Moses was a slave to an Egyptian slaveholder and did his job only because he was forced to do so. He was known as a man of excess who ate too much and drank too much as well as being sexually immoral and physically and verbally abusive. Eventually, he was cast out of the home of his master because he was finally caught stealing from the coffers and then he had murdered another slave to cover over his offense. He was cast into the wilderness but his hard life and dark desires had formed him into the kind of man who could survive for quite a while with very little. For those years he was fueled only by a dark rage and vengeful passion. He assembled around himself a band of thieves and bandits who obeyed his commands and executed his sinful desires. Having placed himself in a position of dominance and control he was able further to drift into the grasp of corruption--indeed Moses could be said to "live by the sword." One night he swam across a stream, with a knife clenched in his teeth, to murder a man in his sleep. He had targeted this man because the man's dog had foiled a previous robbery attempt by Moses and his fellow bandits. In that attempt, many of the band that followed Moses were arrested. Luckily for his victim--and for Moses--the dog alerted the owner and the authorities yet again. Moses knew he would be executed for his many crimes if he was caught and so he fled so that he might keep his freedom.
He fled from the authorities who were now searching for him and found refuge in a monastery in the desert of Scetes near Alexandria. At first, it was a convenient place to hide where the authorities would not come and take him and nothing more but through the slow and steady ministry of the monks, he began to be converted to the faith of his hosts. After many long day, he finally professed faith in the one who had said that all who live by the sword will die by the sword. He renounced his past life and sins and devoted himself to the monastic life even as he failed to fit into it well. He was a novice in the faith and often asked questions of his brothers so that he might learn how to live like a Christian. He now believe that his previous way of living was bankrupt and led to death but he knew no other way and so he had to be taught slowly. One night, thieves broke into the monastery to take some of their meager possessions. Being a big man and given to adventure, he disarmed each of the men and dragged them by the collar of their clothing into the chapel where the monks were praying. He interrupted their worship to ask their advice: "I don't think it's Christian to hurt them," Moses said, "so what do I do with them?" The thieves looked at the peaceful man who had skillfully disarmed them without a weapon and were impressed by his words. If Moses the Black could find peace through Jesus, they reasoned, then they could do the same. Soon, they converted.
Moses spent the rest of his life trying to become the best follower of Jesus that he could be. It was hard and though he was not especially gifted for the monastic life--his background game him no assistance--he grew slowly and steadily. Once, he was asked to attend a meeting of monks to discuss an appropriate penance for a brother who had sinned against the others.Moses didn't show up on time and so they sent a man to fetch him but Moses was unwilling to come. Finally, the brother in charge of the meeting went to bring Moses to the meeting and Moses agreed to do so because of his love and respect for the man. Before he left, though, he grabbed a jug of water that had a small hole in it. They walked all the way back to the meeting with the water leaking out behind him. When he finally arrived they asked him why he had brought a leaky jug with him and he responded,"My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, but today I am coming to judge the errors of another." The group dismissed themselves to reflect upon the message that Moses had brought to them and later decided that grace, mercy, and forgiveness were the appropriate responses to a brother who has sinned when each of us--all of us--has the same problem and same need.
Years later, Moses had become the leader of a group of desert monastics. As a group of Berber raiders bore down upon the monastery the monks argued that they must prepare to resist their attackers. Moses--who had once lived by the sword--forbade any resistance and, instead, instructed his monks to pack their things and flee the monastery immediately. He insisted it was better to run or to die than it was to take up the sword in resistance and when he said it he spoke from dark and painful experience. Most of the monks took him up on the offer but Moses and seven others stayed behind and waited for the raiders with open arms and plates of food. Moses knew that his own martyrdom was fast approaching and insisted that this was a good thing for he had lived by the sword and, now, he would gladly die by the sword. When the raiders arrived, they had no time for the hospitality of the monks and cut them down where they stood. Moses the Black who had misspent his youth found redemption not on the day he was martyred but on the day he met a group of monks who taught him another way--a way of peace, love, mercy, and grace.