One of the more exciting of the early monks in the period of desert Christian monasticism was a Black African (Nubian) now honored as St. Moses the Black. He had been a slave of a government official in Egypt who discharged him for theft and suspected murder. He became the leader of a gang of bandits who roamed the Nile Valley and had the reputation for being associated with terror and violence.
On one occasion, when he sought to hide from local authorities, he took shelter with some monks in a monastic colony in Skete in the western desert near Alexandria. The dedication of their lives and their peace and contentment seem to have influenced him deeply. Eventually, he gave up his old way of life and became a monk himself.
The conversion of Moses was not instantaneous, he had a rather difficult time adjusting to regular monastic discipline. He was zealous of everything he undertook, but became discouraged when he concluded he was not becoming a perfect monk advanced in all the degrees of spiritual perfection. Early one morning before dawn, St. Isadore, abbot of the monastery, took Brother Moses to the roof and together they watched the first rays of the dawn come over the horizon. They stayed there until the new day had begun. Then Isidore 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."
In another incident, one of the brothers committed a fault. A council met and Moses was invited, but refused to attend. Someone came to him to let him know the others were waiting, at which Moses went to the meeting. He took a leaking jug filled with water and carried it on his shoulder (another version has him carrying a basket of sand with a hole in it). When he arrived, the others came out to meet him asking, "What is this?" Moses replied, "My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, but today I am coming to judge the errors of another." Hearing that, they said no more to the erring brother, but forgave him.
Moses became the spiritual leader of a colony of hermits in the desert near Skete. At some time, he had been ordained a priest -- an uncommon phenomenon at that period for desert monks. When he was 75 years old, about the year 407, word came that a group of renegades planned to attack the colony. The brothers wished to defend themselves, but Moses forbade such action. He told them to retreat rather than take up the sword. He and seven others stayed on to greet the invaders with open arms, but all were martyred by the bandits. A modern interpretation honors St. Moses the Black as an apostle of nonviolence.