It is easy to forget that our ways are not God’s ways, that there is usually a stark difference between what is popular and what is holy. God has given us some pretty unusual people to make that point clear through the example of their own lives. They are known in the Orthodox Church as “Fools for Christ” who acted and spoke in ways that made them appear crazy in the eyes of many and went against the grain of their societies. Through their unique witness, they called their neighbours to the life of a Kingdom not of this world.
If that seems strange, remember how St. Paul said that the cross of Christ is foolishness according to conventional human ways of thinking. (1 Cor. 1:18) Recall how absurd it seemed to the Jews and the Gentiles to claim that the Son of God was born of a Virgin Mother, died on a cross, rose from the tomb, and ascended into heaven. We often forget that even the most basic teachings of our faith seemed at first like nonsense to most people.
Today we commemorate Saint Xenia of St. Petersburg, Fool for Christ, who in the early 18th century in Russia became a widow when her husband, a military officer, died suddenly. A young widow with no children, she gave away all her possessions to the poor and vanished from society for several years, devoting herself to spiritual struggle in monastic settings. When she returned to St. Petersburg, she took up the life of a homeless wanderer, wearing her late husband’s military uniform and answering only to his name Andrew. She prayed alone at night in open fields, endured the extreme cold with inadequate clothing, lived among beggars, and suffered abuse from many for appearing insane. She secretly carried heavy stones at night to help with the building of a church and gave the alms she received to the poor. But she embraced her struggles with patience, abandoning pride in all its forms and praying for the soul of her departed husband. In Xenia’s humility, God gave her great gifts of prayer and prophecy, and she foretold future events such as the death of a Russian empress.
During her lifetime, some recognized her holiness and sought out her blessing and guidance. After Xenia’s own death at age 71, her grave became a source of miracles with many people taking dirt, and even pieces of a stone slab, from it as a blessing. (If it seems odd that a grave could be a source of blessing, recall how the bones of prophet Elisha brought a dead man back to life in 2 Kings 13:21.) St. Xenia is a well-known and much-loved saint whose prayers are sought especially for employment, housing, or finding a spouse.
Across the centuries, the Lord has raised up such unusual saints in order to shock us out of our complacency, in order to remind us that there is far more to becoming a partaker of the divine nature (2. Peter 1:14) than leading a conventionally respectable life.
Christ surely does not call us all to the rare ministry of a Fool for Christ like St. Xenia, but we may all learn from her example that the humility of embracing our constant need for mercy is at the heart of faithfulness to a Lord Whose Kingdom is not of this world. There must be something of the holy fool in us all, if our eyes are to be opened to a truth that the world does not yet see. So let us not be afraid to live accordingly and to be out of step with the conventional wisdom, for that is how we will follow Jesus through the folly of the cross to the glory of the empty tomb. For Christ’s foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of the world, and He is its salvation.