Throughout the history of the church, there have been Holy people who poked fun at Christians who were feeling a little too self-righteous. Their stories, still revered in the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, sound absurd, but there is a deeper spiritual point to their foolishness.
Take for example Simeon of Silos who retreated to the Syrian Desert in the 6th century to devote his life to prayer. A few decades later, Simeon returned to town a changed man. Simeon would throw nuts at the priests during the worship service and publicly ate sausage on Good Friday, which is not only a fast day, but at that time no one ate meat during the season of Lent. Simeon’s behavior was anything but saintly. Yet, there was another side to Simeon. The seemingly nutty monk also helped people in the town, though never when someone else might notice. Simeon’s saintly deeds were done in secret. And no one could dispute that Simeon was a very Holy person, even the priests he pelted with nuts on Sunday. Simeon just poked fun at every attempt people made to feel holier than thou.
Simeon is not alone in Christian history. There was the great Holy Fool of Russia, Basil the Blessed, a man so revered that the Cathedral in Moscow was named in his honor. Basil walked through Moscow wearing nothing more than a long beard. Basil threw rocks at wealthy people’s houses and stole from dishonest traders in Red Square.
Few, if any, doubted Basil’s holiness. Czar Ivan the Terrible feared no man but Basil. Basil was also given to eating meat on Good Friday. Once he went to Ivan and forced the Czar to eat raw meat during the fast saying, “Why abstain from eating meat when you murder men?” Countless Russians died for much less, but Ivan was afraid to let any harm come to the saintly Basil.
Simeon and Basil are examples of what the Russian Orthodox call yurodivi, meaning Holy Fools. George Fedotov, a scholar of Russian spirituality, explains that for persons who have achieved a high degree of holiness, they do not want people to praise them for their holiness, so that play the fool to remain humble.
The Apostle Paul knew something of holy foolishness too. He wrote to the Christians in Corinth, Greece, “God deliberately chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose those who are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important, so that no one can ever boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
Holy Fools perform an important function in reminding us that when we start to feel the most worthy of God’s love that we are getting further from God’s presence. When we boast of our saintliness, we are the least worthy of God’s love and favor.
Paul points out that the Holy Fools are on to something when they remind us that we are not as wise as we think. For when we have got everything figured out, we aren’t being wise, just wise in our own eyes. When you think you are so holy that God must be in heaven giving thanks to himself for creating you, you are not righteous. You are just being self-righteous and holy fools were always ready to poke fun at any who thought themselves deserving of God’s love.
The Rev. Frank Logue, Fool for Christ
PS: April Fool's Day is a great time to treat yourself to a visit to the Christian Humor website, Ship of Fools.
Labels: April Fool's Day