St Moses the Ethiopian
When he was told that the shepherd was on the other side of the Nile he swam
across holding his two-edged sword between his teeth and carrying on his head
the tunic he had been wearing, even though the Nile was in flood at the time and
over a mile wide. The shepherd had time to hide away in a cave while he was
crossing, and when Moyses could not find him he killed four prime rams, tied them
together with a rope and swam back over the Nile. When he got to a certain small
village he skinned the rams, ate the best parts of the meat, exchanged the skins
for wine, drank about eighteen Italian measures of it and then set out to walk the
fifty miles back to where he had left his band.
This robber chief later was overcome by remorse through something which
happened to him, joined a monastery and did penance according to the measure
of his crimes. Among other things told about him it is said that four robbers burst
in upon him in his cell, not knowing who he was. Blessed Moyses succeeded in
tying them up like a bundle of straw, carried them on his shoulders to the door of
"I took these men in the act of attacking me, but since I may not do harm to any
human person, what do you think should be done to them?" Having been captured
thus by Moyses, they confessed their sins to God. When they realised that this
man was Moyses, who had been the famous leader of a robber band, they
glorified the name of Christ, renounced the world also, inspired by his change of
heart, and ended up as most exemplary monks. "If this enormously strong man
could so fear God that he turned his back on his robbery," they thought, "why
should we delay in seeking our own salvation?"
The demons then began to rise up against Moses the Blessed (for so we must call
him), by driving him continually to violent thoughts of fornication. Up till then, so
he told us, he had not been tempted by anything very much to make him
renounce his calling. He went to the great Isidore in Scete and told him about his
battle with fornication.
"Don't worry too much, brother," the holy man replied. "They are only just
beginning, but they attack the more vigorously if there is a prior welcome for
them. A dog who goes into a butcher's shop to gnaw a bone will not stop doing so
if he is always made welcome. But if the shop is shut and no one gives him
anything he is left hungry but comes no more. So if you keep on being continent,
mortifying your members which are on earth, allowing no entry to anything which
might give rise to disordered gluttony, the demon will find things difficult. If there
is no one to give him food he will go away."
Moses the servant of Christ went back and from then onwards shut himself up in
his cell, testing himself to the limit, abstaining from food to the extent that he
ate nothing but twelve ounces of dry bread, working constantly and saying fifty
prayers a day. .
After a while, however, although his body became somewhat emaciated, he still
remained over-stimulated, especially in his dreams. He got up and went to see a
certain well-respected holy monk and said to him, "What shall I do, abba? The
dreams pour out from my spirit into the darkness of my mind as if I am still taking
pleasure in the things I was once used to." "You have not turned your mind away
from the visions which come into it," the holy man said, "and that is why they still
continue. Follow my advice and undertake a few vigils, pray judiciously, and you
will soon be free from these things."
Moyses listened to these words coming from the mouth of an acknowledged
expert, went back to his cell and decided to do what his own conscience
prompted, namely to go all night with sleep, and not to prostrate himself under
the pretext of praying, in order to banish the tyranny of sleep. He spent six years
standing up in the middle of his cell, without shutting his eyes, praying earnestly
to God, but he still was not able to overcome his intemperate desires.
After this he thought up another method of living a hard life. This adversary of
Satan would go by night to the cells of those monks who had grown old in the
practice of their way of life and who were no longer able to carry water for
themselves without help. He would take their water jars without anyone knowing
and fill them with water. They had some distance to go to get water in these
places, for some it was two miles, for others five, for some only a half. The
demon noticed what he was doing and decided that he could put up with the
tenacity of this athlete no longer. So one night he hit him in the back with a club
as he was bending over the well to fill the jar of one of the monks, and left him
there for dead, ignorant of who or what it was that had hit him. Next day another
monk came to draw water and found him lying there lifeless. He went to tell
Isidore, that great presbyter of Scete, who came with some others, picked him up
and took him into the church. For a whole year he lay there grievously ill, with
body and soul scarce hanging together. Then Isidore that fine priest of Christ said
to him, "Brother Moyses it is time you stopped fighting with the demons and
carrying on the battle in this particular way. You need some moderation in your
way of life." "I will not stop fighting with them," he replied, "until the phantasies
of my dreams stop." "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" said Isidore the
presbyter, the servant of Christ, "your foul dreams will stop from this moment of
time, so that with a good and faithful conscience you can receive the Sacraments.
But don't boast about this as if it were through your own efforts that your desires
have been tamed. It is God who has shown his power in you, to your great
benefit, lest you should fall into an overrated opinion of yourself." At this Moyses
returned to his cell and lived more quietly, having taken up a more moderate way
of life. After two or three months the blessed Isidore asked Moyses whether the
demon had been giving him any more trouble, to which he replied, "From the
moment when the servant of Christ prayed for me nothing of that sort happened
any more." But this holy man was found worthy of being given grace in his fight
against the demons. He became as free from the attentions of demons as of flies
Such was the holy religious life lived by the indomitable athlete, Moyses the
Ethiopian who was numbered among the great. He became a presbyter and died in
Scete aged seventy-five, leaving behind him seventy-five disciples.
 Vitae Patrum.
THE LIFE OF ABBA MOYSES WHO WAS A
Moyses was a black man, an Ethiopian by race,
the slave of a certain prominent civic official.
This official got rid of him because of his lax
morals and thievery. Some say that he had even
committed murder, and I must be quite frank
about the depth of his depravity in order to
emphasise the heroic virtue of his repentance.
They say that he became the head of quite a
large band of robbers. Among his other evil
deeds it is said that he became very hostile and
vindictive towards a certain shepherd, who
together with his dogs had become an obstacle
in his way when he was trying to carry out a raid.
He vowed to kill him, and went off to find out
where the shepherd was feeding his flocks.