Isidora the Simple vs. Simeon the Holy Fool

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.

—Amber Belldene

 

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.

—Anna Fitch Courie

 

Isidora the Simple vs. Simeon the Holy Fool

  • Isidora the Simple (54%, 3,823 Votes)
  • Simeon the Holy Fool (46%, 3,192 Votes)

Total Voters: 7,015

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Isidora the Simple: Wikicommons, public domain
Simeon the Holy Fool: Aleksije Lazović, 1819 / Public domain

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210 comments on “Isidora the Simple vs. Simeon the Holy Fool”

  1. I have a simple rule to get past days like today.
    When I can’t make up my mind, vote for the one
    with the lest votes.
    Today it was Simeon ,
    Something about Isidora really pulls at my heart though
    Love one another

  2. My youth group is championing Simeon because they can relate to actions can speak louder than craziness and the goodness of charity and love outweighing foolish antics.

  3. My mother was a special education teacher of high school mentally retarded young women in
    the 1960's and '70's. At that time these young women were categorized as educably retarded. They
    were not mentally ill and I don't think Isadora the Simple was mentally ill...she had retardation
    and had the ability to learn. My Mom taught basic hygiene, appropriate social skills, cooking,
    cleaning of a home, ironing ( every day tasks). Each graduating class went on to hold jobs in
    our community in the local hospital housekeeping staff, employed as a housekeeper, laundries,
    nursing homes in a variety of capacities. They were often referred to as "simple minded" and they
    were not mentally ill. I was concerned that in 2021, others in this group referred to mental illness
    rather than retardation...thought that had been resolved many years ago.

    Simeon - I was drawn to his comic genius to draw attention with foolery to attend to the hungry and the homeless. Instead of laughing myself to sleep each night with the Late Night Shows on TV, I think
    I should get up and with their foolery in my mind, find a better way to serve the hungry and homeless myself. Going with my mother today for voting.

  4. As a participant with other adults in a Conga line for Christ, I had to vote for Simeon, the fool for Christ. As a woman, there is a difference between being reverent and lowly and being a doormat, so Isidora not standing up for herself doesn’t seem to me as being worth my vote.

    1. I do not see her behavior as being a doormat but following the words of our Lord in Luke 14:11 and our Lord's example as noted in Philippians 2:8. Christ chose to be silent before his accusers, and are any of us greater than him? I think not.

  5. My vote today went to Simeon, because rather than shutting himself away from the world, he took his faith out into the midst of need, and tended the sick, fed the hungry, preached the Gospel - all that good Matthew 25:31-46 stuff. He may have engaged in some outrageous behaviour but he got people's attention, and that's what matters. The man was a fool, perhaps, but he was a fool for Christ, and that's praiseworthy.

  6. I am parish admin of a church that is occupied by a fairly large soup kitchen that serves breakfast & lunch 365 days/year. At any given time, there may be a few Simeon-like folks hanging out in our parking lot. I don't work directly with them, as the soup kitchen has its own staff, but just being exposed to these souls has taught me so much. I look at some of them and think "There is our homeless Jesus." Homeless Jesus is not a statue, it's every one of these "crazy" people we see. Is there really a Simeon behind that facade, or a tortured mind, or a dangerous criminal? We may never know. But they don't have to do anything saintly to teach us something, we can learn a lot just by observing and trying to live out our baptismal covenant in such circumstances. It is a serious challenge that I struggle with daily.

  7. I was going to vote for Isidora, but I changed my mind and had to vote for Simeon because he was essentially a performance artist. Also, he is the patron saint of puppeteers and I am a maker and a performer of giant puppets. Come on Simeon! You can do it!

  8. Keep in mind all the write ups are based on the "legends" surrounding the individual. Experience tells me there will be much culturally biased selective reasoning in the telling of the old stories and the narratives given today. I look to get to the essence of the individual's life story and decide from there. I agree too much emphasis on some of the more base actions and behaviors in the Saints lives this year.

  9. at the risk of drawing unnecessary attention to myself, I'll say here that I connected with Isadora today based primarily on one stand-out experience of mime (pun intended). I'd arrived 2 days late for training camp for a mime-and-discipleship-mission-trip where I was to be the primary mime teacher and a chaperone. I hadn't worked with that ministry for a few years so the teens were all new faces to me. After overhearing a church leader say to the ministry leader that "we" had to clean up the mess in the non-working garbage disposal (blaming our group, which turns out wasn't true anyhow), I quietly volunteered to do the job. Not because I'm pious, but simply because I don't gross out easily. It turned out to be very messy and gross and STINKY (which I'd failed to account for) and also somewhat hilarious (especially when the church handyman was horrified to see what we'd been asked to do). But, I digress... what my actions inadvertently did, unlike for dear Isadora, is immediately garner the respect of the teens I was going to be helping to lead. Which was a good thing!

    So my vote went today for Isadora. Perhaps ironically since my felt connection to her happened during mime ministry and I had put down Simeon the Fool when making my initial bracket guesses because mimes are known as fools. 😛

  10. I, too, had a hard time choosing today, so have fallen back on my second profession, a B&B innkeeper. (Before that I was a college professor who both taught & did a lot of organizing; as a book publisher’s rep once said to me, “every organization has a “washer woman.” ) A typical B&B is a micro-business and the owner-innkeepers must be ready and willing to step in on a day you come up short-staffed, for whatever reason; this involves cleaning toilets, etc, not just the pleasant tasks. Good staff are like gold & rubies & you thank God everyday for them. So, kudos to Isadora, who could pray while she worked. Also, Simeon reminds me of my mother: church musician and volunteer music therapist for mentally ill Veterans, farm wife, and lover of fun. One of her favorite comments, “ Live, and let live!”

  11. If we're not going to accept stories of abusive behaviour towards God's holy ones we've got some heavy re-writes to accomplish before Good Friday.

    Sometimes everything's not awesome. Choosing not to vote is a statement - okay. Is there anything else that might also be done to channel that holy indignation?

  12. I won’t vote yesterday or today. Nothing I can compare fairly.
    You should improve, and consider your criteria .

  13. Hmmm-coming from a family riddled with mental illness, I have sympathy for both of these saints. Simeon seems to suffer from some sort of schizo-affective disorder that I think would drive people away from Christ. I wonder how likely people would be to follow the teachings of someone so unwell. My vote goes to the simple, lonely Isadora living in a convent full of classic “mean girls” who felt she had to leave once she was accepted.

  14. I'm inspired by story of Simeon the Holy Fool.
    What came to my mind, right away, is the call from our own Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, in his book Crazy Christians: A Radical Way of Life..."We need some Christians who are as crazy as the Lord. Crazy enough to love like Jesus, to give like Jesus, to forgive like Jesus, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God like Jesus. Crazy enough to dare to change the world from the nightmare it often is into something close to the dream that God dreams for it. And for those who would follow him, those who would be his disciples, those who would live as and be the people of the Way. It might come as a shock, but they are called to craziness."
    I'm voting for St. Simeon the Holy Fool! I need more holy foolishness in my life.

  15. Isadora with her dishrag for a wimple reminded me of the story of the choosing of David to be king - "Don't you have any more sons?" "Yes, he's tending the sheep". "Yes, she's doing the things no one else wants to do." They are chosen by God for being who they were, thus were forced to be a mirror to others.
    God bless those who love and serve the Lord (and others).
    A deacon

  16. Disturbing, sad stories today... I'd vote for Isadora, but it strikes me that she wouldn't want that... as it bothered her so when brought up to adulation by the other sisters. that she was driven to flee and go into isolation.
    Yet I prefer her to Simeon... so for me it's no vote today.

  17. Isadora called to mind Cinderella. She did the menial tasks in service of others without complaint, she was mistreated by her sisters, and she was discounted as a full member of the household, only to be discovered by one who knew of a specific marker by which to identify her, and then was not put off by her station. And as in the story of Cinderella, once someone else treated Isadora as desirable, the sisters began to fawn over her. (I will, however, give the nuns the benefit of assuming that they did sincerely repent, rather than assuming they were acting in self-interest at that point.)

    I wasn't thrilled to read that she ignored her own bodily needs by refusing anything but crumbs and dishwater. But I was impressed that she willingly volunteered for the most menial tasks and by her apparent sincere humility and desire to serve. How shameful of her fellow nuns to beat her when they believed her to be "stupid".

    I wonder whether the nuns felt that Isadora was showing them up by taking their life of poverty to an extreme by refusing to eat, wearing a dishrag instead of a cowl, and quite possibly appearing to be unfriendly by not speaking with them (for some reason, I picture her not speaking much, and that fact contributing to their presumption that she was mentally challenged). I do not in any way excuse their mistreatment of her. I just wondered - partly because I wondered why Isadora felt the need of such extreme humility. It almost seemed like she abased herself unnecessarily and to what end? Did she suffer from lack of self-esteem?....And maybe she was called to bless others rather than to run away to be alone. Was she an extreme introvert?

    However, in the end, I decided to credit her with her ability to shed all ego and self-interest, something I have not been able to do nor do I even try that hard, I must realize and confess. Isadora took to heart Jesus' words that one should make oneself a slave to others, that the last shall be first. She tried to live this out in the manner in which she felt called.

  18. I really liked Simeon's story until I got to the part where he seemed to be performative to me. It seemed like he was feigning outrage by turning over tables, just to get attention - and what was scooting around on his backside supposed to accomplish? I do understand the message that we tend to avert our eyes from and dismiss those who do not observe certain societal norms, who make us too uncomfortable. But couldn't his example of service the poor and the ill have stood alone, without the theatrics?

  19. Perhaps I'm experiencing a bout of Covid isolation grumpiness, but neither Isidora nor Simeon really spoke to me. Even my amusement towards some quirky saints in the Before Times has abandoned me. I did end up voting for Simeon because a hint of a smile broke out when I saw he is the patron saint of ventriloquists (honestly never thought of that possibility).

  20. I suspect "The Simple" is a misnomer for Isadora. I think she was likely deeply misunderstood--and continued to be misunderstood even after the stranger's words elevated her into a living object of veneration. If only the other members of her order had included her and treated her with respect and compassion instead of suddenly worshipping her in an act of public piety, she might not have felt the need to escape to the desert. Perhaps she had a mental illness; perhaps she was deeply traumatized; she might even have been "on the spectrum"--but whatever the case, she never really got the sisterly love and friendship she deserved. I'm not going to wear a dirty dishrag on my head next time I host coffee hour (whenever that is, God willing), but I am going to try to be better at looking out for the Isadoras in my life. Today, she gets my vote.

  21. As a retired “Special Education” professor my career has taken me to K-12 classes, institutions, centers, etc. that provide classes/services for children/adults with labels across the spectrum. I have been privileged to meet Isidoras in all those settings. No two of us are alike

  22. Seems Isadora and Simeon are going through another, modern rejection. Maybe Isadora was stupid; maybe Simeon was mentally ill -- does it matter? Were they answering a call only they heard, a call every bit as valid as the philosopher saint we've also read about? What is it they have to teach us? Sometimes I wish for the superpower of looking right into a person's heart, speeding past the externals -- what would I see there? Only damage, or a weird triumph?

    1. They were "answering a call only they heard, a call every bit as valid as the philosopher saint we've also read about. . . What is it that they have to teach us?" I don't know about looking into people's hearts, but it seems to me you got right to the heart of this one, Barbara. Thank you!

    2. Excellent point Barbara. We are judging based on external actions. How can we accuse someone of being humble for the wrong reason if we cannot know what their own heart is telling them and how they offer their actions to the Lord. And as for acting foolish, I know there have been times when I look at what this world seems to value and I've wanted to rant and turn over tables and throw food!

  23. I love reading all these comments. These saints are really making people think and react. Thanks to you all, including the Supreme Executive Committee.

  24. Simeon made messes, throwing food and overturning tables and scooting around on his bum which presumably added more dirt to his clothes than they would have been carrying otherwise.

    Isidora cleaned up messes made by others.

    In this matchup my vote goes to the one who tried to slow down entropy in her own quiet way.

  25. I voted for Isadora because her plan was really quite simple:
    to be among the last on Earth so that she would therefore be among the first in Heaven.

    And how better to recognize her hard-earned rank in Heaven
    than by awarding her a Golden Halo to replace this nun's "dirty dishrag" wimple?

    [My poetry might lack proper meter but there are rhymes to be found at least.]

  26. Picture it: Jacob Ludwig Carl and his brother Wilhelm Carl a.k.a the brothers Grimm in casting about for material for their latest bit of folklore stumble upon the story of St Isidora and Eureka - the genesis for "Cinderella" is unearthed. Guess who got my vote today.