“Man of God”

The other night, Gail and I went to go see the movie, Man of God, with a group of our parish friends.  

It was the second time for me.  If I could see it a third, I would!

I don’t pretend to be a film critic so you can take what I write below with several grains of salt.

Caveats out of the way, all I can say is that this is one of the best films I have seen in a very long time.

You must go see it.  It’s that good.  And not just on a spiritual level, but on a cinematic level, as well.  The normal cliches don’t apply.  It is both faith-affirming and touching, but more importantly, it was real in the sense that for a moment, you could come close to understanding what it meant to be a saint.

The single-mindedness with which they approach life.  

In St. Nektarios’ case, he cared about pleasing his spiritual father, who sadly forsaken him, and pleasing God.  He was seemingly unaware of how his mere presence incited the world around him.  The more people he touched around him, the more the world hated him.      

In the past, I’ve spoken about St. Nektarios of Aegina and his personal impact on my life when I was seriously injured as a boy.  Mine is but one of many other stories you may have heard about him.  After you see this movie, you’ll feel St. Nektarios touched your life, too.

The time was right for a full-blown cinematic effort to burst onto the screen.  And for that, we can thank Yelena Popovic, the producer and director, for having the insight, talent, and drive to make it happen.

At the risk of intruding upon the depth of spirituality that showcased this film, I’d like to offer a few of the more mundane aspects of this movie that seriously impressed me, as well.  So much so, I could easily recommend this movie based on the way it was put together alone.    

In no particular order:

The acting was superb.  Period.  And not just Servetalis, who played the part of Nektarios, but the entire cast, from the major to the minor characters.

A special shout-out must go to Alexander Petrov for his portrayal of his devoted follower/press agent, Kostas.  The bottled-up feelings this character displayed as they deepened through the film, were probably the best I have ever seen portrayed.  

Special mention must also go to Yiannis Stankoglu who played the secular-minded president of the Rizarios School.  Although he was antagonistic toward asceticism in general, and St. Nektarios in particular, he was unable to ward off the grace that came through their interaction at the end.  He’s the type of actor who can play a character you wonder about when the film is over.  Did he go back to being his former self or did he pass through the door of transformation as a result of his encounters with St. Nektarios?

Both of these men deserve a Best Supporting Actor award at a major film festival; not our degraded Oscars which have devolved into a clown show.

Finally, Nikitas Tsakiroglu who played the part of Sophronios, the aged Patriarch of Alexandria, had the right amount of fury and vulnerability needed to make his anger towards St. Nektarios (his spiritual son) entirely believable.     

An honorable mention goes to Mickey Rourke, St. Nektarios’ paralytic roommate, for playing his part with a heart-wrenching pathos.  I don’t know who’s idea it was to get Rourke to play this particular part, but he deserves a big pat on the back for the 5 or so minutes he appeared in the film. 

Popovic and her crew got the feel of the period behind the film just right.  This was the Edwardian era and the costumes were appropriate to the last detail.  Little touches like the servants wearing white gloves at a tea party stood out, as well as the starched collars of the upper-class gentlemen and the wide hats of their wives.  The peasants in some of the poorer areas were attired in the ruder garb that was still popular at the time.  The production staff spared no expense in getting it right and it showed.

The cinematography was somewhat grainy, almost black-and-white, giving it a documentary, understated feel, very reminiscent of The Passion of the Christ.  Looking back, I would have been disappointed had they used technicolor or some other full-color cinematic palette because it would have interfered with the intimacy.  It’s not that the characters weren’t central –they were–but you got the feeling that you were part of the scene, as opposed to watching it on a screen.

The background music was exquisite.  Beautiful in its own right, whether it was religious or merely incidental.  I very much appreciated the fact that it was not overpowering (unlike Dune, which was too loud in my opinion.)

I appreciated the fact that the film was not maudlin or overly emotional.  The suffering that was displayed by not only St. Necktarios, but some of the other characters, as well, showed that this movie wasn’t a typical sob story but a period piece in which you witnessed the suffering of everyday life and the people in it, the bishop included.  It solicited the proper emotion from the viewer without being mawkish.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a tear-jerker but it wasn’t depressing.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  I can’t say this enough but the stoicism (mixed with the obvious pain), that Servetalis displayed in the face of constant slander and injustice, was one of the greatest examples of acting I can remember.

One of the details they incorporated into the film which was truly astonishing was the aging process of Servetalis as St. Nektarios.  It was subtle at first.  Only a few flecks of gray in his beard.  Then, as time went on, a bit more.  His erect posture degenerated into a bent, almost hunchback state; his gait becoming laborious and painful at the end.  The liver spots on his hands and the wrinkles on his face, appeared at the right time, helping to pace the details of his life as he aged.  As the movie drew to an end, the process of extreme aging was almost complete; not only in his physiognomy but in his physique, as well.  His very soul seemed to have aged and you could almost feel his pain.

If I had one criticism it would be this: the dialogue should have been in Arabic and Greek.  Thanks to Mel Gibson’s epic, forcing English onto historical narratives can no longer be viewed as an absolute necessity. 

But subtitles in English could have also been an obstacle, especially in picking up some of the more subtle cues we previously mentioned.  Lest we forget, The Passion –which was completely in Aramaic and Latin–was the highest-grossing independent film of all time.  Subtitles are not necessarily deal-breakers. 

But in this film, we might have missed the nuance of the wonderful expressions had we been required to focus on reading dialog, diminishing the overall effect of this wonderful film.  

Please make every effort to see Man of God.  You will not be disappointed.  

P.S. Be sure and stay for the “after-show” which follows the screen credits.  You will learn from the producer how true miracles occurred throughout the filming.

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Comments

  1. I wonder if it’s historically accurate that St. Nektarios’ spiritual daughter nun became blind as a result of taking a vaccine like in the film.

    There are seems to be a pastoral or discernment issue whether it would have been a wise choice for him to leave the women’s monastery if his role there was an unfortunate cause for misplaced scandal. My impression was that he stayed because of his bond with the nuns and his desire to continue to give them spiritual oversight. Had he left, there would be two choices for the nuns- they could have left for a new monastery or gotten an abbess. One danger in his leaving is that the nun who had been married could have been pressured into leaving monasticism like her mother wanted.

    • Gail Sheppard says

      I don’t think saints think in terms of scandal. – He stayed because they were unable to take care of themselves in the beginning. None of them had any experience starting a monastery where they knew no one.

      I know an abbess who faced a similar situation with her nuns when they were literally placed in the middle of the desert. The closest city observed the women building their own roofs and carrying supplies to and fro. Like in the movie, it wasn’t too long before people in the nearby city joined them and helped them. Look at what God can do! https://stpaisiusmonastery.org/# https://stpaisiusmonastery.org/#

      • One reason why the scandal issue came to mind was because I had been reading about Rasputin before watching the movie. There were accusations against Rasputin that he was involved in lechery, and these accusations hurt Russia’s royal family because Rasputin had close contact and a close relationship with them. One reason that the royal family wanted Rasputin nearby was because of his ability (which I guess was real) in healing the Tsarevich (royal heir to the throne).

        One historical commentary critical of Rasputin noted that Rasputin himself seemed to acknowledge that his close relationship to the royal family was strongly damaging the royal family’s image. Rasputin’s defenders (including some today) claim that the accusations against Rasputin were false. In contrast, a current Orthodox priest in an online video criticized Rasputin’s decision to continue his close relationship with the royal family. The priest noted that if Rasputin knew that this relationship was damaging the royal family, then Rasputin should have put distance between himself and them. The priest suggested that if Rasputin wanted to heal the Tsarevich, he could have just stayed some place a good distance away from the royal family and prayed for them there. In at least one case that comes to mind, Rasputin prayed for the Tsarevich a good distance away (in Siberia, as I recall) and the latter was healed anyway.

        So based on this theory, even if Rasputin was innocent of the accusations of lechery, then knowing of the accusations and the harm that he was doing, Rasputin could have chosen to put distance between himself and the royal family, thereby removing the harm that his relationship was causing them.

        • Gail Sheppard says

          Rasputin had a child and lived a secular life, to put it mildly. His spiritual touch might have come from the power of a different source.

        • Seraphim says

          Gail makes a good point. The enemy can masquerade as an angel of light. Rasputin was not a well man. At worst he was evil, at best he had mental problems.

          Indeed, his relationship did not help the Tsar and his family and it certainly provides fodder for their naysayers. However, that wasn’t the big problem. The spirit of antichrist had been raging for years and it is just as likely that things would have turned out the same had Rasputin not been in the picture.

  2. Great movie! The only thing that perplexed me, was the inconsistent ecclesiastical titles of prelates. They seemed to interchange them too frequently. For instance, the Patriarch of Constantinople was referred to as His Grace in one scene. And, Nectarios was referred to as His Grace, or Eminence back and forth. And, not sure about this one, the nuns kept referring to Nectarios as ‘father’…is that correct for a bishop in Greece?

    Otherwise, a very good film, indeed! Please go and see it if you can, or wait until it’s available for streaming.

  3. Athanasia says

    I, too, saw this film with some of my fellow parishioners/friends. I thoroughly loved it; more than “The Island.” You put into words everything I felt. What bothered me was how much of myself I saw in those who slandered St. Nektarios. And how angry I was at them at the same time. Clearly, I am no saint.

    I hope more of these types of movies are made. I really appreciated this one.

  4. Agree. I saw it last week with my father and this week with my mother and a cousin. It’s beautiful; I especially found the scenes with the custodian Vasili moving.

  5. Joshia Watkins says

    The film is pure soviet agitprop. The assistant and the blind nun are played by Russian accents. Nectarius is the patron of Bacchan orgy who made his nuns pregnant (Helena Smith, Guardian, Nov. 12, 1990). Ascetism is evil because it rejects the glorious fruits of American holiness. The Orthodox church is the antithesis of American conservatism. The Orthodox do not believe in original sin, passion and reason like the west. Orthodox, like liberals, believe humans can be perfected, the way Mary perfected herself, made herself immaculate. But the conservatism of Edmunde Burke and Russel Kirk holds the human condition immutable.

    • Gail Sheppard says

      Yelena Popovic is a famous Producer, Screenwriter, and Director from Greece; not a “Societ “agitprop”.
      Korina Anna Gougoli, the blind nun, is a former New Yorker and now lives in Greece; no Russian accent, real or imagined.
      Alexander Andreevich Petrov, the assistant, is indeed Russian so I guess his accent makes sense.

      With respect to “nuns getting pregnant”, I suspect you may have inadvertently copied your source from another source. Did you check it out to see if it existed? I couldn’t find it, but if you located it, would you please share it with us? It’s possible the anonymous author on Goggle Groups may have made it up. If it were true, he would never have passed the scrutiny of time. https://groups.google.com/g/alt.religion.christian.east-orthodox/c/A2OXoIWxD2g

      “The glorious fruits of American holiness” includes asceticism. We call it monasticism, which many also call “the backbone of Orthodoxy.” I would hate to think of what this country (any country) would be without it.

      How could Mary perfect herself and become immaculate (which, BTW, the Orthodox do not believe)? When Catholics talk about the Virgin Mary, they are referring to her as being free of sin from the point of conception, I believe.

      God does not require us to be “perfect,” nor do I believe it is possible unless you are God. In the Church, we are asked to get back up after we fall. The fall seemingly concerns Him less than the getting back up part.

      Interesting that you would bring up Edmund Burke and Russel Kirk. Pat. Kirill wrote something a few weeks ago that seems to address their POV: “If humanity accepts that sin is not a violation of God’s law, if humanity accepts that sin is a variation of human behavior, then human civilization will end there.”

    • Joseph A. says

      If this is sincere trolling, you have to up your game. This comment is too scattered and confusing to cause offense. If this is ironic trolling, however, it’s not bad. Maybe throw in some more bizarre and incommensurate references, perhaps comparing Jerry Lewis and Maximus the Confessor — and a few lines about the Russians’ trying to steal your cheese. That will do it.

  6. I read once (or perhaps heard it in a talk?) that to be at odds with or persecuted by the institutional Church is part of being a true Christian, part of Walking and Living with and in Christ. A true

    Christ was persecuted by the Pharisees during His earthly Life, and the modern corollary to the Pharisees is the institutional Church, i.e., some bishops and patriarchs and other hierarchs.

    Those of us who feel that some of the Church’s Bishops and hierarchs persecute us or persecute the Church, well, I think that’s part of life in Christ and being a Christian.

    I thought of this when viewing the film with friends the other night. St Nectarios was persecuted mercilessly by the institutional Church. (As was St John of Shanghai and S.F.) But St Nectarios used this persecution to grow even closer to Christ. And he became a miracle-working saint!

    Wonderful film. There are so many Orthodox subjects that would make fantastic films — the life of St John of Shanghai, the life of St Maria (Skobtsova) of Paris, the life of St Tikhon Apostle to America, etc. The possibilities are endless. But American Hollywood these days makes drivel. Sad.

    • Joseph Lipper says

      Sometimes people are persecuted for very good reason, but…it’s how we respond to persecution that makes us Christians. May God grant all of us the grace of St. Nectarios to respond to persecution like he did.

      • Reminds me of a time many many moons ago, when I said to a friend, “ My mother is going to make me lose my religion. “ and she responded, No, Caroline, you are going to have to use your religion to walk through this situation. “

        What a blessing that comment has been throughout my life.

  7. I finally got to sit down and watch this with my wife earlier this week and it was a thoroughly moving depiction of his life. The stark reality that confronted me was that he had absolutely no redemption in this life – at no point was he ever vindicated. One trial and persecution after another. Of course, we know that God glorified him but his life really shows that the righteous truly don’t receive much – in worldly terms – in this life.