The Ukrainian filmmaker has made several trips to the very restricted Mount Athos to immerse viewers in the life of monks in search of inner peace.
As his homeland is rocked by war, a Ukrainian filmmaker hopes his film about ancient monastic life will help restore tranquility to a “shaken” world.
Where are you Adam? is Aleksandr Plyska’s documentary about life in one of the 20 monasteries on Mount Athos in Greece – one of the most important centers of Orthodox monasticism. Plyska, a deacon of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, produced the film after spending several long stays at the 10th-century Docheiariou Monastery.
Reminding In the Great Silence, the 2005 documentary about life in a charterhouse, Where are you Adam? takes the viewer into the daily life of monks whose days are filled with community and private prayer, work, welcoming pilgrims and leisure. The title refers to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:9-24).
“The Lord God then called the man and asked him where are you?
“I heard you in the garden; but I was scared, because I was naked, so I hid.
The life of a monk focuses on returning to the state of Man before the Fall.
“The images of nature alternate with the almost incessant work and prayer of the monks, creating a rhythmic link between man and the natural world that evokes a paradise we all vaguely yearn for,” the film’s promotional material reads. They “desire to recover for themselves a state similar to the humanity of Adam before the Fall”.
A hidden life
The monastery of Docheiariou takes as celestial patrons the archangels Michael and Gabriel. It houses the Gorgoepikoos icon – the quick-to-hear Virgin Mary [Prayers]. Plyska first visited in 2002 and said he was intrigued by the different “characters” he encountered there, and he began jotting down his observations.
“In my head, I started to have images of profiles or features of these monks. It reminded me of characters from Lives of the Saints of the Cave Monastery in Kyiv,” Plyska said in an interview. “I started to put that on paper but then I lost my notes. But then we thought it would be better done by a film, because cinema, like a work of art, has this particularity of allowing people to immerse themselves, to immerse themselves in this environment.So since 2006, on an annual basis, I try to spend an average of three months a year in this monastery.
But he had to persuade the reluctant monks and their abbot, Gregorios Zumis, to allow him to bring in a film crew and expose their lives to the world. Because Plyska was a regular pilgrim there, Abbott Gregorios eventually gave consent, on the condition that the documentary not be a film about him and not just “another advertisement” for Mount Athos.
“The monastery is like any house or family. They try to preserve themselves, to preserve their atmosphere, their values,” Plyska said. “Banning filming is the way to make sure they don’t lose their authenticity, because if you allow everyone to film, people will stop coming.”
But Abbot Gregorios and the monks came to know and trust Plyska, who in turn hired Ukrainian director/cinematographer Oleksandr Zaporoshchenko.
“He approached this whole process very humbly, with his head down,” Plyska said of the director. “It’s fantastic to see how he managed to represent the rhythm, the rhythm of the monastery.”
After four years of work, ten trips to Mount Athos and 80 hours of filming, the documentary premiered in Europe in 2019. The documentary has been shown in around 12 countries so far, and Plyska and her team are trying to bring it to life. to the United States
“To imagine God’s grace pouring out of the screen, I couldn’t even imagine when we started it,” Plyska exclaimed.
Abbot Gregorios was able to see the film and authorized a special screening for his monks before his death in 2018.
The meaning of Athos for the world
The Aegean Peninsula where the 6,600ft Mount Athos sits is an autonomous part of Greece which is allowed to control its own immigration. Only men are allowed to visit, and among them very few non-Orthodox men receive visas.
Plyska characterizes it as a vital element in the life of the Church and of the world.
“Mt. Athos is the courage, tears and blood of people who have lived there for thousands of years,” he said. Athos is testimony to the fact that if God begins to speak with a man, the man cannot decide not to hear. Mount Athos is the testimony of man’s love for God, when man sacrifices his whole life to God.
And yet his film was never meant to be an “evangelizing” tool, even for an increasingly unbelieving world. Asked if he hoped it would reach people in a world that thinks less and less of God, Plyska said he would reframe the question, arguing that the West isn’t actually giving up on God.
“We are simply witnessing the processes that occur in the life of a human being. In every person’s life, you have times which can be called East and West, sunrise, dusk, ‘dawn, the desert, the heat,” the deacon/producer said. “But the person cannot stifle the breath of God within himself.And the West cannot long turn his face from God.
Plyska opines that there are structures, including those of the Church, which “do not allow modern man to see God”.
“I think priests should only talk about God,” he said, to “give the person who comes to church tools on how to talk with God, give them the ability to feel God , to feel the breath of God. When that person comes out, whether they are an architect, an artist, or a scientist, they will apply that feeling of God in what they do in their life. And when the priest starts to go after politics, with environmental stuff and side things, the most important things get lost.
He said that in today’s world, “we make a lot of noise. We talk a lot these days. I am a bit far from thinking that there can be evangelism, because I am sure that God speaks directly to each man. From this point of view, we just need to create tranquility, peace, silence. God himself strikes. He does not force the door. He is very polite. But today’s world has changed. »
Maybe Where are you Adam? will help people learn to create this vital silence in their own lives.