Aris Servetalis as Nektarios. Carmel Communications

'Man of God' illustrates St. Nektarios’ indomitable spirit

By 
  • June 6, 2022

Though a devout believer in Jesus Christ, Serbian-American filmmaker Yelena Popovic, the director of the newly released Man of God, did not foresee tackling religious subject matter in her professional career.

A seed was planted in the early 2010s when fellow visitors to the St. Anthony the Great Orthodox Monastery in Phoenix, Arizona, advised her to learn about the life of Nektarios of Aegina, Greece (1846-1920), one of the most renowned of Greek saints. While visiting the Serbian capital Belgrade, Popovic came across and purchased a book about the Greek saint.

“He was a metropolitan bishop of the Church,” said Popovic of the protagonist in Man of God. “He was somebody who was very ethical — a man who lived by what he preached. He was first in line to become a patriarch of Alexandria because of his love of people, his skill and education.

“But there were people more interested unfortunately in power and money. (Nektarios) was a problem for them. They slandered him throughout his whole life and he suffered a lot. He carried his cross gracefully and in the end, was victorious.”

Speaking from her home in Greece, Popovic told The Catholic Register how the trials and tribulations of her father before his passing in 2011 enabled her to connect with Nektarios’ story on a more personal level. Though not religious, Popovic described her father as an “honourable and righteous man” who would not do the unethical actions asked of him to advance his career as a civil engineer in the former Yugoslavia. His moral fibre led to him ultimately being removed from his lucrative position.  

Nektarios life story, in a sense, embodies the wisdom shared by Christ in John 15 where He advised His disciples that “if the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18), and that “if they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20).

“A person of faith will have a different outlook on suffering,” said Popovic. “Therefore, they can still have joy and peace in their life. People of no faith, life becomes more difficult. Life can become completely meaningless in the face of suffering and all the horrors we experience while we are here in Earth. When I made this film, I wanted to help people who suffer. I want to give them strength and hope.”

Greek actor Aris Servetalis was tapped by Popovic to portray Nektarios. She considers the 45-year-old performer as “one of the greatest actors of his generation,” who is gifted “with an aura to play a role” like the famed Greek saint.

Mickey Rourke, an Oscar nominee for The Wrestler in 2008, is the one cast member widely known to North American audiences. Rourke plays the small and pivotal role of a paralyzed man in the hospital bed next to Nektarios as the latter faced mortality. Upon the future saint’s passing, his sweater was placed on the bed of the paralyzed man, who miraculously gained the strength to walk again after years of suffering from his affliction.

While not a big part, Popovic said the character Rourke portrays “is an extremely meaningful role” she wrote specifically for him for multiple reasons, chief among them because of how openly Rourke venerates his faith.

“He struggles with his demons like we all do on different levels, but I remember him saying once how if it wasn’t for his faith, he would have killed himself. It keeps him going and he prays the rosary three times a day.”

Man of God is screening in Cineplex cinemas until June 9. In late July, the movie will makes its online streaming debut. Previous audiences have received the film favourably as it captured audience awards at the 2021 Moscow International Film Festival, the Great Lakes Christian Film Festival and the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival.

 

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