Friday, January 31, 2014

Fools-for-Christ-sake (Yurodstvo Hrista radi)

Fool-for-Christ-sake (Yurodstvo Hrista radi) is one of the most difficult and inexplicable spiritual feats of asceticism. The word "Yurodstvo" means "insanity." Some righteous people born normal and even very bright would fake insanity so that their feat would be harder. Historically Fools-for-Christ-Sake evoked two opposite reactions in people. Some reactions were malicious and scornful. People would persecute, beat and mock God’s fools. Others would feel compassion and be drawn to them in a subliminal way.

According to Venerable Seraphim of Sarov, the devotion of fool-for-Christ-Sake requires special courage and power of spirit, and no one should assume it on themselves without a special designation from God. Otherwise one may fail and become a false folly for Christ. Contemporary western Christianity cannot understand or value the feat of voluntary insanity.

The expression "fool-for-Christ’s-sake" was first applied by Apostle Paul saying, "We are insane for Christ’s sake." In his letter to Corinthians he explains that preaching about the crucifixion of the God-and-man is in itself insanity for the people of the world. "For the message of the Cross is foolishness for those who are perishing, but for us who are being saved, it is the power of God... Since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:21 and 4:10). The Christians worshiping the crucified God-and-man are perceived by non believers as "fools-for-Christ;" People blinded by unspiritual wisdom, such as the ancient scholars, dared to allege that even Jesus Christ Himself was "raving mad" (John 10:20)! Interrogating Saint Paul, the pro-consul Festus said forthrightly to the great Apostle, "You are out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane" (Acts 26:24).

Fool-for-Christ-Sake, as a special form of asceticism, appeared in the middle of the 4th century in Egypt concurrently with monasticism. This phenomenon can be considered from two standpoints. Objectively, it is a godly calling. Fools-for-Chris-Sake are carrying out a special mission in this sinful world. Subjectively, it is a very difficult form of spiritual asceticism, "a narrow path" chosen by those aspiring for greater spiritual perfection.

Why would God call some of the righteous ones to live in such "humiliation?" In order for us to understand that, we have to take into account the fact that the life of the human society is permeated by evil through to its core — it is full of falsehood, lies, hypocrisy, greed, pride, wile and other sins. Often the most sinful feelings and intentions are concealed under a mask of righteousness, sophistication and nobility. Such people would willingly praise minor and illusory virtues while hating genuine goodness. A vivid example of such people can be seen in Judaic scribes contemporary with Christ. Once seeing their inability to accept His message, Jesus Christ, our Lord, exclaimed, "I thank Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them to babes" — that is to simple and humble people (Matt.11:25).

As we know from the Holy Script, the Lord exposed the wiles of the rulers acting in a seemingly strange way. In serving God, even such great prophets as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel sometimes turned into "fools-for-Christ-sake." Their allegedly meaningless phrases and strange actions veiled the sublime wisdom and prophecy (See, e.g.: Isaiah 8:3; Jeremiah 13:1-9, 18:1-4, 19:1-4, 20:2-10, 27:2, 38:6; Ezekiel 4:1-15, 5:1-4, 12:2-7, 24:3-5).

But God’s calling to become a Fool-for-Christ-Sake does not subdue the person’s will. Fools for Christ subjected themselves to this extraordinary asceticism not just out of obedience, but because of their yearning for righteousness. Pride is the hardest passion to be quenched. Many saints, who overcame usual physical passions relatively easily, were struggling to suppress pride and vanity throughout their lives till their last breath. Venerable John of the Ladder says, "Vanity gloats in every virtue."

Rejecting common sense and bearing humbly the daily scorn, Fools-for-Christ-Sake cut the very roots of pride. From among all the Fools-for-Christ-Sake especially renown are Andrew, Prokopius of Ustug, St. Basil, Paraskeva of the Diveyev Monastery. (Remembrance days: October 15, July 21 and August 15 acc. to the new calendar). The asceticism of giving up property and family was not enough for them. They rejected the most outstanding feature of a personality — common use of mind, and voluntarily assumed an attitude of a person unaware of a sense of measure, manners or embarrassment.

Fool-for-Christ-Sake is a mask applied by those who have a special calling to do it. It is known that at times Fools-for-Christ-Sake would remove the mask before some people and amaze them with their wisdom and talents. A Fool-for-Christ-Sake, Pelagia of the Diveyev monastery, who was blessed to that asceticism by venerable Seraphim, was going back to a usual state during her confessions. A newly appointed preacher was deeply impressed by her mental and spiritual power. Saint Andrew, God’s fool, also removed his mask of folly when talking to his disciple Epiphanius, who was later to become a renowned bishop.

Yet, in everyday life Fools-for-Christ-Sake, pretending to be insane were constantly abused and outcast by everyone. Living in the society they were as lonely as those in an inaccessible desert. Having given up every worldly property and comfort, free from all attachments to earthly things and exposing themselves to all hazards of homeless life, those people chosen by God were like aliens from another world.

Despite all, Fools-for-Christ-Sake were always retaining sublime spirituality, constantly lifting up the eyes of their minds and hearts to God, their spirit ceaselessly aflame before Him. Acquiring great humbleness and spiritual cleanness Fools-for-Christ-Sake became particularly dear to God and received the gift of wonderworking and discernment. They sometimes accomplished such humane deeds of love to their neighbor, that would be beyond any other person. They were not shy to tell the truth openly regardless of the person; their words and sometimes extraordinary actions either criticized fiercely and condemned the unjust people who were often powerful and ominous; or gave joy and consolation to the righteous and God fearing ones. Generally Fools-for-Christ-Sake would mix with the most sinful classes of society for the purpose of correcting and saving these people. And they did lead them, and many other outcasts to the way of goodness. Being close to God, they often relieved their compatriots from various pending misfortunes and averted God’s wrath from them through prayers.

The asceticism of Fool-for-Christ-Sake was not only hard in itself, but it required special wisdom from the saintly ascetics so that their own humiliation further served to honor God and guide people, being ridiculous without sinfulness and seeming to behave shamelessly without tempting or hurting anyone.
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