“Man of God”: the humiliations and sufferings of the Orthodox Bishop Nectario reach the cinema

The Eastern Orthodox Church venerates as a saint Nectary of Aegina (1846-1920), a penitent and prayerful bishop about whose life a film is being made, Man of God [Hombre de Dios], directed by Yelena Popovic with the participation of Mickey Rourke. It counts James Day on Catholic World Report:

A woman of faith directs “Man of God”

Lord Jesus Christ, child of God, have mercy on me, I am a sinner“. Bishop Nectarius (Anastasios Cefalas was his real name), venerated as Saint Nectarius of Aegina in the Eastern Orthodox Church and main character of Man of God [Hombre de Dios], repeat this simple sentence continually throughout the movie. Written and directed by Yelena Popovic, Man of God It is not so much a traditional biopic as a focus on the unjust persecutions and humiliations that Nectarius suffered as a priest and ascetic totally surrendered to the will of God.

It is a spiritual and cinematic film. With his technical achievements in cinematography, montage, makeup, and production design, Man of God It is above standard religious films, making it on the level of auteur cinema, similar to the works of Terrence Malick.

Asceticism and humility Nectarios baffled and embarrassed both the secular authorities and the ecclesiastical hierarchy. His service to the poor as a bishop in Egypt he was frowned upon because it was considered a waste of funds, so he was sent to a remote community as a preacher.

When he found his goal teaching in Athens, he provoked the ire of the school principal, because he saw in Nectarius a peace that was lacking in his own life. When Nectarius reached his spiritual peak by founding the Monastery of the Holy Trinity for nuns on the island of Aegina, an unnecessary scandal fell upon Nectarius and the nuns.

Nectario (Nektarios) of Aegina (1846-1920), revered as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox communities.

In each trial period Nectario maintained fix your gaze on Christas if persecution not only strengthened her spiritual life, but also made her more like Christ. Even when the prostate cancer he was ending his life (he died in Aegina in 1920), his last earthly moments were lessons to live like Christ.

Here, the beneficiary of the example of Nectario’s suffering was a patient in the next bed, a paralyzed man. This scene, memorably performed by the American actor Mickey Rourke, reflects facts from real life: when Nectarius died, the cloak he was wearing ended up on the bed of the paralytic, who walked out of the hospital.
Nectarius was recognized as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1961.

Yelena Popovic y Mickey Rourke.

Yelena Popovic, director of the film, presents an icon to Mickey Rourke at the end of his participation in the filming.

Man of God is the second movie of Yelena Popovic as a screenwriter and director. Nectario’s life and example captivated her when she read a book about this character. It was the year 2012, and it was the beginning of a winding and unexpected odyssey that led to the production of Man of God in Greece, in full global confinement due to Covid-19. The uncertainty caused by an unprecedented health crisis and the perseverance in the making of the film put the filmmakers in the shoes of Nectario himself.

A woman of faith

The world seems to be moving away from faith and spirituality“says Popovic from Greece in an interview through Zoom:” Hollywood has to do with it. It could be because Hollywood doesn’t understand that world“.

Popovic knows something about Hollywood. Born and raised in the former Yugoslavia, she ventured into New York as model, often finding comfort in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, before moving to Los Angeles to work as an actress. He learned his trade at the prestigious Playhouse West acting school, steeped in the method championed by legendary actor trainers Sanford Meisner, Konstantin Stanislavsky Y Lee Strasberg. Faith and the practice of religion were not fostered in his childhood, but Popovic knew that he had an inherent spirituality that he must nurture. “Faith, ultimately, is a gift,” he says.

A deep religious awakening transformed his life. He went to confession and communion in a Serbian church in the Alhambra, on the outskirts of Los Angeles. In 2011, following the death of his father in Belgrade and the birth of his second son, Nikolai, Popovic discovered the person of Saint Nectarius in the Orthodox monastery of Saint Anthony the Great, in Phoenix.

The idea of ​​representing the life of this holy man on the screen was penetrating her. He saw in his struggles and virtues a reflection of his father, civil engineer from Belgrade. That personal connection with the character, as it is done in Man of God, is evident in the way that Popovic and his cinematographer, Panagiotis Vasilakis, they decided to film the scenes: most in one shot, or with very few cuts. The camera stays close, as if it were part of Nectario’s mind and world. It is as if one wanted to immerse the viewer in the suffering of Nectario, to see how he lives his life, completely conformed by Christ and the will of God.

A “catholic” film, in the sense of “universal”

Man of God overcomes the pitfalls of most religious films by trying to tell a universal story of overcoming hostility beyond the boundaries of a particular faith. Thus, it becomes a “catholic” film, universal. Indeed, many Catholics will relate to the depiction of religious rites and prayer in the film, particularly a powerful scene in which an already ill Nectarian prays to the Blessed Virgin, “my mother”, as he calls her.

Man of God is aided by a low-key but poignant score by Zbigniew Preisner, with the vocal contribution of Lisa Gerrard. The sound mix is ​​especially crucial in underlining the loneliness of Nectario’s everyday existence. It is an illustration of what the cardinal Robert Sarah he has called “the power of silence”.

“The prayer of Jesus”

Lord Jesus Christ, child of God, have mercy on me, I am a sinner“It is a simple prayer, but of great depth. Born of the mystical tradition of contemplative prayer known as hesiquía [que significa “quietud”, “calma”], is also known as “the Prayer of Jesus”. It was first brought to Mount Athos, the monastic center of Greece, by Gregory of Sinai (1260-1346). For those who practice the Jesus Prayer, known as the Hesychasts, breath control is paramount.

For the hesychasts It is not a simple process of verbal repetition, the result of which is an instantaneous transcendence, but an experience that required total concentration in body, mind and soul. “May your memory of Jesus become one with your breath; then you will know the usefulness of hesychia, ‘inner peace,'” he said. San Juan Climaco, quoted by the Pope Benedict XVI at a 2009 General Audience.

Calm and serene, slow to get angry, with his gaze always fixed on Christ: this was how Saint Nectarius, a just man, he persevered in an unjust world. Man of God He transmits it in a serene but convincing way through the tools of the cinema, and it enriches and inspires us thanks to it.

Translation by Elena Faccia Serrano.