Sunday, September 11, 2022

Ukrainian documentary shows lives of monks on Mount Athos

 Where are you, Adam?": the film about the everyday life of an ancient  monastery in Greece will be released in Ukraine

Mount Athos is a peninsula in northeastern Greece and is an autonomous monastic republic. For centuries Eastern Orthodox monks have been living here in dozens of monasteries. 

Ukrainian deacon and film producer Alexandr Plyska was allowed to film in one of the monasteries which resulted in the documentary Where are you, Adam?.

In August, the documentary was shown for the first time in Amsterdam. Alexander Plyska, 47, spoke there about the long years of preparation: He spent eight years asking for permission to start filming on Mount Athos, and another four years of actual filming, which he edited into an 80-minute long movie.

This was done without any financial support, but “the love and desire to work together did abound,” Plyska told the Dutch catholic weekly Katholiek Nieuwsblad.

“Our starting point when filming was respect,” he explained.

“Mount Athos is sacred ground and when filming we definitely did not want to disturb the lives of the monks living there. We only wanted to witness their lives and to preserve the silence on the Mount. Being together in silence with these monks was what I was aiming for with this documentary.”

Plyska emphasized that “everything you see in this movie is real, nothing has been staged.”

At the start of the premiere in Amsterdam, viewers heard The Great Lenten Song, which was also played at the premiere in Kiev, Ukraine. The Dutch audience listened as quiet as a mouse, and the documentary hadn’t even started yet.

Plyska visited Mount Athos for the first time in 2000. He befriended Gerdona Gregry (1942-2018), the hegumen (or abbot) of Dochiariou Monastery. After years of talking to him, Plyska finally convinced Gregry of the importance of making a documentary. Gregry allowed him to make one documentary, provided it doesn’t turn out as some kind of advertisement and is not focused solely on him.

Today there are still some 20 monasteries left on Mount Athos, of which Dochiariou is one of the largest. Women are not permitted on Athos, nor is electricity or other modern conveniences. Dochiariou was founded in the late 10th or early 11th century. Surprisingly, since 1990 many new monks have entered the monasteries on Mount Athos, mostly young graduates from the former Soviet Union and young Greeks. They live with each other in close community.

“We are servants of Christ, always with God as our guide,” Gregry says in the documentary.

The 80 minutes of the documentary passed with lightning speed, ending with the credit: “Thanks to our parents, our families and our spiritual fathers.”

The audience has been completely silent throughout the whole film, and the silence lingers after the credits roll.

“The silence is beautiful,” Plyska said. “I’m still quiet myself, even though I feel I’ve seen this film a thousand times.”

After the silence is broken, the visitors expressed their appreciation to the producer, standing in line to have their picture taken with him.

When an audience member asked how the Russians and Ukrainians in monasteries on Mount Athos currently treat each other, Plyska said, “Everyone respects each other. There is hardly any talk about the war.”

“My heart is full of these monks. It is a blessing that we were able to make this film. It wasn’t until it was completely finished, in January 2019, that I could truly believe that we succeeded,” he said.

Asked whether the film is important, he replied, “As important as the sunrise and the rustle of the wind or a river. Those, like the film, touch the strings of our soul.”

Plyska said he dreams of showing the film to Pope Francis at the Vatican. He has no idea whether that will ever happen, and in the end it is not that important, he said.

He also told the audience that it was okay to not know what to think about the film.

“Maybe you didn’t understand everything about the film or you will lose some sleep thinking about it. That’s exactly the point. It means the documentary lives on within you,” he said.

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