Tuesday, November 1, 2011

St. Moses the Black


In honor of All Saints Day, I would like to write about a patron saint of Africa, St. Moses the Black, (also known as Abba Moses the Robber, the Ethiopian and the Strong) 4th century AD.

St. Moses was a slave of great strength and ferocity who was dismissed for theft and suspected murder.  He became the leader of a gang of thieves who roamed the Nile Valley spreading terror and violence.  On one occasion, while attempting to hide from local authorities, he took shelter with some monks in a desert colony near Alexandria.  The dedication of their lives, as well as their peace and contentment, influenced Moses deeply.  He soon gave up his old way of life, became a Christian, was baptized and joined the monastic community at Scetes.

Moses had a rather difficult time adjusting to regular monastic discipline. His flair for adventure remained with him.  Once, when attacked by a group of robbers in his desert cell, Moses fought back, overpowered the intruders, and dragged them to the chapel where the other monks were at prayer.  He told the brothers that he didn't think it right for him as a Christian to hurt the robbers and asked what he should do with them.  The overwhelmed robbers repented, were converted, and eventually joined the community.

Moses was zealous in all he did, but became discouraged when he concluded he was not perfect enough.  Early one morning, Saint Isidore, abbot of the monastery, took Moses to the roof and together they watched the first rays of dawn come over the horizon.  Isidore told Moses, "Only slowly do the rays of the sun drive away the night and usher in a new day, and thus, only slowly does one become a perfect contemplative."

When a brother committed a fault and Moses was invited to a meeting to discuss an appropriate penance, he refused to attend. When he was again called to the meeting, Moses took an old basket filled with sand and carried it on his shoulder.  Upon his arrival at the meeting place, he was questioned about the sand trailing out from a hole in the basket.  He replied, "My sins run out behind me like the sand from this basket, but today I am coming to judge the errors of another." On hearing this, the assembled brothers forgave the erring monk.

Moses went on to become a priest and spiritual leader of a colony of hermits in the Western Desert. He became known for his supernatural gifts, and his wisdom is included in the sayings of the Desert Fathers.

In 405 AD, at age 75, word came to him that a group of Berbers planned to attack the monastery. The brothers wanted to defend themselves, but Moses forbade it. He told them to retreat, rather than take up weapons. He and seven others remained behind and greeted the invaders with open arms, but all eight were martyred by the bandits.  His feast day is celebrated August 28.

May the peace of Christ be with you,
Br. Nathan

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