Beginning in the 3rd century as Christianity became more organized and aligned with Roman thought, there was a movement to live the teachings of Jesus in simplicity. People gathered in the Egyptian desert and by the 5th century, their numbers were in the thousands. They came from all walks of life: common people, outcasts, high ranking clerics, and philosophers. This was the birth of Christian monasticism.
The Desert Father, Abba Moses lived from the 3rd to early 4th century as a monk in the Egyptian desert. He is the saint of non-violence in Orthodox Christianity. But when he was young, his life was far from “saintly”. He was from Ethiopia and a slave for an Egyptian government official until he was dismissed for theft. He joined a band of thieves that terrorized the countryside and was also accused of murder. Because of his size and strength, he soon became their leader.
One day while Moses was stealing sheep, a barking dog alerted the owners and he had to run for his life. This set off a series of events and he eventually took shelter with a group of monks in the desert. Their compassion awakened something deep in Moses and after being baptized, he became a monk. After years of struggles as a monk, he became known for his humility, service to others, and acceptance of strangers.
When Moses was an old, respected teacher, he was called to a meeting of the monastic community to pass judgement on a monk who had committed a grave sin. Moses walked into the meeting with a bag of sand on his back. The bag had a hole in it and sand fell out behind Moses as he walked. Surprised by Moses’ actions, the monks asked him what he was doing.
Moses replied, “My sins fall out behind me, and I do not see them, but I am asked to judge another person.” Upon hearing Moses’ words, the monks stopped passing judgement on their brother and returned to their cells.
I believe this story of Abba Moses is as relevant today as it was 1,600 years ago.