From the first days of the church there were people singled out and honored as examples of sainthood. Sainthood in the Eastern Church does not necessarily reflect a life of moral excellence from the start, but as an example of communion with God: there are countless examples of people who lived in great sin and became saints by humility and repentance, such as Mary of Egypt, Moses the Ethiopian, and Dysmas, the repentant thief who was crucified.
Their lives and actions have been preserved as written stories, inspiration to future generations. Ultimately this is not done to draw honor to the individual alone, but to the one to whom they lived their earthly lives, the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly not all these stories are completely accurate (what good story isn’t enlarged by time and enthusiasm) yet there is a common thread of truth through all of them. The peace of God and mastery over our evil passions are available to all who truly seek Him.
Moses of Ethiopia
The story of Moses the Ethiopian holds a special place in my heart. I had stumbled across it one day and was immediately struck by the transformation of this man born seventeen centuries before me. He was living in the desert, robbing and killing for a living when a profound experience changed his life. In the midst of a robbery and attempted murder he was nearly caught and hid in a local monastery. He was struck by the peaceful lives of the monks there and decided to become a Christian and join the monastery. The years that followed were difficult for him, filled with temptation to return to his old ways and plagued by his past sins. Something about this struggle deeply spoke to me. While I may not have any actual blood on my hands, I have done things that I am deeply ashamed of. I’ve hurt and stole from the people closest to me. I have fostered anger that might as well have been murder. I have faced temptation and given in. The struggle that this man faced is a reality that I live in my life every day. This once proud and powerful man, puffed up with his own self importance and power had been transformed into a humble man of God. I think this, more than anything is what really struck a chord with me. I am fiercely independent and still struggle with pride. Moses was so humbled by the grace he had been shown it was written down and still told of today.
A fellow monk was discovered to have committed some sin and his brothers were gathered to judge and meet out a punishment to the offender. Moses was called to join the assembly but refused to come. All the other monks sent another messenger to insist that he join them. Finally he arrived carrying a basket full of sand on his back. As he walked into the room they saw that there was a hole in the basket with a stream of sand trailing out behind him. When they saw him they asked Moses why he had done this. His simple reply was “My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, but today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” His fellow monks were immediately convicted of their pride and forgave the offender.
That is one heck of a transformation. He eventually went on to become a leader in the monastic community, teaching and helping newcomers find a new way of life. He died protecting his brothers from marauders, an irony not lost on him as quoted the words of Jesus to those who could flee “all who take up the sword will perish by the sword”.
This story really got me hooked in learning about the history of God’s work in his church. There are hundreds of stories just like this, people transformed by the healing grace of Jesus.
John Chrysostom is another hidden gem that I discovered while researching the history of the Church. A prolific orator whose gift of speech earned him the title “John the golden tongued”. As I listened to many of his sermons and commentaries I was astonished at the insight and exegesis of scripture. The call to holiness, the exaltation of Christ and explanation of the Bible was unlike anything I had read or heard in modern times. All of the material I have found online tends to be readings that were translated in the late 1800’s so the language is rather difficult to parse. One of my goals in this blog is transitioning some of this material into modern English to make it more accessible to people today.