Holy Fool

A tremendous mystical novel: ‘Laurus’ by Eugene Vodolazkin.

As he arrived home, Arseny wiped away his tears and told Ustina (his dead youthful wife, dying from a miscarriage he blames himself for—the death years in the past):

And so you see my love, what is happening.  I have not spoken to you, my love, for several months and I have no excuse.  Instead of atoning for my sin, I am ever more mired in it.  How can I pray for your atonement before God, my poor girl, when I myself am sinking into the abyss?  It would not be so regrettable, you know, if I alone were to be lost forever, but who will atone for thee and the babe?  I am the only one here who prays fervently for you and that is the sole reason that I still do not despair.

That is what Arseny said to Ustina.  He gathered Christofer’s manuscripts (his grandfather’s) in a bag, showed it to Ustina, and added:

Here is the bag with Christofer’s manuscripts, essentially the most treasured thing I have.  I would take it and go wherever I feel like, away from my renown (fame as a healer of the plague in Belozersk).  My renown has overcome me: it is driving me into the ground and preventing me from conversing with Him.  I would leave here, my love, but the prince of this city will not release me, though the main thing that keeps me here is Kseniya and Silvester.  They would be happy to pray with me for you and the baby but they do not understand that only I can do that.  I am the only one on this earth who is still united to you and it is as if you continue to live through me.  But Kseniya thinks I am destroying the living in the name of the dead and wants to pray for you as if you were dead, though I happen to know you are alive, only in a different way


The coldness seem to intensify when the moon appeared.  Arseny (wandering away from Belozersk, Kseniya, and Silvester) thought the moon itself was pouring out the silvery cold that was spreading across the land.  He took pity upon his chilly body for a while but the pity left him when he suddenly remembered his body for a while but the pity left him when he suddenly remembered his body was defiled by another’s clothes and lice.  This was no longer his body.  It belonged to the lice, the person who previously wore his clothes, and, finally, the cold.  But not to him.

As if I were dwelling in the body of another, thought Arseny.

However sympathy one might have for another’s body, its pain cannot be perceived as one’s own.  Arseny knew that, having helped infirmed bodies.  Though he had lived in the pains of others in order to ease it, he could never fathom all its depths.  And now the matter at hand concerned a body he did not even sympathize with very much.  A body that, for the most part, he despised.


He takes me for a holy fool, Arseny told Ustina.

And who else could you be taken for? Said Foma, surprised.  Just take a look at yourself, O Arseny.  You really are a holy fool, for thou hath chosen a life for yourself that is wild and disparaged by people.

And he knows my christened name.

Foma began laughing.

How could I not when it is written all over every christened person’s face?  Of course it is more complicated to guess about Ustin but you yourself are informing everybody about him.  So go ahead and holyfool it, dear friend, don’t be shy, otherwise they’ll all get to you with reverence in the long run.  There deference is not compatible with your goals.  Remember how things were in Belozersk (comfort,  wealth, and fame).  Do you need that?

Who is this who knows my secrets?  Arseny turned to Foma.

Who are you?  Who?

A prick wearing one shoe, answered Foma.  You are asking about things of secondary importance.  But I will tell you the main thing.  Go back to Zavelichye, the part of town beyond the Velikaya River, where the John the Baptist Convent stands on the future Komsomol Square.  I suspect you have already spent the night at the convent cemetery.  Stay there and believe me: Ustina could have been in that convent.  I think she just never got that far.  Though you made it here.  Pray for her and yourself.  Be her and yourself simultaneously.  Be outrageous.  Being pious is easy and pleasant, go ahead and make yourself hated.  Don’t let the Pskovians sleep: they are lazy and incurious.  Amen.

Foma drew his arm back and hit Arseny in the face.  Arseny silently looked at him, feeling the blood flow from his nose and run down his chin and neck.  Foma embraced Arseny and his face got bloody, too.  Foma said:

By giving yourself to Ustina, you are, I know, exhausting your body, but disowning your body is only half of it.  As it happens, my friend, that can lead to pride.

What else can I do? Though Arseny.

Do more, Foma whispered right into Arseny’s ear.  Disown your identity.  You have already taken the first step by calling yourself Ustin.  So now disown yourself completely.

Hoiy Fool

1 Corinthians 3:18: Let no one deceive himself.  When any one of you thinks he is wise in this world, he must first be foolish; then he will be wise.


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