St. Moses the Strong

Moses the Strong, also called Moses the Black and Moses the Ethiopian, is a story of one of the greatest conversions of heart. Moses turning from his life of murder and robbery to an advocate for non-violence and humility shows that no matter what our struggles, there is hope for us all.


Lifetime: 330-405
Region: Ethiopia; Egypt
Patronages: Africa; Nonviolence
Iconograpy: Walking stick; parable scroll; leaking sack of sand
Feast Day: August 28

Little is known about Moses' early life, but he is believed to have been born in Ethiopia. In his youth, he became a slave or servant of an Egyptian governmental official, where his notoriety began. Moses' master found Moses too dishonest and violent, and after Moses was accused of murder, he was thrown out and exiled.

Moses quickly turned his violent energy and large body to crime, joining a band of robbers. As a bandit, Moses regularly assaulted travelers, stole their belongings, and may well have committed additional murders and other wicked acts. Moses gradually rose to the top of the gang, until eventually he was in charge of seventy thieves who sparked terror all around the Nile Valley.

One day, as Moses was trying to hide from the local guards, he took shelter with a colony of monks. while he his, Moses was taken by the generosity, kindness, and satisfaction of the monks. Moses had spent his whole life taking from others so that he might have more, and yet he was unfulfilled. These monks had nothing and still gave to others, and yet they were content.

Moses soon converted, giving up the violence and thievery of his old lifestyle and became a monk. 

One day, as a monk, Moses was in his cell when a group of robbers broke in and attacked him. Moses, with his superior strength and experience, subdued them. He dragged them into the chapel, where some other monks were praying, and asked the monks what should be done with the thieves. Now that he was Christian, Moses didn't think they should be hurt. The robbers, who by that point were sure they were about to be executed, were so overcome by his forgiveness that they repented, converted, and joined the community.

Another time, one of the other monks broke a rule of the community, and all the monks were invited to a hearing to decide his fate. Moses declined to attend. When some of the other monks came looking for him, demanding he join the community in the meeting, he reluctantly rose, filled a sack with sand, then cut a hole in the corner and began walking to the meeting. As he walked, a line of sand slowly poured out behind him. When the others saw this, they asked why he carried a leaking back of sand. To this, Moses replied his most famous quote (a line which is often included on icons of the saint):

"My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, but today I am coming to judge the errors of another."

Hearing this, the other monks were ashamed at their eagerness to indict their brother, and they all forgave his infraction.

Much of Moses' life in the spiritual community was filled with similar challenges, where Moses favored the Christian values of forgiveness and hospitality over the rigid code of the monks.

Eventually, Moses was ordained a priest, and later set out again into the desert to lead a new community of hermits.

When Moses was 75, his community was attacked by a band of robbers, much like the one Moses had run in his youth. The other hermits in the community wanted to defend their colony, but Moses forbade them to inflict violence on the thieves. He forced most of the community to retreat, while he and several of the other monks stayed back, unarmed, to welcome the criminals. All the monks who remained were killed when the bandits arrived.

For his radical conversion and for sticking with the teachings of the gospel even in favor of the rules of his superiors, Moses became a very influential saint. He is numbered among the Desert Fathers and Mothers, a group of Christian hermits from the very early days of the church whose discipline and faith inspired many later Christians, including many monastic rules such as that of Saint Benedict.

Prayer to St. Moses

You forsook temporal riches, earthly fame, and fleshly pleasure and freely chose a life of poverty and deprivation to become rich in spirit. Having tasted the momentary sweetness of sin, you foresaw the bitter end that awaits a life of self-indulgence. Having stained your hands with the blood of your brother, you foretasted the anguish of hell. From this pit, you cried out to God Who raised you up as a testimony of His almighty power. In your ascent to near the Living God you did not spare yourself but willfully endured a life of hardship and struggle. By following the path of the Cross, your soul was empowered by the might of the Holy Spirit, your mind was illumined with the understanding of things divine, and your heart was filled with the burning love of God for thy fellow man. And though you lived in ancient times and in a distant land, today we find ourselves faced with the same struggle to overcome the evil that lies within us. In these perilous times, we call on your prayers—help us! For our brothers and sisters are dying daily and our children are born hopeless in a world barren of Christian love. Amidst these trials, we waver because our faith is weak and we know not how to endure suffering courageously. Pray that we be strengthened to live uprightly, walking in the light of the holy Gospel, ever seeking to do the will of God. And in the dreadful Day of Judgment, pray that we may be received with His Unoriginate Son, and His most holy and life creating Spirit, to whom belongs all glory, honor and worship, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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