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The Story of Abba Moses the Strong

Chapter Ten: The Triumph of the Disciple of an Old Man in the Desert

Now there was a certain man whose name was Moses, who was by race an Indian (i.e., an Ethiopian), and his flesh was black, and he was the slave of a man in high authority, and because of his evil deeds and thefts his master drove him out of his house; now it is said that he even went so far as [to commit] murder. Now I am compelled to mention his wickedness in order that I may show forth the beauty of his repentance, and people say concerning him that he was even the captain of a band of seventy thieves. And the following thing used to be related about him, and he is said to have committed it during the period wherein he passed his time in stealing. He had as an enemy a certain shepherd, against whom he remembered certain evil things, and he went to steal sheep from his flock.

And the shepherd was told by a certain man [who said], "Moses has crossed the Nile by swimming, while holding a sword in his hand, and his clothes placed over his head; and he had crossed the river by swimming." The shepherd covered himself over with sand, and hid from him. And when Moses had come and did not find the shepherd, he chose out two fine rams from among the sheep and slew them, and he tied them together with a rope, and swam across the river again [with them]. So, having come to a small village he skinned the rams and ate the best portions of them, and he sold the remainder for wine, and drank. After these things, he went back to his companions.

One day, while he was associated with them in doing hateful things, his senses came back to him in the morning season, and he repented of his evil acts, and he rose up and fled to a monastery. From that time he drew near to works of repentance so closely that the devil who had made him sin from his youth up, and [who would have continued] to make him sin, would stand before him in visible form and would look upon him. Thus he came to the knowledge of our Lord Christ.

And about him they tell the story that thieves once came to him and went into his cell, because they did not know who he was, and he tied them all together with cords and lifted them up on his shoulders like a bag of chopped straw, and brought them to the church to the brethren, and said to them, "Since I have not the power to do evil to any man, what do You command me to do to those who rose up against me to slay me?"

Now at that time Moses had been fasting for seven days, and he had eaten nothing. And after he had done this he informed the thieves, saying, "I, indeed, am Moses who was formerly the captain of a band of thieves." Once they heard this, they praised and glorified God. And when they saw the sincerity of his repentance they also removed themselves from their evil deeds, and said within themselves, "Let us also draw near to repentance, so that we may become worthy of the forgiveness of sins, even as he also is worthy."

And while fasting often, and during the time of prayer and silent contemplation, that devil of error, who brings back to the remembrance of the mind the wickedness of former habits, would come to him, and tempt him to such a degree that, even as he himself hath told us, it wanted exceedingly little to make him fall from his covenant.

And having come to the old man Isodore the great, who had arrived from Scete, Moses told him concerning the war of his body; and the old man said to him, "Do not be distressed, for these are the beginning of the birth pangs, and they come upon you seeking what they are accustomed [to receive], even as a dog which [comes] continually to the cook. If a man gives him nothing he will not go there again. And thus also it is with you, for if you will continue in fasting, in prayer, and in silent contemplation, the devil will immediately fall into despair and will flee from you."

From that time he was exceedingly constant in his work of spiritual excellence. He ate nothing whatsoever except ten ounces of dry bread [daily] when he was doing work, and he would recite from beginning to end fifty prayers during the day. But the more he dried up his body, the more he was vexed and consumed by dreams. Again, he went to one of the old men, and said to him, "What shall I do? For thoughts of lust which arise from [my] former habits attack me."

So the old man said to him, "These lead you into error because you have not turned away your heart from the likenesses of them, but give your heart to vigil and careful prayer, and you wilt be free from them."

Now when he had heard this direction he went to his cell, and made a covenant with God that he would neither sleep during the whole night nor bend his knees, and he dwelt in his cell for seven years, and remained standing the whole of each night with his eyes open, and he never closed his eyelids.

After this, he set himself other ascetic labors, for he would go out during the nights and visit the cells of the old men, and take their water-skins and fill them with water, because they lived a long way from the water, that is to say, some two miles, some four miles, and others five miles.

One night, he went to fill the [water skins with] water, according to his practice. As soon as he had bent down over the spring, a devil smote him a blow across his loins as with a stick, and then departed leaving him half dead. But Moses understood who had done this thing to him. On the following day, one of the brethren came to fill [the water skins with] water, and he saw the blessed man lying there, and he drew near to him and asked him, "What happened to you?"

When Moses had told him the story, the brother went and informed Abba Isodore, the priest of the church of Scete, who sent brethren immediately and they took him up and brought him to the church; and he was ill for a long time, and he never thoroughly recovered from his illness, and he never again enjoyed the health of body which he had possessed formerly.

And Abba Isodore said to him, "Rest yourself, O Moses, and do not worry yourself against the devils, and do not seek to make attacks upon them. There is moderation in everything, even "in the works of ascetic life."

Then Moses said to him, "I believe in God, in Whom I have placed my hope, that being ‘armed against the devils I must not cease [to wage war with them] until they depart from me."

And Abba Isodore said to him, "In the Name of Jesus Christ, from this time forward the devils shall cease from you. Draw near then, and participate in the Holy Mysteries, and you shall be free, from all impurity both of the flesh and of the spirit, for you must not boast within yourself, and say, ‘I have overcome the devils,’ for it was for your benefit that they have waxed ‘I strong against you.’

So Moses went back again to his cell. And after two months Abba Isodore came to him, and asked him [concerning himself], and Moses said to him, "I will never see now anything which is hateful to me." Now he was also held to be worthy of the gift of Divine Grace, and he could chase away the devils from many folk who were vexed there-with, and as flies take to flight before us so did the devils depart from before him. Such were the ascetic labors of the blessed man Moses, who was himself vexed with great matters. And he also became a priest, and he left behind him seventy disciples who were made of worth. When he was a thief he had [as followers] seventy men who were thieves, and these now became his disciples, and they were perfect in the fear of God.

Posted by Fr. Moses Samaan

April 9, 2009