(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Moses the Ethiopian, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
Saint Moses the Ethiopian
During the fourth century, a man of God transformed the brute Moses, a slave, into a crusader of Christ. The energies of this slave were redirected from the path of evil to the path of righteousness, with the result that he became a saint of the Orthodox Church. Prophetically, this native of Abyssinia was given the name of Moses, but in his homeland and later in Ethiopia, the only thing he had in common with the Moses of the Old Testament was the bondage each endured. By the time he had reached maturity, this giant of a man, who possessed great strength, had gained the reputation of being a quick-tempered troublemaker. His yoke of slavery served only to stir the fierce passions within him. When his master was finally unable to bring the unruly Moses into line with his more obedient slaves, he ordered his release.
With hatred still seething in him, Moses took to the desert but found no pleasure in his freedom. Forced to care for himself, Moses preyed on others and formed a band of robbers with recruits from every den of thieves in the Middle East.
With such a motley group of misfits and unbelievers, he terrorized the countryside with his daring raids until the alarmed citizens pleaded for aid from the state. The troops were no match for the cunning Moses, and the brutality continued at full force, to the extent that travelers would not enter the areas where Moses had been reported. His notoriety even came to be celebrated in songs which told of his daring and great strength.
As he came upon a monastery, his provisions were running low, and with no regard for its accepted immunity, he decided to plunder the monastery. He burst in upon the abbot, fully expecting that he would cower as all others had at the sight of his scowling face. But it was Moses, not the abbot, who was surprised by the sudden encounter. The holy man, far from being alarmed, simply stood there with a quiet composure and gazed directly into the eyes of the motionless intruder. At that moment, Moses felt the disturbing resentment he had harbored for years begging to leave him. The bitterness that had resulted in violence had gone; Moses began to experience something he never felt before – regret, which in turn became contrition. He disbanded his gang and asked to be allowed to stay and achieve the fulfillment of what he now recognized to be his real purpose in life.
He spent many hours with the kindly abbot, confessing all his sins and asking him to pray for the forgiveness of his transgressions. When he had at last satisfied himself that he could make up for the misdeeds of his past, he took up residence as a monk. He was determined to right every wrong he had committed and to bring the light of Christ which he had received from the pious abbot to those who did not have it.
Moses’ gnawing defiance was replaced by a serenity that he had never known, allowing him to redirect his boundless energy from its previous course to one that would carry him to the throne of the Savior.The name of Moses that had struck terror in the hearts of men of the Middle East soon came to bring comfort to the oppressed and downtrodden; the troop of bandits that had plundered became an army of Christian monks that he headed to bring the word of Christ to every corner of the Eastern Empire.
After organizing followers that numbered in the thousands, he retired to the desert, where he founded one of the greatest monasteries of the fourth century. By the time of his death he had seventy disciples preaching the word of Christ throughout the Middle East.
Moses lived to be eighty-five and, unlike most saints of the Church who lived in peace and died in violence, he, who had lived his earlier life in violence, died in peace shortly before the year 400.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GOArch.org.