The heart of the Orthodox Church is made up of what we call fools, the uneducated and poor…the lower class! Most of the apostles themselves were the uneducated type, yet became powerful and prophetic men through what only Christ could give them.
The beauty of Christ’s work is glorified with people who are of lower stature because they gain wisdom and giftedness that is simply not attainable within the secular world, showing that Christ is indeed the lover of mankind!
St Paul the Apostle was the first to coin the name, “Fools for Christ.” He said that “not many noble, not many mighty…but the foolish” are called to the Church. He is not being hyperbolic or poetic here. He is making a theological point about the downcast, the lower cultured people that are called to holiness.
In Orthodox countries, the community actually began naming certain Christians that maintained their lower stature of society as “Holy Fools.” Many of these Christians converted from particular situations that separated them from society straight to the calling of a Fool for Christ. Many, such as St Xenia of St Petersburg, fell in to tragic situation in their lives and God used their tragedy to actually maintain their prophetic witness. Others, such as St Matrona, were born with disabilities, but through and with these disabilities, God glorified his power. There are some Holy Fools such as St Isidor of Rostov, who lived a wealthy life but then gave it up to live a “foolish” life of the lower class, enabling himself to minister in a way that the upper class cannot.
No matter what the particular situation with each Holy Fool, the fact of the matter remains that they become something great by something the world could not give…something only the Church can give.
The Building of a “Foolish” Culture
Not every person that converts from the bowels of the world ends up using their particular state of lowliness for a radical type of holiness. In fact, most probably do not, and they rehabilitate within the Church in ways that are not so radical, ways that reflect common occupation, including family, professional career, etc. Both types of conversion are God glorifying. And both types of converts show that the Church is healthy and doing her job!
In Holy Russia, for instance, the clergy and laity have been building community for hundreds of years, permeating the entire culture for Christ. Wherever a person turns, they were confronted by the Church in one form or another. Even the very hours of the day, within the community, were prayed over through what the Church calls “The prayers of the hours.”
The Orthodox culture of Russia gladly receives fools! Their culture revolves around them in a number of ways. The Church built her culture through both the ecclesial and philanthropic commandments of Christ. It was both through the worship/prayer and the very building of philanthropic ministry that Russia became holy. Building a culture through what Christ does with the “least of these” is something that the secular cultures simply cannot mimic.
Holy Russia was not (and is not) some sort of mystic society whereby things are expected to happen on their own. The Church builds there! They build hospitals, rehab centers, orphanages, etc. The welfare system is the Church! And the community revolves around this welfare structure. This was best modeled in the New Rome (Byzantine Empire) of the first millennium. It was then Holy Russia’s calling to become this Third Rome, to take the way the Christian empire operated and continue it into modernity. There was (and still is) a culture of fools! The Church adopts them as they are, and works with them to be changed in to what Christ has in store for them.
American Orthodox Can Start Here:
American Orthodoxy needs to follow the footsteps of Holy Russia and other Orthodox communities. Many of the states in America have dozens of Orthodox churches with no schools, no orphanages (or adoption agencies), no care homes, no rehabilitation centers (or chaplains) for prisoners, etc.
We are not likely going to see much of the prophetic types of Fools for Christ that have been within Russia (not at this point in time) but we should at least be seeing Fools for Christ in the philanthropic sense.
We are judged not on the amount of people we pack in to a temple and how beautiful we build the temple, but how we adopt the fools! This certainly includes teaching and the ecclesial work of the Holy Mysteries but there needs to be an influx of fools for these mysteries to mature.
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves…but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed…Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
– St James the Brother of our Lord
Steps toward Fools for Christ:
1. The first step is belief! We have to believe in the communal and philanthropic aspect of our calling. We have to understand how Christ says we are judged based on this (Matthew 15) and how the Church modeled it for centuries.
2. The second step is prayer. Our services are packed with direction but we also need to devote our daily prayer life to communal and philanthropic calling.
3. The third step is communication. It is crucial that we communicate about this aspect of the Church so as to develop a sense of direction and urgency. If we focus too inwardly, we become spiritual narcissist. Most of us are not monks and should not study and pray as if we are. The fact that there are so many monastic books and articles available is not always a good thing. We need to have specific purpose on what we study and what we communicate with other Orthodox.
4. The fourth step is mental and spiritual strategy. We need to take the belief, prayer, and communication, and begin to process it within our mind and soul. What is the availability of what we want to do? In other words, what is possible? What kind of finances do we have? Can we find others to support the effort? What kind of efforts within the body of Christ can we begin to implement?
5. Step Five is to create action. Little things trigger other people to do bigger things!
Ideas for Starter Philanthropy:
The first thing to remember when beginning an Orthodox action-plan is to make certain it is done in the name of Christ and not secularism or some heretical outlet. Certainly we can work with other groups, but for hunting and sourcing, not joining. We need to be able to freely exercise public prayer with the people, as well as clergy involvement for the possibility of conversion. Also, if we are already in a situation that is secular, etc, there is no need to abandon them, as St Paul implies when speaking of not to “seek to be freed as a slave,” etc. In due time things will happen in our lives. That is why the first step (as mentioned above) is belief! Nothing can even begin to happen until our belief in God’s Church and our calling within is right.
1. Contact your Local Big Brother/Sister Non-profit – Ask to take on a child (usually a one to three time a week commitment of an hour to a day a time). You may already feel overwhelmed by your biological children, but many times brining in a neglected child will bring love and energy to your family. Your kids will see the efforts and go out of their way to help this new adjacent member. We could very well overwhelm the Big Brother organization in a good way, as Orthodox, becoming their primary source of help. We use them merely as a source and then do the rest. There are no religious restrictions.
2. Contact your Local Jail/Prison Chaplain – This takes a special type of person, often people without children or single people, since bringing recovering inmates to homes with children may not pan out well. But with that said, many are eager to follow Christ, but simply need the communal support.
3. Contact an Elderly Care Home – There are many available and they are often open to Christian support. Become a mentor for an elderly person…a friend, etc. Many of them are dumped in to homes by their wealthy family so as to not have to deal with them. Yes, this is a cold world these days.
4. Mental Health – There is a serious need today for the Church to help stabilize those who have lost touch with reality, including those who have fallen in to drug use. An organization with a combination of physical health and spiritual counseling can work wonders…alongside prayer services and a type of ‘pre-confession’ where people who are ridden with guilt begin to share how they are in trouble and what they feel guilty about. At one point a person who is entangled within the psychiatric system might be able to fully give themselves over to the Church and a regular life of the Holy Mysteries.
Whatever the occupation we choose to advocate, volunteer in, give financially to, etc, it is important to know that it is for work of the Church and the very creation of Orthodox community.
In a future article we will talk more directly about community itself and how within a secular country such as America we can work toward a Christian community through family and economy.