So, yesterday I watched Ostrov for the first time. My cursory research indicates that the story presented in this film is fictitious though it supposedly serves as a reliable portrayal of the holy fool phenomenon in Eastern Orthodox spirituality. What really struck me was the sense of familiarity, I, as a Coptic Orthodox Christian, felt towards this particular portrayal given my own acquaintanceship with that same phenomenon as it presents itself in the Oriental Orthodox Tradition. Though the film presents a monk of a completely different world (for me, that is), and a spiritual tradition (Russian Orthodoxy) that I have negligible experience with, I felt right at home watching this. I felt as though I was watching the life of a contemporary 'holy fool' Saint of the Coptic Church who is very dear to my heart, Abouna Youstos El-Antony. Some of the specific parallels observed:
1. They have a consistent self-awareness of being great sinners, yet never in the pseudo-humble sense of, for example, openly beating against their chest before all. On the contrary, most of their public displays are such as to lead others to actually believe that they are authentically sinful.
2. They commit mistakes/sins which, though of very different kinds, seem easily excusable. Nevertheless, neither seeks to justify their self; both immediately accept culpability and hope in the Mercy of God till their very last breath.
3. They have a strange, somewhat improvised way of expressing their spirituality. Singing praises to God at random, somewhat awkwardly. They express a seemingly out-of-character penitential demeanour only ever in solitude.
4. They go out of their way, sometimes to absurd extents, to protect themselves from an imagery of sainthood; yet they maintain their calling to be vehicles of God’s Grace, healing and otherwise, to those who seek their help.
5. They are both so in tune with the Divine that they act out of an apparent sense of self-authority. Those around them who initially question such as displays of arrogance or impropriety at first slowly come to recognise this and in turn follow their lead.
6. Both begin in very, very different ways, but generally similarly come across as feeble and fickle men, only to mature to become men of great wisdom and stability.
7. Both made me laugh at least three times (I won’t say how many times they made me cry, because, umm, men don’t cry, OKAY?)!
For those who are interested in watching the movie made on the life of Abouna Youstos El-Antony (entitled ‘The Silent Monk’), it has been made freely available on the internet, with subtitles—see links below. The movie begins with his birth, and follows all the way through till his departure.
Part 1: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7292860459903278275#
Part 2: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6368809692293825295#
I would be very interested to hear feedback on my above sentiments from both EO and OO who have/have- had the opportunity to view both Ostrov and The Silent Monk.