A saintly Fool for Christ in the heart of Athens
2 Απριλίου 2009
«Foolishness for Christ» was always appreciated as one of the most moving chapters in the voluminous Book of Saints of our Orthodox Church. One more pebble that was added to this chapter is the history that a humble levite of the Gospel who lives in the blessed mountains of Agrafa in Northern Greece narrated to us.
His narration pertained to a contemporary «fool for Christ», who lived in one of the many faceless, inaccessible and remote neighborhoods of Athens.
Crazy John – who is the central character of his narration – lived in a tiny, humble apartment that he had inherited from his mother; one of 20 apartments that comprised the condominium building. He worked at the neighborhood bakery and began work at daybreak. From that bakery where he worked, he would customarily fill two bags with loaves of bread and bread rolls every day, and would rush to distribute them to the elderly men, women and students in his neighborhood.
«Here you are – I thought I might give you some freshly-baked bread, a gift from mister Apostoly the baker, so that you will commemorate him in your prayers» he would say.
The truth was that Crazy John would use up a large part of his wages to provide bread to the poor of his neighborhood. He would tell mister Apostoly that he was only helping out some sick friends, and that he was being paid for his trouble…
But how did he know who the poor in his neighborhood were?
Well, he made it a habit to indiscriminately ring the doorbells, not only in his own condominium, but also in neighboring apartment buildings. He would introduce himself to everyone and would ask them if they needed anything that he could help them with:
«And how did you wake up this morning? Has any problem come up so I can be of assistance to you? How are your children?»
At first, some snubbed him. Others slammed their door in his face, refusing to speak to him – obviously annoyed by his unexpected presence. But there were others who actually waited for Crazy John to come, so that they could hear a kind word from him. Eventually, he came to know all of them; he came to know their peculiarities, but also the elements of their characters.
In the evenings, Crazy John would retire to his humble home and pray. He liked to recite the book of Psalms, claiming to someone who asked him why, that «they were intended to drive away the little critters (demons) from the neighborhood…»
He used to read it out so loud, that a newly-arrived tenant who didn’t know him that well called the Police, complaining about him disturbing the peace!Also on a daily basis, the fool would cense all the apartments, beginning from the top floor and working down. He would even go out to the back yards and cense there also. And when someone was sick, he would visit them and – after censing them and making the sign of the Cross over them – he would read haltingly, with his limited education, the words of James’ Epistle…
«Pray for each other, so that you may be healed», he would say to them. He would urge them to go to confession, «to get well by the greatest of doctors, our Christ…»
Quite often, after coming home from the bakery, he would grab a broom and sweep the entire apartment building, «to keep it clean», as he used to say.
He enjoyed intervening with a smile between those who quarreled about political parties publicly, in cafes (in older times, there used to be heated arguments over political parties):
–«Ah, you guys, why do you count on and pin your hopes on tin cans and cymbals? Instead of quarrelling, you should be praying to God to send us a David for a king. He could solve problems, because his knees had bled from prolonged supplications and prayers. But what do your wise guys do? Their supplications are only for commission, and they become one with corruption… They take you for idiots and they mock you», he used to tell them.
–«Get lost, Crazy John», they would reply and, to avoid him altogether, they would send him off on an errand. But he would always say «Don’t pin your hopes on the rulers. Have your hopes in God only.»
One day, Crazy John didn’t go to work. Mister Apostoly the baker was concerned. He was never absent from work. So he sent someone to his apartment. Before arriving at the apartment, he saw the fool holding a shovel, cleaning out the storm drains in the street and emptying them of the dirt and litter that was blocking them.
–«Hey you! Have you really lost your mind?» he shouted. «Mister Apostoly is waiting for you at the bakery and you’re cleaning storm drains? Did you think the City Council would hire you that way?»
To which he replied:
–«I have been trying to find two coins that I lost, since this morning. But I can’t remember which of the five drains they had fallen into, so I opened all five of them. And, since I had opened them, I though I might as well clean out the dirt while I’m at it» the fool said, laughing. «So, go back to Mister Apostoly and tell him I will work extra tomorrow, to make up for the hours I was absent today. Hey, they were two whole coins… that’s no small amount» he added.
One can only imagine the baker’s exasperation. As soon as he learnt of the fool’s prank, he threatened to fire him. Five hours later, John the fool had completed his mission and returned home, very pleased.
–«Well, did you find your coins?» The grocer asked him mockingly. «You should go to the Mayor and ask for them, for having cleaned the storm drains» he said, laughing at him.
But later on that afternoon, the sky began to darken. Black clouds gathered threateningly, followed by lightning and thunder and a heavy downpour. The streets quickly turned into rivers, sweeping away everything in their path – including cars on the street. Many catastrophes were recorded in the largest Municipality: Houses, shops, warehouses were flooded. Properties were lost. The Fire Department couldn’t handle all the emergency calls for rescues…
The Mayor visited the stricken areas of his jurisdiction the next day, to personally gauge the damages. All the citizens of his municipality confronted him about the blocked storm drains. He eventually went to Crazy John’s neighborhood. There was no flood damage there. The grocer who spotted the Mayor, went up to him and said:
–«Mister Mayor, you should go and thank Crazy John who has been cleaning out these storm drains from this morning. That fool’s craziness saved us, thanks to his persistent search for two lost coins!»
But the baker also said the same things to the Mayor:
–«It’s fortunate Mister Mayor that the madman cleaned those storm drains, otherwise we would have drowned after a rainfall like that. His madness saved us from a worse fate.»
–«It looks like madmen can be a necessity too», the Mayor said with a smile.
John, the fool for Christ, used to wear very worn-out clothes. Many would feel sorry for him, seeing him in that state, and they would give him money. «Here, take this you fool, and buy yourself some trousers and a decent shirt to wear.» He would thank them and take the money. He would then place the money in an envelope, add some more from his own wages, then would secretly go and toss the envelope under the doors of those whom he knew were in need.
Whenever he went to a supermarket, he would purchase very unusual things. He would even place various women’s items for example in the shopping cart, and that would get the cashier girls giggling. The owner of the supermarket would feel sorry for him, and had even given instructions to accept only half of the total value of the items that he purchased.
One day, someone’s curiosity got the better of him, and he decided to find out what the fool did with all that shopping. So he secretly followed him one day. Crazy John went to a remote corner of the tiny square so that he would not be watched by passers-by, and began to separate and group the shopping items. He would then begin to ring doorbells (as he was accustomed to doing) and would leave the bags with the shopping items on the doorsteps.
The women’s articles that he used to purchase he would take to a poor student, Katerina, one of a large family of many children; one who was in great need.
On the day of his death eight years ago, everyone in the neighborhood had a story to tell about the fool’s «pranks»: Anastasy, the janitor of the building where the fool lived, began to tell about the love he had for the Church.
He would go to church almost every day. On Sundays he would arrive even before the Priest. He would light his candle, kneel before all the holy icons and then go to his place at the entrance of the church, pretending to be a beggar. Whatever money he collected – as the Priest revealed to me – he would secretly go and deposit in the charity box for the poor and the elderly.
One day, the caretaker saw him at the charity box and thought he was trying to steal the money. So she ran to notify the priest. «Father, Crazy John has got his hands on the charity box!» she cried out. The priest then went cautiously over and secretly observed what he was doing. He saw the fool pulling money out of his pockets and depositing it the charity box.
–«What on earth are you doing there you fool?» the priest shouted. And Crazy John replied «Well father, you see a hole opened in my pocket, so to prevent the money from falling through the hole and losing it, I put it in the box for the Panaghia to guard, and to give it to others poorer than me!»
He saved a woman from the deadly sin of adultery…
Nicoletta then took a long sip of coffee and began to tell her story with Crazy John…
«One evening» she said «perhaps ten or more years ago, I saw a young man wandering aimlessly in our neighborhood. I watched him purposely, because I thought he was a burglar. Suddenly, I noticed Crazy John coming out of his building in a hurry and quickly walking in the direction of the only ground-floor house in the neighborhood, where a four-member family was living as tenants.
The fool sat himself squarely on the steps of the front yard, and began to chant the hymns to the Panaghia out loud. He especially liked to chant «O Virgin pure….»
Two hours went by, but the fool continued to chant hymns. I went out and told him to stop. Then I noticed the young man walk hurriedly away. The fool got up and went inside the house. I followed him out of curiosity, to see what was going on. I must admit that my mind went to something sinister. I rang the doorbell and a young woman opened the door.
Crazy John was seated at the kitchen table, eating something the young woman had served him. Next to him stood her five year old son. Turning to the boy, the fool began to tell him that one of God’s ten commandments is the one that says «Thou shalt not commit adultery».
–«You know Georgie, adultery is not something that God likes. Adultery opens a gate for Satan, who then enters the home and wreaks havoc. That’s when families break up, and sicknesses and pain and hatred come in through the windows and drive out God’s blessing that was given with the sacrament of Marriage. Man and woman – like your daddy and mommy – become one flesh with marriage dear Georgie; one body. With adultery, it’s like cutting off your arm.»
I have to admit that made me very angry….
–«What on earth are you telling that poor child, you ungodly wretch?» I said. The young woman burst into tears and said between sobs «He’s saying it about me; leave him alone – don’t scold him….»
But Crazy John quickly got up and left. The young woman then confessed that she had planned to cheat on her husband with a young man she had met in a cafeteria that she had been to with a friend of hers for coffee. She told her that the young man was supposed to meet her at her place, thus taking advantage of her husband’s absence, as he was out of town on business, but God protected her and the young man didn’t come.
«I narrowly escaped a huge disaster, dear Nicoletta. I would have broken up my family and my marriage. When Crazy John knocked at the door, I thought it was that young man, and I wouldn’t have had the strength to send him away. Fortunately God saved me from committing a terrible sin….»
–«It was the fool who saved you» I said to her, «because the young man had indeed come this far, but the fool was sitting on your doorstep outside for hours, chanting incessantly, while the young man was pacing outside your door. Didn’t you hear him?» I asked her…..
–«I had heard» – the baker interposed – «that John wanted to become a priest, ever since he was a child. But then came the German occupation, followed by the civil war, so he never managed to finish his schooling. He only managed to learn to read and write a little. Thus, while still relatively young, when he went to the Bishop and asked him to ordain him a priest, the Bishop had deterred him, and instead recommended that he first go to school.
But now, with all these things that are being said about John, and with everything that I personally know about him, I can safely say that God may not have made him a priest, but He surely anointed him a Bishop in our neighborhood. These last words by Mister Apostoly were drowned in his sobs and his tears….
The secret life of Crazy John…
Tears also began to fall in the eyes of many more who were present. Everyone wanted to deposit their own testimony. Two girls were observing the scene at a distance from the others, looking somewhat confused. You could clearly discern admiration combined with a feeling of sadness, from the expression on their faces. None of the people present knew who the girls were, and they were curious to find out who they were…
Mister Anastasy thought that they might have a family bond with the deceased John, so, being the janitor of the building, he took the initiative and asked them if they were related to the recently departed for the Lord, brother John…
The robust girl then began to say the following, after brushing away her tears:
–«My name is Arete, and my friend here, Calliope, works with me at the Children’s Hospital. Several years ago, we came to know mister John the Clown. That’s how we knew him – the one that you call Crazy John. He would come almost every Sunday afternoon, always laden with toys. He would share them amongst the children and he would play with them. He loved them all, but showed special care and love for all the newly-born babies that were growing up alone in the hospital, because they had been abandoned by their parents. He used to bring them clothes and toys and would always leave some money with the nurses on duty, in case the children needed something else, for whenever he couldn’t go there. We didn’t know him as a fool, like you do. To us, he was the kindest clown, who entertained the children like no-one else could…»
–«H especially loved a little child whose parents had abandoned it because it was born with Down’s Syndrome», Calliope added.
«But tell me, little Calliope, how could they leave behind this tiny angel?» he would wonder. «If only they (the parents) knew that this angel was for them a ticket to Paradise and eternity, they would never have abandoned it. How on earth do you turn your back on such a treasure? Our Lord – dear little Calliope – said that He is Love. And you know that love contains sacrifice. Love without sacrifice is like an empty can – an unvarnished one, as my dear mother used to say. Christ – dear little Calliope – said that whoever doesn’t have sacrificial love resembles a zero. If we only knew dear girl what treasures God sends to man continuously to save him, we would be jumping for joy. Here, take a look at this angel here – this is one of those treasures… In fact, I will tell you a secret. If we could find a good family today who would adopt it, then not only would they receive innumerable heavenly blessings, but also, with the sacrifice of their love, in embracing a little angel with a wounded body, they would even cure it. Because our Triadic God is merciful and caring…»
These are the things that mister John would say as he looked at the sick and abandoned little child asleep in its tiny hospital crib.
–«Isn’t it strange little Calliope how people nowadays care more about little animals, and pay no attention to these little children? I’m not saying we shouldn’t love birds and animals. We should care about them too, but how much more should we care about suffering mankind, who is made in the likeness of God? We need to become Good Samaritans nowadays, so that we might give up our lives also if necessary, to comfort our fellow-man. Don’t forget that – especially you nurses, whose work is linked to human suffering…»
To be continued…