Holy Fools

melted-snow-soaked earth, thumbnail stubs of green: the promise of daylilies, daffodils.  and pure white snowdrops in bloom.

When I fall from grace in the world because of one or another of my ineptitudes, I’m comforted by the role of the holy fool.  I’ve taken refuge lately with two yurudivi, one fictional and one real.

Ostrov (The Island).  Director: Pavel Lungin  Writer: Dimitri Sobolev

theisland_still3Father Anatoli, a prankster savant, a disruptive monk banished from the refectory, tends to the monastery heating system, sleeping on the pile of coal he replenishes a wheelbarrow-full at a time from the wreck of a barge.  He’s tortured by a crime he committed during the war, giving his life to praying continually, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner

Father Anatoli does not understand why he is a starets: people come from all over the Soviet Union to be healed, to be freed of demons, to hear his advice, to drink tea … “with sugar!” as an envious monk observes.

 “Why me?” he asks in the aftermath of a life-threatening prank played on the tearful defeated Abbot.  “Why have I been given the task of leading the monastery?”

I bought Ostrov just so that I could be with Father Anatoli whenever I wanted, rowing out to his solitary lichen-and-moss covered island to pray with him, and to take comfort and inspiration from his life of repentance.

Saint Xenia also lived a life of repentance as a holy fool, not for her sins, but for the sins of her abusive alcoholic husband.  Most hagiographies make it sound like the twenty-six year old widow gave up her riches out of grief for the army colonel husband she loved.  I think that giving up her life for the soul of a man she probably despised, makes her more of a saint than the romantic slant of an innocent beauty in mourning. 

xeniastpetersburgAfter giving away her fortune, and even her house, Xenia Grigorievna disappeared for eight years.  Some biographies suggest she lived in a hermitage or with religious during this time, learning to pray.  When she returned to St. Petersburg, she took the name of her dead husband, Andrei Feodorovich, and dressed herself in his army uniform.  She lived on the streets, sleeping in the Smolensk cemetery at night.  She gave the alms offered to her to the poor.  During her life on the streets, she feigned madness, but people came to recognize her gifts of prescience and holiness.  She died at the age of seventy-one circa 1803. 

When she visited people she’d say, “All of me is here!”  How many people can ever say that?  The power of her intercession is strong to this day.  Countless people testify to her continuing help.  I keep her icon within my range of sight while I struggle with my various follies.  Sometimes I wink at her.  Mostly, I’m humbled.

Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment; cleverness is mere opinion, bewilderment is intuition.  – Rumi

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2 Responses to “Holy Fools”

  1. Terry Says:

    I love the title of your web site so I thought I would send along a poem I wrote as a word of gratitude. Thank you

    Prompt: to assist (one acting or reciting) by suggesting or saying the next words of something forgotten or imperfectly learned

    I’ve never been very adept at learning my “lines”
    In Sunday School it was our “Piece”
    Every Christmas and Easter pageant
    Dressed in our best sunday best
    We stood before the silent congregation
    Usually it was only three or four lines
    But under pressure it might as well have been a tome
    On her knees in the front the teacher would whisper the words
    “… that whosever believeth in Him …”
    As if a tape running at S L O W speed
    By the time the words tumbled out of my trembling lips
    God knows what I actually said
    Forty five years along the way
    And many congregations later
    My Spiritual Director invited me to listen
    To the promptings of God
    Though imperfectly learned
    And oft forgotten
    The lines seem more natural now
    God knows still the tumbling words
    But oh how I need the other
    on her knees whispering what I forget
    “.. for God so loved…”
    I think that’s the way it will always be
    for all Christmases and Easters to come

  2. Yasmin Says:

    toasting bewilderment! it’s about time.

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