Troparion and Kontakion of St. Moses
Life of St. Moses the Strong, Also Known as St. Moses
the Black, or St. Moses the Ethiopian.
One of the more exciting of the early monks in the period of desert
Christian monasticism was a Black African (Nubian) now honored
as St. Moses the
Black. He had been a
slave of a government official in Egypt who discharged him for theft
and suspected murder. He became the leader of a gang
who roamed the Nile Valley and had the reputation for being associated
with terror and violence.
Moses was a large and imposing figure; he became rather notorious for
his escapades. On one occasion, a barking sheep dog prevented Moses
a planned robbery, so he swore vengeance on the owner. Carrying out his
threat, he approached the hut of his victim from the opposite side of the
Nile and, placing his weapons between his teeth, swam the river. The owner
of the dog heard the approach, so he hid along the river bank, thus escaping
disaster, Moses, not finding the shepherd, took four rams from the flock,
towed them back across the river, flayed them, sold the skins for wine,
cooked the best parts, and feasted before walking back 50 miles to his
On one occasion, when he sought to hide from local authorities, he took
shelter with some monks in a monastic colony in Skete in the western desert
near Alexandria. The dedication of their lives and their peace and contentment
seem to have influenced him deeply. Eventually, he gave up his old way
of life and became a monk himself.
The conversion of Moses was not instantaneous, he had a rather difficult
time adjusting to regular monastic discipline. His flair for adventure
remained with him. Once, while living in a small cell, he was attacked
by four robbers. Much to their surprise, Moses fought and overpowered them,
tied them together and dragged them to the chapel where the other monks
were praying. He dumped the crew in front of the other monks and exclaimed
that he did not think it "Christian" to hurt the intruders. He
asked what he should do with them. According to tradition, the overwhelmed
robbers repented, were converted, and themselves became monks under the
influence of Moses.
He was zealous of everything he undertook, but became discouraged when
he concluded he was not becoming a perfect monk advanced in all the degrees
of spiritual perfection. Early one morning before dawn, St. Isadore, abbot
of the monastery, took Brother Moses to the roof and together they watched
the first rays of the dawn come over the horizon. They stayed there until
the new day had begun. Then Isidore said, "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."
The humble Moses also proved to be effective as a prophetic spiritual
leader. One day the abbot ordered everyone to fast during a particular
that time, some brothers came to visit Moses, and he cooked a meal for
them. Seeing the smoke, the neighboring monks told the abbot that Moses
had broken the command. But knowing his remarkable way of life, these same
monks, when they came to confront Moses, observed, "You did not keep
the commandment of men, but it was so that you might keep the commandment
of God." Some see in this account, by the way, one of the earliest
allusions to the Paschal fast which developed in the fourth century and
later became the Lenten fast.
In another incident related in the sources, one of the brothers committed
a fault. A council met and Moses was invited, but refused to attend. Someone
came to him to let him know the others were waiting, at which Moses went
to the meeting. He took a leaking jug filled with water and carried it
on his shoulder (another version has him carrying a basket of sand with
a hole in it). When he arrived, the others came out to meet him asking, "What
is this?" Moses replied, "My sins run out behind me and I do
not see them, but today I am coming to judge the errors of another." Hearing
that, they said no more to the erring brother, but forgave him.
A favorite incident of many is the story of the hospitality of a certain
Arsenius toward a visiting monk. Arsenius received the monk in absolute
silence. Moses, however, greeted the visitor with joy. When someone asked
for an explanation, the answer was in the form of two visions. One has
Arsenius in a boat with Angels in silence, another saw Moses in the boat
with the Angels eating sweetmeats.
Moses became the spiritual leader of a colony of hermits in the desert
near Skete. At some time, he had been ordained a priest -- an uncommon
phenomenon at that period for desert monks. When he was 75 years old,
about the year 407, word came that a group of renegades planned to
colony. The brothers wished to defend themselves, but Moses forbade
such action. He told them to retreat rather than take up the sword.
seven others stayed on to greet the invaders with open arms, but all
by the bandits. A modern interpretation honors St. Moses the Black
as an apostle of nonviolence.