One of the first saints I encountered while researching Orthodoxy was St. Moses the Black (also called the Ethiopian). There was something about his unconquerable spirit, when faced with temptation, that greatly inspired me. Additionally, the man had grasped what it means to be humble and to not judge one’s neighbor. Below I will provide some excerpts from the Prologue of Ohrid by St. Nikolai Velimirovich and some of St. Moses’ teachings from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.
Moses was an Ethiopian by birth and by profession, at first, a robber and leader of a band of robbers and, after that, a penitent and great ascetic. As the slave of a master, Moses escaped and joined the robbers. Because of his great physical strength and arrogance, the robbers chose him as their leader. Suddenly, Moses was overcome with pangs of conscience and repentance for the misdeeds, which he had committed. He left the group, entered a monastery and gave himself completely in obedience to his spiritual father and to the monastic rule.
He benefited much from the teachings of Saints Macarius, Arsenius and Isidore. Later, he withdrew to solitude in a cell where he dedicated himself completely to physical labor, prayer, vigils and godly-thoughts. Tormented by the demon of fornication, Moses confessed to Isidore, his spiritual father, and from him, received counsel to fast even more and never to eat to full satisfaction. When even this did not help he, at the counsel of the elder, began to keep vigil at night and to pray standing; after that, he began the practice of bringing water to the elderly monks from a distant well all night long. After six years of terrible struggles, St. Isidore finally miraculously healed him of fornicating thoughts, fantasies and dreams brought about on him by demons.
Moses was ordained a priest in old age. He founded his own monastery and had seventy-five disciples and lived in this life for seventy-five years. He foresaw his death and, one day, he told his disciples to flee for the barbarians were going to attack the monastery. When the disciples also urged him to flee with them, Moses said that he must die by violence for, at one time, he himself committed violence and, according to the words: “For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (St. Matthew 26:52). He remained there with six brethren and the barbarians came and slew them. One of the brethren, hidden in the vicinity, beheld and saw seven shining wreaths as they descended upon the seven martyrs.
A Reflection from St. Nikolai
A true Christian avoids the praise of men; not only avoids, but has a true fear of it. St. Sava of Pskov left the office of abbot, the monastery and the good brotherhood of the monastery and fled to a desolate place to escape the praise of men, for praise of men robs our heart.
A devout prince, upon hearing of the mortification of St. Moses Murin [the Black], went with his retinue into the desert to see him. Informing Moses that the prince was coming to his monastery, Moses quickly ran out and began to flee and to hide somewhere, but he unexpectedly encountered the high-ranking visitors. “Where is the cell of Abba Moses?” the servants of the prince asked not suspecting that this was Moses himself. Moses opened his mouth and said: “What do you want him for? He is an ignorant old man, very untruthful and completely impure in life.” Hearing this, the visitors were astonished and continued on.
When they arrived at the cell of Moses, they inquired about the elder and the monks said that he was not there. Then they began to relate what a monk on the road had said about Moses. The monks were saddened and asked them: “How did he look, this old man, who spoke to you mocking words about this holy man?” and when they said that he was very dark in the face, tall and in a miserable garment; the monks cried out loudly: “but that was indeed the Abba Moses!” By this incident, the prince benefited greatly spiritually and, rejoicing, returned to his home.
Teachings & Sayings
*When asked why he [St. Moses] was not grieved by the sinfulness of others, he responded that when one has a corpse in their own house, they do not grieve over the corpse in the home of another.
*A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, ‘Come, for everyone is waiting for you.’ So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said to him, ‘What is this, Father?’ The old man said to them, ‘My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.’ When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him.
*The monk [or Christian] must die to his neighbor and never judge him at all, in any way whatever.
*If we are on the watch to see our own faults, we shall not see those of our neighbor…To die to one’s neighbor is this: To bear your own faults and not to pay attention to anyone else wondering whether they are good or bad. Do no harm to anyone, do not think anything bad in your heart towards anyone, do not scorn the man who does evil…Do not rail against anyone, but rather say, ‘God knows each one.’ Do not agree with him who slanders, do not rejoice at his slander, and do not hate him who slanders his neighbor.
*This is what it means not to judge. Do not have hostile feelings towards anyone and do not let dislike dominate your heart; do not hate him who hates his neighbor.
*If the monk does not think in his heart that he is a sinner, God will not hear him. A brother asked, ‘What does that mean, to think in his heart that he is a sinner?’ Then Abba Moses said, When someone is occupied with his own faults, he does not see those of his neighbor.
Troparion, in Tone I —
A desert-dweller, an angel in the flesh/ and a wonderworker wast thou shown to be,/ O our God-bearing father Moses./ For, having acquired heavenly gifts through fasting, vigilance and prayer,/ thou dost heal the infirm/ and the souls of those who have recourse to thee with faith./ Glory to Him Who gaveth thee strength!/ Glory to Him Who crowned thee!// Glory to Him Who worketh healings for all through thee!
Kontakion, in Tone IV —
Having beaten the Moors and spat in the faces of the demons,/ thou didst shine forth noetically like the radiant sun,// directing our lives by the light of thy life and thy teaching.
The biography, reflection and first saying are taken from the Prologue of Ohrid. The remainder come from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection by Benedicta Ward and Metropolitan Anthony (1984). Troparion come from the Orthodox Calendar iPhone app.