St. Moses the Black (A. D. 405)

Moses was an Ethiopian and the most picturesque figure among those remarkable men who are known as the Fathers of the Desert. At first he was a servant, or slave, in the house of an Egyptian official. The general immorality of his life, but particularly his continual thefts, caused his dismissal--in those days he was lucky to have got off with his life--and he took to brigandage. He was a man of huge stature, with corresponding strength and ferocity, and he soon gathered a gang about him that was a terror to the district. Once some contemplated villainy was spoiled by the barking of a sheep-dog giving the alarm, and Moses swore to kill the shepherd. To get at him he had to swim across the Nile with his sword in his teeth, but the shepherd had hidden himself by furrowing into the sand; Moses could not find him, so he made up for it by killing four rams, tying them together and towing them back across the river. Then he flayed the rams, cooked and ate the best parts, sold the skins for wine, and walked fifty miles to join his fellows. That was the sort of man Moses was.

Unfortunately the circumstances of his conversion are not known; it is possible that he hid himself among the solitaries to avoid the law and was touched and conquered by their example, for when next heard of he was at the monastery of Petra in the desert of Skete. Here he was attacked in his cell by four robbers. Moses fought and overpowered them, then tied them together, slung them across his back, and went to the church, where he dumped them on the floor, saying to the astonished monks, "I am not allowed to hurt anybody, so what do you want me to do with these?" They are said to have reformed their ways and become monks themselves. But Moses did not become well-behaved in a day and, despairing of overcoming his violent passions, he consulted St. Isidore. The abbot took him up to the roof of the house at dawn: "See!" he said, "the light only gradually drives away the darkness. So it is with the soul." Eventually by hard physical labor, especially in waiting on his brethren, hard physical mortification, and persevering prayer, he so conquered himself that Theophilus, Archbishop of Alexandria, heard of his virtues and ordained him priest. Afterwards as he stood in the basilica, anointed and vested in white, the archbishop said, "Now, Father Moses, the black man is made white." St. Moses smiled ruefully. "Only outside! God knows that inwardly I am yet dark," he replied.

When a raid on the monastery by Berbers was threatened, Moses refused to allow his monks to defend themselves, but made them run away before it was too late: "All that take the sword shall perish with the sword." He remained, and seven with him, and all save one were murdered by the infidels. St. Moses was then 75 years old, and he was buried at the monastery called Dair al-Baramus, which still exists.