Moses the Black was one of the Christian spiritualists who lived in the desert of Egypt in the 3rd and 4th centuries. The Lutheran Church commemorates him today. As a young man he was a bandit, feared for his imposing presence and physical strength. Somehow he came under the influence of a monastic community (probably due to monastic charity and to the strength that overcomes the tragic weakness of the human heart, which issues in violence among other things). He became a brother and eventually a priest.
Moses the Black was killed c. 400 when he refused to resist the attack of a band of desert raiders. He is the patron saint of Africa and of nonviolent people in the world.
Moses the Black and others who shared his kind of life, and shared his moment in time, are known as the Desert Fathers. Post-biblical Christian wisdom rests heavily on these figures, and on their spiritual activities and records. They renounced the world in order to enter into wilderness communities dedicated to to prayer. Monasticism grew as a tree from these desert sources into branches of Orthodox and Catholic monastic communities all around the world. There are even Protestant monastic communities. The Society of Saint John the Evangelist in Cambridge, Massachusetts is a local and distinguished example of an Episcopal order of monastic brothers.
Last Sunday Matt and I worshiped at the Trappist monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts. I keep thinking of the many lessons we can learn from monastics. What these principled women and men do together in community–worship and pray in dedicated, accountable ways, build trust and cooperation, serve the poor, work together–corresponds to what members of a congregation like ours promise to do together.
In other words, the serious and profound vows made by those Trappist brothers, for example, correspond roughly to the vows each of you made when you were made a member of the church in baptism (to live among God’s people, hear the word and receive the sacraments, etc….)