This excerpt was taken from the newly-circulated book about Crazy John, a modern-day ”Fool for Christ”
"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!"