28 December 2008


The simplicity, the humbleness, the remoteness, the miracles converge into creating a timeless snapshot of the Orthodox spirituality, apart from the historical circumstances. Patriarch Alexei II of Russia praised Ostrov for its profound depiction of faith and monastic life, calling it a "vivid example of an effort to take a Christian approach to culture." (Wikipedia)

Over the holidays I had the opportunity to watch Ostrov yet again (Russian film portraying Orthodox spirituality). Afterwards my husband and I both commented on how the more we watch it, the more we get it. What I love the most are the prayers: the Jesus Prayer, Psalm 50, the Trisagion, the opening of Divine Liturgy... When I hear those oh-so-familiar words, I have a strong sense of home and peace whether it is being prayed in Russian, English, in my own parish, in a church in a different country (or even jurisdiction :) ), or in a film.

I jotted down some of the thoughts about it that have been floating around in my mind and thought I'd type 'em up--no particular agenda or message to this post. Mostly factoids. Probably will use bullet points, even. Whether or not you've seen the movie, this probably will seem quite random. Not sure if I'd call these spoilers, but I guess if you like to experience movies like this without any expectations or preconceived thoughts, you may not want to read this.

So anway...

  • I really noticed this time how there is no indication of disbelief or surprise when the monks find out that Fr Anatoly is preparing to depart this life and that he knows the exact day. Those who live holy lives of prayer more expect miracles and this sort of thing than they are surprised by them. They have a clearer understanding of reality and of what is the norm. The Orthodox approach to death is one of the things which will change me the most over time, I think. The balance of sober reality and peace is really beautiful, and I appreciate how it is portrayed in this film.

  • As a fool for Christ, Fr Anatoly disguises his greatness (God's grace) before others so as to avoid praise and elevation in rank. When his strange ways are judged, he only defends himself with Scripture--that really stuck out to me this time. Although he is simply following Christ's example with his responses, at first glance it looks like just another example of odd behavior. But he has truly become a stranger to this world, and he does not seek any justification from man.

  • This was the first time it sunk in that the cozy room where Fr Anatoly prays (keeps his icon) is his cell where he's supposed to sleep. However, he chooses to sleep on the rough coals without any bedding. Before, I recognized it as an aesthetic effort of depriving himself of unnecessary comforts. This time I see it as him keeping his sins continually before himself in order to stay in a constant state of repentence. He labors over the coal (symbol of his sin) during the day, sleeps on it at night, and suffers with it in his lungs. Because of his life of repentence and humility, God grants him the gift of tears, prayer of the heart, healing, and of clairvoyance.

  • I think the abbot Filaret is a great character. He seems peace-loving and unobtrusive. He sees Fr Anatoly's holiness and has the difficult job of reconciling (before the other monks) Fr Anatoly's unusual ways with the order of the monastery. I also notice that he does not seem intimidated by the fact that Fr Anatoly, a simple monk whom he probably helped to save, has apparently achieved a higher level of holiness than himself, the abbot. Also, during the movie his quiet demeanor is contrasted with a firey, obnoxious confrontation of his sin. As an observer it is easy to judge his character for being so attached to fine boots and linens, being an abbot and all. However, in "reality" (being that he's fictional), he lives in the harsh conditions of northern Russia on an island and takes comfort in a couple worldly things which he didn't even buy for himself. Those are small potatoes compared to my worldly appetite for comfort and fine things! What is most important is that he readily humbles himself, takes the correction and is thankful for it.

  • Frs Job and Filaret are convicted of their own downfalls just by interacting with Fr Anatoly in his regular day-to-day life. His virtues exaggerate their sins. Him sleeping on coals and doing such hard labor in his poor health is in stark contrast to the abbot's beloved luxuries. His humility and prostrations for forgiveness before Job frustrate Job all the more because he is not willing to let go of his pride. It is interesting how true that is to reality.

  • Lastly, it always strikes me how people come to Fr Anatoly looking for advise, prayer and miracles, but then are unwilling to accept all that is offered to them. They thought they knew what they wanted... The mother brought her son for physical healing, but did not care as much for his spiritual healing although that is the whole point of life and therefore of God's dealings with us.

If you haven't seen Ostrov yet, I highly recommend it. I have to admit (and warn you) that the subtitles are subpar for sure. But I have heard enough great reviews from English-only speakers to have hope that it can make some sense anyway.

17 December 2008

St Nicholas of Myra...the feast approaches!

The truth of thy deeds
hath revealed thee to thy flock as a canon of faith,
an icon of meekness,
and a teacher of abstinence;
for this cause thou hast achieved the heights by humility,
riches by poverty,
O Father and Hierarch Nicholas,
intercede with Christ God that our souls may be saved. ~ Troparion

This glorious saint, celebrated even today throughout the entire world, was the only son of his eminent and wealthy parents, Theophanes and Nona, citizens of the city of Patara in Lycia. Since he was the only son bestowed on them by God, the parents returned the gift to God by dedicating their son to Him. St. Nicholas learned of the spiritual life from his uncle Nicholas, Bishop of Patara, and was tonsured a monk in the Monastery of New Zion founded by his uncle. Following the death of his parents, Nicholas distributed all his inherited goods to the poor, not keeping anything for himself. As a priest in Patara, he was known for his charity, even though he carefully concealed his charitable works, fulfilling the words of the Lord: Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth (Matthew 6:3). When he gave himself over to solitude and silence, thinking to live that way until his death, a voice from on high came to him: “Nicholas, for your ascetic labor, work among the people, if thou desirest to be crowned by Me.” Immediately after that, by God’s wondrous providence, he was chosen archbishop of the city of Myra in Lycia. Merciful, wise and fearless, Nicholas was a true shepherd to his flock. During the persecution of Christians under Diocletian and Maximian, he was cast into prison, but even there he instructed the people in the Law of God. He was present at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea [325] and, out of great zeal for the truth, struck the heretic Arius with his hand. For this act he was removed from the Council and from his archiepiscopal duties, until the Lord Christ Himself and the Most-holy Theotokos appeared to several of the chief hierarchs and revealed their approval of Nicholas. A defender of God’s truth, this wonderful saint was ever bold as a defender of justice among the people. On two occasions, he saved three men from an undeserved sentence of death. Merciful, truthful, and a lover of justice, he walked among the people as an angel of God. Even during his lifetime, the people considered him a saint and invoked his aid in difficulties and in distress. He appeared both in dreams and in person to those who called upon him, and he helped them easily and speedily, whether close at hand or far away. A light shone from his face as it did from the face of Moses, and he, by his presence alone, brought comfort, peace and good will among men. In old age he became ill for a short time and entered into the rest of the Lord, after a life full of labor and very fruitful toil, to rejoice eternally in the Kingdom of Heaven, continuing to help the faithful on earth by his miracles and to glorify his God. He entered into rest on December 6, 343. ~The Prologue From Ohrid (written by St Nikolai of Ochrid)

Commemorated December 6 (19, OC).