From Murderer to Patron Saint of Nonviolence

By Nolan McBride

Hello, and welcome to the first post in what I am currently calling Dunker Punks in History. If you have any better ideas for what to call this, please comment below. In my personal walk with Christ, I have found that reading about and studying the lives of those who have gone before us and learning from their example has strengthened my own faith. In this column, I hope to share the stories of Dunker Punks, whether members of the Church of the Brethren or the larger Church, with all of you. Some of these figures will be well known while others you may have never heard of before. All are known for their love for God and their desire to live as he would have them live.

st moses the ethiopianAs I write this article on August 28, our Orthodox brothers and sisters around the world are celebrating the feast day of the fourth century monk St. Moses the Black, also known as St. Moses the Ethiopian. Originally the slave of an Egyptian master, as a young man St. Moses was the last person you would expect to become a saint. His master dismissed him for theft and suspected murder. He eventually came to lead a band of seventy thieves who roamed the Nile river valley spreading fear and violence in their wake.

On one occasion, a barking dog kept him from completing a robbery. Seeking revenge on the dog’s owner, he swam across the Nile to attack the man, a shepherd. He was seen crossing the river with a sword in his teeth, and the shepherd hid himself in the sand. Angry about being unable to find his intended target, Moses killed some of the best animals, swam with them back across the Nile, butchered his stolen livestock, and feasted. After selling the extra meat and skins to buy wine, he walked fifty miles to rejoin his band.

Accounts differ as to what caused Moses to repent and become a monk. My personal favorite version says that while of the run from local authorities, Moses sought refuge among a community of monks in the desert of Scete, nearby Alexandria. Deeply moved after witnessing their dedication, peace, and contentment, Moses gave up his old ways and joined the community.

It is said that group of thieves attacked Moses’s monastic cell, not knowing who he was and intending to rob him. The former robber overpowered his attackers and slung them across his back. Taking them to the church and dumping them on the sanctuary floor, he told his fellow monks he did not think it would be Christian to harm them and asked their advice for what to do. Discovering just who it was they had tried to rob, the thieves repented and became monks themselves.

Moses’s transition into a Christian life did not happen overnight. He struggled with the demands of monastic life, and he became discouraged by the fact that he could not live up to his ideal of the perfect monk. He met with the abbot of his monastery, St. Isidore, who took him to the roof to watch the sunrise together. As the watched, Isidore told Moses “Only slowly do the rays of the sun drive away the night and usher in a new day, and thus, only slowly does one become a perfect contemplative.”

Later on, Abba Moses (as he was then known, Abba being an intimate term meaning father or daddy) was called upon to settle a dispute about an offense committed by one of the monks. He refused but was prodded into coming. So he tied, depending on the version of the story, either a basket of sand or a jug of water with a hole in it, letting its contents trail out behind him. When asked why he did this he replied “My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” At his words, the monk was forgiven and restored to the community.

At the end of his life, another group of bandits came to attack Moses’s community. He advised his brothers to flee, but refused to leave himself, saying, “I have been expecting this day to come for many years past, so that might be fulfilled the command of our Redeemer, who said, ‘Those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” He and the seven monks who stayed with him welcomed the bandits with open arms to their community and were murdered for it. Because of this, in the modern day he has come to be seen as the patron saint of nonviolence. Even today his witness lives on, both in his homeland and around the world.


Nolan_McBrideNolan McBride is a History and Religion major at Manchester University. He loves music, theater, and learning about Christian traditions around the world. He enjoys swimming and singing and is still sore about his family’s namesake, St. Brigid of Kildare, losing to St. Francis of Assisi in the last Lent Madness competition. You can follow him on twitter at @nmcbride35, and find him on Facebook.

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