We’ve all heard stories from the lives of fools-for-Christ, those humble ones who disguise the depth of their sanctity in feigned madness. But what would a fool for Christ look like in our own age, which actually is insane in so many ways? Crazy John, Volume 1 is the story of one such blessed one. The author of this fascinating account, Dyonisios A. Makris, is obscurely labeled a “Theologian – Journalist” on the title page. Actually, most of the concrete facts relating to the story are either absent or obscure enough to remain a mystery. One never learns John’s last name, or exactly when he lived or how he died; it is unclear who told the story of his life to whom, or if a Volume 2 is being planned by anybody. Even the cover of the book shows hazy, anonymous people.
This lack of clarity is deliberate on the part of the author. He wished to avoid stirring up a wave of publicity and curiosity around Crazy John’s neighborhood and friends, and it also reflects the way in which true holiness in this world is veiled. Hardly anyone who knew John seemed to recognize at the time that he was possessed of any particular sanctity, and many considered him insane if not actually malicious. Likewise the blessed ones in our own world are hidden; they are not publicly prominent and adored by the pop media.
John lived in what the author describes as a “glass-faced,sentimentally-unreachable and alienated” neighborhood in Athens. One of its characteristics, so distinctive of the modern world, was that the people were not close to their neighbors. In this sense Crazy John’s world was much like our own, in which we let people in our own neighborhoods live and die in their own “lifestyles” with their own “rights” without getting to know them.
John was raised in the country by a pious mother; his father died fighting the Italians in WWII, and his mother encouraged him to live such a self-sacrificial life. When he was 22 he was accidentally locked in a church at night, and had his first vision of Christ in the uncreated light. This was followed by frightful demonic attacks. The devil raised up enemies against him, and gossip forced him and his mother to move to the Athens area. There he began ministering to those in his own neighborhood; he worked for a bakery by day, and secretly gave most of what he made to the poor.
The bulk of this book consists of stories of his work among his neighbors. The saint ministered to all kinds of people, from a homosexual prostitute to poor people in dire need, to a married woman about to have an affair. The way in which he ministered was often bizarre by “normal” standards. In the case of planned adultery, for example, he sat on the woman’s porch singing hymns till her lover gave up, and she repented.
At his death, the blessed John’s sanctity became public knowledge, and his neighbors’ love for him welled up in a great flood—and turned into a tremendous spiritual revival.
One notable aspect of John’s life was that he saw great spiritual significance in seemingly everyday things. He read psalms for hours, because they “drove away the little critters (demons) from the neighborhood.” He saw the marriage of two friends as a “great blessing for the earth and heaven,” which “deeply moved our Christ, His Mother and our Holy Saints.” A little girl with Downs was her parents’ “ticket to paradise and eternity.” He described the television as a “stupid box of desperation and disappointment.” He never saw indifferent, sinful, hypocritical or mean-spirited people as deficient; he saw them as God’s creatures on the threshold of ineffable blessings.
Crazy John’s life highlights the extent to which we devalue and secularize the world in our own minds. Instead of seeing home and office as arenas of cosmic struggle and salvation, we deflate them to petty realms of boredom, to be tolerated or endured till Friday and summer vacation.
Before he died John had left a letter to those in his neighborhood; it is not lengthy, but it is the climax of the book. It reveals his early life and vision of Christ, and contains instructions for various matters after his repose. The author builds up to the letter very nicely for most of the story. He mentions its existence early on, then slowly reveals more about the characters and events of John’s life. One is worked up to quite a pitch of curiosity as the reading of the letter approaches, but is delayed time after time. Unfortunately, the author jumps into it too hastily at the last moment.
Aside from this literary quibble, I can hardly recommend Crazy John highly enough. In our modern world of “communities” without community, holy fools such as John point to true hospitality, true love, true sanity…and the hidden Paradise around us.
–Subdeacon Randall Hay