Father Youhanna Khawand, Maronite Hermit
“Lebanon’s second-longest serving hermit, Father Youhanna Khawand, has a Ph.D. in theology from Rome and taught at Holy Spirit University in Kaslik, Lebanon, before becoming a hermit in 1997. His hermitage lies outside Beirut.
Father Khawand exercises his prerogative regarding visitors: He sees no one. From afar one can see him taking a stroll. Many of Father Khawand’s hours are spent on an ongoing project, reforming the Maronite liturgy. He writes prayers, prose and hymns and has a wonderful gift for reworking New Testament text into poetic verse. Many of his writings are published, but only because his admirers gathered the bits of paper and tissue on which they were written and painstakingly converted them into a book.
For the 30 or 40 years before Father Antonious took up the call in 1982, there were no Maronite hermits. Today there are three, the third a monk who came to Lebanon from Colombia to learn Arabic and Syriac and the way of a hermit. Dario Escobar took up residence in the Hermitage of St. Hawqa.
Father Escobar is glad to receive visitors but has few. Whereas the way to Father Antonious’ is at most a 10-minute walk, the 45-minute walk to Father Escobar’s hermitage is rocky and steep. He even keeps a store of food available for the times when the monastery cannot deliver his meal.
I met Father Escobar in the mid-1980’s when he was a monk at Qozhaiya and delivering the daily meal to Father Chayna. We met again in the early 90’s and he told me of his wish to become a hermit. He wondered then if he could win the difficult struggle over mind and body. He became a full-fledged hermit in August 2000.
The tradition of the hermits that began in the deserts of Egypt still thrives in the mountains of Lebanon. Few professions either in the church or outside it have such stringent requirements. But for those called to serve God in this walk of life, there is no more fulfilling vocation.”
“Born on 10 May 1936 in Saydoun, David Khawand was baptized on 7June the same year. He went to the state primary school of Saydoun then to the Convent of Our Lady of Victory in Ghosta. He did his secondary studies at the scholasticate of the Maronite Lebanese Order in Kaslik, entering the seminary of the Order on 13 October 1947 under the patronage of Father Paul Hatem. On 22 July 1951 he became a novice in the monastery in Ghosta under the direction of Father Simon Awad. He took his ﬁrst vows on 29 June 1953 and his perpetual vows on 17 January1958. He was ordained a priest in Rome on 4 December 1964. Father Yuhanna Khawand was engaged in university teaching from 1970 until he entered the hermitage of Tamiche. He taught a general introduction to the Bible, exegesis of the New Testament as well as Greek, Hebrew and Syriac. He made a major contribution to the process of liturgical reformin the contemporary Maronite Church, and participated in the Arabic translation of the Greek New Testament, edited in 1992 by the Pontiﬁcal Faculty of the Holy Spirit University in Kaslik. Before he entered the hermitage in Tamiche, he several times visited the Monastery of Saint Anthony Kozhaya where he experienced solitude,and similarly visited hermit Chayna to beneﬁt from his personalexperience. His aspiration to the eremitical life is long-standing; he tells that he was present during the funeral of hermit Yaakoub Bou Maroun in1958 and held a candle which he blew out and hid in his pocket after the burial. Bou Maroun was the last hermit from the Maronite LebaneseOrder before Chayna started his hermitage in 1982. The lack of hermits within the Maronite Lebanese Order has saddened Father Khawand. The candle itself was lost, but when he started his hermitage in 1999 he felt that the candle was lit again. What had long kept him from taking this step towards eremitical life was a keen sense of responsibility especially towards the Order. Nevertheless, he ﬁnally started his hermitage inTamiche on 17 January 1998.
The Monastery of Our Lady of Tamiche is situated in the Metndistrict. It was built in 1673 by the bishop of Aleppo, Gabriel el Bouzanito serve as the Episcopal See for the Diocese of Aleppo. In 1704, Bishop Gabriel was appointed Patriarch and his nephew Mikhael el Blouzani was ordained Bishop and his successor in Aleppo. Bishop Mikhael el Blouzani stayed in the Monastery of Our Lady of Tamiche until 1724 when he resigned because of old age. He decided to transfer the property of the monastery to the monks of the Maronite Lebanese Order in 1727.In 1841, the monastery was burned down by the Egyptian army.
Two hermitages were annexed to the monastery; the ﬁrst built simultaneously with the monastery. This hermitage is not used nowadays and stands in ruins. But in 1926 the abbot of the Monastery of Tamiche, Father Youssef Saade ´el Ghostawi built another hermitage ﬁfteen minutes away by foot from the monastery in a region called ‘Ain Kattine’ at an altitude of 350 metres. The ﬁrst hermit who lived in it was Father Jacques Abi Maroun. Hermit Yuhanna Khawand currently occupies this hermitage.”
“As with most Maronite monasteries, the hermitage at Tamish is not far from the monastery itself. It houses those monks who have a vocation to be hermits. In order to become a hermit a monk must obtain the permission of the authorities. Tamish’s hermitage is named after St Antony the Abbot. We believe that the hermitage is very old but unfortunately there are no detailed records about it before 1926.
Today, we have a well-known monk in the Maronite Church called Fr Youhana Khawand, who lived in Tamish’s hermitage for thirteen year before he was moved to the hermitage of Saint Boula in Qozhaya Valley on 11th of September 2011, in the north of Lebanon. Fr Khawand entered the hermitage, with the permission of his superiors, on January 17th 1998. Tamish’s hermitage or the monastery are both greatly respected by the Lebanese people who come from all over the country to receive a blessing or to seek a spiritual advice.”
“Ascetic life was widespread in the Qozhaya Valley. The hermits lived in cells chiseled in the rocks. Life at the Monastery of Saint Anthony was coenobitic. The hermits of the valley used to meet there once a week, under a bishop’s authority.
The hermitages of Saints Simon, Bishoy, Michael and Boula were near the Monastery. The hermitage of St. Boula has a remarkable history. Situated southwest of the Monastery, it was founded in 1716 AD by Father Abdallah Qaraaly, one of the founders of the Lebanese Maronite Order. Its surroundings were perfumed by the prayers of a multitude of hermits. The Lebanese Saint Sharbel Makhlouf, before he entered the Order, ofen stayed in the above hermitage when he visited his two hermit uncles, Augustine and Daniel Shidiac of Bsharré.
Today, on the threshold of the third millennium, three hermits priests, Father Youhanna KHAWAND, Father Antoine RIZK and Father Dario ESCOBAR, are living in cells. They continue this tradition by offering their lives and prayers to God. Father Rizk has been living in the Hermitage of St. Boula since 2009. Father KHAWAND has been living in the Hermitage of St. Boula since 2011. Father Escobar, from Colombia, who is a Doctor in Psychology and a Professor in Theology, has been living in the Hermitage of Our Lady of Hawqa since 2000.”
For the Maronite eremitical tradition, see: http://maroniteinstitute.org/MARI/JMS/october99/The_Maronite_Hermits.htm
Guita G. Hourani and Antoine B. Habachi “The Maronite Eremitical Tradition A Contemporary Revival” HeyJ XLV (2004), pp. 451–465 On-line at: http://www.academia.edu/2442355/The_Maronite_Eremitical_Tradition_A_Contemporary_Revival-Journal_Article