Saturday, February 24, 2024

Venerable Moses the Ethiopian of Scete (28 August)

Saint Moses lived in Egypt during the fourth century. He was an Ethiopian, and since he was black of skin he was called “Murin” (meaning “like an Ethiopian”). In his youth he was the slave of an important man, but after he committed a murder, his master banished him, and he joined a band of robbers.

Because of his bad character and great physical strength, they chose him as their leader. Moses and his band of brigands were feared because of their many evil exploits, including murders and robberies. People trembled at the mere mention of his name.

Moses the brigand spent several years leading a sinful life, but through the great mercy of God he repented, left his band of robbers and went to one of the desert monasteries. Here he wept for a long time, begging to be admitted as one of the brethren. The monks were not convinced of the sincerity of his repentance, but the former robber would neither be driven away nor silenced. He continued to implore that they accept him.

Saint Moses was completely obedient to the hegoumen and the brethren, and he poured forth many tears of sorrow for his sinful life. After a certain while Saint Moses withdrew to a solitary cell, where he spent his time in prayer and the strictest fasting.

Once, four of the robbers of his former band descended upon the cell of Saint Moses. He had lost none of his great physical strength, so he tied them all up. Throwing them over his shoulder, he brought them to the monastery, where he asked the Elders what to do with them. The Elders ordered that they be set free. The robbers, learning that they had chanced upon their former ringleader, and that he had dealt kindly with them, followed his example: they repented and became monks. Later, when the rest of the band of robbers heard about Saint Moses’ repentance, then they also gave up their thievery and became fervent monks.

Saint Moses was not quickly freed from the passions. He went often to the hegoumen, Abba Isidore, seeking advice on how to be delivered from the passions of profligacy. Being experienced in the spiritual struggle, the Elder taught him never to eat too much food, to remain partly hungry while observing the strictest restraint. But the passions did not cease to trouble Saint Moses in his dreams.

Then Abba Isidore taught him the all-night vigil. The monk stood the whole night at prayer, so he would not fall asleep. As a result of his prolonged struggles, Saint Moses fell into despondency, and when he began to have thoughts about leaving his solitary cell, Abba Isidore instead strengthened the resolve of his disciple.

In a vision he showed him many demons in the west, prepared for battle, and in the east a still greater quantity of holy angels, also ready for fighting. Abba Isidore explained to Saint Moses that the power of the angels would prevail over the power of the demons, and in the long struggle with the passions it was necessary for him to become completely cleansed of his former sins.

Saint Moses drove himself to additional labors. Making the rounds of the wilderness cells at night, he carried water from the well to each brother. He did this especially for the Elders, who lived far from the well and who were not easily able to carry their own water. Once, kneeling over the well, Saint Moses felt a powerful blow upon his back and he fell down at the well like one dead, laying there in that position until dawn. Thus did the devils take revenge upon the monk for his victory over them. In the morning the brethren carried him to his cell, and he lay there crippled for a whole year. After he recovered, the monk with firm resolve confessed to the hegoumen, that he would continue with his ascetic struggles. But the Lord Himself put limits to this toil which lasted for many years: Abba Isidore blessed his disciple and told him that the passions had already left him. The Elder commanded him to receive the Holy Mysteries, and to go to his own cell in peace. From that time, Saint Moses received from the Lord power over demons.

Accounts about his exploits spread among the monks and even beyond the bounds of the wilderness. The governor of the land wanted to see the saint. When he heard of this, Saint Moses decided to hide from any visitors, and he departed his own cell. Along the way he met servants of the governor, who asked him how to get to the cell of the desert-dweller Moses. The monk answered them: “Go no farther to see this false and unworthy monk.” The servants returned to the monastery where the governor was waiting, and they told him the words of the Elder they had chanced to meet. The brethren, hearing a description of the Elder’s appearance, told them that they had encountered Saint Moses himself.

After many years of monastic exploits, Saint Moses was ordained deacon. The bishop clothed him in white vestments and said, “Now Abba Moses is entirely white!” The saint replied, “Only outwardly, for God knows that I am still dark within.”

Through humility, the saint believed himself unworthy of the office of deacon. Once, the bishop decided to test him and he bade the clergy to drive him out of the altar, reviling him as an unworthy Ethiopian. In all humility, the monk accepted the abuse. Having put him to the test, the bishop then ordained Saint Moses to the priesthood. Saint Moses labored for fifteen years in this rank, and gathered 75 disciples around himself.

When the saint reached the age of 75, he warned his monks that soon brigands would descend upon the skete and murder all those who remained there. The saint blessed his monks to leave, in order to avoid violent death. His disciples begged the saint to leave with them, but he replied: “For many years now, I have awaited the time when the words spoken by my Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, should be fulfilled: ‘All who take up the sword, shall perish by the sword’” (Matt. 26: 52). After this, seven of the brethren remained with Saint Moses, and one of them hid nearby during the attack of the robbers. The robbers killed Saint Moses and the six monks who remained with him. Their death occurred about the year 400.

Saint Moses, who is also called Moses the Black, was a slave, but because of his evil life, his master cast him out, and he became a ruthless thief, dissolute in all his ways. Later, however, coming to repentance, he converted, and took up the monastic life under Saint Isidore of Scete. He gave himself over to prayer and the mortification of the carnal mind with such diligence that he later became a priest of exemplary virtue. He was revered by all for his lofty ascetical life and for his great humility. Once the Fathers in Scete asked Moses to come to an assembly to judge the fault of a certain brother, but he refused. When they insisted, he took a basket which had a hole in it, filled it with sand, and carried it on his shoulders. When the Fathers saw him coming they asked him what the basket might mean. He answered, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and I am come this day to judge failings which are not mine.” When a barbarian tribe was coming to Scete, Moses, conscious that he himself had slain other men when he was a thief, awaited them and was willingly slain by them with six other monks, at the end of the fourth century. He was a contemporary of Saint Arsenius the Great (see May 8).

Moses was an Ethiopian by birth. In the world, he was a thief and the leader of a band of thieves, and yet he became a penitent and a great ascetic. Moses was once a slave, who escaped and joined the thieves. Because of his great physical strength and daring, the robbers chose him as their leader. Then one day he was suddenly overcome with pangs of conscience and repented for his misdeeds. He left the thieves, entered a monastery, and gave himself over completely to obeying his spiritual father and the monastic rule. He benefited much from the teachings of Saints Macarius, Arsenius and Isidore. Later he withdrew to solitude in a cell, where he dedicated himself completely to physical labor, prayer, vigils and contemplating God. Tormented by the demon of lust, Moses confessed to Isidore, his spiritual father, who gave him counsel to increase his fasting, and even when eating to avoid satisfying his appetite. When this regimen did not help, he was counseled to keep all-night vigil and to pray standing. Then he also began the practice of bringing water to the elderly monks from a distant well, all night long. After six years of terrible struggles, St. Isidore miraculously healed him of lustful thoughts, fantasies and dreams perpetrated on him by the demon. Moses was ordained a priest in old age. He founded his own monastery, had seventy-five disciples, and lived to the age of seventy-five. He foresaw his death: one day he told his disciples to flee, for the barbarians were about to attack the monastery. When the disciples urged him to escape with them, Moses said that he had formerly been violent, and had to suffer violence himself, according to the words: For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword (Matthew 26:52). He remained at the monastery with six brethren, and the barbarians slew them. One of the brethren, hiding nearby, saw seven shining wreaths descend from heaven upon the seven martyrs.

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