Aboona's Corner

 

The Three Maronite Masabki Brothers

 Towards the end of the 13th century, there lived in Damascus a married Maronite priest named Ya’qoub. This priest lived with his family in “Masback el barrani,” a quarter of Damascus. The Damascans, who highly respected this “zealous and honorable” priest, gave his descendants the last name of “Massabki,” for the name of the quarter in which he lived.

In 1293, Father Ya’qoub was ordained Bishop of Damascus, but persecution forced him to flee the city, along with other Maronite families, and to take refuge in Cyprus where the respected Prelate died, mourning the death of his son Francis, massacred at Zabadani (Syria). In the 15th century, his sons and grandsons returned to Damascus where they were known by the name of “Massabki”.

Ne’meh Massabki

 

Francis Massabki

Francis married Elizabeth Chiha, who gave birth to three boys and five girls. Francis was a tall, handsome man with clear eyes, gentle and humble, but with a strong will in the face of difficulty. He wore the dress (gunbaz) that was in the style of his time and covered his head with a large black turban.

He was a generous man. His vast home was open to everybody, particularly foreigners and pilgrims. Francis possessed fabulous wealth, acquired through untiring toil and integrity in business: he was involved in the sale of natural silk. The Lebanese entrusted their products to him, which he then sold in Syria and elsewhere. He was charged with attending to the spiritual and material affairs of the Maronite Patriarch in Syria.

Before going about his business, Francis said his morning prayers with his family, attended Liturgy, and took communion. He was always at the disposal of the priests in his community, devoting his time and money to them. His magnanimity and his generosity were not limited to his family and fellow churchgoers. His popularity went beyond the Syrian borders, and in Lebanon, it was told, they announced his arrival from village to village by tolling bells.

Abdel-Mohti Massabki

Thin and slender, Abdel Mohti preferred solitude. He lived with his wife and children in his brother Francis’s house. Abdel Mohti spent his life raising and educating his children. His teachings were impregnated with a deep faith and true piety. One of his students testified that Abdel Mohti would often repeat to them: “The Christian must always be ready to spill his blood for the love of Christ, and that man’s greatest joy is to receive the grace of martyrdom.”

Abdel Mohti attended the Holy Sacrament each day and fasted all of Lent, without tasting even oil. He observed all holy days and religious ceremonies and taught his children the psalms and religious chants. In church, Abdel Mohti kneeled directly on the ground, erect, without leaning, and stayed thus throughout each Liturgy. His knees, according to his student George, became hard and callous.

Tired of his teaching career, he went into business; but his delicate conscience forced him to close shop for fear of “deceiving his customers.” From that day forward, he dedicated his life to prayer and meditation.

Raphael Massabki

Raphael was short, feeble-bodied, black-eyed, and simple-hearted. Devout, he prayed to the Virgin Mary with a pure and filial heart; he often turned to her in his business dealings. Raphael was humble. He lived as a poor bachelor, but rich in the love of God, and received the grace of martyrdom with his brothers.

In 1860, Ahmed Pasha ruled Syria. A sectarian tyrant, nothing would prevent him from achieving his ends.

July 9 of that year, by a special and secret order, Ahmed Pasha’s henchmen traced crosses in the streets of Damascus and made it known that the “Children of the Christians” were the authors. Spirits were troubled and reprisals were unleashed. Fear permeated the Christian quarters. The trouble was distasteful to honest Muslims, and with the Council of Powers, they demanded of Ahmed to put an end to the trouble for the peace of the inhabitants and the safety of peoples’ lives. So Ahmed sent his emissaries to imprison some Christians charged with “disturbing the public peace,” and then quickly released them.

At sundown, the governor gave the order to his agents, with the help of some hoodlums, to go in to the streets and start fires. Having arrived in front of the Orthodox Church, they set it afire after a bloody massacre. The fire spread, and theft and plundering rampaged through house after house. On the morning of July 10, the Christians were massacred, their houses destroyed and their goods stolen. The survivors took refuge in the citadel, aided by the great Emir Abdel-Kader of Algeria, and by several Muslims.

Around 8 o’clock in the evening, while fire took hold of the Orthodox Christian quarters, Francis, Abdel Mohti, and Raphael were at home. Fearing the furor and ferocity of the massacres, they left their wives and children and headed for the Franciscan convent.

At 11 o’clock, the Mission Superior closed and barricaded the doors, and invited the refugees into the church. After the litany, the Fathers heard confession and gave communion to all of the devoted present. From the church, they climbed to the convent terrace; only Francis remained kneeling before the altar of the Sorrowful Mother.

At one hour past midnight, the slaughterers infiltrated the house by a secret door shown to them by Hassan Allaf, the house manager. Some refugees took flight. Ahmed’s agents seized the Superior who promised to show them the hiding place of a treasure. They followed him in delirious joy. The Father descended into the church, lighted two candelabras, opened the tabernacle, and swallowed the Blessed Hosts. He was killed upon the altar. Francis remained kneeling before the Virgin. Ahmed’s agents recognized him. They advanced towards him and said: “Sheik Abdallah has sent us to save you from death; you, your brothers, your families, and all those who depend upon you for protection, on the condition that you deny your faith and convert to Islam.” Francis responded calmly: “Sheik Abdallah can take the money I lent him, he can also take my life; but my faith, no one can make me deny. I am a Maronite Christian and on the faith of Christ, I will die.”

“We will kill you,” they cried. “I will be with my Lord.” Francis then began a prayer, which he finished in heaven. The slaughterers massacred him with swords, hatchets, and daggers.

Abdel Mohti was on the church terrace, when the convent fell into the hands of the assassins. He ran to the church to take refuge near his brother, but at the chapel door, he was seized and asked to deny his faith in order to enter Islam. His life would be spared. In a clear voice, he proclaimed: “I am a Christian, kill me, I am ready.” Daggers and hatchets severed his body and he fell at the church door.

As for Raphael, he was hiding in a corner of the convent. They found him and propositioned him: “become a Muslim, you will be saved.” Raphael fell to his knees and appealed to the Holy Virgin. He was beheaded and trampled.

Once the calm had returned, witnesses assure, the three martyred brothers were buried with the Franciscan Priests, martyrs for their faith.

The Beatification

Sixty years passed from the time of the heroic death of the three Massabki brothers. God then allowed the revival of their memory. In accordance with the Patriarch, the Apostolic Nuncio, and the community Bishops, Msgr. Chemaly, Maronite archbishop of Damascus, addressed a letter to the Vatican imploring the Holy Father to join the beatification of the three Maronite martyrs to that of their companions, the Franciscan Priests: “It was on the same date” said he, “and for the same faith, that they gave their lives.” The letter also begged the Holy Father to pay particular attention to this request, so that the beatification of the three martyrs would be a source of grace for the Damascus community and a rebirth of Christian life in the hearts of the Eastern faithful. This letter aroused particular interest in Pius XI, who ordered Msgr. Salotti to attend to the matter without delay. On May 10, Msgr. Chemaly received a letter from Msgr. Salotti, requesting documents and testimonials of the martyrdom of the Massabkis.

A telegram provided the requisite assurances to Msgr. Salotti, who arrived in Beirut September 6. The Committee began studying the documents and interrogating several witnesses. Three days later, the Committee returned to Damascus where they heard the deposition of Sir Nicholas Kadi and the testimony of several noteworthy Damascans. To conclude the study, it heard the testimony of the Maronite Vicar of Damascus, Father Abraham Massabki. Before returning to Rome, Msgr. Salotti confided to Msgr. Chemaly: “If I die on the way, your martyrs’ cause will not perish.”

On October 7, 1926, His Holiness Pius XI proclaimed the beatification of the three brothers.

“By the power of these lines are named Most Blessed Martyrs the servants of God Francis, Abdel Mohti, and Raphael Massabki, Maronites of Damascus…and we hereby permit the display of their relies before all the devout, and the celebration, on their day of remembrance, of the Liturgy of the Martyrs.

Taken from Pentalogie Antiocienne/domaine Maronite by Y. Moubarac