You don’t have to be Russian, but it helps

I have to say from the examples I find the Western version of the holy fool a bit more attractive than the more common (and more exceedingly counter-cultural) Eastern counterpart. But holy foolishness is certainly a posture of culture-making, mixing elements condemnation and creation.

It is not necessary to be Russian in order to appreciate holy fools however it seems to help.

There is a long tradition of fools for Christ’s sake in both Western and Eastern Christendom, containing both real fools and fools ex officio. In the West for example, St. Francis of Assisi exhibited some of the characteristics of holy folly, as did the order he founded. But it is Eastern Orthodoxy especially in Russia, that has produced the richest collection of holy fools. In the case of Russia the argument could actually be made that holy folly became a major theme in the national culture, both oil the popular and literary levels Dostoyevsky’s novel The Idiot being the undisputed literary climax of the tradition). Holy folly in the Eastern church may go back to the early days of the desert saints of Egypt, but the phenomenon became prominent in the sixth century Famous cases are those of Theophilus and Maria of Antioch, and of St. Symeon of Emesa Theophilus and Maria came from aristocratic families. They were engaged to be married, instead decided to become fools for Christ’s sake. They roamed the streets of the Syrian metropolis, he dressed as a jester, she as a prostitute, outraging the populace with bizarre and often obscene behavior. Gradually, it was recognized that this behavior was an expression of unusual piety. St. Symeon was an anchorite in the lands east of the river Jordan. He too began to roam through the towns and villages of this area. He would throw walnuts at people in church, overthrow the stalls of street vendors, dance with prostitutes in the street, burst into women’s bath houses and conspicuously eat on fast days. At first, of course, the reaction to this behavior was outrage. Then it came to be accepted that the behavior symbolized great religious mysteries…

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