St. Moses the Black – “Black As Sin and White As Snow”
AKA St. Moses the Ethiopian, Abba (Father) Moses
“Black as sin and white as snow. That was Abba Moses, the 4th century, desert Saint, known not only for the dark color of his skin, but the deep stain of sin from which he was eventually cleansed and declared by his Bishop to “be wholly white.” (InCommunion.org)
Canonized: Pre-Congregation era
Patronage: Africa, Nonviolence
Feast Day: August 28 (West), July 1 (East)
The following is pulled from In Communion, website of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship:
Early Life as A Lead Robber in a Gang of Bandits, and Conversion
– Once an escaped slave in Egypt
– A large man with a violent nature,
– Once the leader of a gang of 70 thieves, a carouser,
and a brawler.
– Gang marauded regions around the Nile, incidentally
near the desert monastics (some of whom, like St.
Moses, would be called the Desert Fathers)
– “It was in the valley Wadi al-Natrun, then known as the
Scetis Valley (from which we get skete as a type of
monastic community), that Moses sought refuge from
authorities seeking to capture him. And it was here
that he would slowly convert to Christianity and
eventually die a saintly Father of the desert
A Life of Continual Conversion, Struggle for Inner Peace
– “Several accounts note how for years he struggled
with temptation to return to his robber life after he
had chosen the monastic way.”
– Once captured and converted four thieves that broke
into his cell while he was alone. He overcame them
when attacked, tied them up, brought them to the
church . . . “declaring that it was un-Christian to harm
them and inquiring what to do with them.” They later
repented and join the monastery.
– “[There are] several stories of Moses’ struggle to keep
his [inward] peace.”
– One episode when “we was insulted and abused but
did not respond. When asked if he was as calm on the
inside as he appeared on the outside, he replied
– “Another time, a monk asked his own spiritual father,
with specific reference to Abba Moses’ habitual
outward calm, what was the value of outward peace if
there was no inward peace. The simple reply was that
while not perfect, outward calm prevented harm and
facilitated God’s grace to others.”
Final Peace Out of Chaos
– One day Berbers/”barbarians” “came to the monastic
valley and Abba Moses was warned to flee. He
– He told the monks under his care to care for
themselves as they begged him repeatedly to flee with
– In response, St. Moses said: “I have been expecting
this day to come for many years past, so that might be
fulfilled the command of our Redeemer, Who said,
‘Those who take up the sword shall perish by the
– St.Moses welcomed them in Christian charity, but they
killed him along with those who stayed behind.
– “On that day, St. Moses exhibited outward calm but
stood with perfected, inward peace. To some, St.
Moses is appropriately the patron saint of
* * *
My personal thoughts:
Reading his story, St. Moses, to me, is a very human Saint. Not that the others are not human or were not sinners like us during their lives – but he seems very relatable. He was a guy who spent his whole life after his conversion in a persistent struggle with overcoming the marks left on his soul from not only his past but also the particular way the affects of original sin shaped him.
He had quite the temper: “One is the nature of his life and conversion, notably that he struggled mightily and long with his violent nature, even as a monk. . .” (In Communion) How many of us have this problem? A number of us, I am sure! Take the incident I mentioned the previous post about him being verbally attacked and maligned. He dealt with it with an outer calm that we all picture the Saints having, a feat which can seem distant for us poor sinners who would be ready to knock some blocks off. But before we chalk it all off to St. Moses being another one of those holy ones that seem (at first) hard to relate to, afterwords he was asked if he felt as calm on the inside as he seemed on the outside. St. Moses simply responded no, he did not. On the outside he was cool, but on the inside he was STEAMED! I found this so relatable and down-to-earth. I am sure you guys do too. It epitomizes the struggle we all encounter in the spiritual life on the trek towards God. How many times have we tried to keep our cool and keep our temper down but while we seemed calm to everyone else we were utterly mad and frustrated?
But like every Saint, Moses shows us that with God’s grace we can overcome our passions, deny ourselves, and emulate the Savior: “. . .but eventually [St. Moses] became known for his non-violence.”
He was also quite humble and always remembered what he was saved from. Here is a story I didn’t include in the previous post:
“An aspect of Moses’ learned humility is captured in a story in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers and is found on the icon on our cover. The story comes in a few form sand recounts a time when Abba Moses was asked to come help settle a disputes involving an offense committed by another brother. St. Moses refused. Eventually, he was prodded to come, so he arrived with either a basket or a sack on his shoulder width a hole in it, trailing sand behind him. When asked what this meant, he replied, according to a different version, “My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” At his words, the brother was forgiven, restored, and the meeting dismissed.”
Just in that story alone, there is so much waiting to be found.
St. Moses the Black pray for us!