Today is the eve of the feast of one of the most inspiring Saints of the Church universal. He belongs to the whole church, irrespective of nationality, denomination, or biases. What makes so many people fall in love with him, I think, is the relatable nature of this man. St. Moses was real. Most people are familiar with his story, so I am going to go through just a few aspects of his with which I feel like I personally can connect.
If you are not addicted to anything, then I pray that God preserve you for many years and peaceful times. For the rest of us, there is always something that holds us back; something that we know in our hearts controls us. Moses was no exception.
Moses was a gang leader, with all that entailed. It meant he was violent, aggressive, a stereotype of masculinity. He did not need to worry about pornography because he was able to have women whenever he liked. I doubt his language was proper when he went around murdering people, sleeping around, and probably not far from him was rape.
Can you imagine living that lifestyle, and suddenly changing? Can you imagine living in such an environment, surrounded by these things night and day – and getting positive reinforcement for it, and just stopping? Today people are addicted to lesser things: smoking, cussing, sex, pornography, gambling, social scenes, and even work. Most justify it somehow, or avoid the reality of it. Moses was an addict, and he did not heal himself. To know, however, that someone could change in such a meaningful way, is compelling, I think, to the rest of us who are still in that battle.
It is also meaningful that there is no faking about the difficulties of the battle. We do not read in his story that he had an instantaneous conversion and suddenly grew wings to fly and no longer sinned. We see a man who is so authentic. Exasperated, he goes to his abba’s door all night long, saying, “I can’t take these thoughts! I can’t take these temptations!” I have little doubt that he often wondered if he made a big mistake in staying at the monastery. There is something to take from this – most of us are too ashamed to make ourselves accountable to another human being. But in his opening up to Abba Isidore, his spiritual father, he found relief and comfort – not condemnation. If you want to be healed, then open yourself up to another person, because healing does not come from the self. Be real. Be authentic. An addict needs support. Open up about the things with which you struggle to someone who is going to keep things confidential, with whom you are not uncomfortable to call in a time of need and say, “I can’t take this, and I want to get better”.
The battle is real, and it requires real work. Moses did not recover in a night. Getting better is a long battle, that is worth it when there is conviction. Which leads me to the next point.
Even in this, Saint Moses was authentic. Some might argue he was actually agnostic. Whatever. The point is he did not pretend he believed in something in which he did not. He was not, however, closed to the idea of it either. I am someone who has struggled with disbelief and doubt, and today I talk to people who struggle with the same things. One of the things that baffles me from both theists and atheists, are the number of people who do not have open minds to ideas other than their own. Theists are sometimes quick to label all atheists as imbeciles, sin-lovers and angry people. Atheists are quick to brand all theists as brainwashed, emotional, and non-intellectual and anti-scientific people. What a waste of time. There are atheists and theists alike who all belong to all of those descriptor groups, and all of that is irrelevant. The relevant question is the simple one that Moses asks very directly: “Are you real? And if so, how can I know?” Without asking this question, he would not make it anywhere. He would not grow. He did not waste time analysing a spiritual matter in a secular way. If anything, he was living “the problem of evil” – he was the one killing and causing injury to innocents! He was a reason why “bad things happen to good people”. But he was also a man with an open heart. He was real – he recognised the limitations in his mind and body, but wanted the truth.
What is worth noting, though, is that he did not receive the answer from God the way that most modernists want. God did not appear to him. He did not shake the trees or hide the sun. He did not make him float on water. He showed Him who He is, Love, through human beings. Moses was converted by seeing God in action: the elder who gave him everything. Because Moses did not have a closed heart, his spirit was not dead. His spirit recognised that something was insanely different about this man whom he was robbing. That the man instead of feeling upset or violated, was helping the robber to rob him. This God in action made him ask the authentic question: why do you do what you do? How do you know that it is real? We forget that part of the story a lot of the times, but it is relevant. Be real in your search, be real in your questions, and you will get real responses.
Moses had no good reason to leave the glorious life he had. He experienced God so authentically that he carried out his days in a manner of life ludicrous to those who knew and lived with him before his conversion. If we seek, we will find; just keep the heart open.
I have pointed out a little bit where he was authentic where some of us are not, but I want to just point out a couple of random things about him that are striking. One of the famous quotes of Saint Moses is:
If a man’s works are not in conformity with his prayers, his prayers are in vain.
I’m not sure if it gets more authentic than that. You cannot say “Lord save me from porn” when you are renewing your monthly subscription to it. You cannot say, “Lord, help me deal with anger!” while plotting out how to tell off your parent, sibling, child, or boss. He is saying, “Be real!” Show that you mean what you are asking. I think this is a great lesson for us today.
The other thing, is that Moses did not take a personality on that was not his own. He lived in an era where many people saw the image of holiness as a person who is silent, locked in his cell, refuses to speak to others, and who is almost stand-offish. This personality is typified usually in descriptions of St. Arsenious – a contemporary of St. Moses. But Moses did not care about the label. He did not believe that St. Arsenious or his type were wrong, he simply knew that that type was not his own. Pretending to be someone else would not allow him to encounter God fully, because he encountered God in his own skin, not someone else’s. Consequently, Moses was known to be the joker, the friendly guy – the one who welcomes you, tells you a few stories and makes sure you have all your needs for the journey. He was himself, and nobody else. He worked on sins, but he was not ashamed of his personality.
Authenticity means that you know yourself. You know who you really are, the good and the bad. This authenticity is why Moses was unable to bring himself to judge others. It was because he knew who he himself was. We sometimes use our fake authenticity of justifying wrong, when instead, it should be a means of virtue, a way to cover others, and a way to grow.
I mean, look at this:
Once, the Fathers of Scete were gathered together. But because some people wanted to see Abba Moses, they treated him rudely saying, “Why does this Ethiopian come and go in our midst?” But Moses, hearing this, held his peace. When the congregation was dismissed, they said to him, “Abba Moses, were you not upset?” And he said to them, “Although I was upset, I did not utter a word.”
He’s so real! He does not pretend he was not upset. He worked on virtue – not getting angry, not responding back, but he did not pretend that he had reached a level where he was undisturbed.
This authenticity, this open heart, this true battle converted a normal man, into an extraordinary man. Holiness was seen in this man not through dramatic works, but by realness of heart, love towards the brethren, an avoidance of judging. It was seen in someone who cared about what was real: God. And that encounter with reality, has him converting the world until today, because it became his self.
It is better for a man to put himself to death rather than his neighbor, and he should not condemn him in anything.
For more quotes of St. Moses, visit this link.
For an account of his life, visit this link.