Film Review: Amphilochios, Saint of Patmos and Sacred Alaska

St. Amphilochios review

It is not anything extraordinary we do to become a saint, but in the ordinary acts of our lives. - paraphrased from Fr. Michael Oleksa

On Monday, January 9th, viewers crowded into Cinema 21 in the Northwest district of Portland, Oregon, as lines to enter stretched out the door. A surprised staff checked tickets and guided us to Theater One, which was so crowded we began filling the balcony. Who knew, we could almost hear them thinking, that there are so many Orthodox people in Portland? 

This double feature brought two Orthodox films to life, beginning with the documentary short, Amphilochios: Saint of Patmos - the first production of Beauty First Films, based here in Portland. Thomaida Hudanish, who makes up one half of the creative team along with Dr. Timothy Patitsas, opened the event with a warm welcome and memories of when the neighborhood used to be a hub of Orthodox community, with a church and a thriving bookstore only blocks away. 

“Many miracles made this film and tonight possible,” Hudanish commented, “and we hope you get a sense of this as you watch.”

As it opened, we were immediately drawn into the beauty of the island of Patmos, receiving a rich feast for the eyes in the architecture, topography, and candle-filled services. An arresting introduction to the island’s most recent canonized inhabitant, St. Amphilochios, the film follows the celebration of his first feast day in April 2019, weaving the story of his life through the narrative and memories of locals and pilgrims over the course of four days. 

St. Amphilochios (1889-1970) was a spiritual father, missionary, and founder of orphanages and monasteries who began and ended his monastic life on Patmos. He encouraged locals to plant churches, to care for the earth around them, and most of all to care for each other. Although the center of the film is the life of a male saint, much of the film is built around the accounts of local nuns, grandmothers, and female pilgrims, who carry the legacy and the working memory of the community. Through their words, we see that it was not so much what St. Amphilochios did, but who he was, that left the greatest legacy of love and of holiness.

This theme of holiness through rather ordinary means blended seamlessly into the following feature by Trikirion Films, Sacred Alaska, which made its West Coast premiere that night. Similarly to Amphilochios: Saint of PatmosSacred Alaska featured the narratives of male and female elders who carried the knowledge and stories of their community, along with many other people of faith. This intimate look at the spirituality and rhythms of Alaskan Orthodox life culminated in the life of (very recently) canonized St. Olga. 

The indigenous Alaska worldview teaches us that we become Real People in relationship with God and with those around us - including the entire created world. Holy women like St. Olga demonstrate that simple, faithful, daily acts of kindness and mercy are more important than any extraordinary asceticism; that it was not so much what she did with her life, but how she did it in prayer and love, that nourished the holiness of her existence. 

At the Q&A following the films, viewers asked the filmmakers about their greatest sources of inspiration, and the ways the stories emerged through intuition and even surprise. Hudanish spoke of several women who had mentored her into this role as a filmmaker and– in her words– “wouldn’t let it go!” All emphasized the depth of spirituality and grace they experienced by being welcomed into the lives of these holy women and men of faith.

“In a sense, we wanted the film to be like Chef’s Table - to invite you into an unfamiliar world, and draw you in first through beauty,” commented Hudanish in a reference to their namesake of “Beauty First”.  Both films certainly achieved this goal, using a rich visual narrative to convey to their viewers just what an astonishing and grace-filled world we live in, over and amid the reality of pain and struggle. And it is this transcendence of the struggle, this creative work to sanctify and beautify it, that is the most lasting legacy of the saints featured in these two films. 

To see if either of these films are showing your area, check out Beauty First Films and Trikirion Films to see a current list of cities! 

Jenna Funkhouser is a poet, freelance writer, and nonprofit storyteller living in Portland, Oregon, who also writes regularly for Axia and keeps our social media functioning. In her spare time, she enjoys working with her hands in creative endeavors, from block printing to mosaics, and getting to know neighbors from around the world. 

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