Movie recounts persecuted bishop’s path to sanctity

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Aris Servetalis, who plays St Nektarios ‘Man of God’ with the writer and director Yelena Popovic. Image courtesy of Movies Change People

A film about the incredible life of one of the most loved saints in the Greek Orthodox church, St Nektarios (or St Nectarios), came to Sydney this week and is already being used for good to help the people around the state whose livelihoods were affected by the recent floods.

The Greek Orthodox Parish of Saint Nectarios in Burwood has raised more than $5000 through private screenings of Man of God with 50 per cent of the funds to go to the Australian Red Cross and the remaining 50 per cent to Food Bank.

The film centres on the humble bishop from Aegina in Greece who despite persecution by religious superiors remained devoted to the poor and to good works until his death in 1920.

Officially recognised as a saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1961, he is credited with thousands of healings from terminal illnesses around the world.

The movie was written and directed by Yelena Popovic with a star cast including Mickey Rourke.

“St Nektarios is an amazing modern-day saint…very well loved as a man of virtue and a miracle-worker”

“St Nektarios is an amazing modern-day saint,” said parish priest Fr George Liangas. “He is very well loved as a man of virtue and a miracle-worker, and not only by Orthodox people. People from different denominations all over Sydney come here to venerate him. The film does very good justice to his life without glamourising him.”

Ms Popovic told The Catholic Weekly in an interview via Zoom that the movie had been well-received across the Christian denominations along with non-believers as the saint’s story is one that anyone can relate to.

“It speaks to all denominations about faith, about a good man who was persecuted unjustly and how he responded to that, and everybody can relate to that because we all suffer injustice at some time,” she said.

Aris Servetalis, who plays the real-life Greek saint St Nektarios with Aleksandr Petrov as his protege Kostas in a scene from ‘Man of God’. Image courtesy of Movies Change People

“St Nektarios was a man of great humility and I think this is a virtue that is something that not only has been lost but is very much misunderstood and taken as a weakness these days.”

Having grown up in a non-religious family in Belgrade, Yelena said she never imagined that she would direct a movie about a saint that would garner worldwide distribution and acclaim.

“After I found my way to faith I always felt that there was someone looking after me, a Father who cared for me and that faith helped me to overcome the obstacles and difficulties of that time,” she said. Later, after the birth of her first child, a friend encouraged her to go to church and join a faith community.

“People have told me they come out from watching the movie with new hope, they feel differently about life.” Yelena Popovic, director

“That’s when I first had my first communion and confession and I experienced something then, a presence of grace, that I will never forget. For me, faith is like eating, or drinking water – that is what the sacraments are for me. Faith is not just a theory, it’s a reality.”

The Serbian-born director said that reading a biography of St Nektarios after the first annual memorial Mass for her deceased father in 2012 gave her a “burning desire” to make a movie about the saint.

“My own father did not believe in God but he was a very honourable man, and I think he made it easy for me to believe in God later in my life,” she said. “I read many times the books of saints and for me they are inspiring and a source of strength because their lives are often very difficult but they kept incredible faith and love for everybody and were willing to sacrifice.

“Without God’s help this film wouldn’t have happened. It’s been an experience for me that as long as I do my best to make sure I’m on the proper path, God will take care of the rest and even give you more than you expected. He has a plan for you that is better than we can imagine right now, if he is your primary focus you cannot fail.”

“It’s had the most incredible reviews, and more than that, I believe that it is a story with very healing qualities. People have told me they come out from watching the movie with new hope, they feel differently about life.”

Man of God will have a limited release from June 2 at Event Cinemas Burwood and other Australian cinemas.