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The Searing Sign

Raymond Nader, director of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC), has been fascinated by the mystery of God ever since he was a boy. As a student he sought scientific explanations of the Creation and posed the most difficult theological questions concerning the mysteries of our salvation: the death and resurrection of Our Lord, the Eucharist, the Holy Trinity, and others. In seeking answers to these questions, he not only studied theological works, but also prayed and meditated daily.

After marrying and starting a family, his increased responsibilities prevented him from devoting as much time to his interior life as previously; nevertheless, he came up with an ingenious idea. Over a three-month period every year he would visit a local monastery for an occasional night of prayer. He would take with him a few candles and a copy of the Scriptures, to study the word of God and seek His Face in contemplative prayer. At ten o’ clock in the evening he would bid his wife and children goodbye and go to a hermitage of his choice, there to study in complete silence the word of God and pray the entire night. At dawn he would return home.

On November 9, 1994, on the eve of his thirty-third birthday, Nader decided to visit the hermitage in Annaya (1350 meters above sea-level). It was there that St. Charbel Makhlouf, having spent the last twenty-three years of his life alone with God, reached the summits of holiness. Gazing up at the star-studded heavens, Raymond saw that compared to the vast size of the universe with its billions of stars and galaxies, our Earth — to say nothing of himself — was but an insignificant speck. He put the following question to himself. “What is my role in this world? As a free and intelligent being, am I really more important to God than this entire material universe?”

It occurred to him that if there could exist a relationship of love between God and man, then both God and man had a vital role to play in it. If not, nothing had any sense at all. Under the impression of these thoughts, he knelt down, lit five candles, positioned them in the form of a cross, and began to read and meditate over the parable of the talents in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew (Mat 25: 14-30). It was bitterly cold and getting on to midnight.  At a certain point, Raymond became conscious of a hot breath of wind. Before long, the wind was blowing so hard and so hot that Raymond had to take off not only his jacket, but also his sweater and shirt. It was obvious to him that a tropical windstorm in November was an unheard-of phenomenon. At the same time, to his great amazement, he noticed that while the wind was bending the trees around him, it was, for some unaccountable reason, having no affect on the candles, which continued to burn without so much as a flicker. He had no logical reason to account for what was occurring around him.

At this point Raymond lost  all sensory contact with the world and found himself in another dimension — embraced by the mysterious light and presence of that entirely unselfish and pure Love, which holds the universe together. The following is an edited account of this extraordinary experience, which Nader presented in a program aired on LBC:

“I lost all my natural senses, all the senses I use here in this world, and acquired new ones. It was as if I were hearing and seeing with something other than my ears and eyes and feeling with something other than my heart. I was in another world, bathed in a light too intense and too bright to describe. The light was a million times brighter than the sun, so that the sun was a guttering candle by comparison. Though so much stronger than the sun, the light was soft and gentle. One can gaze at the sun for a brief second; but on this light one could gaze for hundreds of thousands of years without ever being overcome by its beauty and intensity….The light was like a great outpouring of clear water. It shone from everywhere, not like normal light, which shines from a single source.…I was so astonished that I said to myself, ‘I am dreaming’ But some Presence spoke, saying, ‘It is not a dream.’ The answer amazed me, for I heard no voice, or words, or language….Then I asked myself, ‘Where am I? Who is speaking to me?’ And as if that Presence were inside me, reading my thoughts, It answered.  “I am here. I am everywhere.’ It was then that I heard the message: ‘I am that Love, which you seek.’ I understood then that the Triune God was speaking to me of Jesus Christ, who died and rose from the dead that I might live and love like Him.

It became clear to me that God in His Trinity knew all my thoughts and loved me with an unselfish love, offering me His limitless mercy, that I might rise every time I fell and be forgiven all my sins. God’s love filled me with indescribable happiness and peace. Only in the light of His love did I recognize the extent of my immaturity, sinfulness, and selfishness. And only in the light of this same love did I realize that I could grow in love only when I allowed Christ to guide me in my daily life and help me to struggle against my weaknesses.

Eventually, the Presence and the mysterious world began to fade; at the same time, I began to be afraid that I was losing consciousness, and my life as well. I began to pray, ‘Please, Lord, do not leave me. Take me with you.’ Then the Lord for I am convinced it was Jesus Christ gave me to understand that He was always present and would always be with me.

I began to feel my body again. I felt stiff and cold. I regained my senses of hearing and seeing. I put on  my shirt and sweater, for I was very cold. I noticed that the candles had gone out. It was then that I realized how much time had passed. Four hours had gone by like seconds. I rose to my feet, took my Bible and what was left of the candles, and went to my car. While walking past Saint Charbel’s statue, I felt a burning sensation on my arm. After getting into the car, I took off my sweater and rolled up my shirt-sleeve. There, imprinted on my forearm, were the marks of five fingers. It was as if a burning hand had seared itself into my arm, yet all I felt was a pleasant warmth. I went home. When my wife saw my arm, she made the sign of the cross over it and asked me whose hand it was. I felt a great relief….I had not been hallucinating. What had happened to me was real. Saint Charbel had put his seal on my arm, attesting to the reality of the event I had experienced in the Annaya hermitage on the night of November 9, 1994….I took an appointment with Archbishop Abi Nader and related to him exactly what had happened. Upon hearing my account, he suggested that I consult with doctors and have the mysterious mark on my arm examined.”

Raymond Nader’s arm was examined by specialists in various fields of medicine. Among them was the famous Lebanese surgeon, Dr. Nabil Hokayem. They concluded that the mark on Raymond’s arm represented a second- and third-degree burn of indefinable origin. They could find no medical explanation for the fact that the burn stopped hurting after a few minutes, that no infection had set in, and that it continued to have a bright red color (burns normally have a dark-gray color). The doctors also  observed that the wound did not scar over, as skin wounds normally do. The possibility  of deliberate scratching was dismissed. Raymond’s arm bore the clear impression of five fingers. He remains convinced that Saint Charbel imprinted it on his arm to assure him that his experience of God’s presence was as real as the mark on his arm. After five days the wound healed completely by itself, leaving no scar. 

In July of 1995, on the feast of Saint Charbel, while taking part in a procession in the Annaya monastery, Raymond saw an old hooded monk standing beside him. He did not see the face, but he heard an interior voice, which conveyed to him the first of Saint Charbel’s messages. After delivering the message the monk vanished; at the same time, Nader felt the same pain that he had experienced on the memorable night of November 9, 1994. It turned out that the same searing sign had reappeared on his arm. Raymond knew that it was the sign of the holy hermit.

From time to time, ever since then, he has been receiving special messages from Saint Charbel to be conveyed to the people. Each message is accompanied by the reappearance of the same burning hand-mark on Raymond’s arm. These messages are first  evaluated by the church authorities and only then conveyed to the people. So far twenty-two messages have been received from Saint Charbel. The burden of these messages is: return to God and build the civilization of love through prayer, penance, and love of neighbor.

Prepared by Fr Mieczyslaw Piotrowski SChr

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The article was published with the permission from "Love One Another!"

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