Saint Moses the Ethiopian, Confessor, Martyr

August 28

Today is the feast day of Saint Moses the Ethiopian .  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Moses was born into slavery to an Egyptian official’s family. 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, Moses was dismissed from the house.  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 Scete, near Alexandria (see below).

The conversion of St. Moses is hidden from history.  It seems likely that St. Moses was fleeing from the law and subsequently took cover in the desert, only to stumble upon a community or hermitage of desert monks. The dedication of their lives, as well as their peace and contentment, influenced Moses deeply. He soon gave up his old way of life and joined the monastic community at Scete.

He 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.

The stories of St. Moses 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 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.”

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.

Once St. Moses 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 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 and seven other monks were slaughtered.  The year was 405; St. Moses was 75 years old.

Saint Moses relics at the Church of Al Adra (the Virgin). Canonized: Pre-Congregation.

Image: Crop of St. Moses the Ethiopian, (4)

Research by REGINA Staff



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