St Vasily the Holy Fool of Moscow
“If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool.”
1 Corinthians 3:18
St Vasily, the Russian Orthodox saint, is also known as ‘yurodivy’ or holy fool for Christ.
He was born of serfs in a village near Moscow in December 1468. Legends say he was born on the portico of the local church. As a young apprentice shoemaker, he became incensed at the Russian government’s carelessness and disregard, especially towards the poor and sick. He was known for mocking the Tsar, then Ivan the Terrible to provoke change and ran naked through Moscow’s snow filled streets, weighed down with chains.
The Tsar and high-ranking government officials tried to cajole Vasily with gifts, to silence him,but he gave everything away to those in need. He was clairvoyant and often warned people of their future tragedies, to beg them to become humble before God. Upon his death, August 2 1557, the humiliated Ivan the Terrible served as his pall bearer and then commissioned the magnificent church of St Vasily (St Basil) in Red Square, the Church that you see almost every night on the news, with the glorious multi-colored domes of the Holy Spirit’s tongues of flame, that we call “onion domes.”
I suppose that the closest thing we have to Holy Fools in the western church would be St Francis of Assisi and especially his most memorable foolish Friars, Brother Juniper and Brother John the Simple, or St Benedict Joseph Labre.
Troparion for the feast of St Vasily the Holy Fool of Moscow:
“Your life, O Basil (Vasily) was true and your chastity undefiled/ In fasting, vigilance and exposure to heat and frost/You subdued your flesh for the sake of Christ/ Therefore your countenance shone with the brilliance of the sun./Today the faithful glorify your Holy falling-asleep./ Implore Christ to deliver us from all bondage, dissension and war./ And to grant mercy to our souls.
Fr Bill McNichols