Oct 16, 2014

Granting Dignity to Overlooked Angels: Eliot Rausch

Eliot Rausch is an Orthodox filmmaker from Los Angeles, California. In this article, Matthew Aughtry discusses the uniqueness and spiritual power of Eliot’s work.

By Matthew Aughtry 
Date: October 01, 2014
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My best friend first introduced me to Eliot Rausch while we were both working as videographers for a large church in Arkansas. Our jobs primarily consisted of capturing testimonies and creating promotional videos for upcoming sermon series, but every once in a while we were given the chance to make something more cinematic and creative. These were always our favorite projects to do because although making videos paid the bills, making films was our passion. One day, while he was scouring the Internet for inspiration for one of our creative ideas, my friend came across a video that has stuck with me ever since; it was called “Sermon on the Mound,” and its director was a guy named Eliot Rausch. 

The video (or should I say “film?”) is just over two and a half minutes, but its length in no way limits its powerful effect. In fact, it’s part of the beauty of the piece. The film begins with a man sitting in his car, lighting what I can only assume is a crack pipe. He then looks at the camera and says something about putting his life back together but that he can’t do it in a place like this. Actually he uses a word to describe this place that many people find offensive but which carries a punch that a phrase like “messed up” just doesn’t. After the man finishes speaking there’s no more dialogue. The sound fades out, and music fades up, accompanied by a voiceover quoting the words of Jesus commonly known as “the Beatitudes.”

As the camera makes its way across an ugly urban landscape, we are shown a myriad of individuals that occupy this space. As we listen to this famous passage from Matthew’s gospel, we see glimpses of men and women in situations that seem to embody these words.  Here is where the brevity of the film becomes one of its greatest strengths. In these momentary glances into the lives of individuals, we’re given the chance to create our own story for them. We’re able to see ourselves in the momentary sketches of despair. As we look out of the car window and see people that many of us would likely ignore, we find our own indifference met with the power of that one word: “blessed.”

Years later, after making my way out to the West Coast, I came to recognize the landscape of Eliot’s movies as none other than Los Angeles. Having grown up on a steady stream of popular American films, I haven’t been conditioned to see L.A. the way that Eliot chooses to show it. On television, it’s all beaches and Beverly Hills but not in Eliot’s work. I don’t know how he does it but the sky in his movies always seems grey and full of clouds. This isn’t the land of fun, sun, and excess; it’s the land of the broken, the forgotten, and the rejected. Yet, as the film cries out, it’s also the land of the blessed. As we drive by the people of Los Angeles, the angels that call this city home, we do something that is a foreign concept for most of us to live here; we look at the people. We take notice of the man pushing his bike across the bridge and the woman holding flowers to sell on the side of the road. We see the others around us as human beings instead of obstacles, inconveniences, or dangers to be avoided. We see them as blessed.

When we contacted Eliot about coming to Fuller for a night of dialogue around his films, I was unsure of what his response would be. After all, he’s a busy guy. His email back made me smile. Not only did he say that he’d love to come, he said he’s even given thought to becoming a pastor and that Fuller would be his school of choice since so many of the spiritual mentors who have affected his life personally are graduates of Fuller Seminary. When I heard Eliot talk about his desire to be pastor, I decided to reach out to him and see if we could meet up. After all, my whole life has been a battle between filmmaking and the pastorate. We met up one evening for dinner and talked for almost two hours.  I was a little nervous at first, but after a few minutes in I knew that I had no reason to be. Eliot was not the lofty artist who demanded reverence but was instead a humble friend who offered acceptance. He listened more than he spoke, and he smiled a lot.

As we talked, I told Eliot that he may very well be called to be a pastor in the traditional sense, but I also told him that I felt he was, in fact, already pastoring through his work. The kinds of places he shows through his lens are places that many Christians in America avoid. The people he shows are those most of us would deem as too dangerous to acknowledge. The stories he tells are not ones most of us hear in our churches every Sunday.

Yet, the places he shows are the places where I have no doubt Jesus would go. More than that, I believe that they are the places where Jesus is. Some may say that Eliot gives a dignity to his subjects that they don’t often receive in the media or in life, but I think it’s more true to say that his films simply show the dignity that is already there, a dignity that is overwhelming for those of us who ignore such people on a daily basis. The stories he tells aren’t ones most of us hear in church on Sunday, but they’re ones that we need to hear. Eliot told me that sometimes churches will ask to use his videos but often request that he edit out some of the bits that make them uncomfortable (cursing, drug use, etc.). He always refuses these requests. 

I’m sure that there were many people who liked Jesus’ parables, minus one or two bits that made them squirm. Yet, if we allow ourselves to edit stories and people who make us uncomfortable then we make no room for God. If everything is nice and clean, if the world is basically all right, then there is no need for the cross. If we alter the parts of the story that seem disagreeable then we lose the message of grace, the very thing that makes the Christian story so beautiful. I’m glad that Eliot refuses such changes. In a church culture that asks us to clean up before being welcomed, Eliot shows us a world where God’s grace pervades the worst parts of the world. More than that, his work seems to suggest that God is more active, more present, and more at home in the people and places at the fringes of our society. That may seem like a crazy idea, but it doesn’t take a bible scholar to know that this is at the heart of the Gospel. 

As we spoke, Eliot asked me for my opinion on the popularity of his videos. What draws millions of people to watch these short films? I told him that I didn’t know for sure, but I could venture a guess. Perhaps, I said, it has something to do with Paul’s words to the Corinthians when he says, “We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). 

Clay pots are not very strong. In fact, that’s the point. The vessel itself is so fragile, so thin, that the power of God shines through more clearly. When we hear addicts, homeless people, and ex-convicts speaking about the gospel, we know that they believe it. More than that, we can hear that they are wholly reliant upon it because they have no illusion of self-sufficiency. Unlike so many church members who do their best to pretend that everything in their life is really okay, these people remind us of our daily need for God. When we hear them speak we know that we should sound more like them. Blessed are the poor in spirit, indeed. I often hide behind my education, my savings account, and my marketable skills, but people like this show me that I’m not just trying to cover up my flaws or insecurities, I’m hiding the power of God that is at work within me. Eliot’s films are not only encouraging, they are convicting.

After meeting Eliot in person, I came to see that he not only makes films about people like this, he is one of these people. Being around someone who is so honest about his own fears and shortcomings is shocking at first, uncomfortable even. But after a few moments it has this crazy effect: it makes you honest about these things, too. I sat and talked for hours with Eliot about his struggle with an addiction to success, about being wholly reliant on Christ in the midst of an industry that rewards ego and self-reliance, and about making movies out of an overflow of joy from God instead of a need to be filled up with praise of people. It was honestly one of the best conversations I’ve had in years, and I don’t just mean about filmmaking. I had come to meet this artist that I admired, and I left encouraged not to go and be a better artist myself but to be a better person, a better Christian.

While working at the church, my friend and I made many films that were inspired in no small part by Eliot’s movies; we even flat-out stole a few of his shots. I didn’t know the guy behind these movies, but his talent blew me away. I thought that Eliot’s greatest gifts were the films he made and the talent he used to make them. As I’ve gradually come to know Eliot, though, it’s become clear to me that real gift is Eliot himself. He’s a filmmaker who uses his gifts to show us a world and a people that the church ignores too readily but which is the key to its existence. He’s a pastor who uses a camera to give us a new way of hearing Jesus’ words about those who are blessed. He’s a dear brother in Christ who desperately doesn’t want to be known for his own efforts but for the power of God at work in his weakness.

So I’m so excited that Eliot is coming to Fuller Theological Seminary. Not because of the great conversations that the event is sure to generate or the power of his films which are sure to inspire us but because Eliot Rausch lives his life as a tool in the hands of another artist. Because as he works hard telling the stories of people that are disregarded, he’s simultaneously telling another story. This story takes up his whole life, his work and words exude with its joy, and it is, according to him and so many who came before him, the greatest story ever told.


Check out Eliot’s work, click the icons




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Oct 15, 2014

Making the cut


Stephan Robinson – an Orthodox Christian from Australia, now living in England – has made the long-list for The Pitch short-film pitching contest, but he needs to get votes to progress to the short-list.

Synopsis:
The film is a sci-fic take on the story of the Three Wise Men.

The winning pitch will win a £25,000 budget to have the film made. It would be awesome for an ORTHODOX FILMMAKER to win, so please VOTE!



SHARE this post with your friends and help Stephan make it into the next stage. 

Be sure to check out Stephan’s YouTube channel & subscribe.


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Oct 13, 2014

Divine rhythm: composer Anastasia Pahos

The music I write embodies the faith I aspire to experience every second of my life. Whilst relatively short, the life I have lived has been filled with an intensity of joys, challenges, soul-stripping, and truth-seeking that has granted me with the maturity and, dare I say, insight of a life much longer lived. To get to where I am today – musically, emotionally, spiritually – I needed to reach a point where my faith was all that I had left to cling on to in life. I have not done the factual, theological, and historical research into Orthodoxy to the extent that many converts to the faith have so bravely (and thankfully) pursued. My experience – the change that truly made and continues to make the biggest difference – comes from the heart or, perhaps more accurately, the nous that has rightfully placed my mind within my heart.

I think it is fair to say that composers are troubled souls; especially those who yearn for a spiritual dimension within their music. Whether I’m composing a symphony, chamber music, or music for voices, it is my way of reaching out passionately to Heaven – for comfort, enlightenment, peace, forgiveness, strength, love; the list goes on. With each piece that I compose, it is almost as if what I’ve written on the page is an embodiment of my spiritual progress thus far; tangible descriptive evidence of the struggles I’ve faced on my journey toward God…and a reminder of the path I pray to keep following. Before I embark on composing a piece, I endure days of self-inflicted inner turmoil through doubting my ability, through lingering on the knowledge of the time, effort, and exhaustion that come with writing sacred or spiritually-inspired music...and fear. Thinking about writing music is frightening. Frightening because I must meet and converse with my deepest thoughts and emotions, and because I don’t know where the music comes from; how it comes about. And sadly, it is only until I go through this stressful momentum, time and time again, where I reach this point of acknowledging the unknown that I am able to recognise the need to let go of relying on myself. I realise that my ability is not my own. It is a gift. And I have once more been foolish enough to attempt to use this gift without treading down the path and using the method provided for me by my faith: prayer.

Before embarking on composing a sacred work, I need to dedicate a few days to prayer, contemplation, and reading material by spiritual fathers, monastics, or other Orthodox Christian laypeople. A compositional concept itself may be inspired by something as simple as a hand gesture or a thought, an emotion or even an inanimate object, however my music is generally brought to life through prayer and contemplation. Yes, composition and prayer…they’re quite inseparable, really. Composition is my expression of divine experience and, at the same time, that yearning for such an experience.

Being blessed with the gift of composing music has brought me success after success. Part of this, I think, is due to the unique sound-world my music creates. Being infused with or inspired by Christian Orthodoxy, as well as my Eastern European musical heritage, my compositions that are grounded in Western harmonic practice are given a dimension very rarely heard in both the past and current Western musical landscapes. Epic yet at the same time achieving an almost painful intimacy with its listeners, my music is also influenced by the Australian natural landscape and composers Arvo Pärt, John Tavener, and Ross Edwards.

As my website – www.anastasiapahos.com – shows, my focus is on classical rather than electroacoustic composition, having written several works for orchestra, choir, as well as a wide variety of other chamber ensembles. I do encourage you to peruse this website, which contains information regarding my musical training, professional activity, achievements, list of compositions, audio samples of my work, list of performances, and contact details.

With or without faith, a composer’s life may indeed be bittersweet. With the Faith, however, a composer’s life has the potential to be a foretaste of Heaven. To be near Our Heavenly Father; to possibly bring others close to Him also…well, what greater motivation to compose music is there than that?


To visit Anastasia’s site, click photo


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Oct 12, 2014

Angela Doll Carlson book signing

Parnassus Books is thrilled to welcome Angela Doll Carlson for a discussion and signing of her new book, Nearly Orthodox: On Being a Modern Woman in an Ancient Tradition.

From Catholic schoolgirl to punk rocker to emergent church planter, Angela Doll Carlson traveled a spiritual path that in many ways mirrors that of a whole generation. She takes us with her on a deep and revealing exploration of the forces that drove her toward Orthodoxy and the challenges that long kept her from fully entering in.

Angela Doll Carlson is a poet and essayist best known for her work as Mrs. Metaphor found on her blog at Mrsmetaphor.com She connects the dots of daily life in an attempt to humbly reach the deep "a-ha" we all seek. Angela began to write as Mrs. Metaphor in 2006 and has maintained a modest but dedicated following ever since. Angela currently lives in Chicago, IL with her husband, David and her 4 outrageously spirited yet remarkably likable children. 


Date: Thursday, 16th Oct
Time: 6:30pm
Where: Parnassus Books
Address: 3900 Hillsboro Pike, Nashville, Tennessee 37215, USA




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Oct 11, 2014

The Moving Icon: Episode 5 – Ostrov


In this podcast I discuss what is regarded by many as the benchmark for Orthodox filmmaking. Ostrov: The Island tells the story of a holy fool-for-Christ and his path to salvation.

To listen to this podcast, click the show’s logo:


Podcast Transcript #5
 

When one thinks of Orthodox pop-culture, the great Russian writers Dostoevsky and The Way of a Pilgrim from the 1800s come to mind. During the 20th century, the films of Tarkovsky were seen as the greatest examples of expressing Orthodoxy through moving images. However, at the dawn of the 21st century we have been blessed with what I regard as the benchmark for Orthodox filmmaking, the Russian film Ostrov: The Island.

Released in 2006 and even included in that year’s prestigious Venice Film Festival, Ostrov tells the beautiful story of a fool-for-Christ and his journey towards spiritual perfection. Though this film was not based on any one particular fool-for-Christ, but was inspired by the lives of such saints from the Orthodox tradition. To briefly define, a fool-for-Christ is what the name suggests – someone who acts, talks and dresses as if insane so as to mask their holiness which is the result of living close to God. When examined and understood, these saints contain all the virtues of an ideal Christian.

Ostrov is a film that seen just once will make a big impression on you. It can’t be categorised as a drama, but moreso a ‘spiritual comedy’ for what unfolds provides both humour and poignant messages on the Orthodox spiritual life.

In this podcast, I wish to discuss some elements of the film without spoiling it for those who haven’t yet seen this masterpiece. And for those who have I hope you’ll want to watch it again with new insight and perspective.

Set in 1976, at monastery somewhere in the desolate, frozen wilderness of Northern Russia, Ostrov tells the story of Fr Anatoly, a monk living with the guilt of cowardly shooting his naval captain over 30 years ago after being captured by a Nazi patrol. He dedicates himself fully to God, repenting for his past actions, and in the process becomes a saint, but masks his holiness under the guise of a ‘fool-for-Christ’. He lives in the boiler-room, sleeping on piles of coal, his face covered in soot. All day he does the back-breaking job of collecting coal and feeding the furnaces. Yet when he can, he takes a small boat and seeks isolation on a small island where he unceasingly prays the Jesus prayer and laments over the shooting of his captain.

Fr Anatoly exhibits bizarre behaviour frequently playing childish pranks on his follow monks. His antics are much to the annoyance of hieromonk Fr Job, who struggles to understand Fr Anatoly’s motives towards him and sees his acting up as a hindrance to life at the monastery. Despite having received from God the gift of clairvoyance, no-one suspects he’s a saint. Even when pilgrims come to find this famous ‘holy-man’ Fr Anatoly hides his identity through various strategies.

The film is a collection of stories, parables even, weaved together to reveal the wisdom of this simple fool-for-Christ. Fr Anatoly, through his ‘craziness’, enables both the monks and pilgrims to see for themselves their own foolishness and hard-heartiness.

The character Fr Job is a monk who religiously follows the letter-of-the-law, yet fails to comprehend what it means to be a Christian. In one scene, when asked by Fr Anatoly why Cain killed Abel, despite being an educated and well-read man, he’s unable to answer him. Fr Job is a very serious monk with an axe-in-grind toward Fr Anatoly. Fr Job eagerly wants to win the approval of the Abbot, Fr Filaret, frequently reporting to him of Fr Anatoly’s recent antics. Though we can see he’s jealous of Fr Anatoly, yet at the same time we sympathise with him because Fr Job tries extremely hard to please everyone taking on all of the monastery’s problems, even how laundry is hung on a line. He thinks this is what’s expected of him but all Fr Anatoly wants him to do is simply ‘to love’.

Another key element of the film concerns the hypocritical nature of spiritually-blind people who ask for God’s help. In one scene, a mother comes with her young son who has become crippled due to a bad hip. Fr Anatoly fervently prays for the boy, as evident by his exhaustion afterwards. The boy immediately shows improvement but Fr Anatoly instructs that he must stay overnight and receive Communion in order to be completely healed. However the mother, despite her earlier weeping and cries for help, is more concerned about losing her job if she does not return. Ostrov uses this story, and several others, to show how we, despite witnessing miracles or needing to do something in order to be completely healed, can be so consumed by worldly things.

Another poignant example concerns the monastery’s abbot, who Fr Job holds in such high regard he even thinks he might be a ‘saint’. However, we soon see how much faith he has when he goes to live with Fr Anatoly in the boiler-room after his cell burns down. The abbot talks about how together they can achieve salvation imitating the great saints by sleeping on rocks – making reference to St Seraphim of Sarov. Yet as he prepares for sleep Fr Anatoly watches as the abbot removes his fur-lined boots and rolls out a luxurious blanket over the pile of coal. I won’t reveal what happens, but it’s one of the most hilarious and truly moving scenes about what it really means to be a serious Christian.

The film is full of symbolic imagery expressed through its cinematography. Snow and coal feature most prominently. Snow is symbolic of purity whereas coal represents sin and repentance. This combination brings to mind psalm 51, verse 7: ‘cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be made clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow’. This is beautiful captured in one scene where Fr Filaret cleans a soot-covered icon to reveal Jesus Christ. The soot is like sin, which builds up covering our hearts. But through living a Christian life of sincere repentance we can slowly remove this soot to reveal underneath that we’re all living icons of God both in His image & likeliness. By achieving a pure heart and soul we can then become ‘whiter than snow’, worthy to be received by God.

The fact this monastery is located in a desolate and miserably cold environment is also very symbolic. This icy location is the exact opposite of the dry, arid wilderness of the great Desert Fathers. Both landscapes are barren enabling monks and saints to battle demons and temptation. The isolated nature of this place is symbolic of everyone’s battle with themselves, dealing with past wrongs and working towards reconciliation with God. The ramshackle state of the monastery represents the state of the world and each person – broken and falling apart. The rotting boats and close-up of nails, I believe, represent the reality that everything in this world, including ourselves, will rot away but the nails, perhaps representing the soul, will remain. But through a life in God we can achieve renewal and be like the beautiful icons and lit-candles which are the very few items in the film shown in full colour and brightness. The only other objects shown in colour are items from the outside world, where their true state of ‘goodness’ is questionable, whereas in the icy wilderness things are either black or white – death or life.

Some other great examples of visual poetry include the majestic swaying of seaweed and the snow covered grounds of Fr Anatoly’s island. The very idea of the island represents each of us, a place where through prayer and contemplation salvation is found. We also get to see the practice of the Jesus Prayer as Fr Anatoly repeats it continuously. It’s the first thing he utters when he awakes and it never leaves him.

If Ostrov teaches us just one thing, though the Faith may seem complex it’s in fact extremely simple. It’s our fault when we focus too much on constructing rules and forget about its very essence which is living in the spirit of the Faith. In one scene, the Abbot asks Fr Anatoly a series of questions in which he replies with psalms and common prayers. As a viewer, we realise Fr Anatoly is actually answering the Abbot’s questions and giving him invaluable spiritual advice, yet the Abbot says he speaks in ‘riddles’. This shows how little he understands the Faith. The simplicity of the film is deliberant to reveal how foolish and blind we really are.

Ostrov demonstrates the danger of being religious rather than spiritual. In order to be a Christian it’s not about knowing the Gospels off-by-heart, critiquing everyone or appearing holy, but being spiritual in the sense of living as a Christian – not judging others, and most importantly, to love one another as Christ loved us.

It’s also worth noting the fascinating relationship Russian culture and history has with the concept of ‘the fool’. At the beginning of Ostrov, we see the young, layperson Fr Anatoly cowardly saving himself but we also see what could also be described as manic or frenzied behaviour when compared to the calmer state of his captain. Aside from the ‘fool-for-Christ’ which is a spiritual state of mind there was also ‘the fool’ or ‘idiot’, a person who, for worldly reasons, acted insane so as to be ignored and left alone, especially by authority. During the Soviet era this was an attempt by some people to have a degree of liberty from Communist tyranny. Fr Anatoly is a manifestation of both ‘fools’ – as his younger self, his foolishness saved him from the Nazis. Then we have the older, yet wiser ‘fool-for-Christ’ Fr Anatoly who now liberates the monks, especially Fr Job, of their legalistic, Pharisaic state-of-mind. Both states of ‘foolishness’ are about achieving freedom: worldly and spiritual.

Ostrov is the fifth film of Russian director, Pavel Lungin, who is also of Jewish heritage. Lungin has had a long career working in and outside of Russia, both as a filmmaker and screenwriter. Looking at his list of credits, his films seem to obit around the issues of choice, failings and repentance.

His most famous and successful film, besides Ostrov, was Taxi Blues which he was awarded the Best Director Prize at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival, which also starred the actor who would later play Fr Anatoly.

In developing this character, Lungin didn’t want Fr Anatoly to regard himself as being clever or spiritual, but blessed. To quote Lungin, Fr Anatoly is:
“an exposed nerve, which connects to the pains of this world. His absolute power is a reaction to the pain of those people who come to it”.

We see this throughout the film where Fr Anatoly, based on his own life experiences and gifts from God, discretely uses them to help the individual but allowing them to realise it in their own time.

The actor who played Fr Anatoly was Pyotr Mamonov, who in his heyday was one of the few rock stars in the USSR. Mamonov converted to Orthodoxy in the 1990s. He left the music industry and now lives in an isolated village somewhere in rural Russia.

Lungin and Mamonov have worked together on several films, both before and after Ostrov. Mamonov received a blessing from his confessor to play his character, something all artists should do.[1] Lungin felt Mamonov’s performance was as strong as it was because, in his opinion, Mamonov played himself for most of the role. His acting was praised by the then Patriarch of Moscow, Alexei II, and won him a Best Actor Nika Award. The next Lungin film he appeared was "Tsar" in 2009, where Mamonov played the title hero, Tsar Ivan the Terrible, a character torn between passionate faith and cruelty.

Lungin’s most recent film was the 2012, The Conductor. The film was about a group of musicians from Moscow who travel to Jerusalem to perform a contemporary religious recital. However, on the eve of their departure, Petrov, the passionate yet extremely demanding conductor, learns that his estranged son, then living in Jerusalem, has just committed suicide. Upon arriving in the Holy City the story then intersects with other storylines including a couple experiencing martial problems and a young Palestinian suicide bomber. The central issues raised by the actions of the characters concern sin, responsibility, guilt and repentance. Although this film did not receive the same acclaim as Ostrov, Lungin’s semi-religious film still explored the important topics that confront all human beings in their relationships with each other and God.

Now, returning back to Ostrov. Despite being such a remarkable film and a blockbuster in its native Russia, yet the film has not been that widely seen elsewhere, including the USA and Australia. They are several reasons including limited release and distribution, language/subtitle hindrance and different DVD regional coding. However, copies of this film can be purchased online. American listeners are quite fortunate as most copies available for purchase are in the NTSC encoding whilst for countries such as Australia we have the barrier of the PAL system. However, many DVD players and even TVs now come with the ability to play NTSC and PAL and even multi-region DVDs, but you must check before making a purchase.

Hopefully, the studio who owns the copyright to this film will consider opening up to more worldwide distributors to include Pacific regions like Australia and Asia. Or even better, sell digital copies online, which is how we’ll all be consuming our media in the very near future anyway.

In conclusion, what value does Ostrov offer the faithful and even Orthodox filmmakers? I think this question is best answered by the comments of the late Patriarch of Moscow, Alexei II. He praised Ostrov for its profound depiction of faith and monastic life, calling it, quote “a vivid example of an effort to take a Christian approach to culture.”[2] Such a film shows how to incorporate the Orthodox phronema into media, influencing the wider society and enhancing its cultural and artistic expression. I also like the words of writer, Igor Vinnichenko, who praised the film in the following terms:
It is impossible to miss the keen sense of piety that accompanies the entire film and for which we longed so much. We hope that now the theme of Russian Orthodox spirituality will find its dignified place in national cinematography and that matters concerning spiritual development will finally become a priority for contemplation.[3]

But it’s not just at the ‘local level’ within an Orthodox country, but globally. I got to see this film at a fellowship group all the way down here in Melbourne, Australia. When taking this into account, it makes one realise the significance of this film. Ostrov is the first Orthodox film to achieve global recognition, even if patchy in some places.

Though one can argue Tarkovsky’s films, such as Andrei Rublev and The Sacrifice, may have brought Orthodox visually storytelling to the world, however, their global reach was minimal as evident by audiences’ lack of knowledge with them.

To break it down, Ostrov is a masterpiece because it effectively told a powerful story with poignant visual images on living the Christian life and achieving salvation. It is because of this the film has found its way around the world largely due to word-of-mouth. I hope if you’ve never seen it before to go find it online or ask a friend for their copy. If you have seen it, please watch it again.


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[1] ("The Island" - Film-event. Film-sermon), Russian Patriarchy website, 2006-10-25, accessed 2008-03-17
[2] Feature film about Orthodox monk sweeps Russian film awards, Ecumenical News International, 2007-02-01, accessed 2008-03-17

Oct 8, 2014

When indie-folk found St Antony

Chad Marine is passionate about music. Writing and composing his own songs Chad has been inspired to create music that has been shaped by many musical styles and by his journey towards Orthodoxy.

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I was baptized into the Orthodox Church in 2012 at the age of 29, following several years of intense searching and various detours. I was raised in a more or less “secular Jewish” household, my father being Jewish and my mother coming from a Protestant background. We celebrated Christmas and Easter, Hanukkah and Passover, but all at a generally secular level. During middle and high school, I passed through a period of atheism, and by the end of high school I was becoming heavily steeped in the New Age philosophy of our time, cherry-picking from several traditions (mostly far Eastern) any aspects that were the most undemanding and self-flattering.

I chose Religious Studies as my major in college and continued even deeper into the superficial (if one can go “deeply” into something superficial) Perennialist tendencies that so often pervade the academic world. At the same time, however, and despite the best attempts of my professors to encourage a detached, objective approach to all that we studied, I could not help but to be moved by many of the texts we were reading--especially the writings of the Church Fathers and Christian mystics, both Eastern and Western. St. Athanasius’ Life of St. Antony was one such work (the first Orthodox patristic writing I ever read), as well as the works of Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila and Julian of Norwich.

Not wanting to abandon my New Age beliefs, however, I tried to join them with my newfound love of what I then understood to be “Christianity” at the time, and so I began reading various books about “lost gospels” and gnosticism. This lasted for a year or two until (among other things) I read C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, which began to wake me up to authentic Christianity, although I still had no idea which of the myriad denominations could possibly be the “right” one. As far as I knew, my options were either Roman Catholicism or some form of Protestantism. I attended a handful of Catholic Masses, having read several saints and theologians’ accounts of their mystical beauty, but I always left feeling that something was missing. I never attended a Protestant service because I simply did not know where to begin.

Then, in a class on the history of Christianity, we read a chapter on the Great Schism and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Feeling inexplicably drawn to this “other” Christianity, and having learned that a friend from high school had just converted to Orthodoxy, I placed my attention there. I was able to focus on Orthodox theology in graduate school, during which time the pieces fell quickly into place; and by the time of my graduation (after a field trip to a local skete and with plenty of help from Fyodor Dostoevsky), I was ready to move my faith out of my head and into my life, starting with the local Ukrainian parish. My then-fiancée (now wife) and I moved to Oregon a year later, and another year after that I was finally received into the Church at a Greek parish, where I still attend.

All along the way, music was a constant and essential companion. Throughout my life, I have always – as I imagine most people do – listened to music that reflects my current state and interests, and although my influences and tastes are under constant reevaluation, looking back I can identify some of the artists that left the greatest impressions on me, for better or for worse: The Beatles, Pink Floyd, They Might Be Giants, The Residents, Beck, Radiohead, The Legendary Pink Dots, Current 93, Leonard Cohen; and, in more recent years, Johnny Cash, The Carter Family, Iron and Wine, Grand Salvo, Sufjan Stevens, The Danielson Famile, Steven Delopoulos, Bill Fay, Arvo Pärt; and, of course, early gospel recordings and plenty of Orthodox (mostly Byzantine) chant.

In addition to the music listed above, I have been writing and recording my own since the age of 11. Given the various beliefs and influences that I have passed through over the years, my music has accordingly passed through many genres and themes, acting in many ways as my diary. But, private as a diary may be (and there is plenty of material that I do keep private), I still feel that art is generally meant to be shared. And so, not wanting to waste this accumulation of material, I have decided to release some of it to the public. I especially want to share my two most recent albums, The Honey Flow and Bright Week, which form a sort of “before and after” glimpse into my life during my coming to faith and preparation for Baptism (The Honey Flow) and the first year afterward (Bright Week).

On both albums, I have tried (either consciously or unconsciously) to re-imagine and “baptize” some Western – and particularly American – musical forms into expressions of Orthodox piety, such as setting the old (and interestingly titled) Protestant Sacred Harp hymn “Russia” alongside an ison/drone note, or singing about the martyrdom of St. Catherine over an arrangement that one might expect to hear from an act like The Carter Family. Our American folk/gospel tradition is so rich and varied, and there are countless songs retelling and exploring almost every page of the Holy Scriptures, but how much richer would that tradition be if it included the lives of the Saints and the hymnody of the Orthodox Church? I hope that these two albums help to ask – and maybe begin to answer – such a question. On the other hand, many (even most) of the songs fall under a more modern (though decidedly lo-fi) “indie” folk/singer-songwriter aesthetic, simply because that is what comes out of me most naturally (look again to the influences listed above). All such grandiose considerations aside, in the end this is just the diary of one person, who happens to be an Orthodox Christian, recording his thoughts and experiences along the way.


Click photos to download Chad’s albums for FREE.

The Honey Flow

Bright Week


Check out Chad’s Bandcamp page


To contact Chad, send an email


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Oct 4, 2014

Sweet Success


Black Cherrie is a newly created venture which brings art and fashion together in a celebration of beauty and creativity. It was solely created to enhance the fusion of art and fashion in today’s world. The current shoe art collection of Black Cherrie offers hand-crafted artwork on shoes. The design can be as unique as the customer would like so the possibilities are endless.

The creator of Black Cherrie is designer Patty Kassoudakis whose fashion business started, over a decade ago. Her first taste of recognition became as singer Jessica Malboy wore her clothing during a concert in Adelaide. Over the span of the last decade Patty has succeeded in doing countless Fashion parades showing off her clothing and also jewellery collections.

Patty’s collection was chosen as a finalist for the Australian Masters of Fashion in 2007. Orthodoxy is a Major part of her business as she recognises nothing could have been accomplished without the help of our Lord. Almost all of her work is done within sight of her iconostasis, as it reminds her of the help and guidance of God is always nearby.


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