MOSES OF ABYDOS (feast day: 25 Abib), fifth-sixth-century monk.
The SYNAXARION of the Copts and the Synaxarion of the Ethiopians give no information about Moses of Abydos, but only allude to him in the brief commemoration of MACROBIUS, “the son of Abu Musa, head of the monastery of al-Balyana,” for 7 Baramudah. No Arabic manuscript of his life has been accounted for. At the White Monastery (DAYR ANBA SHINUDAH), however, he was celebrated on 25 Abib, as the typika testify: “Moses, archimandrite of Ebot [Abydos/Afud],” and fragments have been preserved of three codices containing his life and no doubt an encomium (Campagnano, 1978, pp. 227-30).
A certain number of these leaves were published by E. Amélineau (1886-1888, pp. 680-706), W. Till (1935-1936, Vol. 2, pp. 48-60), and H. Munier (1916, pp. 53-54). Eighteen others are unpublished. These fragments correspond roughly to half the original work. Two other sources give some information: the Life of his disciple Macrobius, founder of a community to the south of Asyut (Lycopolis), preserved in a Coptic fragment (Museum of Antiquities, Leiden, MS 30) and an Arabic version (two manuscripts indexed), and that of ABRAHAM OF FARSHUT, archimandrite of Pbow, deposed by JUSTINIAN.
According to the author of the Life of Moses, SHENUTE is reported to have announced shortly before his death the birth of Moses at Abydos. The latter would put an end to the pagan sacrifices and destroy the temples, which Shenute had been unable to do. This would place the birth of Moses in the second half of the fifth century. His parents, Christians, were called Andrew and Tshinoute. Before the birth of Moses, they had three sons, Paul, Joseph, and Elias, and two daughters, Mary and Theodota.
Impressed by the stature of the prophet Moses, they made a vow to God to consecrate to him the son whom he should give them, and call him Moses, which shortly after came about. The priest of the village, Theophanes, had a vision at the moment of immersing the child in the baptistery: he saw a dove on his head, and then a hand of light on his mouth when he gave him communion. At the age of five, Moses was offered to the church by his parents and entrusted to the priest. He learned by heart the four Gospels, which one day he recited to an astonished bishop, who in a vision the following night saw the child clothed in the monastic schema and surrounded by a multitude of monks.
The beginnings of the monastic life of Moses are missing in the fragments we possess. Thus it is not known where or by whom he was initiated. We learn, however, that he persuaded his three elder brothers Paul, Joseph, and Elias, his younger brother Andrew, and his nephew Abraham to become monks with him. Some people of the neighborhood laid a trap for them, but Joseph learned of it and warned his brothers.
Later Moses by his prayer provoked the destruction of the temple of Apollo (? Horus) at Abydos. Thirty pagan priests were overwhelmed, and other temples collapsed. The monastery established by Moses appears to have been near a place called Pehke. Overwhelmed by the crowds attracted by his cures, Moses preferred to depart into the mountains toward the south, but a heavenly voice commanded him to return to Pehke.
So Moses and his followers returned toward the north. An angel stopped them a mile from Pehke and traced for Moses the site of the monastery enclosure. They were helped in the construction of the monastery by Serenes, the steward of a patrician named Komete. They dug two wells and built several “houses,” one called “the house of Apa Moses” and another that “of the calligraphers,” later a third called that of Apa Elias, and a fourth of Apa Andrew.
This information about houses suggests that Moses founded a community of the Pachomian type. The text speaks of a journey by the patrician Komete to Constantinople, where he praised Moses and his monks to the emperor and his court and obtained for the monastery at Abydos annual revenues of wheat, no doubt part of the embole, an imperial gift attested by papyri for the monastery of the METANOIA. This event must be placed in 518 before the death of Anastasius, who was favorable to the anti-Chalcedonians.
The Life indicates that Moses prophesied the interview with the emperor at Constantinople of Anthimus, Severus, and THEODOSIUS, archbishops respectively of Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria. By their discourse “God brought back the heart of the emperor to the orthodox faith.” This meeting is attested by the historians and must be placed at the end of the summer of 535. The emperor of whom the life of Moses speaks is Justinian, but contrary to what the Coptic text says, Severus had to return to exile in Egypt, Anthimus was deposed by Pope Agapetus and banished, and Theodosius was driven out of Alexandria in 538.
The story also relates various miracles of Moses, and several prophecies. He drove out a demon that lived in the temple of Bes, north of the monastery, which may correspond to the temple of Osiris, and he smote the people with various infirmities. Moses took seven brothers with him and spent the night in the temple to strive against the demons, whom he succeeded in driving out. The author speaks also of numerous conversions, and of the construction by Apa Reuben of a church for the nuns dedicated to Mary which presupposes a community of women under the direction of Moses.
Here the biographer of Moses places the visit of the patriarch SEVERUS at a place named Pkorks. Also mentioned in the life of Macrobrius, Moses and three brothers came to welcome him there. The patriarch of Antioch stayed ten days at the monastery. Probably this visit by Severus must have taken place at the beginning of his exile in Egypt, starting in September 518. After his journey to Constantinople in 535, Severus lived at Xois (Sakha), where he died on 8 February 538. However, the Panegyric of Saint Claudius, attributed to Severus of Antioch, says that he stayed in the monastery of Abydos with Theodosius, patriarch of Alexandria (elected in 535), pursued by Justinian’s police.
The Life of Moses speaks also of a patrician who wished to please the emperor and joined the partisans of the COUNCIL OF CHALCEDON. He received the command of the Thebaid, which presupposes an emperor of Byzantium favorable to the Chalcedonians, no doubt Justin or Justinian; but this patrician later lost all his goods and was reduced to beggary. The author, to show the saint’s gift of prophecy, mentions also the announcement by Moses of a raid by the Blemmyes as far as Antinoopolis, through the interior of the desert.
In a vision, Moses is warned that he will soon die and will have to leave the direction of his community to his brother Paul. On 7 Abib, the day of the feast of Shenute, Moses is warned that death is near. On the 10th he falls ill, and on the 25th, in the morning, he assembles his disciples, entrusts them to his brother Paul, and dies at the third hour of the day, a Friday. He is buried at the tenth hour near the tomb of Apa Sabinos, according to his wish. The Life then relates some miracles wrought at his tomb.
The Life of ABRAHAM OF FARSHUT reports that the latter, archimandrite of Pbow, was driven out by Justinian (527-565) at the beginning of his reign because when summoned to Constantinople, he refused to adhere to the definitions of Chalcedon. Thereafter he lived first at Atripe, in the monastery of Shenute, where he copied the latter’s rules and had them taken in sealed vessels to the monastery of Apa Moses, then at Farshut, where he founded a monastery for men and another for women. The formula “monastery of Apa Moses” very probably relates to that at Abydos, and it seems indeed that at that time Moses was already dead.
Did Moses of Abydos found a community of the Pachomian type? His Life does not speak of any relations with Pbow. Some indications, however, allow us to answer in the affirmative. The mention of different “houses,” so characteristic of the Pachomian monastery, in the monastery at Abydos is remarkable. The author’s care to have the birth of Moses announced by Shenute, and the quotations from Shenute that Moses makes in his letters (see below) should also be noted. The same is true of the links between Abraham of Farshut and the monastery of Apa Moses. The silence on life in regard to Pbow, the motherhouse of the Pachomian congregation, may be explained by the presence of Chalcedonians, of whom Moses must have disapproved.
On the other hand, there is no indication in the life that hermits living in the neighborhood of Abydos were under the direction of Moses, as described in the life of his disciple Macrobius. But archaeology offers some additional information. There is at Abydos a Dayr Abu Musa to the west of the temple of Osiris and the ruins of another monastery called DAYR ANBA BAKHUM, according to C. Sicard; but Dayr al-Rum, according to G. Lefebvre (1911, pp. 239-40), are to the south of the temple of Seti I (Strabo’s Memnonium). Coptic inscriptions with invocations to Apa Moses show that a community of women lived in this temple. Hermitages were also fitted up in the tombs of the pharaonic necropolis to the south of the temples, but we cannot say whether these hermits were dependent on Moses’ monastery.
Some fragments of five letters addressed to nuns have been preserved—numbered from 15 to 18 by “Moses the archimandrite.” The author is very probably Moses of Abydos. He frequently quotes Shenute and also the treatise De virginitate attributed to ATHANASIUS. These letters deal especially with purity and relations with the laity, the entry of young people into the monastery, reading, and manual work. The texts were published by Amélineau (1886-1888, pp. 693-701).
The leaves also preserve the end of the “Canon of our father Moses the archimandrite.” This is an exhortation to monks, dealing with charity, renunciation, and fasting, and commending the merits of one Apa Andrew, perhaps the brother of Moses (Coquin, 1988).
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