Abba Moses the Ethiopian
Aka Moses the Black
Aug 28 – Sep 10 2009 14th Thursday after Pentecost
Troparion Tone 5
Thou didst abandon the Egypt of passions/ and fervently ascend the mount of virtues,/ and didst take Christ’s Cross on thy shoulders./ Thou wast glorified in thy works/ and wast a model for monks,/ O Moses summit of the Fathers./ With them pray unceasingly that we may obtain great mercy.
Kontakion Tone 3
Thou wast enriched with divine illumination, O Moses,/ and didst dispel the darkness of passions./ Thou didst quench the pride of the flesh by thy vigils and prayers/ and didst go forth to the heavenly citadel./ O holy Father, pray to Christ our God to grant us His great mercy.
Today we commemorate Abba Moses the Ethiopian, one of my favorites. His story is one of extreme change. I think that is why I relate to him so much. I want to have extreme change in my life too. I was never as evil as he was, but I cannot see how I could become as holy and humble as he was either. And, in my mind, I know this is theoretically possible, but what separated us mediocre ones from the saints is desire.
Here are some famous sayings of his, from the famous Migne text. (http://www.scribd.com/doc/4592844/The-Sayings-of-the-Desert-Fathers-Migne)
My favorite is the first one. We would be saints if we only did this.
2. 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.
6. A brother came to Scetis to visit Abba Moses and asked him for a word. The old man said to him, ‘Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.’
8. The magistrate heard about Abba Moses one day and he went to Scetis to see him. They told the old man. He got up and fled to the marsh. Some people met him and said to him, ‘Old man, tell us where the cell of Abba Moses is.’ He said to them, ‘What do you want with him? He is a fool.’ So the magistrate went back to the church and said to the ministers, ‘I heard people talk about Abba Moses and I went to see him, but there was an old man going into Egypt who crossed our path and we asked him where Abba Moses’ cell is, and he said to us, "What do you want with him? He is a fool."’ When they heard this, the clergy were offended and said, ‘What kind of an old man was it who spoke like that about the holy man to you?’ He said, ‘An old man wearing old clothes, a big black man.’ They said, ‘It was Abba Moses himself and it was in order not to meet you that he said that.’ The magistrate went away greatly edified.
Seven instructions which Abba Moses sent to Abba Poemen. He who puts them into practice will escape all punishment and will live in peace, whether he dwells in the desert or in the midst of brethren.
1. The monk must die to his neighbor and never judge him at all, in any way whatever.
2. The monk must die to everything before leaving the body, in order not to harm anyone.
3. If the monk does not think in his heart that he is a sinner, God will not hear him. The brother said, ‘What does that mean, to think in his heart that he is a sinner?’ Then the old man said, ‘When someone is occupied with his own faults, he does not see those of his neighbor.’
4. If a man’s deeds are not in harmony with his prayer, he labors in vain. The brother said, ‘What is this harmony between practice and prayer?’ The old man said, ‘We should no longer do those things against which we pray. For when a man gives up his own will, then God is reconciled with him and accepts his prayers.’
The brother asked, ‘In all the affliction which the monk gives himself, what helps him?’ The old man said, ‘It is written, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."’ (Ps-46.i)
5. The old man was asked, ‘What is the good of the fasts and watchings which a man imposes on himself?’ and he replied, ‘They make the soul humble. For it is written, "Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins." (Ps.25.18) So if the soul gives itself all this hardship, God will have mercy on it.’
6. The old man was asked, ‘What should a man do in all the temptations and evil thoughts that come upon him?’ The old man said to him, ‘He should weep and implore the goodness of God to come to his aid, and he will obtain peace if he prays with discernment. For it is written, "With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can man do to me?"’ (Ps. i 18.6)
7. A brother asked the old man, ‘Here is a man who beats his servant because of a fault he has committed; what will the servant say?’ The old man said, ‘If the servant is good, he should say, "Forgive me, I have sinned."’ The brother said to him, ‘Nothing else?’ The old man said, ‘No, for from the moment he takes upon himself responsibility for the affair and says, "I have sinned," immediately the Lord will have mercy on him.
The aim in all these things is not to judge one’s neighbor. For truly, when the hand of the Lord caused all the first-born in the land of Egypt to die, no house was without its dead.’
The brother said, ‘What does that mean?’ The old man said, ‘If we are on the watch to see our own faults, we shall not see those of our neighbor. It is folly for a man who has a dead person in his house to leave him there and go to weep over his neighbor’s dead.
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 put confidence in him who does wrong to his neighbor, do not rejoice with him who injures his neighbor. This is what dying to one’s neighbor means. 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. This is what peace is: Encourage yourself with this thought, "Affliction lasts but a short time, while peace is for ever, by the grace of God the Word. Amen." ‘
The Monk Moses did not quickly become free from the passions. He went often to the monastery hegumen, Abba Isidor, seeking advice on how to be delivered from the passions of profligacy. Being experienced in the spiritual struggle, the elder taught him never to overeat of food, to be partly hungry whilst observing the strictest moderation. But the passions would not cease for the Monk Moses in his dreams. Then Abba Isidor taught him the all-night vigil. The monk stood the whole night at prayer, not being on bended knees so as not to drop off to sleep. From his prolonged struggles the Monk Moses fell into despondency, and when there arose thoughts about leaving his solitary cell, Abba Isidor instead strengthened the resolve of his student. In a vision he showed him many a demon in the west, prepared for battle, and in the East a still greater quantity of holy Angels, likewise readied for fighting. Abba Isidor explained to the Monk Moses, that the power of the Angels would prevail over the power of the demons, and in the long struggle with the passions it was necessary for him to become completely cleansed of his former sins.
The Monk Moses undertook a new effort. Making the rounds by night of the wilderness cells, he carried water from the well to each brother. He did this especially for the elders, who lived far off from the well and who were not easily able to carry their own water. One time, kneeling over the well, the Monk Moses felt a powerful blow upon his back and he fell down at the well like one dead, laying there in that position until dawn. Thus did the devils take revenge upon the monk for his victory over them. In the morning the brethren carried him to his cell, and he lay there a whole year crippled up. Having recovered, the monk with firm resolve confessed to the hegumen, that he would continue to asceticise. But the Lord Himself put limits to this struggle of many years: Abba Isidor blessed his student and said to him, that the profligate passions had already gone from him. The elder commanded him to commune the Holy Mysteries and in peace to go to his own cell. And from that time the Monk Moses received from the Lord the power over demons.
Accounts about his exploits spread amongst the monks and even beyond the bounds of the wilderness. The governor of the land wanted to see the saint. Having learned about this, the Monk Moses decided to hide away from any visitors and he departed his own cell. Along the way he met up with servants of the governor, who asked him, how to get to the cell of the wilderness-dweller Moses. The monk answered them: "Go on no further to this false and unworthy monk". The servants returned to the monastery, where the governor was waiting, and they conveyed to him the words of the elder they had chanced upon. The brethren, hearing a description of the elder’s appearance, all as one acknowledged that they had come upon the Monk Moses himself.
Having spent many a year at monastic exploits, the Monk Moses was ordained deacon. The bishop attired him in white vesture and said: "Abba Moses is now entirely white". The saint answered: "Vladyka, what makes it purely white — the outer or the inner?" Through humility the saint reckoned himself unworthy to accept the dignity of deacon. One time the bishop decided to test him and he bid the clergy to drive him out of the altar, whilst reviling him for being an unworthy black-Ethiopian. With full humility the monk accepted the abuse. Having put him to the test, the bishop then ordained the monk to be presbyter. And in this dignity the Monk Moses asceticised for 15 years and gathered round himself 75 disciples.
When the monk reached age 75, he forewarned his monks, that soon brigands would descend upon the skete and murder all that were there. The saint blessed his monks to leave in good time, so as to avoid the violent death, His disciples began to beseech the monk to leave together with them, but he replied: "I many a year already have awaited the time, when upon me there should be fulfilled the words which my Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, did speak: "All, who take up the sword, shalt perish by the sword" (Mt. 26: 52). After this seven of the brethren remained with the monk, and one of these hid not far off during the coming of the robbers, The robbers killed the Monk Moses and the six monks that remained with him. Their death occurred in about the year 400.
From the Menologion program (http://saintjohnwonderworker.org/menologion.htm)
Priest Seraphim Holland 2009. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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I love this saint, Father Moses the Ethiopian. Praise the Lord for his saints; they really do care for us.
Here is a story about him, from the homily you just transcribed:
You know, there’s a story from the Fathers, Abba Moses, the Ethiopian, a beautiful story. The fathers would gather together if they had to judge a brother for something that he had done. And Moses was one of the senior monks, and he was called to this judgment, and he came; he was a big man, very large. And he was carrying this giant barrel. In some stories it’s sand; in other stories it’s water. But it had a hole in the back of it. And as he was carrying this barrel, the water was going out behind him. It doesn’t make much sense to carry water in the desert and be losing the water. People asked him, what are you doing. He says, well, I’m going to judge a man while my own sins are unnoticed behind me. He understood humility. He understood that he had sins that he didn’t even know about. So do we.
http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-before-great-lent-02_2010-01-24+sunday-of-the-publican-and-pharisee+theme-of-great-lent.html (will be posted today)
There is a list of sayings by him, even on the Internet, where you can find everyting except happiness and salvation. I will try to find it.