The Iurodivaia Dunia, Fool for Christ
The Iurodivaia Dunia, Fool for Christ
by Hugh M. Olmsted
Foreword ...Introduction ... Dunia ...Suggestions for Further Reading
The essay below is a brief work of historical fiction, the story of "Dunia," a
Russian fool for Christ. Her biographical portrait is set in sixteenth-century
Moscow – the time of Tsar Ivan IV 'Groznyi' ('the Terrible', 'the Dread'). The
iuródivyi – as such fools for Christ are known in Russian – is a particularly
radical and enigmatic type of ascetic who lives quite outside the norms of
society. This narrative portrait was written for publication in the volume:
PORTRAITS OF OLD RUSSIA/ ed. Donald Ostrowski and Marshall T. Poe. Armonk, NY
; London, England : M.E. Sharpe, 2011, where it appears on p. 252-69 as "Dunia,
a Fool for Christ."
Space constraints in the printed volume led to a certain shortening of Dunia's
story as it is published there. What is presented here is a fuller version; the
author is grateful to the Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral in Boston,
Massachusetts, for providing a niche on its website. Any comments, including
critical observations and suggestions for improvement, would be most gratefully
received; they may be addressed to: hugholmsted@....
Only a few of the personnages presented in the narrative are actual historical
figures, viz.: Tsar Iván IV Gróznyi('the Terrible', 'the Dread'), the
iuródivyiSaint Basil the Blessed, and Father Antonii Chernoezérskii, a
16th-century Muscovite saint. All other characters, including Dunia herself,
her family, and other persons she encounters, though presumed to be plausible
are fictional. For those interested a more detailed Introduction is also
available, as are Suggestions for Further Reading.
Among the people who have generously shared their advice at various stages of
the development of this piece the author would especially like to thank Donald
Ostrowski, David Goldfrank, Carolyn Pouncy, Dn. Theodore Feldman, Timothy Belk,
Inga Leonova, Webmaster for the website of the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Boston,
and the Most Reverend Father Robert Arida, Rector and Dean of the Holy Trinity
Orthodox Cathedral in Boston. Most of all he is in the debt of his wife, Maria
Stalbo Olmsted; it was at her urging that he undertook the piece, and her
substantial and continuing advice, editorial contributions, and forbearance
throughout the project have spelled for it the difference between nonexistence
and life. The resulting text, with any failures of fact or interpretation, is of
course the responsibility of the author alone.
March 28, 2011
Return to top of page Introduction Dunia Suggestions for Further Reading
The traditional Russian term for a holy fool, or fool for Christ, is
"iuródivyi. In old Rus' and Russia "iurodivye" typically are radical
ascetics – purifying themselves in introspection and prayer, leading a
physically gruelling life, homeless, dressed in rags or in nothing at all –
whose assumed simplicity or insanity puts them outside the normal range of
commonplace ethics and etiquette. They are likely to behave outrageously by the
world's standards, publicly challenging social norms, shaking average people out
of their complacency, frequently offending them gravely, and revealing deeper
truths to those open to receive them. In the best cases they are revered as
bearers of the ideal light of Christ, serving and illumining the people and the
world around them.
Georgii Fedotov, a Russian scholar known for his work on Old Rus' and on Russian
saints and spirituality (see Suggestions for Further Reading), speaks of the
"paradoxical exploit" of iurodstvo, which unites three feats. The iurodivyi:
1. Ascetically crushes his/her own self-importance by assuming the lowliest
possible lifestyle and inviting people's anger and scorn.
2. Ridicules the world by highlighting the inherent contradiction between
superficial, self-serving common sense, moral codes, or ethics; and deep
Christian truth (cf. I Cor:I-IV).
3. Serves the world as a sort of living sermon, accomplished not so much by
specific words or deeds as by force of Spirit, by power of personality,
frequently clothed in enigmatic prophetic speech.
These three aspects are not always in easy harmony with one another. The first,
for example, may involve provoking one's neighbors into the sin of anger and
judgment, whereas the third calls the iurodivyito help these same neighbors
achieve the best that they are capable of. The problem of self-importance or
pride always brings a dangerous temptation in the ascetic struggle, involving a
classic vicious circle: the more you succeed in conquering your self-importance,
the greater may be the temptation for you to feel smug or arrogant about it,
which brings you back to the original problem. The iurodivyi's method of
self-emptying involves a stance of insanity or idiocy which serves among other
things to disturb and challenge people and draw their hostility and derision,
and thereby enlist their help in keeping the iuródivyi'sown arrogance under
There are many passages in Scripture which have helped serve as starting point
or inspiration for those undertaking the path of "holy foolery" (iuródstvo).
Some of these are cited in our text. They point to the model of Christ as
Suffering Servant and as self-sacrifice for humanity, to many of the words and
deeds of the apostle Paul, and to worldly wisdom as spiritual folly, and
spiritual wisdom as folly in the eyes of the world.
The phenomenon of iurodstvowas particularly known both in Byzantium and medieval
Rus', although it is not difficult to find antecedents and similarities
elsewhere -- as in the Old Testament prophets, the early Christian ascetics, and
in mystics and seers of many other places and times. Iurodstvoas such was
particularly strong in Muscovite Rus', when the growing power of autocracy and
the state brought flagrant abuses of power: the iurodivyeof that period are
frequently portrayed as standing up fearlessly to the Grand Prince and Tsar. In
this role the iurodivyican be imagined as a sort of super whistle-blower,
generally immune from normal retribution because of his perceived
otherworldliness and sanctity, his special alliance with the Divine. Muscovy
had quite a number of iurodivyifigures, many of whom became glorified as
saints. A special category of sainthood was established for the iurodivyi: such
a saint was called blazhénnyi'the Blessed'. The behavior, role and public
perception of the iurodivyichanged somewhat over the centuries, especially as it
became more and more of an accepted cultural institution, sometimes inviting
self-conscious manipulation, or false and calculating iuródstvofor personal
gain – the publc posture without the ascetic purification. Therefore people
called iurodivyimight differ widely over time, and in later centuries the term
may take on a sarcastic or derogatory meaning.
By necessity, among our major sources for the biographies of iurodivyeare
hagiographic works – the medieval "Zhitiia," "Vitae," or Lives of saints. Such
Lives were generally written after their subjects' death, with a definite
purpose: to help the person achieve glorification in sainthood. In order for
this to be effective, it was particularly desirable that the specific life being
told maximally met the requirements of the genre, and the person described
maximally represented the appropriate forms of sanctity. Therefore certain
topoi, serving to stress this conformity, were all but obligatory. Posthumous
miracles, for example, are generally required. Also typically expected and
mentioned for iurodivyeare: the gift of prophesy (either in seeing into the deep
meaning of the present, or in predicting the future), refusal of any alms or
gifts such as warm clothes that would make his or her own life easier (these are
typically distributed immediately to the poor, or simply given away in
gratuitously selfless fashion), and the practice of highly enigmatic speech and
action – the statements and acts by the iurodivyi which seem to the casual
observer to abound with nonsense or blasphemy but are in fact full of profound
spiritual meaning. It may not be surprising that as a result these Lives
generally include hagiographic embellishment of historical reality. Hagiographic
and spiritual truth typically override the demands of literalistic historical
truth. In some cases it is clear that stories told of one saint were imported
from quite a different saint's Life where they first originated. All of this
may be effective for devotional purposes, just as understanding it is be crucial
for religious and cultural history, but it can make much more difficult the task
of discerning the concrete historical reality underlying the tale, if that is
one's goal. In this essay, purely hagiographic legends of one famous
16th-century iurodivyi(Saint Basil the Blessed, Vasilii Blazhennyi) are
introduced into our tale not as straight narrative, but in and through the
perception of the fictional main character, Dunia. This device is used to allow
us to present some examples of embellished hagiography here in a context which
is supposed to represent plausible historical fiction. Therefore these episodes
should not be taken as representing straight historical reality. In general, in
this portrait the narrator's voice combines a sort of privileged all-knowing
stance and a certain sympathy with the characters whose experiences and
perceptions are being relayed – representing a sort of omniscient but
"empathetic" narrator. Whether there may sometimes be a note of irony or
sarcasm in this empathy may be left to the reader to judge.
The life of Dunia as related here is distantly patterned on the life of an
historical iurodivaia, St. Pelagéia Divéevskaia, who lived in quite a different
place (Sarátov) and time (the nineteenth century – see "Blazhennaia Pelageia..."
in the Suggestions for Further Reading). Although certain concrete events in
the two narratives are similar, even at times identical, the two resulting lives
and persons are very different. This is an individual story of one person, as
all people's stories must be, and should not be taken as representing a pattern
"typical" for iurodivye, for women of her time or others, or for any other
category of person. Our Dunia was a iurodivaiafor a limited period in her life,
after which she progressed to quite a different condition. In many other cases,
perhaps in most, once a person took up the life of a iurodivyihe or she remained
in it until death (such was the case with Saint Basil the Blessed [Vasilii
Blazhennyi], for example, whose hagiographic tales we meet in the narrative).
About Dunia's subsequent life we are told nothing in this portrait – about her
circumstances, deeds, or growth, or her fate in this life or beyond.
Our narrative is set against a background of real places and cultural realities
as best they can be reconstructed. All Moscow streets, churches, and other
public structures mentioned are historical (in many cases an Internet search
under the Russian names as transliterated in our text will bring up
photographic views of their actual present appearance). Among specific
personnages we encounter in the narrative, Father Antonii Chernoezerskii (of
Chërnoe ózero, 'Black Lake') is an historical 16th-century Muscovite saint,
known to have founded theChernoezerskaia Rozhdestva Bogoroditsy muzhskaia
Pustyn'(the Black Lake men's "Birth of the Virgin Mary" Monastery; the Black
Lake is in northern Russia, off the road between Cherepovéts and Vólogda); he
died in the Lord in 1598, and his Feast day is celebrated January 17. In this
narrative he is represented as also having founded a women's monastery
(convent), the Holy Intercession Black Lake Monastery (Chernoezerskaia v chest'
Pokrova presviatyia Bozhiei Materi zhenskaia Pustyn' or Sviato-Pokrovskaia
Chernoezerskaia pustyn'). Tsar Ivan IV Groznyi('the Terrible', 'the Dread') and
the iurodivyiSaint Basil the Blessed are also historical figures, as is the
architect Aloisio Lamberti da Montagna [known in Russia as Alevíz Friázin] of
the St. Barbara Church. All other characters are fictional.
Return to top of page Foreword Dunia Suggestions for Further Reading
The Iurodivaia Dunia, Fool for Christ
In the time of Tsar Ivan IV "the Terrible," in Moscow's Kitai-Gorodthere
lived a merchant, Makár Shesták Petróv syn (Makar Sixth-born, Son of Peter).
Makar was hardworking and moderately prosperous. He even had his own leather
factory. He provided quite adequately for his family – his wife Praskóv'ia and
three children: the youngest, little Dúnia, and her brothers Andriúsha and
Vánia, who were respectively five and three years older than she.
In 1575, when Dunia was just two years old, our Lord delivered one of those
unfathomable blows which we His servants must sometimes suffer for our sins.
Makar was a sober and peaceful man, not one to pick a fight. But one day as he
was walking past the new tavern down on Varvárka Street, he was swept into a
drunken brawl that had spilled out into the street, and was suddenly killed.
Praskovia was wild with grief. She was completely at a loss as to where to
turn, and how to care for her family. When within a few days an attentive and
forceful man appeared at her door and earnestly promised stability, comfort, a
safe haven – she could not resist. Two months later she was remarried. Her new
husband, Alekséi Mukhomór Nikítin syn (Aleksei the toadstool,Nikita’s son)
was himself a widower man with four children of his own. Like Makar before him,
he was a leather merchant; he had actually been a competitor of Makar's in the
marketplace, and for some time had also had his eye on Praskov'ia.
Alekséi Mukhomór’s ruddy face was adorned with as many pimples and pockmarks as
the flecks on a crimson-capped “mukhomór” mushroom,a similarity which was
the direct inspiration for his nickname (though there were those who suspected
that the connection might also have been suggested by his character). Old
Mukhomor was a man who held his own in the rough society of Moscow. He was
short of breath and caustic of tongue and walked with a limp, supporting himself
ponderously with a stout walking staff. His uneven footfall and thumping stick
resounded over the wooden floors as he made his way through his house on Nikita
Lane. And it was here that he and his offspring were joined by Praskov'ia
and her three children.
"Now my dear little bunny rabbits, you listen to me," she told them. "We are
the luckiest and happiest of God's creatures. Your new father will provide for
us wonderfully. Just remember, obey him in all things and all will be well."
The household move was simple, just a few streets over from their old house and
downhill towards St. Barbara's Gate, not far from the eastern edge of
Kitai-Gorod above Varvarka Street. And it promised regained security and
stability for Praskov'ia and her family. But in other respects the family
merger was not easy.
Mukhomor's children took poorly to the intruders in their domestic space, and
the mistrust and distaste was mutual. Family life for the younger generation was
mostly fights and squabbles, with younger ones constantly harrassed and bullied
by their elders. Dunia, youngest of all and easy to take advantage of, had no
friends or allies in either brood. And she always was different from the
others. She never fought back or even rewarded the attacker with any sign of
interest. This frustrating indifference enraged her siblings, invariably
provoking escalations as they tried harder and harder to get her attention. Nor
did she find much protection with the parents. When her siblings were after her,
they always endeavored to make the disagreement look like Dunia's fault. The
parents, preoccupied with other concerns and therefore gullible, seemed
generally to be taken in – particularly Mukhomor, who was inclined from the
start to judge her harshly. Only Praskóv'ia would sometimes instinctively take
pity on her daughter. No thought of an outright challenge to Mukhomor was
imaginable, but quietly, privately she would sometimes offer Dunia a word of
Dunia's family did provide her one important service: the church service. Saint
Nikita on the Claypits, their local church, was just a few minutes' walk
from their big gate downhill along Nikítnikov Lane. They regularly attended the
Divine Liturgy on Sunday mornings and some other services on the great Church
Holiday Feasts. It was an unquestioned tradition for the family, a custom they
practiced because everybody had always done so; they maintained it routinely as
part of the everyday course of life and because it was the way the Lord's world
ran. They felt no need to give it much more thought.
But for Dunia, entering church meant entering a completely different world. It
was the eternal and perfect Kingdom of Heaven, the holy uncreated light, the
Lord on earth here and now and His sacrifice to redeem humanity; it was heavenly
peace, the holy images, the smell of incense, the holy drama, the colors, the
vestments, the sung and chanted Word, the music, all the senses rejoicing. It
was the pure voice of God in His infinite love, and Holy Communion with Him. It
became the dominating center of her life: to live in and for that world, to love
the Lord above all things. She was viscerally repelled by any urge to put
anything else first – whether her own individual safety or comfort, the opinion
of others about her, any hint of pride or smugness, any material possessions,
any family ties, any friendships or earthly romance.
She grew into a tall, strong, and attractive young woman – somewhat to her own
dismay, since her appearance drew constant unwanted attention from strangers,
most typically attempts on the part of burly young men to draw her into
flirtatious banter. She manoeuvered her way past all this without batting an
eyelash and without being drawn into any entangling contacts. She somehow had
not the slightest interest.
Now Praskov'ia, devoted to Dunia's best interests as she firmly saw them, had
her own plans for her handsome young daughter. She began to cast her eye out for
an advantagious marital match. One day she sat Dunia down and said, "Now you
listen to me, my dear. It's about time we're gonna have to find you a suitable,
presentable young man. You know, one we can be seen with in public, from a good
family – gotta find somebody who'll do credit to our own family, you know!"
"O, mámochka! Do we really have to worry about such things?" – said Dunia.
"Maybe we can live without all that?" Letting herself be taken over by her
mother's plans would be quite impossible. It would mean opening herself to
precisely the sorts of snares and temptations she most needed to shun, from
which she most recoiled.
Praskov'ia saw no room for question. She told her daughter self-assuredly,
"Don't you worry, my little bunny, my dove! I know what's best for you!" And
she proceeded to invite a young man whose family she knew through the St. Nikita
Parish, and whom she considered a worthy potential catch, to come and make
The would-be suitor, Mityúkha, tall, gangly, self-conscious, came calling with
his mother. Praskov'ia had gone out of her way and prepared a fine table of
mushroom and meat pie, savory pickles, fresh vegetables and fruit, and a tasty
infusion of raspberries and honey on the finest fresh-baked sieve bread, all
washed down with kvas and braga.Dunia sat silently at the edge of the
table. She felt so sorry for that poor young man, set up through no fault of
his own, led on, and dragged along; all for nothing. For a few moments she
studied the visitors attentively, then leaned back and spent a good long time
with her head dangling over the back of her chair staring intently at the
ceiling, her mouth wide open, a trace of drool creeping down her cheek. Then she
suddenly sat bolt upright and started slowly pouring kvas on each of the flowers
in the fabric of her dress, methodically rubbing it in with her finger in
careful circles. Her mother's eagle eye darted sideways; she sped to intervene
and cut this nonsense short, quietly ordering Dunia's older step-sister to pinch
her. Dunia overheard this and confronted her mother directly: "Mamochka, what's
the matter? Maybe you're specially fond of these flowers? That's all right, let
them go: these are no flowers of paradise!"
Mityukha's mother later quietly told her son: "Don't make any difference her
family's well provided for. Everybody's right: she's just plain stupid. Did you
see her staring at the ceiling? My God! And her poor dress! We gotta avoid her
like poison!" Mityukha shrugged his shoulders and looked plaintively at his
mother as if he wanted to object, but said nothing. They didn't call again, or
respond to further invitations.
After a few more such efforts by Praskov'ia, all of them neatly turned aside by
Dunia, Praskov'ia and Mukhomor called Dunia in for a family council.
"What is this I hear?" – said Mukhomor, "that you're resisting all attempts to
find you a good husband?"
Dunia was silent.
"Come come, Dunechka, are you trying to flout your mother's authority?
"Well, then! Are you going to accept your mother's word and marry whom she
chooses for you?
"I'm sorry, I'm afraid not, sir."
"What? How can you possibly justify such impudence?"
"I'm very sorry, sir, I mean no impudence. I just can't."
"What do you mean, you can't?"
"I can't jeopardize my immortal soul that way. It would be wrong before God."
"How dare you talk like that? I'll show you what's right and wrong before God!"
He raised his walking staff, took a full arm's length swing, and with all his
might struck her across her back. She staggered and fell, uttering not a sound.
From where she lay sprawling on the floor she just looked up at Mukhomor with
eyes the size of carriage wheels. Silently she got up and made her way to her
bed, and lay there shaking. "Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men in
whom there is no salvation," she thought to herself. "Only the Lord is
always true; people are all flimsy reeds." She felt a great wave of sympathy for
her poor perplexed raging step-father. She began praying for him: "Oh Lord
Jesus, please forgive him. He just doesn't understand; he has no idea what he's
doing." And then she felt a great wave of shame and guilt for her own having
dragged him into his all-too-predictable fit of rage. She added a fervent
prayer for forgiveness.
As far as those around might judge, from this moment Dunia seemed to find a new
tranquility. Now, when accused of some household transgression, much as before
she would cross herself and stay quiet; but her face would relax into a new
expression of peace and even tenderness, as if she were occupied in some silent
internal prayer for those who harassed her. All attempts to control and tame her
by arguments or shame or the occasional beating had no effect whatever.
Out in the city, hanging incessantly over the streets and lanes like a great
beast poised to strike, was the constant threat of fire. Especially in winter,
when all heated their houses,everyone was at risk. Dunia was haunted by the
thought of being caught in the street – or even worse, at home – in the middle
of the night. Moscow was just a well-laid stack of kindling waiting for the
torch. The houses and other structures belonging to normal residents – barns,
sheds, stables – were all of wood. Properties lay nestled tight against one
another along the narrow streets and passageways. They were hidden behind the
owners' tall wooden stockade fences, confronting anyone in the street with long
unbroken stretches of wall on either side. When an errant spark touched off a
blaze, it would spread like wind rushing through the trees. And when all these
wooden structures burst on fire, in those streets there was no escape.
Regularly, every few decades, great sections of Moscow were destroyed in
catastrophic storms of flame with heavy loss of life, and smaller local fires
leveled houses every week. The moment a fire was spotted, the great bell of the
local church would burst out in the dreaded nervous warning peel reserved for
dire emergencies. It could wake you at any moment out of the deepest sleep
into a mortal panic.
Fire brigades would come rushing to fight the flames. Special supplies of water
were kept in strategic locations, and the wooden and thatched roofs would be
hastily covered with wet animal skins and ship-sails, and continually wetted
down. But the main defense against the fires was the axe: the fire brigades
would mercilessly hack apart and forcefully clear away any structures that were
in the path of the fire, in hopes of stopping its spread until the next cross
street or lane. In general, of the total number of houses destroyed in a fire,
only two-thirds fell victim to the flames themselves; the other third was
demolished by the fire brigades.
One early April night in Dunia's sixteenth year, in Bright Week just after
Pascha (Easter), when in daytime the streets were aswim in mud and in the frosty
night their surface grew a crust of ice, all were jolted awake by the baleful
fire signal of the great bell: boom-boom-boom-boom-boom-boom-boom, ominous
inexorable peals in urgent succession. Through the window, over the top of their
fence along the lane uphill, they could see flames against the sky. The family
scrambled to get wet coverings for the roof. A great commotion arose all around
– sounds of people yelling and running up and down the lane, the chopping and
crashing of properties being cleared, and over it all the terrible roar of
flames. Mukhomor stepped out into the yard to peer through the front gate into
the lane, and came charging back into the house shouting "Everybody out!" Even
though they were downhill from the flames at the moment, prospects looked grave.
Properties all round were scorching and exploding into flame, and the heat was
nearly unbearable. "No time to grab anything, everybody out! Now!" And all the
family rushed out the door – except Dunia, who stood in the icon corner
gathering up the holy images in her shawl. "That's right, Dun'ka!" shouted her
brother Andriusha over his shoulder as he bolted out the door. "You stay and
look after everything here!" And the cry was taken up by all her siblings:
"Dun'ka stays to look after things! Dun'ka stays! Dun'ka stays!" And they all
dashed out into the ankle-deep slush and mud, the icy crust long since gone
beneath dashing feet, and headed downhill to St. Nikita's.
Dunia did remain, abandoned and determined. Hugging the icons to herself, she
prayed to the Holy Theotókos,Virgin Mother of God, to intercede and save
them all from the fire. All around, the crashing of the fire brigade's
devastating work continued unabated. But could it be that the thunder of the
flames was just a bit quieter or further off? She suddenly came to her senses
and ran to get more water for the roof coverings. As she leaned out of the upper
window to splash the water on the roof, she could see that the flames really
were receding, racing off uphill, driven faster by a sudden easterly wind.
Falling to her knees, Dunia crossed herself, her face streaming with tears, and
thanked the Virgin: the Theotokos had heard her prayers!
When the rest of the family returned to the house, some of them looked at Dunia
sheepishly or avoided her gaze, others sullenly stared her in full in the face
as if in silent challenge, but nothing was said about their having abandoned her
to her fate with the flames. She somehow felt a great outpouring of warmth and
sympathy for her fellow family members, so enslaved to their jealousies and
accusations. She said nothing to them about her prayer and the Virgin's
She thought of how the Mother of God so graciously, so often, interceded for
those in need of Her protection. She remembered the Virgin's great feast on
October 14, the Protection or Intercession of the Most-Holy Theotokos (Pokróv
Presviatyia Bogoróditsy), when the Mother of God had descended to the earth
amidst a throng of saints and spread out Her protecting veil to save those
beneath from catastrophe. The miracle had occurred in tenth-century
Constantinople, when the Byzantine Orthodox Saint, Andrew the Fool for Christ,
had seen this vision in the Blachernae Church as he was praying for salvation
from enemy forces attacking the great city. She thirsted to learn more about
St. Andrew: she had heard mention of his name in connection with the Holiday of
the Intercession, but what about St. Andrew himself? What does it mean to be a
Fool in Christ? She found it a mysterious epithet: somehow it picqued her
curiosity and tugged naggingly at her attention. She went to St. Nikita's and
diffidently asked Father Aleksandr, St. Nikita's Priest. He said,
"Dunia, my dear, don't ever be embarrassed to ask. This is a deep question: to
ask about such foolishness for Christ is not at all foolish. First, remember the
ultimate example of our Lord Himself, with His own saving "foolishness" of
self-sacrifice and death on the Cross. By the normal rules of the world this all
makes no sense whatever. And remember also His words in the Beatitudes:
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the
kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and say all manner
of evil against you for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven.
"And the words of St. Paul:
"God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is
weak in the world to shame the strong." And:
"If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool
that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God." 
And Dunia said, "Yes, Father, I understand the folly of worldly wisdom. But why
would anyone strive to become a fool himself? It seems right, in a way, since so
much is backwards in the world. But why does becoming a fool actually mean
"Ah, my child. Not just any kind of fool. It seems to me you already understand:
it means a fool in the eyes of those who take the ways of the world, and
themselves, too seriously. Is there anything holy about being "wise" in that
self-serving, calculating kind of way? Is it a wonder that some are called to
follow Christ's self-emptying sacrifice in their own lives, even to the
extreme?" Then he added, "You know, Dunechka, we in Moscow had the precious gift
from God of such a iurodivyi right here, in our very midst, quite recently: the
blessed Vasílii, Fool in Christ. He fell asleep in the Lord just some
thirty-plus years ago, in the year 65 of the seventh thousand.In the Lord's
ineffable grace, I, most sinful among men, was granted God's gift of seeing
Vasilii with my own unworthy eyes. Dunia, my dear; just imagine! You could just
see that the light of Christ was in him. You could feel it like the sun on your
face! And now many wondrous stories are being told of him, and of miracles
around his grave. He has just recently been glorified in sainthood. You have
heard something in my sermons and in the teaching of the church, of course. You
might be interested to learn more of him."
"Oh, yes, Father! Of course I know of him. But how could I become worthy to
hear more of these stories?" Dunia asked.
"Easy as biting a radish. You know old Gurii the beggar who hangs around our
church – you could ask him. Or down among the crowds that mill around the St.
Barbara Gates. Or better still, at the Church of the Virgin's Intercession
(Tsérkov' Pokrová Presviatyia Bogoróditsy, orPokróvskaia tsérkov')on Market
Square, the very place where the Blessed Vasilii is buried. I should have
mentioned that first of all. But really, any place where people gather:
everybody is talking about him." And Dunia, ashamed not to have gotten wind of
these tales before, but more grateful to Father Aleksandr than she could say,
took her leave of him with thanks and a reverential request for his blessing.
Dunia had no trouble finding people knowledgeable about Vasilii the Fool, and
more than willing to tell her about him. The Lord had prepared her to receive
the word, and now was bringing it to her.
The stories told of how young Vásia had been blessed from the start with the
Lord's gift of prophesy: he was able to look into men's hearts and read their
fates. As a boy Vasia was given by his parents into apprenticeship to a
boot-maker. Soon his gift of prophecy became manifest. One day a prominent boyar
appeared, making his condescending way into their workshop, carefully avoiding
contact with anything that might brush against his elegant and spotless gown. He
had come to order a pair of special boots custom-made, superior to all others;
he said he needed them for a year hence. He gave detailed instructions down to
the smallest stitch as to how they were to be measured, cut, and sewn. Young
Vasia, who was standing listening, suddenly burst out laughing but then just as
abruptly collapsed in tears. After the boyar had completed his order and
stridden out, Vasia answered his master's stern demand for an explanation. He
explained that, for all the fuss, this proud man would be quite unable to wear
the boots he had ordered, since on the very next day he was going to be stricken
dead. The master boot-maker did not believe him, and rebuked him harshly, but
the next day it came to pass just as Vasia had said.
Soon thereafter Vasilii left his apprenticeship to seek out a holy man who might
teach and lead him on the path of silent contemplation and constant prayer. He
was fortunate to find a spiritual father, who taught him the prayer to Jesus:
"Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me," which, his teacher told him, had been
known since the earliest days of Christianity, and should constantly be in his
heart and on his tongue.
At the age of 16 he began to live as iurodivyi. Once he made up his mind, he did
not look back; he broke all ties with his former life as lightly as if he were
brushing off spiderwebs. He tore his garments off his body, shredded them to
bits, and flung them on the ground; and thereafter went about naked. He began
creating outrageous scenes, scandalizing unsuspecting citizens by doing
improper, offensive, and seemingly senseless things. As thanks for this he was
constantly beaten and kicked and spat on. He was dragged by the hair, and
insulted and scorned and humiliated. People would mock him, ridicule him, shun
his company. By day he would roam as iurodivyi. By night he would pray secretly,
out of view of witnesses.
In the merchants' stalls on Market Square and in Kitai-Gorod he would
demonstratively destroy perfectly good food and drink being offered for sale –
such as kvas and the best sieve-bread – and dash them from the merchants' tables
into the mud. This caused great outrage. But in fact, he was actually attacking
only the property of dishonest merchants who were tormenting their customers
with exorbitant prices, though he did not call attention to this fact.
Walking the streets of Moscow, sometimes he happened past the dwellings of
particularly good and pious people who loved their neighbors and cared about
their souls. Here Vasilii would stop and gather up stones and start throwing
them at the corners of those righteous people's houses, and would beat the walls
with sticks and make a great commotion. In other cases, startled passers-by
would report, if he passed by a house where there was drinking and fighting and
cursing within, and all sorts of hatred and blasphemy and violence, he would
stop there too, but there he would kiss the corners of the house and seem to be
conducting sweet conversation with gentle invisible companions.
This caused confusion among the good citizenry who chanced to witness it. But
there was hidden reason here as well. At the houses of the righteous, demons
would be scrambling outside, trying to get in. And they would gather in their
vile flocks and hang around the house-corners, unable to enter. Vasilii, who
could see them perfectly well, was helping dislodge them and distract them, so
they wouldn't interfere with the righteous who might want to come and go. In the
houses of the evil-doers the demons rejoice and celebrate, but God's guardian
angels, set at the moment of holy Baptism as protectors of people's souls, found
they had no place within. These angels, weeping despondently outside the house,
would be kissed by Vasilii, and it was with them that he would conduct his sweet
He retained his gift of prophecy. One day in early summer of 1521 he was in the
Kremlin Dormition, or "Uspenskii," Cathedral, praying continually for
Moscow's salvation from the Crimean Tatars. And as he did so he saw a vision. A
terrible noise arose, and flames streamed from the icon of the Theotokos,
proclaiming God's wrath on the Muscovites with an impending attack by the
Crimean Khan Mekhmet-Girei. Vasilii prayed with all his might that this be
averted. The Tatar attack really did ensue, with an incursion deep into Moscow's
territory, but after camping in the fields outside the Moscow city walls the
Tatar forces abruptly turned about and left. And what could have caused this but
Vasilii's prayers for intercession by the Theotokos?
At other times, even though he could clearly foresee some impending doom, he
felt powerless to forestall it. In 1547 he prophesied a major tragedy for
Moscow in the form of a great fire. On June 23, he came to the Monastery of the
Exaltation of the Holy Cross "On the Island" (Monastyr' Krestovozdvízhenskii na
Óstrove); he entered the main Church of the Holy Cross, knelt in prayer before
the icons in the church's nave, and began weeping bitterly. The very next day a
great and terrible fire arose in that same church, spreading out from the Holy
Cross Monastery to devour half the city, bringing catastrophic damage both to
the old walled city of the Kremlin, including the chambers of the Tsar himself,
and to the recently walled-in Kitai-Gorod. There was fearsome loss of life –
the victims were estimated at 2,000 to 4,000 souls.
Once at the eastern edge of Kitai-Gorod in a church by the St. Barbara Gate, not
far from where Dunia later was to live, Vasilii suddenly attacked and destroyed
a miracle-working icon of the Virgin Theotokos, Holy Mother of God. He dashed it
to the ground and hacked it to pieces with an axe. All who saw or heard were
shocked, and subjected Vasilii to no end of abuse. But it turned out that once
again Vasilii had discerned a disguised truth, for beneath the holy image of the
Mother of God had been concealed the image of a ghastly demon.
The holy man came to the attention of the proud and terrible Tsar Ivan IV
himself, who was dreaded for his merciless reprisals against his subjects, and
some of the most memorable stories of Vasilii told of how he fearlessly stood
up to the frightful tyrant. Once on an important church feast-day the Tsar was
looking forward to seeing Vasilii at the Divine Liturgy service in the Uspenskii
Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin. But Vasilii was nowhere to be seen. The Tsar
managed to find the holy man afterwards, and he asked him why he hadn't been
there. "You simply didn't see me," said Vasilii; "I was there. Actually it was
you who were absent." Although the church was physically packed with people
attending the service, he said, only three people were really there: the
Metropolitan, the God-fearing Tsaritsa, and Vasilii himself. The Tsar, he
said, was absent, absorbed in thoughts about the opulent new palace which he was
having built for himself in the Sparrow Hills (Vorob'ëvskie góry) overlooking
the Moscow River to the South-West of the city, and completely heedless of the
Divine Liturgy proceeding around him. Taken aback by this unexpected criticism,
he nonetheless accepted it humbly from Vasilii. "Pray for me, holy one," was all
Vasilii repeatedly castigated Ivan for his repression of his subjects, whom God
had put on earth for him to care for and protect. One such encounter occurred
during Great Lent, when all Orthodox Christians observe the fast and abstain
from meat and other rich fare including dairy products. Vasilii came to visit
the Tsar and presented him with a huge piece of raw meat. The Tsar marveled,
"How do you give me meat during Great Lent, when all know it's quite forbidden?"
Vasilii answered "And does little Vania think it wrong to eat the flesh of
beasts in Lent, but not worry about the vast quantities of human flesh that
he has already devoured?"
The stories told of other such encounters of Vasilii with the Tsar, and
presented many other examples of the holy man's provocative and prophetic
behavior, and his uncompromising witness to the truth. Dunia bowed her head at
She heard repeatedly that it was just recently, around the time of the Blessed
Vasilii's glorification as a saint and his reburial in the Church of the
Virgin's Intercession (Tsérkov' Pokrová prechístyia Bogoróditsy) on Great Market
Square, that his wondrous miracles had begun to rise in a fountain of God's
grace. People were gathering more and more frequently and in greater numbers at
Vasilii's grave. Miraculous cures were seen for the lame, the blind, and those
most variously afflicted in body or in mind. One monk, Gerasim whom everybody
called "the Bear," for many years had been unable to walk and had had to crawl
on his knees, living as a beggar near the Frolóv Gate;until suddenly he was
healed by Vasilii's posthumous prayers. The miracles continued to accumulate,
more and more of them. Places far away were affected: as the protector of
sailors he saved a ship from storm in the Caspian Sea.
And Dunia continued to ponder all these stories and the many more which she
encountered. There was much in this treasure-house for her to learn. She began
leaving home more and more frequently at unpredictable times, praying until all
hours at night, and initiating peculiar conversations with strangers, with a
wild look in her eye – and the gossip made its way back to her mother and
And so Dunia's parents decided they must take decisive measures. In hopes of
bringing her to her senses, they took her on a chastening many-day pilgrimage
far to the North, beyond Vólogda, to visit Father Antónii Chernoezérskii
(Anthony of the Black Lake) in his Monastery of the Virgin's Birth (Antónieva
chernoezérskaia v chest' Rozhdestvá Bogoróditsy Pústyn'). Father Antonii was
renowned for his sanctity of life and his gift of vision, and was the sort of
figure to whose authority Dunia's parents felt they could appeal.They
traveled together with a party of other pilgrims. When they arrived, Praskov'ia
could not help but notice the dilapidated condition of the few modest
buildings. Hm! This was supposed to be a respected monastery, run by a man
with a wide reputation! Father Antonii came out at once to greet them, and
accepted them all simply and graciously. He respectfully blessed Aleksei and
Praskov'ia, and sent them to their local lodging in the village, but talked with
Dunia for four hours. Their pilgrim fellow travelers, hanging around the
monastery, were most offended by Antonii's paying so much attention to Dunia,
and said among themselves, "What's he doing spending so much time with her? I
mean, we're no poorer than her family; we can make just as good a contribution
to his Pustyn'. How come he isn't spending any time with us?" Father Antonii,
watching them pass the door of his cell, sensed their discontent. Stepping
outside, he said to the pilgrims, "The riches I seek are not of this world but
of the spirit." He released them in peace, and hurried back to his cell to
continue his conversation with Dunia.
Late in the day, Dunia's mother, waiting for her in the village and seeing that
it was high time to begin their trip home, lost her patience and went back to
the monastery with her husband to fetch her daughter. Just as they approached
Father Antonii's cell she and Mukhomor saw him lead Dunia out by the hand, bow
to the ground before her, and say to her, "My dear and respected Avdot'ia, go
now in the Lord's peace. You are on a holy and difficult path which you must see
through to the end. But we send you home with a request. Some day when you are
ready, please consider coming back to the Black Lake, to my other Pustyn', my
women's Monastery of the Most Pure Virgin's Intercession (Chernoezérskii
zhénskii Pokróvskii monastyr'), and help take care of the sisters. I expect this
will not seem possible to you now; first you have other important work before
you. But when you are ready we will be waiting for you with open arms, to help
with the work of the Lord."
Mukhomor was already angry at having been kept waiting so long, at having his
pig-headed and crazy step-daughter paid the honor of such a lengthy audience,
and then at having to listen to such infuriatingly misplaced words of praise and
respect. When he heard the strange declaration from Father Antonii, he said to
his wife loudly, "Holy man! "Visionary!" Just a bit off his nut, is all!"
For Dunia, her conversation with Father Antonii, on top of what she had learned
of the Blessed Vasilii, Fool in Christ, had a decisive effect on the further
course of her life. Back home in Kitai-Gorod she made friends with a merchant's
wife, Sof'ia Ivan's daughter, who was already living the life of a iurodivaia.
Under Sof'ia's tutelage Dunia learned more about the unceasing Jesus prayer, the
prayer of the heart, which the Blessed Vasilii had found so valuable, "Lord
Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." Had not the holy apostle Paul himself enjoined
his Christian followers to pray constantly? She herself began to practice
it, and this developed so far that she would spend entire nights absorbed in the
prayer. It was clarifying and lightening, a tremendous aid in her struggle for
self-purification. And as it became more and more habitual it seemed to enter
ever more deeply into her heart. It became a constant activity and remained so
for the rest of her life.
With her prayer and contemplation, chiefly by night, she began to feel more and
more that she must perform exploits of iurodstvo, chiefly by day. There was no
choice: it was an absolute imperative. If she loved the Lord, and loved His
creation, she must bear witness to this love. She must bring people to their
senses, shock them out of their comfortable commonplaces, help save their souls.
Daytime: people were up and about. They would be on the street, or out in the
shops and market stalls, or in government offices – whether normal, productive,
upstanding citizens or hopeless idlers and brawlers, whether busy with their
practical, breadwinning, civic lives or foundering in some drunken stupor –
every one of them completely absorbed in affairs of the moment. And all of a
sudden a wraith-like figure, wild-eyed, matted-haired, rag-clad, would rise
before them and make some sort of outrageous, loud, uncomfortable demand upon
their attention. On the one hand it was clearly patent nonsense, but on the
other, was there some haunting connection with their worries or dreams, or
perhaps an uneasy conscience? In the face of these outrages, most people would
turn away or flee, and many would attack her. But some would approach and ask
for her prayers.
Once a stylish lady was out promenading in an elegant linen shawl. She was
stopped by Dunia, who started grasping and tugging at the fine shawl with her
filthy fingers: “Hey Auntie! Khriúki khriúki khriúki KHRIU! Come on,
darling, let me have my rag back! Remember? You swiped it from me just when I
had my poor dead baby pig all wrapped up in it for burial!” This lady was not
among those who asked Dunia for her prayers.
Her parents understandably grew increasingly scandalized, pained, and shocked.
For them her behavior was a complete mystery. They pleaded and argued for her to
return to reason and act like a normal person; but she remained altogether
indifferent to their wishes. Mukhomor decided that he must undertake other
serious measures to bring this behavior decisively to an end. He resolved first
to try beating her back to her senses. And he thrashed her so mercilessly that
despite her natural healthy and sturdy constitution her health began to suffer.
Dunia made up her mind to stay away from his house as much as she possibly
could. And she ran off into the city, to one church after another.
Once, in the dark of night in the dead of winter, half-naked, she sought shelter
on the porch of a large church in Kitai-gorod. She found an empty coffin which
had been prepared for a soldier who had succumbed to a current plague. She
nestled inside it; and here, half frozen with the cold, she waited for death. A
church guard caught sight of her. At first he took her for a corpse, but then he
saw her move and heard her groan. He was so terrified by this ghostly apparition
that he raised the huge fire-bell alarm – a deafening warning through all
Kitai-Gorod, across Market Square, and to the Kremlin itself, waking the
population panic-stricken in the conviction that another fire was upon them.
People would sometimes press alms upon Dunia for some modest support, but
whatever came to hand she gave all of it away to the poor, or spent it on
candles to light in church. Her parents would sometimes catch her, and her
mother would try her best to talk sense to her: "My darling little Dunechka!
Why do you resist so fiercely? You know we only want what is best for you.
Please, for the love of God, just understand and accept it! I just go wild with
the thought of how dangerous it is for you out in the streets all alone and
unprotected like that, poor dear!" But no matter what enticements and arguments
her parents used, or how often they dragged Dunia back to the house and locked
her up, or punished her with cold and hunger, she would not relent: "Let me go;"
she would cry – "I've been spoiled by Antonii and Vasilii for any normal life."
She just wouldn't submit to her parents – even as she prayed constantly for
And her stepfather pressed ahead with his measures of constraint. He obtained a
stout rope, and fastened it to an iron ring which he welded shut around Dunia's
ankle with his own hands, tied her to the wall and admonished her with lengthy
lectures about obedience and common sense. Sometimes she managed to break loose
and burst out of the house, chain clanging, half-dressed, and would run through
the streets to the consternation of all. Everyone she met was afraid of
sheltering her, feeding her, or in any way protecting her from her stepfather's
persecution. And so she would again be captured and be subject to new and
Praskov'ia was at the end of her resources and her patience. She had completely
run out of ideas for possible solutions, and was quite tormented with worry
about her daughter. She decided that she herself would once more go to pay a
visit to the holy man, Antonii, in a desperate search for any ideas that might
help. She made the trip, met with him and said, "Father, my daughter Dunia,
remember we visited you not long ago? She's gone clear out of her mind! She's
completely out of hand, she keeps running wild, she's impossible, she won't
listen to any kind of reason. We've tried everything! But nothing helps! She
makes all kinds of problems for our family, all the time! All our other girls
want to get married: but poor dears, nobody will come near them out of fear they
might turn out like Dunia. No one can talk any sense into her: she just won't
listen. The problemisis, she's so awful strong; there's no way of keeping her
under control by any normal means. So we did the only thing we could do: the
only solution is, we've had to tie her up and lock her in."
"What!? How is this possible?" – the elder's voice had never sounded so
piercing. "How could you have done that? Release her this instant! Let her go
free! If you don't, you will be horribly punished on her account by God! Let her
go! Let her go! Don't you lay a finger on her! And of course she's strong: the
Lord doesn't call weaklings to pursue her kind of path. For this sort of exploit
He chooses only the strongest and most courageous. Don't you even think of
restraining her by force, or else the Lord will wreak a terrible revenge on
In real fear of the wrath of God, Mukhomor and Praskov'ia immediately eased up
on Dunia. They stopped tying her up, and no longer forbade her to leave the
house. By day she was again abroad in the streets of Moscow: the picture of a
iurodivaia, dressed in rags, challenging people in unexpected ways. She spent
practically every night on the porch of one or another of the Churches in
Kitai-Gorod, and she would pray to God for nights on end.
And so she spent a year and more, seldom appearing at her step-father's house.
She never did cease visiting her teacher, the iurodivaiaSof'ia Ivan's daughter,
the same one who had taught her the constant repetition of the Jesus prayer .
She grew in confidence in her calling. Her zeal for the Lord matured and
strengthened – for spreading His truth, for emulating His self-sacrificing and
self-emptying example, for challenging the proud and powerful.
Early one fateful Sunday morning she visited the white stone church of the Holy
Great-Martyr Barbara at the far end of Varvarka Street, towards the Kremlin.
She arrived while it was still dark and few people were on the streets, and as
she approached the church she witnessed a strange scene. Ahead of her, already
at the top of the steps to the church's porch, was the ponderous corpulent
figure of the church's Deacon, Father Feofan. Right in his path was
one of the beggars who frequented the entrance to the church, old blind Pasha,
kneeling on the porch, hunched over with his hat spread open before him. At the
sound of approaching footsteps he straightened up and said with an appealing
smile, "God save you for your mercy!" And here Deacon Feofan did something
completely unexpected. He looked around hastily to see if anyone was watching,
and not noticing Dunia he proceeded quietly to scoop up all the coins that lay
in Pasha's cap, and then noisily and demonstratively threw a few back in. This
made it sound as if he had actually made a contribution, probably quite a
generous one. Pocketing his gain, Deacon Feofan disappeared into the church.
Dunia could scarcely believe her eyes. She crossed herself with a gasp and
rushed up the steps to Pasha, fumbling in her ragged skirts for the few coins
that she had brought with her to donate to the church. She dropped them in
Pasha's cap and hugged him and cried at the top of her voice: "God bless you,
brother! You will get your reward in Heaven!" Not quite sure what had prompted
this outburst, he simply said, "Bless you, sister. God save you!"
Dunia made her way into the church's great central space, the nave. It was a
large, imposing building in its cool stone sturdiness, not like the more usual
homely warmth of wood. Inside the nave, the church was opulently decorated, the
walls covered with colorful icon-like frescos of all the familiar scenes from
Holy Scripture, great Church holidays and lives of the saints. To the East,
opposite the entrance, was the towering wall of the iconostasis, with its
ascending row upon row of icons, mostly hiding from view the altar inside.
All around were icons in jeweled metal frames, golden chandeliers, candlestands
crowded with candles. Shining gold was everywhere, but the interior seemed
somehow dark and heavy. Dunia found a spot off to the side and near the back.
She stood there for some time, still shaken by what she had seen, praying for
Deacon Feofan. People began arriving. Among the crowds of worshippers Dunia
still stood in a daze. The Divine Liturgy began. The Antiphons, the Great and
Little Litanies, the Little Entrance, the Trisagion and the Epistle succeeded
one another in turn, and the moment came for the Gospel Reading. Deacon Feofan,
large and imposing, beautiful in his gleaming vestments, in his golden stikhár'
with hisorár' over his shoulder,swayed slowly as he ascended the readers'
"The reading is from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew," he chanted in
"Glory to You, O Lord, Glory to You," sang the chorus, and from inside the
altar came the answering Slavonic intonation from the priest, "Let us attend."
The altar boy held up the huge, heavily adorned Gospel with its shining metal
frame and clasp and its precious stone inlays, faltered slightly under its
weight, and then regained his balance in time for Feofan to find his place in
the text. The Deacon began to intone the reading. He chanted the Gospel passage
in a booming, didactic, condescending voice, the nails on his plump manicured
fingers gleaming as he stroked his well-groomed beard:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and
where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and
steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. ...
And he looked around condescendingly at the parishioners. He seemed convinced
that the sorry souls milling around him in the church were precisely those
preoccupied with laying up treasures for themselves on earth.
But Dunia thought, "Poor, poor Father Deacon Feofan. May the Lord help him
realize where his true treasure is!" And she crossed herself, became absorbed in
the litany of prayers that followed, and soon had lost herself in the service.
But in the days that followed, Dunia continued to suffer over Deacon Feofan and
the scene she had chanced to witness. One morning not long afterwards out in
Kitai-Gorod she spotted the Deacon's substantial figure in street dress, leaning
slightly forward elbowing his way disdainfully through the crowds and past the
merchants' stalls along Varvarka. Without thinking, she rushed up to him, stood
directly in his way, and shouted right in his face,
"Let us ATTEND!:
...Do you lay up for yourself treasures on earth? Just who is the thief that
breaks in and steals?
He jumped and started back, involuntarily raising his arm in front of his face.
He blurted out, "Why, you raving bitch! How do you dare teach me? Are you
"Yes! Yes! Father Deacon Feofan, I am! I'm completely possessed! I'm possessed
with mourning for the world!"
At this, Deacon Feofan rushed at her roaring, with fists flying and boots
kicking, and knocked her to the ground. But just as suddenly he came to his
senses, looked quickly around, and hastily withdrew from the scene, trying to
make himself as inconspicuous as possible. Dunia dashed off around the corner.
Passers-by stood with their necks twisted in the direction of Dunia's
disappearance, and crossed themselves.
Around the corner, behind the Aglítskii Dvor(English Merchants' Court) off
Varvarka Street, Dunia knelt on the ground with tears streaming down her cheeks,
convulsed with spasms, her whole body shaking uncontrollably, and prayed sobbing
for Father Deacon Feofan and the whole poor broken world. For the first time
she wavered, wondering if the exploit of iurodstvowas the best vehicle for her
love for the Lord, – or, rather, if she was the right one to draw her neighbor
into the sin of hatred and wrath by calling him so harshly to repentance.
It was not long before word of Dunia's shocking encounter with Deacon Feofan
reached Praskov'ia's ears. Her own daughter! Such scandalous disrespect for the
prominent and universally admired Father Deacon Feofan: everyone knows he is an
outstanding member of the clergy in one of the most important churches in all
Kitai-Gorod! It was impossible to take! How much can a long-suffering mother
bear from her children? You suckle them and raise them and devote yourself to
them completely and selflessly, and this is how they repay you? And the shame!
It reflected so hideously on her, Dunia's poor anguished and self-sacrificing
mother! Why would her little Dunechka want to do this to her? She racked her
brain for some explanation, or for some solution that she hadn't tried before.
Suddenly she remembered their first visit to Father Antonii's Black Lake
Convent, and Dunia's desire to go live there.
Maybe she should let her go to a convent, after all. But of course it must be
somewhere better than that poor shabby Black Lake Pustyn', way off in the middle
of nowhere! She hunted Dunia down in the city and tried earnestly to talk her
into going to a more convenient or prestigious monastery. She especially
stressed, most reasonably, that this would be, naturally, in Dunia's own best
interests, of course: that was the main thing. She even offered her money. But
Dunia had her heart set on the Black Lake Pustyn'. She answered firmly, "I am
destined for Father Antonii's Convent, and will settle for nothing else."
By chance, one day not long afterwards a small party of three nuns from that
very Convent happened to be in Moscow on monastery business. The group was led
by Sister Ul'iana, a senior resident in the convent and a protegee of Father
Antonii. As the three sisters from the Black Lake rode through the city, all of
a sudden Dunia came running up to them out of nowhere, slipped into their
carriage, and said to Ul'iana, "Dear sister, pray for me!" Sister Ul'iana
without a moment's hesitation said, "My dear! Of course, dear sister! And for
our beloved Lord Jesus' sake, will you pray for me, unworthy one?" They fell to
talking. Dunia introduced herself, told Sister Ul'iana something of her life,
and of her most recent encounter with the unfortunate Deacon Feofan; and she
discovered where the sisters were from. She immediately invited Ul'iana and her
traveling companions to come home with her for a brief visit. "Let's go to my
family's house! We haven't a moment to lose. My step-father has no love for me,
but he's well off and has plenty of everything. And I will welcome you with open
arms. Let's go! Please! I need you to come!" The three nuns willingly accepted
As they all sat around the table drinking kvas and eating fresh-baked bread,
Sister Ul'iana recounted to Dunia's family how they had met. And she made a
suggestion. Ul'iana said, "The life of a iurodivyiis a difficult and holy
exploit, but Dunia is ready for a different path. Perhaps you might consider
letting her come with us?" Everyone's gaze turned to Praskov'ia, who sat for a
moment as if struck by thunder. But as the idea sank in, in the face of this
actual concrete invitation her former reluctance to permit Dunia go to the
Black Lake began to melt, and then quite disappeared. And she said, "Why, I
suppose I'd actually be relieved for you to take her with you. It would be a
real solution to my problems. Because we're just fed up with her, the Mother of
God knows how we're at the end of our rope, it's been just terrible. Take her,
for the love of Christ; we will pay you to help cover your extra expenses." To
which Ul'iana said, "No; we don't need your money. We'll just consider ourselves
blessed if she comes with us."
Dunia listened to this conversation in silence. At Ul'iana's last words she
stood up and bowed before her visitor's feet like a normal, respectful, gracious
lady and said, "Dear sister! I am ready to go, although I am completely
unworthy. If you think I can be of service I will be eternally grateful to be
taken under your care!"
All the family members present were amazed at the change in Dunia. They were so
used to her behaving like a lunatic that they had long since been convinced she
actually was one. Mukhomor snorted, "My God! Look at this LADY! But I gotta warn
you! You better be ready: if you take her, she'll just <br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)