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Gives insight into Eastern Christian Spirituality
on 30 June 2017
He's a staretz (elder) and so people come to him for advice; and he has, moreover, as some of these guides are said to have, "clear sight". But he's also a urodivoi (a fool for Christ). He feels himself unworthy of these roles, because he's carrying a heavy burden of guilt. (And this guilt and its resolution is the subject of the film.)
In the East they take texts very seriously and the notion of the Holy Fool comes from 1 Corinthians 4:10:
"We are fools for Christ's sake ..."
The closest parallel in the West would be St. Francis. But don't, I think, look for ethnographic parallels: you're not going to find them. Many traditional societies did regard madness as betokening the divine. But that's the other way round: the Holy Fool is *not* mad, though he may pose as a madman. (Apparently, women often saw through the pose, which is interesting.) And while he appears to invert societal values, as is also known in the ethnographic record, this is not some merely ritual inversion, as with Apache on the warpath, for example, let alone a blasphemous one (as is also known). The point is that the Gospel does invert worldly values. (See St. Matthew 5-7, for example.)
The urodivoi takes all this all really seriously and what his role amounts to is a holding up of a mirror to society to prompt the recognition in people that, actually, they do not live in this way. He may also deliberately court condemnation from others, presumably as a way of reminding them, if they can see through the pose, "judge not ..."
And he may also play practical jokes on people - but jokes that have a message - and that's also something seen in this film. (I suppose this would be a spiritually dangerous role for anyone who was not himself truly humble.)