Saint Moses the Black

A saint for our times, Moses used to be a violent man of revenge, but turned to a path of non-violence and eventually became a saint.

Feast Day: 28 August

An imposing gangster

Saint Moses the Black was a slave of a government official in Egypt, who dismissed him for theft and suspected murder. He became the leader of a gang of bandits who roamed the Nile Valley, spreading terror and violence. He was a large, imposing figure.

On one occasion, a man caught him in a theft, which annoyed St Moses immensely. The next day, he swam across the Nile (a not insignificant act) with a knife in his mouth – his intention was to kill the guy. When he got to the man’s home, the guy had been alerted and fled (having obviously heard some of Moses’ previous exploits). St Moses, instead, killed four of his sheep before sticking the knife back in his mouth and swimming back. Shortly after that, the law started to catch up with him, so he hid in a monastery. The influence of the monks and the way they treated him with such love was so great that he converted and became a monk. But the story doesn’t end there.

Drama in the monastery

Some years later, a group of thieves wanted to rob the monastery where St Moses was living. He caught them off guard and single-handily beat them all to a pulp. He dragged their bloodied bodies to the chief monk to ask what to do (knowing it wasn’t a monkly thing to kill them). The head of the monastery said to forgive them and send them away, which surprised the robbers so much that they all apologized, converted and became monks too!

He eventually died at the hands of a group of Berber bandits who attacked the monastery when he was 75 years old. The monks had all been up for fighting to the death with the bandits but St Moses convinced them to take the role of non-violence and retreat. To give them time to get away, St Moses chose to stay behind with seven other monks, with whom he welcomed the raiders open armed, refusing to turn to violence. He and the other seven were all martyred yet their sacrifice saved all the other monks in what was one of the biggest monasteries around.

Why Moses the Black is important to me

A reflection from someone in our young Catholic community

Saint Moses the Black was one of those saints I’d never heard of until reasonably recently, but who automatically inspired me with his story.

To set the scene, he grew up in a hostile, foreign and turbulent country where he was taught that violence and hatred were the only way to get what he wanted in life. He lived in a bloody cycle of hatred, where someone would kill or harm someone close to you and so you would then take greater revenge on their family.

This for me parallels massively with the many wars we have in the modern world today; terrorists bomb a city in the West, the West loses innocent people and in anger and revenge bombs and invades towns around the terrorists; in the process they kill or harm innocent people, whose relatives then join similar groups to take revenge on those who have caused them such suffering, and the cycle goes on and on and on.

Then in Moses’ story, he finds God. Through his time deepening his relationship with Him, he gradually finds a better way. We see it takes a while from the first time he meets with bandits but gradually this way of unconditional love enters his life and, through his actions, over a hundred people were saved from death and the cycle of revenge was broken.

This speaks so much to me living in a world where revenge and hatred of the other seem the only way. If a relationship with God can bring a man as violent and angry as St. Moses the Black to peace, and living a life of non-violence for God can help heal others and save hundreds from death, that is a relationship I want in my life.