Symeon the Holy Fool: Leontius's Life and the Late Antique City (Transformation of the Classical)
Just reading and learning about this odd fellow, St. Simeon of Emesa, Holy Fool. Would love to get a copy of The Real Deal book here, out of print for two decades. Just reading around this book and now I find some help on Google Books, a collection of out of print works.
In the mean time, until I can get a hard copy of this work, a good place for me to look for thoughts on St. Simeon of Emesa and other Holy Fools of the Eastern Church would be places like Bp. Kallistos Ware and his The Inner Kingdom: Volume 1 of the Collected Works by Kallistos Ware (Aug 1, 2000) or the book Abba, a collection of articles done recently in Bp. Ware's honor and for his 30 plus years of service at Oxford teaching about the Eastern Church and old rusty concepts and people like St. Symeon of Emesa.
So, look to those two works with a chapter each on Holy Fools. Abba: The Tradition of Orthodoxy in the West (Festschrift for Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia) by Andrew Louth, Dimitri E. Conomos, Kallistos Ware and John Behr (Feb 6, 2003). In Abba you'll find an article ("What kind of fool am I?") by Peter C. Bouteneff, a student of Ware's, who speaks about St. Simeon of Emesa and other great and holy fools. And Ware's Inner Kingdom.
In Bp. Wares work in Inner Kingdom you'll get to know what it is like to be the intellectual pope of the Eastern Church, a bishop a monk/priest a professor, an old guy, and at the same time a "student of fools". Got to like that. I consider myself such. And I love that Kallistos guy.
In the tale of St. Simeon I love the part where after praying and living the ascetic life for 29 years in the desert near the Dead Sea, this holy man Symeon tries to talk his friend and fellow monk, St. John of Edessa, to join him in his new mission. The Simeon plan received in a vision is to leave the quiet of the desert and a tough but rather vanilla ascetic life of prayer and go to the bustle and hustle of the city. Why? To "mock the world" of course. And so he let his freak flag fly in this way and made way to the urban landscape. Crossing the threshold of the town at the gate he did so while dragging the carcass of a dead dog behind him; thus performance art was born. The next day, being holy, he of course went off to church. But he went to church to:
a) pinch out some candles, extinguishing the flame
b) throw nuts at the back of the heads of some ladies
c) tip over the pastry tables in the corner of the church on his way out.
Hmmm. Not going to go down well with the Greek ladies in the kitchen who do all that baking for festival I'd say.
And yet St. Symeon did ordinary saint type things, too: fed the poor and healed the blind. But this particular healing he did with perhaps the non standard church tool of a cooked sausage necklace tossed over his shoulder like a cleric's stole and with a pot of mustard on his fool's belt as he munched on all this during Lent no doubt. Yes, he applied mustard via sausage to an almost blind man's eyes, making his eyes burn with pain until the cripple ran to a real doctor who knew what he was doing. And then went totally. Only later did he come to his senses and return to the Fool who would heal him and return his sight.
The author Derek Krueger here takes us on an absurd rail ride with a 7th century church nut case man who according to the record of Leontius, "...walked about naked, ate enormous quantities of beans, and defecated in the streets." Something oddly wonderful here to me about a man not worried at all about what people might think of him. But this was part of his game, not to appear holy or take credit for holiness. Who doesn't wish they could see more of this in church life today?
This Old World man man wasn't only an odd fellow but he cared about odd folks and the poor and the blind. Yet he'd to go to uptown parties of well to do folk just to goof with them and mock their riches. Got to love this odd chap who very much wanted zero credit for any good deed that might be laid at his feet. It was not for him to be found in a pretty black cassock dangling a prayer rope on his wrist in the local supermarket.
Love the wood cut on the cover of this book of St. Symeon dragging his dead dog, making his grand entrance into Edessa that first day. The painted icons of this Saint I've been able to find put him with two other church saints who share his day on the commemoration calender; all three are imaged dressed up church pretty of course. How dumb is that. I find more honest the icon on the cover of Krueger's work, the wood cut of the saint dragging his famous dung hill dog, dead as a dog can be.
St. Simeon the Holy Fool was buried when his day was done in a graveyard set aside out of town for the indigent and homeless; where losers go when nobody cares. Yet he is dear to me in that I was blessed last year to visit Mar Saba there at the edge of the Holy Land, where this blessed odd one was tonsured as a monk in those early centuries. Love to think his scull is among those in one of those glass cases.
God indeed loves misfits I think. And, like the modern fool, Crazy John (love that book), some are just better at the misfit thing than others; because they find the secret of being holy in their oddity and not looking pretty about it. So, there's hope for me I guess. By your prayers, St. Simeon. By your prayers.