Fr. Arseny (1893-1973) on Culture and Fools-for-Christ

Excerpted from Father Arseny: A Cloud of Witnesses, Chapter 5

trans. Vera Bouteneff, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, ©2001

..."I had noticed this even when I was with him in the camp. It is a gift of God to a man of great faith. Of course you have heard, Maria Adrianovna, that there were saints in Russian lands who were called 'fools for Christ.' Their saintliness is great, their faith knows no limits, they can foretell the future and perform miracles. They usually behave strangely when they are with other people; these days we would say they are not quite normal - some more so, some less. You have seen a lot of him [Daniil Matveevich] and I am sure you have noticed how strangely he can behave around other people. The kindness with which he treats people comes from his perfect understanding of their souls. He knows what a person needs most at any one time. For instance, for birthdays people usually bring flowers and candy which might be the last thing a person wants; Daniil Matveevich will bring precisely what that person needs most, and he will say the words that will warm his soul most deeply. Do you remember the first time you met him and he said 'Masha is a good person, but she is not one of us...' He was seeing you for the first time, but said it as if he knew you well. In labor camp, at work, in life he seemed to many to be naive or infantile - at the same time he is an eminent specialist in geology - all this is combined in one man.

"Don't be surprised when I will tell you that he is a modern day 'fool for Christ.' His soul is as devoted to God as were those of the 'fools' of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. His behavior among his contemporaries is that of a twentieth-century man. Behavior is determined by the period in history in which one lives. If somebody behaved today like the 'fool' Vassily Blazhenni, he would not be understood and would most probably end up incarcerated in a mental hospital. Don't be surprised at my words: God has sent you the joy of knowing such a man. He was always a man of deep faith – what he said about losing his faith while traveling on geological expeditions is only so much talk. Wherever he went he protected the weak, the poor, and the sick; he always earned a good deal of money but he always gave it all away. He prays constantly: he prays the Jesus prayer, but never talks about it. Once he met Hieromonk Seraphim here and Father Seraphim later told me, 'This is a man of God, a very spiritual man - I believe he must be a monk.' It must be true, because Father Seraphim is himself a prophet. Don't be surprised that Daniil Matveevich kisses everybody, that is also part of his 'foolishness.' Don't forget that he can read people's thoughts, that he knows what their future brings. He sometimes says it, and later feels embarrassed that he said it, but he will have spoken the words of God.