May 20, 2014

The Moving Icon: Episode 7 - Orthodox Blockbusters: PRIEST SAN & LUKA

There are two big-budget films worth keeping an eye on. The first stars Pyotr Mamonov, who played the fool-for-Christ in OSTROV, and American actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, appearing together in the Japanese/Russian Orthodox movie PRIEST SAN. Along with the soon to be released film about St Luke the Surgeon, LUKA. To view trailer and links to actors' filmography, scroll down to the end of the transcript.

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Podcast Transcript #7
They’re two of the hottest movies to be released this year, but you won’t see the trailers on Entertainment Tonight. They star big names and big budgets but they’re weren’t made in Hollywood. They have stunning cinematography and poignant stories but they don’t stand a chance at winning an Oscar. But here’s the best part, they’re both Orthodox movies.

PRIEST SAN and LUKA are two inspiring films that capture the drama and essence of the spiritual life in our modern times. Yet despite their merits, it’s obvious they won’t be screening at major US cinema chains alongside Bad Neighbours or Godzilla.

The first film is PRIEST SAN, a cross-cultural story starring actor and musician Pyotr Mamonov, who played Fr Anatoly in the remarkable Russian movie, OSTROV: The Island.

Set in the gritty, neon-lit streets of downtown Tokyo, a Japanese Orthodox priest named Fr Nicholas – played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who’s appeared in many TV shows and films, including Mortal Kombat, Star Trek: Next Gen, Heroes and Revenge – is the brother of a powerful Yakuza clan leader.

When Fr Nicholas saves a girl from being violently attacked, this brings his brother into conflict and a clan war brews. With Fr Nicholas in mortal danger, he’s sent to serve in a small village in rural Russia. But upon arriving he discovers the people have some major problems confronting them. The village has been sold to a major developer and now authorities are forcing the people off their land. Fr Nicholas unites the villagers around their dilapidated church with the hopes of restoring the community and bringing about peace.

The idea for this film was inspired by the history of the Orthodox Church in Japan and the remarkable story of the first Japanese convert, a Samurai warrior. The film is a ‘coming-full-circle’ story, showing how the planting of good seed (Orthodoxy) in Japan bears fruit and is returned back to Russia in the form of a Japanese priest to combat the evil there.

The film is due for release in August 2014 but there’s no information whether it will be available outside of Russia. However, having signed up a recognisable American actor such as Tagawa suggests plans to make it available to English-speaking audiences. In an interview with a Russian newspaper, when asked about Orthodox Christianity,
Tagawa responded:
“You cannot just grasp the essence of the Russian Orthodox Church with its centuries of history. Getting to know it takes time, and it's a job for the heart rather than the mind. When I had first come to Russia I had very little time to get into the character. So I visited a number of Russian cathedrals…Simply being inside had a very powerful effect on me.”

I would like to mention The Moving Icon is currently in talks with the filmmakers for an interview in the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

Another exciting Orthodox movie is LUKA from the Ukraine. It’s about the life and work of St Luke of Simferopol and Crimea, also known as St Luke the Surgeon, an extremely talented doctor and spiritual man who lived a saintly life during the worst of the Communism era.

Made in 2013, LUKA is due for release sometime this year. Whether it will be available outside of Russia or the Ukraine is yet unclear. However, it’s currently doing the film festival circuit and already won many awards, including two prizes from the International Film Festival, COVER.[1]

Like the Russian cinematic masterpiece, OSTROV, LUKA is a story about spiritual perfection where the main character is one who lives according to Christ. But unlike OSTROV, the film is a biographical account of an actual saint who was canonised less than 20 years ago and has performed many miracles. In a recent and widely published account from April 2014, a young, crippled man from Argos, Greece was healed after being anointed with oil from the saint’s relics. So what does this film reveal about St Luke the Surgeon?

Born 1877 in Kerch, St Luke was born Valentin Yasenetsky. A highly intelligent and faithful man he originally yearned to become an artist. However, he desired to do something that would help the poor and suffering. It was this notion that lead him to medical school in Kiev. As a doctor he treated all patients with love and respect. At times where resources were scarce, he would use a pen-knife, a quill, locksmith forceps, and women's hair to perform surgery.[2] He published many books and articles on regional anesthesia and surgery and is regarded a medical pioneer.

In 1919, Valentin was widowed losing his wife and mother of four children to Tuberculosis. Then in February 1921, a time when thousands of laity and priests who rejected Communism were being imprisoned, exiled or sent to concentration camps Valentin became a priest.

One of the most remarkable and inspiring things about the saint is he would operate and give lectures wearing his cassock and a cross despite the scorn of Communist Party officials. Before surgery, he would pray to Panagia, bless the patient and make the sign of the Cross on the patient’s body with iodine. He would always operate with an icon of Panagia. Once when the icon was taken out of the operating room, he refused to perform surgery on a governor’s wife until the icon was returned. He always spoke openly about his faith, saying: "It doesn’t matter where I am - God is everywhere. I consider my primary responsibility everywhere to preach about Christ". He lived this principle till his last breath.

In 1923, the famous surgeon took monastic vows in secret and was ordained a bishop. He willingly and openly chose the way of the Cross which included suffering and martyrdom. He was thrown in prison and exile many times. St Luke underwent great punishment, concentration camps, and torture which included 13-day interrogations where he was not allowed to sleep. And despite this he never signed any false statements or denied his priesthood. He always felt when walking such a difficult path that he was supported and strengthened by Jesus Christ.
In 1946, he was appointed as Archbishop of Simferopol and Crimea. He finished working on a theological paper entitled, "Spirit, Soul and Body" which paid close attention to the teaching of Scripture about the heart as an organ of knowledge of God. When in 1958 the Archbishop Luke became completely blind, he wrote to his daughter, saying: "From the surgery I refused and humbly accepted the will of God to be blind to the death. But my episcopal service I will continue till the end."

On June 11, 1961, the 84-year-old Archbishop Luke went to the Lord. To this day, many people receive healing through their prayers and visitation to his tomb.

Overall, the film has high production values and masterfully tells the life story of this 20th century saint. It shows that through Faith, patience and love the most abhorred evil can be overcome and the Crown of Victory obtained. It’s remarkable to think that one, this is a true story and two, that this saint lived not that long ago, and serves as an example to us all. I only hope this film, along with PRIEST SAN, will be released with English subtitles and via digital downloads to ensure world-wide distribution.

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1 comment:

Mark smith said...

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