Holy Fool

Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise.

1 Corinthians 3:18
Holy Fool by Pavel Svedomsky (1849 – 1904)

In Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond, Ivanov described “holy fool” as a term for a person who “feigns insanity, pretends to be foolish, or who provokes shock or outrage by his deliberate unruliness.”1 The act was always for a purpose, to pinpoint contradictions, or provoke people to strengthen their relationship with God.

Like King David when he said, “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes” (1 Corinthians 3:8), we too might assume a whimsical or clownish demeanor, especially in response to dark forces.

6 Exercises
Exercise 1: Mighty, Mighty Devil… Not!

Observe the devil’s dance, where he not only stumbles clumsily but also attempts to articulate thunderous curses, only to produce mumbled or severely impeded speech. Despite his will to crush anyone in his path, he struggles to lift his arms and, when managed, swings them in the wrong direction. Additionally, in the midst of this dance, he nearly even craps his pants.

Exercise 2: Julian’s Holy Laughter

I saw our lord scorn [the devil’s] malice, and set him at nought; and he wants us to do the same. Because of this sight I laughed mightily, which made my companions laugh as well. […] I did not see Christ laugh, but nevertheless it pleases him when, as a comfort to ourselves, we laugh and rejoice in God, because the fiend is overcome. 

Julian of Norwich (1343 – after 1416)

Drawing from the above quote from Julian of Norwich’s near death experience, we become fools-for-Christ by laughing at the devil.

The state of laughter placed in the body can provoke a spontaneous sort of shaking. The breath is to be free and the body is free to shake to the whims of the laughter which can cause a series of contractions in the stomach area. Try the following in: (1) full voice and body expression; (2) silent but with full body expression; (3) body expression but no facial expression; (4) reduced body in neutral standing position where the only movements from laughter/crying that surface are tiny, subtle movements.

Exercise 3: The Celebrity

God rejoices when he sees us striving for dishonor so as to weaken, disturb, and annihilate vainglory.2

St. John Climacas (7th c.)

This is a group psychodrama mocking vainglory composed of a celebrity and her fans. The celebrity finds a resonant vanity pose while encircled by fans. Gradually, the fans approach but then also turn into monsters. The celebrity always keeps the same pose, never losing face, despite literally being taken down by the monster fans. Eventually, the celebrity dies and the fans disperse. The celebrity then resurrects and engages in a dance of humility.

Exercise 4: They Will Laugh at You

God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven.

Matthew 5:11-12

This is a group psychodrama about perseverance and faith, composed of one believer and several drunkards in front of heaven’s gate. The believer begins at the other end of the space slowly approaching the gate while in ash walk. Meanwhile, the drunkards begin laughing and mocking. With every step of the believer, they not only grow closer, but their laughter and mockery grow more intense to the point of greatly invading the believer’s personal space (but not touching). Eventually, the believer reaches the gate, and when that happens, the drunkards disperse. The believer then begins breaking out of ash walk and dancing the dance of glory and salvation.

Exercise 5: Graven Image

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.

Exodus 20:4-5

The second commandment warns against idol worship. In this dance, an object discovered in the room takes on the role of an idol. The one worshiping the idol is portrayed as unaware of their foolishness. As the devotion intensifies, the dancer’s functionality progressively diminishes.

Exercise 6: New Age Tower

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

The primary critique of New Age doctrines is the belief that salvation or “enlightenment” can be obtained solely through personal effort. This mirrors the situation with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, where dependence on Truth is entrusted to one’s own self or ego rather than God. This contrasts with the Tree of Life, where trust for Truth is placed on God alone.

The exercise begins seated in the lotus position, symbolizing the desire to construct one’s own Tower of Babel within body and soul in order to reach “enlightenment” through self-directed means.

As the practice deepens, the focus intensifies through controlled breathing, vocalizations, and trembling motions, striving to elevate one’s Tower of Babel body to the highest degree. Inevitably, this self-erected tower is toppled, leading to a fall into a state of humility. It is from this place of humility that the dance of surrender begins.

  1. Ivanov, S. A. (2006) “Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond.” Oxford: Oxford University Press. ↩︎
  2. Climacus, John. Scala paradisi, col. 997; cf. col. 956; cf. Climacus, The Ladder, transl. Luibheid and Russell, 225.  ↩︎