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Moses, called the Robber or the Negro, was a released slave who lived as a robber in Nitria; late in life he became a monk and was trained by Isidore the Priest.  he was ordained priest and became one of the great fathers of Scetis.  On the advice of Macarius he retired to Petra; he was martyred with seven others by barbarian invaders.

It happened the Abba Moses was struggling with the temptation of fornication.  Unable to stay any longer in the cell, he went and told Abba Isidore.  The old man exhorted him to return to his cell.  But he refused, saying, “Abba, I cannot.”  Then Abba Isidore took Moses out onto the terrace and said to him, “Look towards the west.”  He looked and saw hordes of demons flying about and making a noise before launching an attack.  Then Abba Isidore said to him, “Look towards the east.”  He turned and saw an innumerable multitude of holy angels shining with glory.  Abba Isidore said, “See, these are sent by the Lord to the saints to bring them help, while those in the west fight against them.  Those who are with us are more in number than they are.”  Then Abba Moses, gave thanks to God, plucked up courage and returned to his cell.

A brother at Scetis committed a fault.  A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it.  Then the priest sent someone to say to him, “Come, for everyone is waiting for you.”  So he got up and went.  he took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him.  The others came out to meet him and said to him, “What is this, Father?”  The old man said to them, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.”  when they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him.

Another day when a council was being held in Scetis, the Fathers treated Moses with contempt in order to test him, saying, “Why does this black man come among us?”  When he heard this he kept silence.  When the council was dismissed, they said to him, “Abba, did that not grieve you at all?”  He said to them, “I was grieved, but I kept silence.”

It was said of Abba Moses that he was ordained and the ephod was placed upon him.  The archbishop said to him, “See, Abba Moses, now you are entirely white.”  The old man said to him, “It is true of the outside, lord and father, but what about Him who sees the inside?”  Wishing to test him the archbishop said to the priests, “When Abba Moses comes into the sanctuary, drive him out, and go with him to hear what he says.”  So the old man came in and they covered him with abuse, and drove him out, saying, “Outside, black man!”  Going out, he said to himself, “They have acted rightly concerning you, for your skin is as black as ashes.  You are not a man, so why should you be allowed to meet men?”

Once the order was given at Scetis, “Fast this week.”  Now it happened that some brothers came from Egypt to visit Abba Moses and he cooked something for them.  Seeing some smoke, the neighbours said to the ministers, “Look, Moses has broken the commandment and has cooked something in his cell.”  The ministers said, “When he comes, we will speak to him ourselves.”  When the Saturday came, since they knew Abba Moses’ remarkable way of life, the ministers said to him in front of everyone, “O Abba Moses, you did not keep the commandment of men, but it was so that you might keep the commandment of God.”

A brother came to Scetis to visit Abba Moses and asked him for a word.  The old man said to him, “Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”


Excerpt from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers translated by Benedicta Ward, SLG. Published by Cistercian Publications in Trappist, KY 1984.