And now a story definitely not from rationality camp

After nearly a week of Less Wrong retreat updates, I realize some of you may want a palate cleanser. You’re in luck. My friend Tristyn, who blogs at Eschatological Psychosis, has been posting excerpts from her senior essay and soliciting comment. Her thesis was on Father John of Kronstadt, and I enjoyed reading her paper, but I did kind of wish that her whole paper had been on the role of holy fools in the Russian Orthodox once I read this section. And now you, too, can feel my longing.  Reading her paper was how I found out that people sometimes distinguished between holy fools and just plain crazy people because holy fools wore chains.  (So now I still want her to tell me how the fools knew that and how often crazy people caught on).  Here’s a teaser from one of her posts:

More serious are scenes from the iurodivye vitae in which they commit unpredictable acts of violence, such as Prokopii of Viatka killing an infant “to resurrect it later” and holding a knife to his confessor’s throat, or Simon of Iurevets strangling a priest with his bare hands.17 While in some sense these stories warn the faithful of the fundamental incomprehensibility of the fool’s actions, in another they are deeply subversive: “regardless of how the hagiographer tries to explain it—aggression against the priest is semantically significant as a sign of rebellion against the Church.”18

Here we see the tension between hagiography and mere narrative. The earliest holy fools were relatively isolated examples of eccentric holiness, fantastic aberrations that inspired awe and served as a kind of memento mirari, but as stories of their exploits were collected into vitae and became reified into a particular model for communing with the Divine, they took on the normativity of other saints’ lives, opening the door for ever increasing numbers of feral, bullheaded vagrants to roam the kingdom. Ivanov notes that “the emergence of at least one local iurodivyi almost inevitably called forth a wave of imitators.”19

Read the whole thing


Also check out her follow-up where she answers the question “Were there ever married holy fools?” which includes the following vocabulary guide:

  • iurodstvo – holy foolishness
  • klikushestvo – a shrieking ailment indicating witchcraft/sorcery-induced demonic possession
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