Small Things, Great Hopes


On the surface it was not a world-shaking event. A friend of the parish loaned me a DVD last week. The DVD was a Russian DVD – with English subtitles. Again, not a world-shaking event. Thus, let me take a few minutes to explain why I felt the earth move.

The movie in question is The Island, or Ostrov, to call it by its Russian name. It has won a number of awards, including special recognition by the Patriarch of Moscow (all of which makes me think I’m the last person in the world to have seen this film).

The movie’s plot is fairly straightforward – if you understand Orthodox spirituality. It has much to say (though with few words) about forgiveness and repentance. I need say no more than that for my purposes in this post.

What is earth-moving for me, is that this is a marvelous Orthodox film produced by a nation that is finding its way back to Orthodoxy (in fits and starts). And that, to me, is earth-moving

First, this perfectly Orthodox film could not have been made in America, because the American film industry would have never understood or let be such a straight-forward script. The movie has elements of miracles (all of which are understated in typical Orthodox fashion). It is permeated by the Jesus Prayer, constant repentance, and a healthy dose of the phenomenon of a yurodivoi (holy fool). I have read tales that are not unlike this film – but I had never seen a film that was remotely like such tales.

And with that, the earth moves for me.

When I was in college in the early 1970’s, my circle of Christian friends were fairly well-read. There was much discussion about theology, culture and related issues. When Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book, From Under the Rubble, appeared, Solzhenitsyn was revealed to be a devout Orthodox believer. He had already been revealed as an unmitigated hero (among Americans) during a time when America was ceasing to believe that there were such things as heroes (you’d have to have been there to remember). At the time, reading his work was one of the most hopeful experiences I had ever had in my life.

I recall a Roman Catholic friend bringing up the subject of the “conversion of Russia” during one evening’s bull session. It was all tied up with Our Lady of Fatima and the prophecies of that early 20th century Roman Catholic event. I was not particularly concerned then (or now) with special revelations of Roman Catholic mystics. But the idea, not of the “conversion of Russia,” but simply of an Orthodox Russia was staggering for me. I can recall thinking about the meaning of a return to center stage of one of the most profound (why be weak – the most profound) forms of Christianity ever known and what it might mean in my own lifetime. These were the musings of a 20 year old in college bull sessions.

When, in 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, I felt for the first time rumblings of the visions of those earlier years. As the years have passed and the Church has gained greater freedom – not only have I become Orthodox – but my musings that an Orthodox culture might be on the rebound are stronger than ever.

Then comes this movie. I do not have to discuss its plot. But I do have to say that it is an event of extreme importance that such a film has been made. Into the cultural conversation of the modern, or post-modern world, Orthodoxy has risen with beauty and an articulateness I could heretofore only dream about. If it is the beginning of more such movies, then the Orthodox faith is receiving very important images and references with which to carry on its conversation.

I encourage you to see the film. You’ll have to buy it, or rent it (should your local movie store ever have it). If you’re someone who lives near my parish, then you’ll hear about an evening not to far from now when we’ll have “movie night” just to watch it together.

If I am the last person to have heard about this film, then I can’t believe no one else has been writing about it.

I can only end this post with a quote from a Russian review of the film. I found the review and did the only thing I could to read it: I plugged it into Babel Fish (one of the most hilarious experiences of language known to the art of translation).

The admonition –

General sensation: film good, unambiguously stands it to look.


  1. says

    Actually, you can’t be the last person to hear about it because I am! Will have to track down a copy. Thanks for the rec.

  2. Ronda Wintheiser says

    I just ordered “Ostrov” off of Amazon before I’d even finished reading your post. (I’m on a roll here today… ) I read FROM UNDER THE RUBBLE just a few months ago, so I’m even farther behind than you are… But anyway, I have been thinking about how to connect with some of the people in our small mission parish that I have offended; they happen to be Russian… : )) and Fr. Nathan also speaks some Russian, so I’m sure he will want to borrow it, or maybe we’ll have a movie night sometime soon here at Holy Myrrhbearers… We will all unambiguously stand it to look… : ))