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 derives from the writings of Saint Paul. Saint Francis of Assisi
Francis of Assisi
Saint Francis of Assisi was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher. He founded the men's Franciscan Order, the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the lay Third Order of Saint Francis. St...

 and other saints acted the part of Holy Fools, as have the yurodivy of Eastern Orthodox asceticism
Asceticism describes a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various sorts of worldly pleasures often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals...

. Fools for Christ often employ shocking, unconventional behavior to challenge accepted norms, deliver prophecies or to mask their piety. There are also parallels in non-Christian traditions such as the Avadhuta (Sanskrit) and adepts of crazy wisdom
Crazy wisdom
Crazy wisdom, also known as holy madness, is a manifestation of certain spiritual adepts where they behave in unconventional, outrageous, or unexpected fashion...

. There are also parallels in the Islamic tradition amongst the Malamatiyya
The Malāmatiyya or Malamatis are a Sufi group that was active in 8th-century Samanid Iran...


Old Testament

Certain prophet
In religion, a prophet, from the Greek word προφήτης profitis meaning "foreteller", is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and serves as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people...

s of the Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

 who exhibited signs of strange behaviour are considered by some scholars to be predecessors of "Fools for Christ". The prophet Isaiah
Isaiah ; Greek: ', Ēsaïās ; "Yahu is salvation") was a prophet in the 8th-century BC Kingdom of Judah.Jews and Christians consider the Book of Isaiah a part of their Biblical canon; he is the first listed of the neviim akharonim, the later prophets. Many of the New Testament teachings of Jesus...

 walked naked and barefoot for about three years, predicting a forthcoming captivity in Egypt ; the prophet Ezekiel
Ezekiel , "God will strengthen" , is the central protagonist of the Book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Ezekiel is acknowledged as a Hebrew prophet...

 lay before a stone, which symbolized beleaguered Jerusalem, and though God instructed him to eat bread baked on human waste, ultimately used cow dung instead ; Hosea
Hosea was the son of Beeri and a prophet in Israel in the 8th century BC. He is one of the Twelve Prophets of the Jewish Hebrew Bible, also known as the Minor Prophets of the Christian Old Testament. Hosea is often seen as a "prophet of doom", but underneath his message of destruction is a promise...

 married a harlot to symbolize the infidelity of Israel before God . By the opinion of certain scholars, these prophets were not counted as fools by their contemporaries, as they just carried out separate actions to attract people's attention and to awake their repentance
Repentance is a change of thought to correct a wrong and gain forgiveness from a person who is wronged. In religious contexts it usually refers to confession to God, ceasing sin against God, and resolving to live according to religious law...


New Testament

According to Christian ideas, "foolishness" included consistent rejection of worldly cares and imitating Christ
Imitation of Christ
In Christian theology, the Imitation of Christ is the practice of following the example of Jesus. In Eastern Christianity the term Life in Christ is sometimes used for the same concept....

, who endured mockery and humiliation from the crowd. That's why, spiritual meaning of "foolishness" from the early ages of Christianity
Early Christianity
Early Christianity is generally considered as Christianity before 325. The New Testament's Book of Acts and Epistle to the Galatians records that the first Christian community was centered in Jerusalem and its leaders included James, Peter and John....

 was close to unacceptance of common social rules of hypocrisy, brutality and thirst for power and gains.

By the words of Anthony the Great
Anthony the Great
Anthony the Great or Antony the Great , , also known as Saint Anthony, Anthony the Abbot, Anthony of Egypt, Anthony of the Desert, Anthony the Anchorite, Abba Antonius , and Father of All Monks, was a Christian saint from Egypt, a prominent leader among the Desert Fathers...

: "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."

Part of the Biblical
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 basis for it can be seen in the words of the Apostle Paul in , 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."

"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."

"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."

Western Christianity

The most famous example in the Western church is St. Francis of Assisi
Francis of Assisi
Saint Francis of Assisi was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher. He founded the men's Franciscan Order, the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the lay Third Order of Saint Francis. St...

 and a more recent Western example of 18th century (1748-1783) is St. Benedict Joseph Labre
Benedict Joseph Labre
Saint Benedict Joseph Labré was a French mendicant, Franciscan tertiary and Roman Catholic saint.-Life:He was born in Amettes, near Arras in the north of France, the eldest of fifteen children of a prosperous shopkeeper, and was religious from a very early age. He was noted for performing public...


Eastern Christianity

The Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

 records Isidora Barankis
Saint Isidora
Saint Isidora or Isidore was a Christian nun and saint of the 4th century AD. She is considered among the earliest fools for Christ. The Feast day of Isidora is celebrated by both the Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church on May 1.Isidora lived in the Egyptian convent of Tabennisi...

 of Egypt (d. 369) among the first Holy Fools. However, the term was not popularized until the coming of Symeon of Emesa
Simeon the Holy Fool
Simeon the Holy Fool was a Christian monk, hermit and saint of the sixth century AD...

, who is considered to be a patron saint
Patron saint
A patron saint is a saint who is regarded as the intercessor and advocate in heaven of a nation, place, craft, activity, class, clan, family, or person...

 of holy fools. In Greek, the term for Holy Fool is salos.

The yurodivy is the Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n version of Foolishness in Christ (Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

: юродство, yurodstvo or jurodstvo), a peculiar form of Eastern Orthodox asceticism
Asceticism describes a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various sorts of worldly pleasures often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals...

. 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
In religion, a prophet, from the Greek word προφήτης profitis meaning "foreteller", is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and serves as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people...

, 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
Hagiography is the study of saints.From the Greek and , it refers literally to writings on the subject of such holy people, and specifically to the biographies of saints and ecclesiastical leaders. The term hagiology, the study of hagiography, is also current in English, though less common...

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

The madness
Insanity, craziness or madness is a spectrum of behaviors characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns. Insanity may manifest as violations of societal norms, including becoming a danger to themselves and others, though not all such acts are considered insanity...

 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 parable
A parable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive principles, or lessons, or a normative principle. It differs from a fable in that fables use animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as characters, while parables generally feature human...

s. He had a particular status in regard to the Tsar
Tsar is a title used to designate certain European Slavic monarchs or supreme rulers. As a system of government in the Tsardom of Russia and Russian Empire, it is known as Tsarist autocracy, or Tsarism...

s, as a figure not subject to earthly control or judgement.

The first reported fool-for-Christ in Russia was St. Procopius
Procopius of Ustyug
Procopius of Ustyug was a fool for Christ , a miracle worker, saint of Russian Orthodox Church, formerly a merchant from Lübeck. He was born in Germany, a Roman Catholic merchant who converted to eastern Orthodox Christianity during his travels....

 (Prokopiy), who came from the lands of the Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

 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.

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


The Russian Orthodox Church
Russian Orthodox Church
The Russian Orthodox Church or, alternatively, the Moscow Patriarchate The ROC is often said to be the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world; including all the autocephalous churches under its umbrella, its adherents number over 150 million worldwide—about half of the 300 million...

 numbers 36 yurodivye among its saint
A saint is a holy person. In various religions, saints are people who are believed to have exceptional holiness.In Christian usage, "saint" refers to any believer who is "in Christ", and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth...

s, most prominently Basil Fool for Christ
Basil Fool for Christ
Basil the Blessed is a Russian Orthodox saint of the type known as yurodivy or "holy fool for Christ"....

, who gives his name to Saint Basil's Cathedral
Saint Basil's Cathedral
The Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat , popularly known as Saint Basil's Cathedral , is a Russian Orthodox church erected on the Red Square in Moscow in 1555–61. Built on the order of Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan, it marks the...

 in Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

. Fools for Christ are often given the title of Blessed
Beatification is a recognition accorded by the Catholic Church of a dead person's entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name . Beatification is the third of the four steps in the canonization process...

 (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
Boris Godunov (opera)
Boris Godunov is an opera by Modest Mussorgsky . The work was composed between 1868 and 1873 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It is Mussorgsky's only completed opera and is considered his masterpiece. Its subjects are the Russian ruler Boris Godunov, who reigned as Tsar during the Time of Troubles,...

, Pavel's mother and Father Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov
The Brothers Karamazov
The Brothers Karamazov is the final novel by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky spent nearly two years writing The Brothers Karamazov, which was published as a serial in The Russian Messenger and completed in November 1880...

, Sofia Semyonovna Marmeladova (Sonya) in Crime and Punishment
Crime and Punishment
Crime and Punishment is a novel by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It was first published in the literary journal The Russian Messenger in twelve monthly installments during 1866. It was later published in a single volume. This is the second of Dostoyevsky's full-length novels following his...

and Prince Myshkin in The Idiot
The Idiot (novel)
The Idiot is a novel written by 19th century Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It was first published serially in The Russian Messenger between 1868 and 1869. The Idiot is ranked beside some of Dostoyevsky's other works as one of the most brilliant literary achievements of the "Golden Age" of...

. Another fool-for-Christ Grisha was described in Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was a Russian writer who primarily wrote novels and short stories. Later in life, he also wrote plays and essays. His two most famous works, the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, are acknowledged as two of the greatest novels of all time and a pinnacle of realist...

's book "Childhood. Boyhood. Youth".

Film References

  • The Island
    Ostrov (film)
    Ostrov is a 2006 Russian biographical film about a fictional 20th century Eastern Orthodox monk. The film closed the 2006 Venice Film Festival, proved to be a moderate box-office success and won both the Nika Award and the Golden Eagle Award as the Best Russian film of 2006...

    (also known as Ostrov), a movie telling the life story of (fictional) Father Anatoly, in 1970s Russia.
  • The Red Western The Burning Miles
    Miles of Fire
    Miles of Fire/The Burning Miles is an early Red Western filmed by Samson Samsonov in 1957. Often considered the earliest of the 'Red Westerns' , it was made before the term was coined...

  • The character Kayom in At Home Among Strangers
    At Home Among Strangers
    At Home among Strangers is a 1974 Soviet film starring Yuri Bogatyryov and Anatoly Solonitsyn and directed by Nikita Mikhalkov. Some hail it as the most significant of osterns...

    , who quickly turns from foe to friend can be seen as such a figure.
  • In the film Andrei Rublev
    Andrei Rublev (film)
    Andrei Rublev , also known as The Passion According to Andrei, is a 1966 Russian film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky from a screenplay written by Andrei Konchalovsky and Andrei Tarkovsky. The film is loosely based on the life of Andrei Rublev, the great 15th century Russian icon painter...

    , a yurodivy character, "Durochka," is played by director Andrei Tarkovsky's wife Irma Raush
    Irma Raush
    Irma Yakovlevna Raush is a Russian actress and the first wife of film director Andrei Tarkovsky. She is best known for her role as Durochka in Andrei Rublev and as Ivan's mother in Ivan's Childhood.-Biography:...


Crazy for God

"Crazy for God" is an expression sometimes used in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and other English speaking countries to convey a similar idea as "Foolishness for Christ." It has been especially connected to the Unification Church
Unification Church
The Unification Church is a new religious movement founded by Korean religious leader Sun Myung Moon. In 1954, the Unification Church was formally and legally established in Seoul, South Korea, as The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity . In 1994, Moon gave the church...

. In The Way of God's Will, a collection of his sayings popular among church members, Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon
Sun Myung Moon
Sun Myung Moon is the Korean founder and leader of the worldwide Unification Church. He is also the founder of many other organizations and projects...

 is quoted as saying: "We leaders should leave the tradition that we have become crazy for God."

In 1979 Unification Church critic Christopher Edwards
Christopher Edwards
Christopher Edwards is an American author. He wrote Crazy for God: The nightmare of cult life , a memoir of his experiences as a member of the Unification Church. In an interview while promoting his book, he said he travelled with a bodyguard and was afraid for his life.-Footnotes:...

 titled a book he wrote about his experiences in the six months he spent as a church member: Crazy for God: The nightmare of cult life.

In 2007 author Frank Schaeffer
Frank Schaeffer
Frank Schaeffer is an American author, film director, screenwriter and public speaker. He is the son of the late theologian and author Francis 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
Evangelicalism is a Protestant Christian movement which began in Great Britain in the 1730s and gained popularity in the United States during the series of Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th century.Its key commitments are:...

 minister and his later conversion to the Greek Orthodox Church
Greek Orthodox Church
The Greek Orthodox Church is the body of several churches within the larger communion of Eastern Orthodox Christianity sharing a common cultural tradition whose liturgy is also traditionally conducted in Koine Greek, the original language of the New Testament...


In the same year Stephen Prothero
Stephen Prothero
Stephen Prothero is a professor in the Department of Religion at Boston University and the author of numerous books on religion in America.He has commented on religion on dozens of National Public Radio programs and on television on CNN, NBC, CBS, Fox, PBS, MSNBC, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,...

, author and chairman of Boston University
Boston University
Boston University is a private research university located in Boston, Massachusetts. With more than 4,000 faculty members and more than 31,000 students, Boston University is one of the largest private universities in the United States and one of Boston's largest employers...

'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
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

, who wander naked
In Wicca and Paganism/Neo-paganism, the term skyclad is used to refer to ritual nudity. Some Wiccan groups, or Traditions, perform some or all of their rituals skyclad...

 across the belly of India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 in search of self-realization, who speak in tongues
Glossolalia or speaking in tongues is the fluid vocalizing of speech-like syllables, often as part of religious practice. The significance of glossolalia has varied with time and place, with some considering it a part of a sacred language...

 and take up serpents
Snake handling
Snake handling or serpent handling is a religious ritual in a small number of Pentecostal churches in the U.S., usually characterized as rural and Holiness. The practice began in the early 20th century in Appalachia, spreading to mostly coal mining towns. The practice plays only a small part of...

 in Appalachia
Appalachia is a term used to describe a cultural region in the eastern United States that stretches from the Southern Tier of New York state to northern Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. While the Appalachian Mountains stretch from Belle Isle in Canada to Cheaha Mountain in the U.S...

 because the Bible says they can."

See also

  • Andrew of Constantinople
    Andrew of Constantinople
    Andrew of Constantinople , is considered a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church, and is revered as a Fool for Christ....

    , Andrew the Fool-for-Christ
  • Basil Fool for Christ
    Basil Fool for Christ
    Basil the Blessed is a Russian Orthodox saint of the type known as yurodivy or "holy fool for Christ"....

  • Blessed John of Moscow the Fool-For-Christ
    Blessed John of Moscow the Fool-For-Christ
    Born on the outskirts of Vologda in Russia, Blessed John of Moscow the Fool for Christ, Wonderworker of Moscow, spent his youth as a labourer in a local saltworks and as a water-carrier...

  • David the Dendrite
    David the Dendrite
    David the Dendrite , also known as David the tree-dweller and David of Thessalonika, is a patron saint of Thessaloniki and a renowned holy fool. Originally from Mesopotamia, David became a monk at the Monastery of Saints Merkourios and Theodore outside Thessaloniki. Famed for his sound advice,...

  • God: Sole Satisfier
    God: Sole Satisfier
    Sole Satisfier is a term in Christian theology which refers to God as the only one who can satisfy human beings. The terminology is based on the teachings of St...

  • John the Hairy
    John the Hairy
    Blessed John the Hairy was a holy fool , of the Russian Orthodox Church in the second half of the 16th century. He endured a great many trials in his lifetime...

  • Simeon the Holy Fool
    Simeon the Holy Fool
    Simeon the Holy Fool was a Christian monk, hermit and saint of the sixth century AD...

  • Sign of contradiction
    Sign of contradiction
    A sign of contradiction, in Catholic theology, is someone who, upon manifesting holiness, is subject to extreme opposition. The term is from the biblical phrase "sign that is spoken against", found in and in , which refer to Jesus Christ and the early Christians...

  • Xenia of Saint Petersburg
    Xenia of Saint Petersburg
    Saint Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg is a patron saint of St...

External links

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