The Lent Spiritual Retreat 2017 for NDU faculty and staff members took place on March 18 at the Melkite Catholic Monastery of St. John, Khenchara, Metn.
Upon our arrival, we were warmly welcomed by a priest who explained how the monks spend their time in meditation and in attending to the spiritual needs of the neighboring parishes.
NDU University Chaplain Fr. Marc Khoubbieh, who conducted the retreat, discussed the topic “The hour has come…” (John 12:23). He reflected on the virtues of ‘faith’ and ‘hope,’ as Jesus had lived them during His Passion. Fr. Khoubbieh started with a brief introduction, explaining the meaning of these virtues and their impact on our lives. He explained, “The Lord is omnipotent, and for Him nothing is impossible. He can extract good from evil for the benefit of His children; our Lord is the God of love and seeks our happiness more than we do; thus, we are called to have strong faith in Him, to trust in Him, and accordingly to put our hope in Him, awaiting joyfully the accomplishment of His promises in our lives.”
Fr. Khoubbieh highlighted the strong faith and hope of Jesus Christ despite the harsh pain He suffered from the Gethsemane all the way to His Crucifixion. He then explained in detail the four types of pain that Christ endured: physical, moral, psychical, and spiritual. These four types appear in different passages in the Gospels. Finally, we were invited to reflect on how we should live the virtues of faith and hope in our personal lives, taking Jesus as our example.
Following the lecture, we had a coffee break, and visited the monastery’s printing press and winery. The monastery is celebrated as the first Arabic printing press in the Middle East. Abdallah al-Zakher (1684-1748) established this printing press in 1734 A.D., and that very year he printed the first Arabic book titled, “Mizan Azzaman (Balance of Time).” A five-room museum houses the old presses and some 450-related objects and pieces of equipment. We visited the monastery’s 200-year old winery, which produces wine, liquor, arak, and cognac.
Three churches are attached to the monastery: The Church of St. John the Baptist and the Church of St. Nicholas. The Church of St. John the Baptist is among the oldest churches in the region; it was probably built before the thirteenth century A.D. while the Church of St. Nicolas dates to the early eighteenth century A.D. The church interior is adorned with a finely crafted wooden iconostasis.
Following the tour, NDU University Chaplain General Fr. George Nassif, NDU Shouf Campus (SC) Director Fr. Hanna Tayar, and Fr. Khoubbieh celebrated the Divine Liturgy. After Mass, we headed to the dining hall where we enjoyed a delicious lunch with the monastery’s various wines.
We thank Our Lord for this special retreat, which gave us the opportunity to learn valuable information and enjoy our time together.