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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  • deiseach

    Well, chains are mortification – if any of you saw the movie version of Dan Brown’s “DaVinci Code”, where the albino assassin monk from Opus Dei (and that description has so much wrong with it, but never mind) is using the cilice and beating himself until he bleeds?

    If you were a Catholic of a certain generation, your first reaction to that would have been “Tsk! That’s not how you use a discipline!” But I suppose they don’t teach twelve year olds about the Venerable Matt Talbot anymore, or even the concept of “mortification”.

    Speaking of things not rational, I have just been listening to Bavarians attempting to sing an Irish folk song in Gaelic. Let me just say, I am entirely too sober to be listening to this and secondly (apologies to any German or German-descended readers) but, God love ’em, they really do have the oompah-oompah notion of rhythm, which doesn’t quite work 🙂

    • Oregon Catholic

      Had to laugh – being both Irish and German on both sides.

      • deiseach

        They were singing this, only with every second verse in the Bavarian dialect of German.

        I’m assuming it was German, because it certainly wasn’t Irish 🙂

        But they were enjoying themselves, anyway!

        • Oregon Catholic

          LOL. Visited Ireland a while back and loved it. It’s remarkably like Oregon. But your 1 lane country roads scared me to death. And those road signs telling you how many people have died on the road – even scarier.

          • deiseach

            Ah, there’s an art to driving on boreens – mainly, don’t. Particularly at this time of year, when there are tractors drawing sileage around every corner. There’s even a step lower than the boreen, which is the sheep-track: even narrower, even bumpier, even more pot-holed, with grass growing down the centre, and generally leading to the back of beyond before petering out into nothing 🙂

            Yeah, road deaths: Irish people are dreadful drivers. We seem to treat the rules of the road as (a) only need to learn them in order to pass the driving test and (b) once you have your licence, they are optional recommendations.

          • Ted Seeber

            Got plenty of 1 lane country roads throughout the Cascades and Coastal Ranges right here in Oregon. ODOT is just smart enough to lock gates across most of them for 2/3rds of the year.

          • jenesaispas

            We have those signs in the UK, but by the sound of things not quite as many as Ireland.

  • Ted Seeber

    St. Basil of Moscow was a married holy fool- but I don’t know how married as he practiced marital celibacy.

    I’m very familiar with the concept of Holy Fools, but the Chain thing is a new one for me; it seems to be a practice of the Russian Orthodox Church similar to the Mortification of the Flesh often practiced in the west (though the ones who do it in the west aren’t fools and are doing it to learn humility. They also use much more painful methods, such as barbed wire wrapped around a leg).

  • Hmm, holy fools who kill people sound less holy and more crazy to me.