St Moses the Black
For all the Saints: Moses of Ethiopia
People often end up in a radically different place from where they began. St Moses (330-405) was initially a slave but because he was so bad, his master threw him out. He then began his career, so to speak, as the leader of a band of robbers in Egypt. In time he saw the error of that path, repented, and went to the Petra monastery in Skete, Egypt. He sought out St Isidore, who in turn introduced him to St Macarius, one of the great lights of early monasticism. Macarius instructed him in the faith and baptized him.
Moses was torn up by lustful, angry, and violent thoughts in his early career. He could not shake his past spiritually. After years of struggle he was released from his past when, attending to confession with St Macarius, he saw an angel wiping the slate clean of his past transgressions. After this vision, he was free at last, and thus his life in Christ deepened. His brother monks respected him because of his wisdom, his humility, and his asceticism.
Once another brother in the monastery was up for trial because of his sins. Moses came into the assembly carrying a bucket with holes in it, into which he had piled sand, which of course ran out. Puzzled, the other monks asked him what this was about. “My sins like sand run out behind me where I cannot see them,” said Moses, “and I am supposed to judge my brother who stands before me?” The brothers saw the wisdom in this and the other monk was forgiven.
Moses became famous as one of the so-called “Desert Fathers,” whose writings were compiled and passed down through the ages. They are still read today in a variety of translations with and without commentary. Moses eventually became the spiritual father to some five hundred monks in the desert. Though it was unusual for the locale, he was ordained a priest and founded his monastery with seventy-five monks, the same number as his old gang of robbers.
The monastery, in due time, was attacked by Berber marauders. Moses was killed in the attack, having stated that he would not leave, saying “He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.” His body rests at Virgin Mary Coptic Orthodox Monastery of El-Baramous in Egypt. We commemorate him on August 28.