Just to be clear, today's saints were not named after the two members of the Lent Madness Supreme Executive Committee. I mean, how would you even distinguish which one was which? But we return to the ever-popular Confusion Corner quadrant of the bracket as Isidora the Simple takes on Simeon the Holy Fool, two unconventional saints who have much to teach us about what really matters in this life.
Yesterday, Dunstan swept past Maryam of Qidun 68% to 32% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen. But enough of this. Go vote!
Isidora the Simple
Little is known of Isidora the Simple, a fourth-century nun. There are no biographical records of her, so her age and place of birth remain a mystery. But we know some details about her life in the Tabenna Monastery, the first religious house for women in Egypt.
At the monastery, she sought out the most strenuous and dirtiest of physical labor. She was nicknamed “the sponge” because of her willingness to do filthy tasks. She was considered mentally deficient by the other nuns, who ostracized and sometimes beat her. Hagiographers describe Isidora as a fool for Christ, not someone with a mental disability but someone who humbled herself to embody the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:18, “Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise.”
As part of her spiritual practice of humility and rejection of worldly rewards, Isidora did not dine with the other nuns. Legend says she was never seen eating or drinking but subsisted entirely on the crumbs of the other sisters’ plates and the water she used to wash the dishes. Isidora wore a dishrag on her head rather than the nun’s cowl the other sisters donned. Although she was mistreated by her fellow nuns, she never retaliated or complained.
The story of Isidora reveals her manner of devotion to be a willing self-humiliation. A very old desert hermit named Saint Piteroum had a vision that rather than being proud of his own sacrifices and devotion, he should go to Tabenna and meet a truly religious woman. In a scene that echoes Samuel’s search for David, he met every woman in the monastery, and none wore the crown he’d been told to look for. He asked if there was another woman remaining, and so they brought out Isidora from the kitchen. Piteroum recognized the dishrag on her head as the crown he’d been told to seek and fell on his knees asking for her blessing. When the sisters realized she was not a fool but a devout spiritual leader, they repented and began to revere her. Isidora could no longer live humbly in the peaceful isolation of work and prayer, so she fled into the desert to live out her life as an anchoress.
Isidora’s life is a reminder that service to others and true humility are the paths to intimacy with God. Her feast day is May 1.
Collect for Isidora the Simple
O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: Deliver us from an inordinate love of this world, that, inspired by the devotion of your servant Isidora, we may serve you with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Simeon the Holy Fool
Have you ever been a fool for Christ? Done anything stupid? Then you, too, are like Simeon. Holy fools have been known throughout time as those whose actions and words disrupt the status quo. Saint Paul declared himself a “fool for Christ.” These “fools” often focus more on the teachings of Jesus than the social, political, or traditional construct of the time.
Saint Simeon (or Symeon) of Salus, is known as the Holy Fool. Born in the sixth century in Edessa, Simeon was a Christian monk who entered the monastic life at age twenty at the Abba Gerasimus Monastery in Syria near the Dead Sea. Simeon spent the next twenty-nine years developing his spirituality and a desire to serve others. Through his prayer, he found he was called by God to move to the town of Emesa and serve others in ways where he would not be thanked. He asked God to provide him a way to serve his fellow man and not be concerned with conventional mores.
Simeon developed a reputation as a madman, whereby he would turn over tables, throw food, and extinguish the lights in the church to gain people’s attention. Sometimes he was found to be jumping around, sometimes limping, and sometimes scooting around on his backside. His goal was to flout societal conventions of what was “normal.” He was taunted, jeered, and teased by this town, but his reputation grew as people saw his other actions of feeding the poor, tending the sick, and admonishing the sinner and calling them to repentance. He was a known healer and devout preacher of the gospel, one who cared deeply for the homeless and hungry. Many came to Christ through the care of Simeon in spite of, or perhaps because of, the craziness of his ministry. Simeon was a dichotomy. He would gladly flout society’s conventions to bring attention to the spiritual works of mercy and grace.
Simeon’s life calls us to do crazy things in the name of God, where our actions to others speak more loudly than craziness and the goodness of charity and love far outweigh foolish antics. If there were an epitaph of Simeon’s life, it would be, “He was crazy, but he was kind and served God.” Would your epitaph say something similar?
Saint Simeon’s feast day is July 1, which is also known as Fools for Christ Day. He is the patron saint of ventriloquists and puppeteers and fools in general.
Collect for Simeon the Holy Fool
Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints and who raised up your servant Simeon to be a light in the world: Shine, we pray, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth your praise, who called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Isidora the Simple vs. Simeon the Holy Fool
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