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.
- 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.