Holy fools in Byzantium and Beyond

Ultimo aggiornamento: 22 marzo 2021

Ivanov, S. A.

Holy fools in Byzantium and Beyond

Oxford University Press Oxford 2006

There are saints in Orthodox Christian culture who overturn the conventional concept of sainthood: their conduct is morally dubious. Such saints are called ‘holy fools’. They existed in Byzantium for about 1,000 years, but nearly vanished in modern Greece. In Russia, however, they are deeply worshipped by the believers up till this day. In this book holy foolery is treated as a cultural phenomenon: as a spontaneous response of the religious consciousness to the secularization of the church. The author has repudiated the traditional ‘Orthodox’ paradigm; he discovered a great number of Byzantine and Old Russian sources dealing with holy fools. By adopting a diachronic approach, this book identifies the prerequisites for this phenomenon, traces the way it was shaped in the religious mind. A holy fool comes into existence as an instinctive protest against the insipid, mundane existence of Christians who lost the scope for the blinding light of the Celestial. Holy foolery is a reaction to the diminution of the Absolute. The book tracks down holy foolery from its origins in Egyptian monasteries through its evolution in the cities of Byzantium, describes its prime and decline, followed by a new flourish and a gradual fading on Greek soil. It then proceeds to analyze Russian holy foolery, which borrowed some elements from the Byzantine model, but also reinterpreted it quite a bit. The book also considers other phenomena similar to holy foolery, in the Western medieval world, as well as the Islamic one.