In doing research for what will hopefully become a Daily Cup, every now and again, I come across a bit of information about the church, or theology, or in this case, a saint, that out of curiosity makes me want to research more. Such is the case with the Desert Father, Moses the Black (or Moses the Strong, or Moses the Robber). I will admit I had never heard of Moses the Black, but his story and life–like many of the characters in the early history of the Christian church–are quite interesting.
In brief, he was a large imposing man, who started out as a servant to a high government official in Egypt. He eventually was dismissed for theft and suspected murder. He turned to a life of crime, becoming the head of a group of bandits who roamed the area in and around the Nile valley. In fleeing from the authorities, he took up refuge in a monastery near Wadi El Natrun, then called Scetes. While there he was profoundly influenced by the way the monks lived, their dedication to serving God, and the contentment they found by living together in peace and solitude. He converted and was baptized, joining the monastery at Scetes.
One story about Moses in particular caught my attention and my heart. The story goes that Moses was having a difficult time in the monastery and with contemplative monastic life. He kept having persistent feelings of not being perfect enough. Apparently he was zealous in everything he undertook and to his mind he wasn’t becoming perfect enough by his own standards. The abbot of the monastery, St. Isidore, took him up on top of the roof before sunrise one morning. The two sat in silence and watched the sun slowly come up over the horizon. As the first rays of light streaked across the sky, Isidore turned to Moses and said, “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.”
Moses went on to lead a colony of hermits, becoming a renowned contemplative and one of the early Desert Fathers.
I wonder how often we expect perfection from ourselves? I wonder how often, like Moses, we become frustrated to the point of true anger at ourselves for our longer-than-expected path to our own perfection? In those moments of doubt and worry and even frustration about ourselves, perhaps the image of Isidore and Moses sitting on the roof of the monastery at sunrise will come back to us.
But perfection is to have the heart of a child, a tender and yielding heart, a kind heart.
Matthew, thank you for introducing us to Moses the Black. Hope you will continue to share with us, every now and again, some bit of information about the church, theology, or a saint.
Rather than seeking perfection, however, there’s a lot to be said for the attitude that in humbly offering up our imperfections, we become perfect in God’s eyes.