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February 25, 2020

Saint Theodore the Fool for Christ

St. Theodore the Fool for Christ (Feast Day - February 25)


Like David you willingly deserted your reason,
Escaping not from Anchus, all-blessed one, but from life.

This Theodore is mentioned in the Synaxarion of Constantinople without any biographical information. As an enigmatic figure unknown to scholarship or ecclesiastical tradition, he does appear depicted in a fresco from 1317 in the Serbian Church of Saint George in Staro Nagoričane, where he is shown with other Saints commemorated on February 25th, with an inscription that says Άγιος Θεόδωρος ο διά Xριστόν σαλός (Saint Theodore the Fool for Christ).

However, this Theodore does seem to be the same as a Theodore the Fool whose biography survives only in Georgian translation. There we read that Theodore apparently was a Greek who "lived in the country of Serbia, which is now called Bulgar, close to the town of Saras." We are told he "was so crazy that he had never in his life entered a church." Subsequently the entire narrative is built around Theodore’s simple-mindedness.

Once when he went to church and heard the Gospel’s call to "take up one’s cross," the Saint did not even return home but cut down two trees, bound them together as a cross, took this cross upon his shoulders and set out to seek the kingdom of heaven. A monk whom he met "noticed that this man was insane and crazy" and sent him to Mount Athos. Theodore "walked the whole of Macedonia for three weeks."

When at last he arrived at Hilandar Monastery, the simpleton inquired whether it was far to the kingdom of heaven. The abbot replied that it was not far, but that he would have to wait for the right caravan, and in the meantime he should work as a sweeper in the monastery’s church. When Theodore started sweeping, he "marveled greatly at Christ nailed to the wood, and said to the abbot: ‘Lord, why is that person above you nailed and bound?’ And the abbot answered: ‘Like you he was a servant of the Church, but he swept the church badly, and therefore he was bound.’"

Then an entertaining episode unfolds, in which Christ descends to the holy fool, who shares his meal with Him. Christ promises to take Theodore with Him to His Father. The abbot is informed that voices can be heard at night coming from the locked church. He interrogates the fool, who at the third time of asking confesses that at night he feeds his punished predecessor. Stunned, the abbot asks Theodore to put in a word for him to Christ. The fool does as he is asked, but the Savior declares that the abbot is not worthy to come into the presence of His Father. More entreaties follow, the fool intercedes with Christ on the abbot’s behalf, and Christ eventually agrees to take the abbot with him too, for Theodore’s sake. The story ends with them both dying at the same moment. The holy fool was holding a scroll with his biography written on it.

Since there is still no scholarly publication, we refrain from detailed discussion of the text. For present purposes it is enough to note that here the holy fool is not the aggressor and that the simpleton is close to Christ precisely because of his unbounded artlessness and humble obedience. Normally it is the holy fool who sees God where others do not. Here the situation is reversed: the abbot well understands with whom the fool is conversing by night, but the fool himself does not. The kingdom of heaven belongs to Theodore on account of his simple-mindedness and obedience.