The Holy Fool is a Russian archetype which derives from the idea that a person who truly does what Jesus said must be a fool. Kind of an admirable fool, but a fool nonetheless. It comes from those outrageous things Jesus said like, “Forgive your enemies, give to the poor, and restrict your sex life to your spouse.”
Since we humans are obsessed with staying alive, and money, status and a degree of self-centeredness are needed for survival, anyone who actually does what Jesus said is a fool. Of course, the Kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom from the world system. He told a story of a rich man who filled his barns and said, “Phew, now I can relax and do as I please, I’m so rich.” God said, “You fool, this very night your soul will be required-then who gets all the riches you leave behind?” So who is the fool?
Russian Holy Fools lived in poverty, went about on pilgrimages and occasionally spoke truth to power, even rebuking tsars. They weren’t killed for this, since they were HOLY fools. Rasputin was considered a Holy Fool and perhaps he was, though he seems to have backslid toward the end of his life. Remember he was killed by an aristocrat and revolutionaries may have made up black propaganda about Rasputin after his violent assassination.
Westerners may understand the story of St. Francis better. He lived poor, wandered around trying to tell the good news (that’s what ‘Gospel’ means) and doing good deeds. He had been a wealthy and spoiled youth, but threw it all aside to be a Holy Fool. He did not preach to animals as the legend goes, but preaching one day on a street and being ignored, said, “I may as well talk to the birds.”
Ah, but we love our legends and so St. Francis and the birdies and Rasputin the devil will probably endure. I rather like St. Francis and the Holy Fools, and while I was a missionary, am poor, and often foolish, I fear I am not holy enough to qualify.
Painting: St. Francis and the Birdie. He was handsome, they say, and this is right after he left the unheeding village in disgust. A sparrow once landed on my shoulder and it made me happy, so this sparrow is going to get St. Francis out of his funk.