Holy Foolishness

By on in

“He must increase; I must decrease.”[1]

This is the goal of our lives. John the Baptist did not say, ‘I must cease to exist’ –but instead he said, ‘I must decrease,’ meaning, “I must become very little, transparent in purity – so that Christ has room to live and shine within me.” In essence, John was saying, I’m the voice, He’s the Word. I’m the lamp, He’s the Light. I’m the heart, He’s the Love. I’m the wood, He’s the Fire!”

Who in the world today tries to live this way? Everybody wants to be “somebody” –but Jesus calls us to be “nobody” so that as a pure, white, docile canvas in the Father’s Hands, He can imprint His Love and Image clearly upon our hearts and shine forth from our lives. Such self-abnegation for the sake of glorifying the Father is something Jesus lived on the Cross, something foreshadowed by the life of His Forerunner in the Desert. It is something completely opposite of the values of today’s world.

Urodivoi.  Old Russia was full of a Christian asceticism called ‘holy foolishness’. These fools-for-Christ would battle their own pride by pretending to be mentally simple or ill, while also making atonement for those who called Christ crazy. “His relatives… said, ‘He is out of his mind.‘”[2] The “holy fool” embraced a life of ridicule by behaving in strange ways. He also exposed evil in the world through symbolic words or actions.

One example of a saintly holy fool was Basil the Blessed; he chose to live as a homeless peasant in Moscow, spending most nights on the porches of Churches praying. He was clad solely with his own skin –and yet despite such humble attire, he was the only Christian that Ivan the Terrible feared because of the way he would ridicule and correct his terrible behavior.

St. Francis of Assisi was a saint of our Western Church who also followed Christ so radically that many called him a fool, especially when he took all of his clothes off in the town square to witness to his stripping of family ties – exchanging it for the poor nakedness of Christ’s Cross.

St. Paulalso embraced holy foolishness. He wrote, “…We have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike.We are fools on Christ’s account… We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment.”[3]

If John the Baptist had lived in Russia, he would have been considered among the ‘urodivoi’. He spent his days in a desert arrayed in animal skins and eating locusts and honey – not mincing his words as he called to repentance all those who came to him. Jesus Himself witnesses that John was persecuted for this saying, “For John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine, and you said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’”[4]

What sense could there be in such a life of holy foolishness?


By making oneself decrease, Jesus has room to increase in our hearts.

And yet, Basil, Francis, John and Paul all simply followed the greatest ‘Urodivoi’ that ever lived – Jesus Christ Himself. Is there any greater foolishness than the Divine Love willing to leave Eternal Paradise to suffer and die on the Cross to save His little creatures?

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 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”[5]

John the Baptist’s life in the desert still proclaims the Cross to us today, calling us to ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ and to follow Him. We, too, must proclaim Christ Crucified, not so much by our words, but instead by our lives.  Let us all pray for the courage to decrease – to kill our pride and selfishness – so that Jesus’ Image imprinted within our hearts at Baptism may shine through us to witness in the world and to glorify the Father.

Here’s today’s practical food for thought:

“The world will not be evangelized by brilliant ideas or technological innovations or even by hard work.  The world will be evangelized by people willing to live lives so out of sync with what passes for normal that others will have to stop and ask:  ‘Why do they live like that?’”[6]

[1] John 3:30

[2] Mark 3:21

[3] 1 Cor. 4:9-10, 13

[4] Luke 7:33

[5] 1 Cor. 1:18, 22-25

[6] The quote is from John Fitzgerald, co-founder of Andre House of Hospitality, a ministry of Holy Cross in Phoenix, AZ.

Mary Kloska

About Mary Kloska

Mary Kloska is a Diocesan Hermit of Crucified Love in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. She lives her hermit vocation according to a spirituality of littleness, spousal love and the Cross.