Holy Biopics

Man of God (2022; streaming for free on Amazon Prime Video), I suspect, is for a particular audience, namely, those who are familiar with and who venerate Nektarios as a saint. The pieces of the story are in the film, but the motivations and the causes of various events are not always clear. We seem constantly to be arriving in scenes in the middle of a conversation that has already begun. This is especially the case for me in the initial conversation among the priests about how to remove Nektarios from his position as metropolitan (bishop) in Cairo. Apparently, it was out of their jealousy over his popularity with the people, but that was not clear to me watching the film.

I also found some of the editing to be rather abrupt, and some of the dialogue hits false notes, which may be due to the fact that the actors are not native English speakers. I don’t necessarily mind accents, because it lends a bit more authenticity to the characters—unlike, say, having all non-Western people speak with British accents. My own preference is for films in the languages where they are set, and subtitles.

In spite of those short-comings, Aris Servetalis gives a remarkable performance as Nektarios, who is always calm and humble in the face of his accusers and attackers. He reflects the inner strength and holiness attributed to the historical Nektarios. I found his pastoral care particularly powerful, as he takes time for otherwise unnoticed or ignored people, the poor, and those who otherwise have various reasons not to believe or belong to the Church. His steadfastness in the face of injustice and slander inspires faith in the man who is helping with the candles in the beginning, as well as in Kostas (Alexander Petrov), and finally—even though he still does not like the Church—in the president of the school, Christos (Christos Loulis).

The most striking moment of the film for me was when Kostas says to Nektarios, “If what had been done to you had been done to me, I would not go to church anymore” and Nektarios responds, “Woe to me if my faith depends on men.” Whatever one may think about the Orthodox veneration of Nektarios, and the miracles attributed to him (including the most prominent in the film, with a surprising appearance by Mickey Rourke), this is an idea that is perpetually relevant.

Since the Church is made up, in this age, of sinners who are full of pride, jealousy, slander, and lies, if any of us were to base our faith in Christ on the people who make up the external organization of the Body of Christ on earth, which of us would remain Christians? We might also ask not only whether we would be Christians based on the behavior of others, but whether they would be Christians based on our behavior. And, of course, what better way to discredit the Christ than to discredit His Body? But Nektarios says “Woe to me if my faith depends on men,” rather than on the Christ in whom I put my faith. And if Jesus bore my sins; my pride, jealousy, slander, and lies; my thoughts and words and actions, then He certainly bore the sins of those whose behavior offends or disgusts me.

I did not think Man of God was the best film I’ve seen dealing with clergy and faith, and, in general, I hesitate to watch movies that are meant primarily for Christians because of their frequent sentimentality and over-pious presentation of easy solutions in the midst of suffering and difficulty. (For better films set within an Orthodox framework, I would recommend Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev [1966] and especially The Island [Ostrov] [2006].) But Servetalis keeps this afloat, and it has its worthwhile moments.