St. Moses the Black: Fellowship for the Journey

Inquiring about the Orthodox Church, never mind becoming a catechist or convert, can be a challenge. Major cities have well advertised Greek, or some other ethnic festivals and local communities that support the parish. For many years, there were no Orthodox Churches between Richmond and Newport News. I was warmly welcomed into the Church at St. Basil, about an hour away in Poquoson (a town founded on racism). There was no physical community in West Point to become a part of. The Lord blessed me to find a interracial fellowship of Orthodox Christians who shared my interest in the role of African saints in early Christianity and becoming a part of the ancient faith.

2015 Ancient Faith & Afro-American Conference, St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church in Kansas City

Moses the Ethiopian (Greek=burned face) was a former slave and gang leader near the deserts of Lower Egypt in the fourth century. Seeking to steal from a monastery, he gave up his life of crime to become a monk. Overcoming his sinful past with years of prayer and repentant living, Moses was well known for hospitality, humility, and wisdom. Stories of this highly regarded saint can be found in the Philokalia Volume 1 and the Sayings of the Desert Fathers. A fellow monk was accused of a sin and Moses was called to serve on a council to judge him. He came to the council carrying a bag of sand on his back that was leaking. “The sand leaking behind me are my sins that I no longer see, and I am to judge this man before me?” The offending monk was forgiven. Rather than run from invading barbarians, Moses was martyred in the early fifth century.

Father Moses Berry

In 1993, Father Moses Berry of Good Shepherd Orthodox Church established an outreach ministry for Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants in St. Louis and named it after the Desert Father. He would later meet Fr. Paisius (now Hieromonk Alexi) and Thelma (of Blessed Memory) Altschul who established St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church and Reconciliation Ministries on the racial dividing line of Kansas City. They and other clergy and monastics saw a need to evangelize the Orthodox Christian faith to African-American and other communities. The first Ancient Faith and African-American Conference was held the next year in Kansas City.

My brothers Fr. Deacon Jonathan Reavis, Ndigila Mndu Wa Kangachi, Fr. Paul Abernathy, myself

The Fellowship helped me make the transition from Protestantism to Orthodoxy by becoming my extended spiritual family. Up until 2012, I knew of only one white convert to the faith (a former co-worker who married a Greek man). More than half the members of St. Basil are former Catholics and Protestants with believers from Eastern Europe and Ethiopia. I thought Ethiopians were the only black people who were Orthodox. The Fellowship opened up a whole new world to me as I met like minded clergy and laity who saw the spiritual depth of the Orthodox life and committed to it. By building friendships with them, the Church was no longer some foreign denomination that was only for one ethnic group or another. Just as in the Day of Pentecost, there were people from all parts of the known world who came to Jerusalem to worship.

Saint Moses the Black

No matter what race you are, look up the Fellowship on the provided links. Some of our oldest conference recordings can be found through Ancient Faith Radio and others on YouTube. Many members have Facebook accounts and one lives here in West Point.

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