In this exclusive interview with Aleteia, director Yelena Popovic unpacks the extraordinary themes of her latest film 'Man of God.'
Flannery O’Connor once wrote, “It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.” It is a sad notion, but there have been many saints who were not treated well by the Church in their own lifetimes: St. Martin de Porres, St. Joan of Arc, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and on the list goes. Responding to mistreatment is never easy, but it is especially hard when those who mistreat us are religious leaders. The new film Man of God shows us, though, that there is a way through such treatment that, rather than destroying our faith, ultimately renders us more holy and closer to the heart of Christ.
The film follows the life of Nektarios of Aegina, a saint of the Greek Orthodox Church who lived under nearly constant persecution from his fellow bishops. Though he was beloved by his people, he was exiled, slandered, and at times even had to endure physical assault. Yet he never lost his faith and hope in God. He died in obscurity in 1920 at the age of 74. By 1961, he had been recognized as a saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. In 1998, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa issued a formal apology for all that they had made Nektarios suffer through.
Yelena Popovic wrote and directed the film. She shared with Aleteia what inspired her to make this movie and why she believes it will resonate with people of many different backgrounds.
What is your background with the Christian faith?
I was born in Belgrade, Serbia. Even though my parents were baptized in the Serbian Orthodox Church, they were not practicing their faith. They never even spoke of it, so I did not know much about the Christian faith. I clearly remember that I always believed in God, but until later I did not know who Jesus Christ was, or who the Holy Virgin Mary was. I did have faith. Every time I would walk into the church in Belgrade, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit, I felt it was God’s home. Before I left Belgrade, I went to the church to ask God to protect me. While in Milan, Italy, I would frequently go to the Cathedral in Piazza Duomo to pray. When I lived in New York City, almost every day I went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. A couple of years later in Los Angeles, I got baptized in the Serbian Orthodox Church, and in 2000 I had my first confession and communion. I experienced a presence of grace that lasted for several hours after partaking of the Eucharist, and ever since I started to attend Mass on a regular basis.
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