The life of Saint Nectarios, Greece’s most contemporary saint, will be presented in the upcoming film “Man of God.” The film premieres in theaters on August 26.
Filmed in Greece, the movie depicts the life of Saint Nektarios of Aegina, who endured unjust hatred and was persecuted by the religious establishment while preaching the Word of God.
“Man of God,” known in Greek as “O Anthropous Tou Theou,” was filmed in 2020, months after Covid-19 had severely curtailed lives everywhere. Locations for filming included Athens, Lavrio and Aegina, where the saint established a monastery. Some scenes at the monastery were filmed inside the actual room, or cell, where the saint lived.
The film’s original release was scheduled for November 9, 2020, marking 100 years since the saint’s death, but was postponed due to the Covid lockdowns.
Ironically, just a week before the film’s release in Greece, the monastery of Agios Nectarios has gone into lockdown again as 16 nuns tested positive for Covid-19.
The story begins with the 45-year-old cleric being ousted from Alexandria. The saint’s popularity, at the time when he was the Metropolitan, or bishop, of Pentapolis in Egypt, provokes the jealousy of some clergy there.
Fearing that he would become the next Patriarch of Alexandria, some of the clergy discredited him and as a result he was expelled from Egypt. He comes to Athens, and thanks to his sophisticated pedagogical tactics, he becomes famous, and at the same time begins one of his great literary works.
The workload, however, overwhelms him so he retires to Aegina. He rebuilds a ruined monastery with his own hands, which, thanks to his fame, flourishes. The monastery, however, is never officially recognized, while Nectarios is unjustly accused of immorality. At the Aretaio Hospital, shortly after his death, he performs a final miracle.
International Cast in Lead Roles in Saint Nectarios Film
In the lead role of Saint Nectarios is Aris Servetalis, the Greek actor whose popularity rose after the sitcom “Eisai To Tairi Mou” where he played Lazaros. He is joined by highly acclaimed Russian actor Alexander Petrov, who plays a close assistant of the saint, and legendary American actor Mickey Rourke in a guest star role, alongside other prominent Greek actors.
Rourke, who has been cast as a paralyzed man, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2009 for “The Wrestler.”
“Man of God” centers on the trials and travels of this priest of the common people who lived during the nineteenth Century, who was stripped of his church and exiled from Egypt but continued to care for the poor, teach peasant girls to read and write and established a convent in a barren island that still stands as a beacon to pilgrims.
The film was directed by Yelena Popovic, who also wrote the screenplay, having been inspired by the life of Saint Nectarios, reading about him during an international flight she took.
Popovic spoke online at the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival in May. She told listeners “I approached the story on a human level. I didn’t want to dramatize his sainthood. He had a life that was full of suffering and injustice. People would feel for him. I wanted to transmit something to the screen that was valuable and truthful. Saint Nectarios resonates on a human level.”
Popovic said “Personal struggle is a matter for all of us. The greatest victory is the one we achieve within ourselves. Its history is global.”
Director Popovic Inspired By Saint Nectarios’ Struggle
The director said, “That inspired me. Regardless of people’s beliefs, religious orientation, the world will identify with it and I believe that everyone will win by watching its history. It will inspire people. That is why I think that the film is not only for Greece. His story must be told everywhere and it will have an impact.”
In discussing casting for the film Popovic said “I met organically with Aris and he was my number one choice for the role. Aris had an aura about him.” Of the other protagonists in the film Popovic said “I chose American actor Mickey Rourke because he had an international presence, had a lot of depth and experience with suffering.”
Popovic said, “I chose the saint’s exile from Alexandria as the beginning of the story as it was based on the premise that man’s desire for power is what destroys society. Nectarios was a victim of that.”
“In 2013 I came to Greece and visited the monastery of Saint Nectarios in Aegina with the film outline in hand. I asked for the saint’s blessing. I returned with the finished script in 2014 and once again asked for the saint’s positive intervention.”
She also asked clerics to review her work and said their input was quite helpful for creating the authenticity of the film. Eventually life brought Popovic to reside permanently in Greece in June of 2016. “I never imagined the entire film would have production here in Greece when I began writing the script,” she explained.
Aris Servetalis spoke with the Greek radio program Melodia 99.2 recently, saying “Becoming a man of God is a path taken in life that is cultivated, depending on the relationship you have with the Creator.”
Servetalis stated “The personality of Saint Nectarios was huge. He was a man who dedicated himself and his entire life to God.”
According to Servetalis, “Faith can change a man. He had such love for others. You find this love and dedication to people and to God in his writings. I don’t know that I would call this a ‘religious film.’ He was certainly a man who represented and fought for Orthodoxy.”
Servetalis added, “The message is multiple. At the individual level, we must fall and rise, continue the daily struggle with faith to reveal who we really are. It’s difficult but it’s the only way. The way he handled the slander and all the hurdles he faced during his life is an example of a man with great depth in his belief.”
Servetalis stated, “I think it has to do with a man and his core and what is the purpose of your life. The film begins when the Bishop is 45, when he has been ousted from Egypt, to his death at about the age of 70.
“Even if I did not believe in God, I would have played this role as it examines how men face different difficulties in there life, depending on their age and station. Although the saint has died, he remains among us and helped us to complete the film. I could feel his presence.”
Servetalis: Saint Nectarios Invoked An Atmosphere
According to Servetalis, he was surprised by the proposition of the film. “When Yelena proposed that I take the lead it became problematic for me. Saint Nectarios is a presence. He is not just another character in a performance I take part in.”
An international cast and crew worked on the film both in and out of Greece. “Saint Nectarios evoked an atmosphere,” Servetalis said.
“Yelena Popovic chose actors for the roles that could offer touching performances. It is a brave undertaking for her to try and tell such a story. I hope we have done that admirably,” Servitalis stated.
In technical terms, Popovic used a camera ratio that creates a rather aged or softened image in order for the viewer to focus on the character and not the scenery within the image. “This helped to maintain a truthfulness to the period,” according to Popovic.
The filmmaker said she aspired for the movie to “awaken the paralyzed faith in audiences around the world. He was a priest of the common people, his humility annoyed the prideful orthodox clergy, his devotion aroused their suspicions, and they slandered him. Despite being stripped of his church and exiled from Egypt and the parishioners who loved him, Nectarios let his faith in God be his best defense.”
Popovic added, “In the lives of the saints, we find strength. Their struggles mirror our own, and their triumphs over human weakness give us hope.”