Perhaps every African American Orthodox Christian has August 28th circled on a calendar. It is the feast day of Abba Moses the Black. He is also known as the “Ethiopian” (due to his very dark “burnt” complexion), “Robber” (he was a former gang leader and thief), and “Strong” (mostly by Copts referring to a story where he subdued would be thieves and they also became monks). No, he is not a colorized “St. Patrick” for black people so that we can claim a saint too. Abba Moses was one of the most honored Desert Fathers of the time with a compelling influence in every corner of the Orthodox world.
Cyprian of Carthage (August 31st) was martyred well before the time of Moses. He was a bishop with the heart and mind of a monastic. Renunciation of this world and looking to the Lord’s kingdom was a theme of several of his writings. He hid from persecutors for a time until he was beheaded for the faith. Some heretics refused to allow those who disowned Jesus to return to the Church. Though repentance had to be taken seriously, Cyprian declared that it was possible for them to be accepted in the body of Christ.
Moved by the Holy Spirit, an Orthodox community in the Richmond, Virginia area embraced these two as patrons as they established the St. Cyprian of Carthage (OCA) parish. Karl (as he was known then) Berry attended a Vespers service there back in the 1980’s. He converted and became Fr. Moses Berry. Meeting other like-minded believers across the country, he helped to establish what is now the Fellowship of St. Moses the Black. I stumbled across the same parish about a decade later. In time, these two African holy men led me into the Orthodox Church as well.
August 5th Cantidus, Cantidian, and Sibelius (4th century) Martyrs of Egypt.
August 7th Or (390) A hermit of the Thebaid (Upper Egypt), said to have supernatural radiance due to his years of strict asceticism. “For a monk, this is the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ to elevate his mind and unite it with God.”
Potamia (4th century) Virgin saint of Alexandria.
Hyperechius (4th century) Desert Father of Egypt. Six lessons in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers are attributed to him.
August 8th Gregory (1346) Known as the “Sinaite” as he received his monastic tonsure on Mt. Sinai in Egypt. Gregory was very influential on Mt. Athos. His teachings on mental prayer are found in the Philokalia and wrote several hymns, including “It is Meet and Right” to the Holy Trinity.
August 9th Apostle Matthias (1st century) A follower of Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry and selected to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:23-26). After Pentecost, Matthias evangelized in Ethiopia as well as Macedonia and Judea where he was stoned and beheaded.
Anthony (1st century) A citizen of Alexandria who was tortured by a pagan prince for not denying Christ. He gave his soul to God while burning in a fire.
Psoes (4th century) Egyptian monk
August 12th Pallamon (ca. 325) Egyptian instructor of St. Pachomius
August 16th Chaeremon (4th century) Monk of Nitra, Egypt. One lesson is attributed to him in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers
August 26th Tithoes (5th century) A disciple of Abba Pachomius and became the Abbot of Tabennisi Monastery. Seven lessons in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers are attributed to him.
Zer-Jacob (?) Missionary in Ethiopia
Ibestion the Confessor (ca. 450)
August 27th Poemen the Great (450) Also known as “The Shepherd.” A natiive Egyptian who sought out wise ascetics as a boy. As he was tonsured a monk, two of his brothers joined him. Two hundred nine lessons in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers are attributed to him.
August 28th Moses the Black (ca. 375) A very dark skinned man (ethiopian = “burn faced”) once a slave and then a robber. While attempting to rob a monastery, he was so moved by the hospitality of the monks, he repented, converted, and became a monk greatly known for his humility and spiritual life. He was killed by barbarians that he sought to be hospitable to. Twenty lessons from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers and lessons from Abba John Cassian’s Of the Holy Fathers of Sketis (Philokalia Vol. 1) are attributed to him.
August 30th Samarta (ca. 362) Egyptian saint
August 31st Cyprian (258) Bishop of Carthage. Born a pagan, he devoted himself to studying the scriptures and greatly criticized Roman society’s immorality. Cyprian led the Church against heretics, sometimes in hiding. As he was about to be martyred, the bishop gave 25 gold coins to his executioner.