I was thinking about the life of Blessed Isidore the Fool for Christ. He was a convert to Orthodoxy who became a Fool for Christ. His “foolishness” was that he lived in rags and had no home except a hut made from branches. He spent his nights in prayer and his days teaching and preaching. What I find interesting is that he was considered insane and thus a Fool for Christ because he chose to live this way. But in a sense, in order to live his own calling, he had no choice. If he worked as a tradesman or a servant, he could not devote his nights to prayer and days to teaching. If he joined a monastery, he would have to submit to the rule of the monastery. In taking on this life of homelessness, he was free from the burden of supporting himself and could devote himself to God–but such devotion is considered insanity. Were it not for the miracles that accompanied his life, both during his life and after his death, his holiness would never have been known–except by those few who really knew him and were humble enough to listen to him. He would have been thought of as merely one of the unfortunates.
Another thing I find interesting about Blessed Isidore’s life is that the life itself teaches us (none of his words were preserved). He completely left all and followed Christ. Yet, one of his miracles was to save a wealthy merchant from drowning. The merchant had fallen off a boat and was drowning. Isidore appeared walking on the water and led the merchant to the shore. When Isidore died, this merchant built a church in Isidore’s honor over the spot where his hut had been. What I find most interesting is that neither God nor Isidore despised the wealthy merchant. Just because holy Isidore found salvation and great freedom in poverty–and this was a lesson to all that wealth is an unnecessary hinderance to salvation–God still saved the wealthy man (through Isidore!) and allowed the wealthy man to use his wealth to build a church in Isidore’s honor (which is probably the main reason why we know anything about Blessed Isidore today). The merchant had his own demons to fight, his own gifts and callings to struggle with, his own path to follow to Christ; yet it was the voluntarily poor, voluntarily insane, Isidore who led the way for him.
It reminds me of the words of St. John Chrysostom’s Paschal homily: “To the one He gives, to the other He is gracious.” That is, God gives liberally to those who labour diligently (to those who come at the first hour), and to the others He is gracious (to the ones who come late). In this case, coming early refers not to time, but to calling/effort/giftedness/zeal. The pay is the same, but the ability/opportunity to enjoy the Master’s presence and share in the Master’s labor is not. In a mystical sense, that is the pay: the Master’s presence and a share in the Master’s labor (suffering) and joy. Those who come late (or labor little) are not with the Master early to enjoy the Master’s presence and His lavishly bestowed Grace for the whole day; but when they eventually come, the reward is the same.