August 28, 2021

Saint Moses the Ethiopian, the Black Saint With the Pure White Heart

"The sting of sin, has completely blackened my heart, 
therefore with the tears of repentance, 
make it completely white Father, 
through your intercessions." 
(Matins Canon to St. Moses the Ethiopian, Ode 1)

The beloved abba of the Gerontikon, Venerable Moses the Ethiopian, is a unique example of deep repentance who is a counterpart to Venerable Mary of Egypt. Today he could be seen as a hero-figure for many, who admire men that are physically strong and are the "bad boys" of society, while at the same time intimidating people with robberies and threats. He was a gang leader that eventually emerged to be one of our greatest Saints. How did this happen? He came into contact with some sanctified ascetics living in the Egyptian desert, which changed his heart and opened his eyes. God gave him a unique opportunity to orient himself where the true light of His presence is. Moses repented!

The first hymn from the first ode of the Canon of his divine service makes this point. Moses did not only have black skin - skin color means nothing to Christ our Creator, as the Prophet Samuel says: "God does not see as man sees. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart." - but he had a black heart as well, and he was in the unfortunate position of being among the spiritually lost and dead. No one is born with a black heart; a black heart has its origin in sin. Sin alters the ontology of people. It changes us from being rational humans to irrational beasts. Every sin that we humans commit, with our actions and behaviors, with our words, with our thoughts even, is a sting, according to the image of the above hymn, that causes bruising in the heart, in the inner depths of our existence. This is why Christianity focuses not on the color of a person's skin, but on the color of a person's heart. You can have black skin with a white heart, or have white skin with a black heart, and the Church seeks to imitate the Lord who looks into the heart alone, and as a spiritual hospital the Church guides and treats its patients to healing.

According to the hymn above, we ask for the intercessions of Saint Moses the Ethiopian that we, no matter what our skin color is, may have tears of repentance in order for our hearts to be cleansed of its blackness and make it completely white, because through the tears of his own repentance his heart became cleansed and completely white, which is a heart worthy of being a temple of the Holy Spirit. This is the power of repentance - a clean and pure heart. Only with a clean and pure heart can we see God, according to the Beatitude of the Lord. With the humble disposition that leads to repentance, a heart that is as black as coal can become white as snow, according to the Prophet David in his Psalm of Repentance as well as the Prophet Isaiah in the first chapter of his book. This is the central message of the Gospel. In this process we have an experienced and strong spiritual ally and model in Saint Moses the Ethiopian.