Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

St. Moses the Black

Early early in the Seattle Friday morning, I was doing my readings from The Lectionary when I noticed that today was the Feast Day of St. Moses the Black.

St. Moses the Black? I had NEVER heard of St. Moses the Black.

Here is what it says in The Lectionary:

Saint Moses the Black (330 – 405), known as the Ethiopian or the strong, was a slave of a government official in Egypt who dismissed him for theft and suspected murder. He became the leader of a gang of bandits who roamed the Nile Valley spreading terror and violence. Attempting to hide from local authorities, he took shelter with some monks in a colony in the desert of Scetes, 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.

And, intrigued, I followed their link to Wickipedia where I read:

StMosesTheBlack

Saint Moses the Black (Coptic; 330 – 405), known as the Ethiopian or the strong, was a slave of a government official in Egypt who dismissed him for theft and suspected murder. He became the leader of a gang of bandits who roamed the Nile Valley spreading terror and violence. He was a large, imposing figure. On one occasion, a barking dog prevented Moses from carrying out a robbery, so he swore vengeance on the owner. Weapons in his mouth, Moses swam the river toward the owner’s hut. The owner, again alerted, hid, and the frustrated Moses took some of his sheep to slaughter. Attempting to hide from local authorities, he took shelter with some monks in a colony in the desert of Scetes, 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. 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 Christian to hurt the robbers and asked what he should do with them. The overwhelmed robbers repented, were converted, and themselves 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.”

Moses proved to be effective as a prophetic spiritual leader. The abbot ordered the brothers to fast during a particular week. Some brothers came to Moses, and he prepared a meal for them. Neighboring monks reported to the abbot that Moses was breaking the fast. When they came to confront Moses, they changed their minds, saying “You did not keep a human commandment, but it was so that you might keep the divine commandment of hospitality.” Some see in this account one of the earliest allusions to the Paschal fast, which developed at this time.

When a brother committed a fault and Moses was invited to a meeting to discuss an appropriate penance, Moses refused to attend. When he was again called to the meeting, Moses took a leaking jug filled with water and carried it on his shoulder. Another version of the story has him carrying a basket filled with sand. When he arrived at the meeting place, the others asked why he was carrying the jug. He replied, “My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, but today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” On hearing this, the assembled brothers forgave the erring monk.

Moses became the spiritual leader of a colony of hermits in the Western Desert. Later, he was ordained a priest. At about age 75, about the year 405 AD, word came 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 on 24 Paoni (July 1). A modern interpretation honors Saint Moses the Black as an apostle of non-violence. His relics and major shrine are found today at the Church of the Virgin Mary in the Paromeos Monastery.

I think I would have liked this guy. I’m glad to know about him!

August 28, 2009 - Posted by | Africa, Biography, Community, Spiritual

4 Comments »

  1. This is quite interesting.. There are two Moses the Ethiopian.

    When I first started reading your post I thought there were talking about the same St. Moses we have in Syria; turns out there were two of them.

    Here’s the link to the Syrian Moses the Ethiopian. I don’t know if you’ve ever visited the monastery on one of your visits to Syria. I hear it’s quite a journey to go through.

    Comment by kinano | August 29, 2009 | Reply

  2. I am dumbfounded, Kinano. I had NO idea there was even ONE Moses-the-Black or Moses-the-Ethiopian, much less two. The only Christian sites I have visited in Syria, outside Damascus, are St. George’s – near the Krak de Chevaliers – and St. Simeon Stylites, which was probably the holiest place in feeling (I don’t much trust feelings) I’ve ever been.

    So I read about the Syrian/Ethiopian Moses, and now I need to go there. I’ll have to beg AdventureMan 😉 and actually, I think it will be an easy sell. Thank you for telling me about this, and I am so glad to hear from you; I was at Barnes and Noble today and I thought about you and how you are always reading books that are so much more challenging than the books I read. 🙂 Are you back in Sweden?

    Comment by intlxpatr | August 29, 2009 | Reply

  3. I thought you were talking about the Deir Mar Musa Moses too! Here’s a link to the monastery’s website – this page discusses “its” Moses: http://www.deirmarmusa.org/page/monastryeng.HTM. Its a beautiful place and creates a real sense of community among visitors and residents alike. When you visit, you can go for the day (they serve lunch to all – minor chores required as ‘payment’!) or stay for a night or two. I haven’t stayed over but I have enjoyed several lunches there (in return for some dish washing – collegial and fun in itself!).

    Comment by adiamondinsunlight | August 30, 2009 | Reply

  4. Oh! Thank you, Little Diamond! I only wish it had some pictures, too!

    Comment by intlxpatr | August 30, 2009 | Reply


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