By Kyrillos Rezkalla
The Church has provided her children with numerous stories of heroes who have overcome the world through their love for Christ. The Church has offered an abundance of martyrs to the Lord as an expression of this great love. St. Moses the Strong, also known as St. Moses the Black, exemplifies the transforming power of the Gospel; his story of victory over the evil that once was ascribed to his name, inspires listeners and readers over many generations to pursue the life of repentance.
St. Moses was born from a Berber tribe in the year 332 A.D. and little is known of his youth and early years. He excelled in the life of evil, and contrary to the stories of his virtue that were to spread concerning him later in his life, he earned a reputation as a murderer, fornicator and thief among the many examples of his wickedness. He roamed the Nile River Valley as the leader of a gang of seventy thieves with darkness following him, but it can be assured that there were few who had thought him to be an eventual pillar of light. Man, in his nature, is inherently searching for fulfillment, satisfaction and, ultimately, happiness. We were created by God to find this sense of completion in Him. The life of sin leaves a man parched and looking for satisfaction in the created things on the earth, yet they are incapable of offering such a gift. For we see the wisdom of the Holy Spirit working through the pen of the Apostle St. Paul as he writes, Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth (Colossians 3:2). In his quest for this satisfaction, St. Moses was unable to gather any ripe fruits to show for his life of lust and pleasure, and so, he called out to the sun seeking the true God. As he spoke to the sun, in his cry for the help from the Divine, another Sun, this the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2) responded, with rays of healing, leading him to Scetis in the western desert of Egypt. In a quest for light, St. Moses was led to a desert illumined by the light of the many Stars of the Desert: monasticism was flourishing in the wilderness and St. Moses was on his way to the fulfillment he longed for through Christ.
Upon his arrival in Scetis, St. Moses was met by St. Isidore the Priest, who quickly became his spiritual advisor instructing him in the path to Christ. St. Isidore then consoled St. Moses who was overcome with waves of emotions at the thought of the difficult way ahead of him. The beautiful aspect of the life of St. Moses lies in the sincerity of his repentance. He took the Kingdom of Heaven by force as the Lord said in the Gospel, The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force (Matthew 11:12). The devil fought against this saint with old memories of his habits of excessive eating, drinking and fornication. The persistence of the devil is unmatched among us nowadays, yet the struggle against sin was ever before St. Moses and his strive for purity was relentless. St. Moses informed his spiritual father, St. Isidore, of the fight against the Enemy and was advised wisely to increase his asceticism and worship. His spiritual labor reaped much fruit as the number of those brothers, seeking spiritual advice, increased to about 500 brothers.
He became a martyr to the world in his escape from the worldly desires, and a martyr in his spiritual life, as he was constantly at war with Satan. He pursued righteousness as the ultimate prize, and consequently, ran the race with diligence obtaining the imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). During the course of his fight, the devil envied him, seeking any means, by which to remove from him the desire to continue on the path to eternity; he was struck with a sore on his foot that left him sick and bed-ridden. Upon realizing that this was sickness was from the devil as a type of physical warfare intended to hinder his spiritual course, he increased his asceticism and worship in response till his body became as a burnt piece of wood. This holy father was elected to the priesthood by his brethren. When he stood before the Patriarch to be ordained by him, the Patriarch sought to test him and thus questioned the elders saying, “Who brought this black one here? Cast him out!” Obediently, St. Moses followed through with the order and subjected himself to it in his humility. The Patriarch then asked for him to return, as he passed the test, and he was ordained a priest. In visiting St. Macarius the Great on an occasion, St. Macarius prophesied concerning the martyrdom of St. Moses. St. Moses took attention to his words and accepted them, longing to fulfill the words of the Lord when He said, All who take the sword will perish by the sword (Matthew 26:52). This prophecy was completed when the Barbarians attacked the wilderness, killing those dwelling therein. St. Moses was given the opportunity to escape but he longed for this day and stayed behind, while others fled from the sword of the enemy. He was martyred along with seven other brothers. Initially, one brother escaped from fear, but quickly returned to seek martyrdom, upon seeing the angel of the Lord crowning the triumphant ones. His feast day is celebrated on the 24th day of Paona, or July 1st, the day of his martyrdom. His body is now located in the Monastery of El-Baramos.
In the depth of struggle, it is often my habit to think of the warfare endured by this great Saint in his cell. The temptations that fall upon me often overwhelm me until my refuge is in my remembrance of the struggle faced by St. Moses. The devil is an expert at bringing back the guilt and memory of sin, a tactic he enforced greatly with this saint. There were times that he was struggling against the gluttonous life endured during his early years, the times of excessive drinking, partying and fornication. These are not in comparison with the sins that we occasionally struggle with, yet we treat our minute sins as enormous walls separating us from Christ. We ought to look at the example left for us by this holy father, as there was nothing to separate him from the love of Christ and from gaining that imperishable crown.