in an old Lebanese hermitage, he says a mystical experience of light left his arm miraculously marked with a burn in the shape of the hand of St. Charbel.
Since that moment, on Nov. 10, 1994, the handprint on his upper left arm has faded and reappeared multiple times, Nader told CNA.
Dr. Nabil Hokayem, a Beirut plastic surgeon, examined the mark on Nader’s arm three times: first in 1994, soon after its appearance, and subsequently in the spring of 1995 and the summer of 1996.
He told CNA that in his professional opinion, the mark is a third-degree burn, in the shape of what appeared “like five fingers, as if someone is holding [Nader] from behind.”
A third-degree burn is severe, and destroys both the upper and lower layers of skin, possibly also affecting underlying tissues. But Hokayem said the burn on Nader’s upper left arm did not go through the stages of healing typical of a severe burn.
“I have seen and treated hundreds of burned people; I tell you, I have never seen such a thing,” he said. “I was really astonished.”
The doctor said the first time he saw the burn, he wanted to treat and bandage it as usual, but Nader declined, saying it did not bother him. Besides the lack of pain, the doctor explained it was unusual that the burn did not leave a scar, but instead would just slowly fade until it had “healed totally.”
Nader said he has continued to have supernatural visions since that first experience in the hermitage nearly 25 years ago, sometimes also seeing a vision of the Lebanese monk and hermit, St. Charbel, “in a halo of light.” He says that each of those times, the fading handprint has turned the dark red of a burn, and again oozed blood and water, as it did when it first appeared.
After years of trying to find his purpose through science, this experience “deeply changed everything in my life,” the engineer told CNA, noting that he thinks St. Charbel, who lived as a hermit in the hills of Lebanon for 26 years, “has only one message. He’s pointing to Jesus Christ, pointing to God.”
Nader’s curiosity about faith and science first began when he was a child, growing up in a Maronite Catholic family, where he “was always asking questions about God and creation,” he told CNA.
He began to look for answers in science, and after high school studied electro-mechanical engineering and nuclear physics in Beirut and London before joining the Christian militia at the start of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975.
Witnessing the violence of war provoked the same deep questions about the meaning of life in the then-lukewarm Christian, who said that at the time he wanted to believe more in his head than in his heart.
Since he failed to find God in science or in war, Nader turned to prayer. He began to visit the former hermitage of St. Charbel in Annaya, Lebanon in 1985, about five years before the end of the country’s civil war.
He said that every day for almost 10 years, after he had finished both work and taking care of his family, he would go to the Annaya hermitage to pray in St. Charbel’s cell or chapel, spending the nights “praying, meditating, reading the Bible.”
One of these nights, Nov. 10, 1994, as he was praying as usual, “something in the air started changing around me,” he said. “It was so cold, you know, Annanaya is 1,300 meters above sea level. It’s so cold during winter.”
He described a sudden feeling of a warm breeze that transformed into a strong, hot wind blowing around him. “I felt so hot,” he said.
Nader had been reading the Bible by candlelight, and he recalled noticing that when the strange wind blew, everything around him moved except for the flames of the candles.
“I started looking for the cause of this hot wind in Annaya in the wintertime, which was a miracle. And I was shocked to see the flames not moving in spite of the strong and hot wind. So, I decided to touch the flames to see if I was okay or if I was hallucinating,” he said.
But before he could touch them, he felt like he was transported into another world. His senses stopped and he could no longer feel his body. He could no longer hear the usual sounds of the night in the area: the wind, the sound of foxes and dogs. “Everything stopped.”
“I couldn’t tell if I was standing or kneeling or feeling hot or feeling cold. And I found myself in a huge, powerful, light,” he said. He noted that he calls it a light, but that though it felt billions of times stronger than the sun, it had no heat and did not hurt his eyes.
“It was so powerful, so strong, but so smooth at the same time. It was so clear like a crystal, it had no color.”
He said he felt the presence of a being, which he now believes may have been the Lord or the Holy Spirit, though at the time he thought he might be dreaming; so he started talking to himself. But without words, without a voice he understood, “no, you’re not dreaming.”
“I didn’t see him, I didn’t know him, but I received this answer: ‘No, you’re not dreaming.’ … So, I thought maybe I was unconscious. And he said in the same way: ‘Now you are conscious. You have never been so conscious as you are now.’”
“For a few seconds I was feeling something that I cannot describe easily. It was a feeling of joy, happiness, peace, strength, love, tenderness,” he said.
This is when Nader stopped asking questions: “about the universe, about life, about anything.”
Nader begged the presence not to leave, or if it went, to take him with him, and the communication came, “I am always everywhere,” before the light stopped and Nader was again in the cold, dark hermitage. Glancing at his watch, he said he realized four hours had passed “like a second.”
After returning to his car, the man noticed his sweater was sticking to his arm, so he pulled up his sleeve and, he says, he discovered five fingers “engraved” on his arm, with “blood and water coming out of the fingers.”
“So,” he said, “I went back home. And since that day everything changed in my life.”
Nader, a husband and father of three, is now the president of the Liban Message Movement, which works to promote and protect Lebanese values, and the executive director of the Middle Eastern Catholic television station Noursat TV. He also spends months out of every year traveling around the world to share his testimony.
Nader and the ministries he runs have the approval of Auxiliary Bishop Antoine Nabil Andari of the Eparchy of Joubbe, Sarba and Jounieh, Lebanon and of the Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Boutros al-Rahi.
Nader said that when he speaks to people, especially those who are skeptical about what he has shared, he starts by asking a few simple questions.
“The first thing is to push them to search for the meaning of their lives,” he said. “What is the purpose of all that you do? You are investing in this life, okay, you study, you get married, you have children, you have a lot of investments, a lot of projects, and everything will end when you will die. So, what are you doing?”
He said the second thing he speaks about is the importance of love, that “there is no need for hate, for conflict, there is no need to fight each other, there is no need to keep running after Mr. Dollar and all these things people are fighting over.”
Nader also started a prayer ministry called the Saint Charbel Family. Just over 120 years after the saint’s death, St. Charbel has devotees around the world, and the shrine at the monastery in Annaya, Lebanon, where he is buried, receives a large number of international visitors every year.
The shrine’s coordinator, Fr. Louis Matar, is also responsible for archiving miracles attributed to the Lebanese hermit’s intercession. He told CNA Dec. 22, 2018, that since 1950, the shrine has recorded more than 29,000 medically-verified healings of people from around the world who prayed for the saint’s intercession.
Such healings led Nader to wonder why the Maronite saint is interceding for so many people around the world.
“I believe that [St. Charbel] is not showing his power,” he said. “St. Charbel doesn’t want to show: ‘I am powerful, I can perform miracles.’ This is not his aim. The aim of St. Charbel is to point to God, to show people God.”
About the miraculous handprint still visible on his arm, Nader gave the explanation that Maronite priest Fr. Youhanna Khawand suggested to him.
Khawand, who is a Scripture scholar and monk, has lived as a hermit in the St. Anthony Monastery in the Holy Valley in Lebanon since 1997. Nader said the monk-priest has been a “spiritual guide” to him since his first mystical experience.
Nader said Khawand thought the handprint could be a sign that St. Charbel wanted to lay his hand on him in order to send him out into the world, like the early Church would lay hands on a person before sending them out as a missionary.
“He said maybe St. Charbel is sending you now, by putting his hand on you to send you throughout the world to preach and to tell people about the true faith in Jesus.”
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