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Saint Moses the Black

Saint Moses the Black
  • Century: 4th Century
  • Patronage: Africa, forgiveness, non-violence
  • Feast Day: August 28th

The monk who was canonized as St. Moses the Black was better known to his peers as “Abba Moses.”  An Ethiopian, St. Moses the Black started out life as a slave in the household of an Egyptian governor.  However, as a young boy he began stealing things from the home, a habit that eventually grew as the child grew.  Instead of having the slave brought up on charges (and likely executed or physically maimed), St. Moses the Black was dismissed from the house. 

Alone in the world, an outlaw with a tendency to steal and a resume boasting the credentials of a dismissed former slave, St. Moses the Black joined a gang of bandits.  A young man with a brawny and imposing physique, St. Moses was able to strike terror into the hearts of his victims and fellow raiders.  Within no time he had become the leader of a small gang during which tales of infamous renown developed around the shrewd character.  The legends depict a coldblooded brute who would willingly ruin honest men and their families.

The conversion of St. Moses the Black is hidden from history.  It seems likely that St. Moses the Black was fleeing from the law and subsequently took cover in the desert, only to stumble upon a community or hermitage of desert monks.  Perhaps such an intense man would require a run-in with such an intense group of Christians in order to be converted.  All that is known, however, is that suddenly St. Moses the Black was running a gang, and the next moment he was enrolled in a monastery of Petra in the desert of Skete. 

The stories of St. Moses the Black as a young monk detail the chronicles of a slowly reformed soul—demonstrating how a man prone to violence, with an enormous temper could gradually become one of the most serene, calm and austere of the desert fathers, well-respected for his peaceable advice and holy counsel. St. Moses once plunging into despair over his own lack of self-control during the early days in the monastery sought counsel from his abbot, St. Isidore.  Upon hearing his complaint about his own spiritual progress, St. Isidore took St. Moses the Black to the rooftop of the house just before sunrise.  As the sun broke on the horizon, St. Isidore said, “See!  The light only gradually drives away the darkness.  So it is with the soul.”

Once St. Moses the Black did master his own soul, however, the Archbishop of Alexandria heard of his soul’s journey toward the virtues and ordained him a priest.  Eventually, St. Moses the Black was a respected counselor, teacher and confessor among the desert fathers and desert monks.  During a raid by Berbers against many of the desert monasteries and hermitages in the early 5th Century, St. Moses the Black and seven other monks were slaughtered.  The year was 405; St. Moses the Black was 75 years old.

Practical Take Away: Living By the Sword

St. Moses the Black’s youthful days saw him not only committing violence against other peoples’ property, but also against their persons.  This man’s impressive strength enabled him to exercise great control over those people and things he set his sight upon.  Such a man well-versed in physical violence and self-defense, one would imagine would have been well-positioned to set up defenses at his monastery to ward off the invading Berbers.  However, the true Christian that he was, St. Moses showed the depth to which God’s Grace had taken on his soul in his final counsel.  The man of violence decades before was suddenly saying at the approach of danger the precise words of Christ: “All that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”  In a world fraught with danger and offenses of all kinds, we must remember that with every opportunity to retaliate there is an opportunity to bear witness—to bear witness that our victory is already won, our victory is at hand.  We need not take the sword, for we can assuredly offer the other cheek.  Indeed, by Christ’s own admission and example: “Blessed are the peacemakers…”