August 28, 2013

Saint Moses the Ethiopian as a Model for our Lives

St. Moses the Ethiopian (Feast Day - August 28)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Moses the Ethiopian is a creation of true repentance. Led astray at a young age later he became a gang leader of bandits for several years. Having come to awareness, he repented for his crimes and eventually found his way to holiness.

He was a purchased slave of a certain rich land owner. He had a rough and intimidating character and everyday created many problems, until his master resented him and threw him out onto the streets. Moses found shelter among bandits and due to his enormous physical strength he soon rose to become their leader. Once, while hunted by the institutions of power for his many crimes, he went to hide deep in the desert where the most renowned ascetics lived. His association with the saints made him slowly calm down. The Grace of God overshadowed him, because repentance is the time of Grace, his heart softened, and he truly repented and sought redemption. His change was radical and in a short time he reached the measure of the great Fathers of the desert. After Baptism he was made worthy to receive the Grace of the Priesthood. At the age of 75 he departed this temporary life in a violent manner as a martyr. Pagan bandits stormed the cave where he was living in asceticism and they killed him with a knife. In this manner, once again, was the word of Christ to the Apostle Peter verified: "All who receive a sword will perish by a sword" (Matt. 26:52).

The two great virtues which adorned him were true repentance and deep humility. Until his last breath he "wept bitterly" for his sins and considered himself inferior not only to people, but also to irrational creation. "The awareness of our sins is a great gift from Heaven, greater than the vision of angels... Repentance is a priceless gift to humanity... Our theosis is through repentance. This is a fact of inconceivable greatness" (Archimandrite Sophrony, We Shall See Him As He Is). Moses utilized in the best way possible this priceless gift and arrived at theosis, the vision of God.

Several incidents from his life and times reveal the radical change in his way of life. This is what repentance means: a change in mindset and lifestyle. It is worth mentioning one of them: "Once, four bandits who were old companions of his entered his cell in order to rob him, without imagining who they would find inside. When they saw him they were surprised. He, with great ease, took them, tied them up, and led them to the assembly of Elders asking them what should be done with the bandits, saying also: 'To me it is no longer appropriate to punish people'" (Gerontikon).

Repentance is not a static situation, an event of the moment, but it is a dynamic way of life. It is a bloody struggle for the transformation of the passions and the coming of the Holy Spirit to be felt in our entire being.

The greatest illness of man after his fall into sin was pride, which is the root of all evil and the cause of all conflicts and wars. "Pride is that dark abyss in which man sinks due to the fall... Pride is the beginning of evil, the root of all tragedy, the sower of hatred, the annihilator of peace... Pride is that outer darkness, in which the man who has been separated from God's love resides" (Archimandrite Sophrony, We Shall See Him As He Is). The experience of sincere repentance attracts the uncreated Grace of God which transforms human existence. Man thus expels pride and acquires height-creating humility, which is closely linked to self-reproach. That is, one deals only with their own transgressions and their own sins. He complains about and blames himself, speaking first against himself, and he is not resentful when he is criticized and insulted by others.

The venerable Moses was in the habit of saying: "When you occupy your mind with your own sins, there will not be time to monitor the mistakes of others." Characteristic of his deep humility is the following incident: "The day he was ordained a Presbyter by the Patriarch of Alexandria, at the time he wore the sacred vestments, it was said to him in a friendly manner that he became white as a dove. Moses inquired humbly of the Patriarch if he was judging him from the outside or from within, because his vestments were white. The Patriarch, wanting to test him if he had true humility, secretly told the clergy to expel him out of the sacristy. So, when he appeared there after the Divine Liturgy, they expelled him calling him a black man. Moses immediately left without any objection. One of them, who followed him secretly to see if he was bothered, heard him speaking to himself: 'It is good what they have done to you, O black colored one. Since you are not a human, what are you doing with people'" (Gerontikon).

The Orthodox Church, with the way of life it offers, transforms and refines jackals and wolves into harmless sheep and lambs. It changes the proud into humble, fornicators and adulterers into wise, murderers, terrorists and bandits into Venerable Ones.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΟΣΙΟΣ ΜΩΫΣΗΣ Ο ΑΙΘΙΟΠΑΣ", August 2002. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.