intrigued by the topic of whether people from the colored races
had the same prospects of pleasing God as did the people of the
white race, because I had never heard of any negro for example,
who had become renowned for his spiritual labours and
sainthood. Could it be – I had thought to myself - that the
colour of one’s skin played some kind of role in matters of the
soul? Could it be that God had shown some kind of disavowal in
their case? But then,
He disavow them?
So, once when I
had visited the tiny cell of the blessed
Nephon, it occurred to me to ask him about this matter.
The righteous elder reassured me that God had called innumerable
negro souls into His Kingdom, since they too are His creations,
as they are the descendants of Shem and Ham – the sons of Noah.
In fact - he stressed - quite a few of them had shone brightly
because of their virtues and their miracles. And to prove the
truth of his statement, the elder proceeded to narrate 2-3 such
times,” he said, “the territory of
Panephos (a significant city
of Lower Egypt, not too far from the sea; in its place today
lies the city of Menzaleh),
was plagued by a plunderer - a heavily-built, savage man that
was fearsome to behold and ruthless in his ways. His roaring
cries alone could easily curdle the blood of his unsuspecting
victim – even the bravest kind….
however, he had an extremely frightening dream: it was as
though he had suddenly found himself in the middle of an endless
plain….on looking around him, he noticed a fiery river spewing
towards him with a loud rumbling noise, devouring everything in
its path – even the stones and the soil beneath it…. With small,
edged towards that river to get a better look…But as soon as he
reached its banks, four blazing spirits flew out of the fiery
mass, grabbed him by the hair and tugged at him, in an attempt
to drag him into the river… As they struggled to pull him in,
one of the sprits said to him: ‘You wretch! If you had become a
monk, we wouldn’t be dragging you into this place!’
He woke up in a
sweat. He recalled that awesome sight with horror and
giddiness. No matter how hard he tried to explain the dream, it
seemed hopeless. His next thought was: “I think I will go and
find an anachorite,
(=a holy recluse
that lives alone in the desert) and tell him of my dream.
Monks usually know about such things; perhaps one of them will
reveal the meaning of the fiery river that I saw in my dream.”
As soon as he
uttered those words in his mind, he threw down the “tools of his
robbing trade” and headed straight for the road leading to
Panephos. After a while, he
discerned a tiny anachorite cell in
the distance. He hurried in that direction. No sooner had he
knocked on the door, than it was opened immediately by an
elderly man – it was almost as though he was expected there!
And may I ask what
brought you to this part of the land? Were you perhaps upset by
that fiery river and the four evil spirits that were dragging
you by the hair, trying to pull you into the fire? What a
horrible threat that river was, my child,
wasn’t it? Did you see how it even devoured the stones that it
passed over?....Well, if you truly do
wish to escape those flames, there is a way: You should repent
sincerely for all the robberies and the lawlessness that you
have engaged in all your life, and become a monk. That way, you
will surely be saved, because that river has been prepared
exclusively for the unrepentant sinners…”
The elder had
barely finished saying those words, when the robber threw
himself at his feet, and began to cry like a little child….
me some mercy,
The darkness in my soul is far deeper than the
darkness of my
out, between sobs.
this wretch your mercy, and do with me as God instructs you!”
Indeed, not long
after, that saintly elder tonsured the robber and made him a
monk. After staying with him for a period of time and teaching
him the appropriate order of monastic living, the elder left his
cell to the new monk and departed for the innermost part of the
desert, to continue with his ascetic living, amongst the wild
same negro robber, with his own spiritual labours, reached such
heights of virtue that during his moments of prayer, he would
appear to glow all over, so intensely, like a brightly
flickering flame or a radiant pillar of light… Innumerable
demons would swarm upon him, but he, with his prayers, would
burn them and destroy them altogether. God had also given him
such a gift of wisdom that he had even written numerous
spiritual teachings, and had also frequently sent many letters
of counsel to the fathers of the scete
and many other people as well….
precious relic exuded so much fragrant myrrh that –according to
the narrations of the people of that land- it had healed many
sick and demon-possessed people….
Kenya, orthodox Turkana (see here)
There was also
another poor and old negro, who lived in a city called
Ysia. He used to wander about
aimlessly, here and there, silently muttering words that nobody
could understand. Because of this, many people had believed he
was not in his right mind.
There came a time
when a severe drought had fallen on the land….The animals were
dying of thirst, the scorched earth had cracked open and the
crops had all dried up…. The clergy and the faithful, with their
bishop at the lead, made continuous entreaties and night-vigils
with prayers for this plague to stop, but they were of no avail.
One night, the
bishop saw in his dream an angel, who said to him: “This is what
God commands you: Take your priests and go, first thing in the
morning, and wait at the southern gate of the city; the first
man that you see entering the city, approach him, stop him, and
ask him to pray to the Lord to send you rain.”
break of dawn the very next day,
took his ministers and went to the southern gate, just like the
angel had instructed him. They didn’t have to wait for very
long; shortly afterwards, a old negro
man appeared, who seemed to be walking towards the city gate.
He was extremely old, and was carrying on his hunched back a
bundle of wood.
The bishop stopped
him, and helped him to set down the bundle of wood.
“Old man”, begged
the bishop, “please pray to God so that He might show His mercy
and send rain, both for us and for this earth!”
objection whatsoever, the old negro immediately raised his thin,
bony arms towards the heavens and prayed.
In a matter of
everyone’s amazement, lightning and thunder began to manifest
out of nowhere! Heavy black clouds started to gather rapidly,
the sky darkened, and a torrential rain began to pour down from
the sky. But
deluge! Houses began to be flooded and the surrounding fields
soon resembled an expanse of sea!
The bishop was now
forced to beseech the old man to pray again, for the rain to
stop. The old man humbly and obediently raised up his arms once
again to the heavens….and the downpour ceased immediately!
Amazed at this
double miracle, the bishop then persistently asked the old
reveal his life story and to
tell them what his
spiritual labours were, that had endowed him with such
a closeness to God.
But the old man
bashfully refused to reply to the bishop.
“Your eminence, as
you can see, I am nothing more than an old, negro nobody… Why
are you bothering to look for virtues in me?” he replied,
without raising his head.
“In the name of
the Lord of the heavens and the earth!” the bishop cried out imperatively.
“You must reveal the whole truth, so that the name of our
Lord may be praised accordingly!”
“Forgive me, your
eminence! You see, I haven’t done anything worth mentioning.
The only thing that I have strived to keep since the day that I
was baptized a Christian, was to
never eat my bread without deserving it, and to never become a
burden to anyone. So, every day I go into the hills and collect
a bundle of wood, I load it on my back and go down to the city
to sell it. From the money I get, I only keep two small coins –
just enough for the day’s meal. The rest of the money I give to
poor people like me. Whenever the weather is bad and I can’t go
up to the hills, I fast until the weather improves and then I go
back up there again to bring my load of wood to the city, to
sell it and provide for myself and my other poor townsfolk….
With these words,
the elderly negro respectfully bade the bishop and the other
clergymen farewell, hoisted the bundle of wood onto his back
once again, and walked into the city to sell it….
reassure me that the benevolent Lord had called multitudes of
colored people to His Kingdom, the blessed
Nephon told me of one more case, which he himself had
It was during the
time that the benign, Christ-revering Constantine was still
king, when the elder had gone to visit one of the northern
monastic communes on the coast. He found himself in the company
of brothers who happened to be discussing the salvation of the
soul. During the conversation, the topic of races and colored
people came up. Everyone there had admitted that very many such
souls had pleased God. One of the brothers named
Harisethes had said the following:
“I assure you, my
brothers, that I was fortunate enough to meet one such person –
a negro – who was a major ascetic figure.”
Seeing how the
brothers were eager to learn more about this person,
Harisethes continued with his
“I was working for
a period of time in our monastery’s vineyard
( that was my predefined ministry at the time ). One day,
I noticed a negro, a stranger, sitting underneath a large vine.
I didn’t know who he was – I had never seen him before. He had
a flask of water in front of him to quench his thirst, and a
handful of wild herbs was his meal. The sight of this man really
impressed me. I didn’t disturb him, nor did I send him away. He
stayed there, in the same spot, for a whole month. He remained
absolutely silent, throughout the whole day, and throughout the
night he would chant and pray incessantly. During all this
time, he never emptied out the water in his flask, nor did he
add any fresh water to it…. The water gradually became foul and
stank, yet, despite my pleas, he did not let me change the
water, nor did he accept to be given some bread to eat….On
unbearably hot days, he would go down to the shore, sit on a
rock and roast himself under the blazing sun all day long… And
if anyone approached him to see how he was doing, he would
pretend to be demented.
know you have come to kill me!
But God up there is watching you!’ and he would point upwards,
at the sky….”.
examples that the blessed Nephon
gave me, I was truly reassured that the Kingdom of Heaven is
open to every soul, regardless of race or colour, since they too
are God’s children.
as the vineyard produces both white and colored grapes”,
blessed elder said, to finish his story,
“thus God has
created people of all colors – black, red, yellow,
white…according to where they live. After all, the earth itself
is also multiform.”
On saying these
words, the servant of God withdrew into his cell to pray.
Orthodox Holy Monastery of the Sts Apostles in Kolwezi (see here)