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Foolishness for Christ

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Foolishness for Christ refers to behavior such as giving up all one's worldly possessions upon joining a monastic order. It can also refer to deliberate flouting of society's conventions to serve a religious purpose — particularly of Christianity. The term fools for Christ is attributed to Saint Paul. Saint Francis of Assisi and other saints acted the part of Holy Fools, as have the yurodivy of Eastern Orthodox asceticism. Fools for Christ often employ shocking, unconventional behavior to challenge accepted norms, deliver prophecies or to mask their piety.[1] There are also parallels in non-Christian Oriental religion, notably amongst Zen monks, and the Mahasiddhas traditions.

Old Testament

Some prophets of the Old Testament, who had signs of strange behaviour, are considered to be predecessors of "Fools for Christ".[2] Prophet Isaiah walked naked and barefooted about three years predicting a forthcoming captivity in Egypt Isaiah 20:2,3 KJV; prophet Ezekiel lay before a stone, which symbolized beleaguered Jerusalem, and while first was instructed by God to eat bread baked on human waste, ultimately used cow dung instead Ezekiel 4:9-15 KJV; Hosea married a harlot to symbolize the infidelity of Israel before God Hosea 3 KJV. The prophets were not counted as fools, as they just made separate actions to attract people's attention and to awake their repentance. All the above actions were inspired by God and corresponded to His will on prophet services.[3]

New Testament

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The Soul of the People, a painting by Mikhail Nesterov.

According to Christian ideas, "foolishness" included consistent rejection of worldly cares and imitating Christ, who endured mockery and humiliation from the crowd. That's why, spiritual meaning of "foolishness" from the early ages of Christianity was close to unacceptance of common social rules of hypocrisy, brutality and thirst for power and gains.[3]

By the words of Anthony the Great: "Here comes the time, when people will behave like madmen, and if they see anybody who does not behave like that, they will rebel against him and say:"You are mad", - because he is not like them."[4]

Part of the Biblical basis for it can be seen in the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:10, which famously says:

"We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised." (KJV).

And also:

"For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness." (1 Corinthians 3:19)
"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18)
"For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." (1 Corinthians 1:21)

Western Catholicism

The most famous example in the Western church is St. Francis of Assisi and a more recent Western example of 19th century is St. Benedict Joseph Labre.

Eastern Orthodoxy

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Bas relief icon of Blessed Basil of Moscow (St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow).

The Eastern Orthodox Church records Isidora Barankis of Egypt (d. 369) among the first Holy Fools. However, the term was not popularized until the coming of Symeon of Emesa, who is considered to be a patron saint of holy fools[1][5]. In Greek, the term for Holy Fool is salos.

The yurodivy (Russian: юродивый, jurodivyj) is the Russian version of Foolishness in Christ (Russian: юродство, yurodstvo or jurodstvo), a peculiar form of Eastern Orthodox asceticism. The yurodivy is a Holy Fool, one who acts intentionally foolish in the eyes of men. He or she often goes around half-naked, is homeless, speaks in riddles, is believed to be clairvoyant and a prophet, and may occasionally be disruptive and challenging to the point of seeming immoral (though always to make a point).

The practice was recognised in the hagiography of fifth-century Byzantium, and it was extensively adopted in Muscovite Russia, probably in the 14th century.

The madness of the yurodivy was ambiguous, and could be real or simulated. He (or she) was believed to have been divinely inspired, and was therefore able to say truths which others could not, normally in the form of indirect allusions or parables. He had a particular status in regard to the Tsars, as a figure not subject to earthly control or judgement.

The first reported fool-for-Christ in Russia was St. Procopius (Prokopiy), who came from the lands of the Holy Roman Empire to Novgorod, then moved to Ustyug, pretending to be a fool and leading an ascetic way of life (slept naked on church-porches, prayed throughout the whole night, received food only from poor people). He was abused and beaten, but finally won respect and became venerated after his death.[6]

One of the best-known modern examples in the Russian Church is perhaps St Xenia of Saint Petersburg.

The Russian Orthodox Church numbers 36 yurodivye among its saints, most prominently Basil Fool for Christ, who gives his name to Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. Fools for Christ are often given the title of Blessed (блаженного), which among the Orthodox does not necessarily mean that the individual is less than a saint (as in the Roman Catholic Church), but rather points to the blessings from God that they are believed to have acquired.

The yurodivy in art and literature

After the 17th century the yurodivy existed more in the arts than in real life. Prominent examples are the fool in Boris Godunov, Pavel's mother and Father Ferapont in The Brothers Karamazov and Prince Myshkin in The Idiot. Another fool-for-Christ Grisha was described in Leo Tolstoy's book "Childhood. Boyhood. Youth".[6] The composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the pianist Maria Yudina have been cited as 20th century examples of the type .

Film References

Crazy for God

"Crazy for God" is an expression sometimes used in the United States and other English speaking countries to convey a similar idea as "Foolishness for Christ." It has been especially connected to the Unification Church. In The Way of God's Will, a collection of his sayings popular among church members, Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon is quoted as saying: "We leaders should leave the tradition that we have become crazy for God."[7]

In 1979 Unification Church critic Christopher Edwards used the expression "Crazy for God" as the title of a book he wrote about his experiences in the six months he spent as a church member.[8]

In 2007 author Frank Schaeffer titled his autobiography Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. It tells of his upbringing as the son of an well-known evangelical minister and his later conversion to the Greek Orthodox Church. [9]

In the same year Stephen Prothero, author and chairman of Boston University's Department of Religion, wrote in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin: "I am crazy for people who are crazy for God: people nearly as inscrutable to me as divinity, who leave wives and children to become forest-dwelling monks in Thailand, who wander naked across the belly of India in search of self-realization, who speak in tongues and take up serpents in Appalachia because the Bible says they can."[10]

See also



External links

sr:Јуродивост fi:Kristuksen tähden houkka sv:Kristi dåre uk:Юродство zh:聖愚

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