This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

August 28 -- Feast of Saint Moses the Black

In 2004, the students of St. Peter's Parish Church in Washington, DC held an election for the patron saint of the seventh grade.  I don't know the results, but with a campaign video like this one, I don't see how he could have lost.

Also known as Abba Moses the Robber, he was an Ethiopian held in slavery in Egypt during the fourth century.  Suspected of theft and perhaps murder, he was sent away by his master. Right away, I am suspicious.  Although he was born into slavery so there would not be much direct monetary loss to letting him go, it does seem like a substantial opportunity cost.  Why let him walk if you could take him to the market and realize at least the cost of having fed him since childhood?  Moreover, what sort of message does it send to the other slaves that Moses won his freedom through crime?  But the story says that Moses was dismissed, but so I'll stick with that.

A large, powerful young man, he quickly became the leader of a gang of thieves.  The terror of the Nile, they were.  Then one night he was interrupted mid-theft by a barking dog.  The caper went wrong, so he went to ground in a monastery out in the Wadi El Natrun near Sketes.  The abbot, Saint Isidore, must have had some powerful gifts of persuasion because Moses was persuaded to take his vows and live as a monk.

Sometime later, some thieves raided the monastery.  Falling back on old skills, Moses beat the snot out of the sneaky little bandits and dragged them into the chapel.  There, Abba Isidore went to work, talking about forgiveness, repentance, and salvation.  Before the end of the night, those thieves were also brothers at the monastery.

He tended to get pretty frustrated that he was not Super-monk.  He had been Super-thief, after all, so if he poured all his energy into being Super-monk, he should attain that pretty quickly too, right?  Abba Isidore took him up on the roof early one morning to watch the sunrise.  "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." This is the sort of thing everyone would quote if it were a Shaolin monk saying it, but the wisdom of the Desert Fathers has been lost in the western imagination.

Note the basket of sand
There's nothing like the converted for zealous and convincing testimony.  No one in the monastery had sinned as much as Moses, so when he talked repentance, people listened.  As his leadership in the monastery grew, he got drawn into judging brothers who had erred.  [Monastic discipline can be pretty severe, and monasteries that got lax tended to have big problems.  We all like the idea of tolerance and forgiveness, but we all resent the image of fat, lazy clerics leeching from the hard-working peasants.  It is a tough balance.]

No!  Moses the Black, not the Black Moses
Moses was summoned to judge a brother one day.  He didn't show up.  They sent for him again, so he walked in with a basket of sand on his shoulder.  The basket was torn and sand was leaking out of the back of it.  The monks momentarily forgot about the wayward brother and asked what Moses was doing.  "My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, but today I am coming to judge the errors of another."  The brothers opted not to discipline the accused monk for his offense.  And again, the story would be told at seminars around the country if Moses' habit had been saffron instead of tan.

When he was 75 years old and had risen to the office of abbot, Berbers attacked the monastery.  Abba Moses opted not to mount a defense of the monastery, even though the younger brothers wanted to.  Instead, he sent most of the brothers into hiding and stayed behind with seven others to welcome the raiders.  They greeted the bandits joyously, but were killed anyway.

Hey Jules -- what would Moses do? 
I'm not in the habit of linking source pages with each post, but there are a couple here that seem worth recommending.

The Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black  This seems to be an African-Orthodox congregation in the USA.

 Badass of the Week --   A hilariously well-written version of Moses' life, with the astute observation that the saint was a fourth century Jules Winnfield.

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