There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [Galatians 3:28]
In the beautiful unfolding story of man’s salvation, God has raised to holiness people in many different times and places and in all levels of society. Even those born into slavery have become saints of the Church – bright lights to illumine the path toward sanctification for others. St. Moses the Black was one of these saints.
Born as a slave in Abyssinia, Moses was sold to a master in Ethiopia, but there, as he grew in stature and strength, Moses also grew in anger and hatred for his position in life. He was so inclined to insolence, violence and insurrection that his master finally released him to fend for himself in the desert.
Moses then began a criminal career that gave him notoriety all over the Middle East. He gathered around him a band of equally dangerous outlaws and they established a pattern of robbery and assault, terrorizing all travelers in the area. Whole armies were called in to combat this terror, but to no avail. The infamy of the robbers was so great that songs were composed about their violent exploits.
…there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. [Luke 15:10]
One day, as the robbers were traveling in the desert on the lookout for unsuspecting victims, they came upon a Christian monastery. Disregarding the general understanding that such places were to be spared, Moses ran inside with the intention of robbing the inhabitants of this godly dwelling. There he came face to face with the humble abbot of the monastery. In this holy man’s eyes, Moses saw – not fear or anger or defiance, but great sorrow and pity. The robber slave had never seen this look before. The hard shell of sin that had been his life’s work began to crumble and for the first time, he began to feel the pangs of remorse. The abbot offered Moses hospitality and began telling him of the joys promised by our Lord Jesus Christ to those who love and follow Him.
Moses stayed with the monks for a long time, participating in the steady rhythm of their life of prayer, study and work. As sorrow for his life of sin filled his heart, so also did a growing sense of God’s forgiveness. Moses was baptized and vowed to spend the rest of his days in the sweet stillness of the monastic life.
…you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him. [Col. 3:9b,10]
God was gracious to grant Moses many more years of life in which to make amends for his former sins. The news of his change of heart spread throughout the Middle East. The new monk found that the great strength and energy he had used to work violence against others could now be used to teach others about Christ. His personal charisma and ability to attract followers soon brought followers of the monastic way of life. Moses eventually established a great monastery in the desert and when God, in his mercy, gave Moses a peaceful death at the age of 85 (just before the year 400), over 70 of his disciples were teaching the faith.
Like St. Moses, may violent men today find the peace of God, and may the prayers of blessed Moses turn the hearts of those enslaved in sin to the freedom of repentance and forgiveness.