• Brian Ritchey

Fools for Christ


The Star Wars universe of movies and television series are full of themes that seem to pull from Christianity. One such theme was introduced early in Star Wars Episode 5, The Empire Strikes Back. A young Luke Skywalker, nearly frozen and injured, has a vision of his first mentor Obi Wan Kenobe, summoning Luke to the Degobah system where he was to be trained by a great Jedi Master. Upon reaching the swampy surface of the planet, he finds a small green local, an irritating runt that rummages through Luke's items, throwing equipment around, stealing food, and drawing negative attention to Luke's droid who gave the contemptuous green being a shock after it wouldn't let go of some food item it took. Luke, impatiently seeking a great Jedi Master, dismisses the tiny green guy until he realizes that the little fella is the great Jedi Master Yoda. Yoda played the fool in order to gage Luke's acuity for the challenges that lay ahead. Luke dismissed Yoda based on how he acted, underestimating the power of the "force" based on perceived physical and mental inferiority. The analogy to impatient Jews waiting for a Messiah to come in militant glory and drive the Romans from their native land never considered that their Savior would come as the son of a carpenter from Nazareth riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.


Today we celebrate the lives of St. Symeon and his childhood friend John, who took different routes to sainthood. While both committed their lives to monastic life, John lived most of his life alone in the wilderness while Symeon, after 29 years of monastic life in the wilderness, went to live among the people. Symeon chose a unique path to serving, literally "playing the fool," disguising himself as a village idiot and leading many to dismiss him as crazy:

"Simeon entered the gate of Emesa (after spending many years in the desert) dragging a dead dog. Schoolchildren saw him and shouted 'Hey, a crazy abba...'. The next day, a Sunday, he entered the church, extinguished the lights and threw nuts at women. On the way out of the church, Simeon overturned 'the tables of the pastry chefs. Such playing the fool made him subject to insults, abuse and beatings, which Simeon endured with patience. In spite of his seemingly strange behaviour, Simeon the Holy Fool healed many possessed people by his prayer, fed the hungry, preached the Gospel, and helped needy citizens of the town. Many of Simeon's saintly deeds were done secretly."

Reportedly born in Edessa, Simeon lived there, unmarried, with his old mother. At the age of 20 years Simeon took monastic vows in the monastery of Abba Gerasimus in Syria, along with his friend and fellow ascetic John from Edessa. After that Simeon and John spent about 29 years in the desert near the Dead Sea practicing asceticism and spiritual exercises. (Simeon the Holy Fool - Wikipedia)


Symeon, feeling he was only benefitting himself by staying in the wilderness, he told John that "with the power of God I’m off to bamboozle people.” Saint Symeon the Fool for Christ and Saint John | PEMPTOUSIA


And bamboozle he did: "Symeon played all sorts of roles foolish and indecent, but language is not sufficient to paint a picture of his doings. For sometimes he pretended to have a limp, sometimes he jumped around, sometimes he dragged himself along on his buttocks, sometimes he stuck out his foot for someone running and tripped him. Other times when there was a new moon, he looked at the sky and fell down and thrashed about."


Symeon wasn't the first to be a "fool for Christ." Saint Paul wrote "[w]e are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!" 1 Corinthians 4:10 And, "[f]or the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. As it is written: 'He catches the wise in their own craftiness.'" 1 Corinthians 3:19 And further, "[f]or since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe." 1 Corinthians 1:21


In his book Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond, S.A. Ivanov described "holy fool" as a term for a person who "feigns insanity, pretends to be silly, or who provokes shock or outrage by his deliberate unruliness." Foolishness for Christ - Wikipedia Fools for Christ hide their identity and sanity in order to avoid the praise and temptation to succumb to arrogance like the Pharisees, who bragged about their knowledge of the law but were admonished in a parable as not being justified in their faith as one who acknowledges and seeks repentance for their own sinfulness.


John eventually followed Symeon to Emesa, becoming a deacon and nearly being martyred but for the intervention of John. Shortly before his death, Symeon told his old friend (the only one to know of his ruse), "I beg you, never disregard a single soul, especially when it happens to be a monk or a beggar. For Your Charity knows that His place is among the beggars, especially among the blind, people made as pure as the sun through their patience and distress. . . . [S]how love of your neighbor through almsgiving. For this virtue, above all, will help us on (the Day of Judgment)."


John eventually followed Symeon to Emesa, becoming a deacon and nearly being martyred but for the intervention of Symeon. Shortly before his death, Symeon told his old friend (the only one to know of his ruse), ""nds us that dedication to a life of service can also be accompanied by humor (even at your own expense)Symeon.

"Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me." Matthew 25:34-36




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