“Ostrov” (Russian: Остров, The Island) was a 2006 Russian biographical film about a fictional 20th century Eastern Orthodox monk; although the story bears a striking resemblance to the life of Orthodox mystic St. Theophilus (Feofil) the Fool-for-Christ of the Kiev Caves. The movie begins in 1942, as the protagonist, then a teenager working on a Russian coal transport ship, is captured by the Nazis, and, under extreme pressure, commits a heinous act of cowardice and violence. Fast forward 30 years, the teen is now an Orthodox monk at a remote Northern Russian monastery. There, he lives an extremely secluded life – even apart from the other monks, as his only job involves transporting coal from the nearby wrecked coal ship, the same one he served on, to the monastery. Strangely though, especially bewildering to his fellow monks, he oftentimes receives an endless stream of visitors asking for spiritual and even personal advice; for, the solitary monk can foretell the future, read minds, and discern spirits; somewhat similar in nature to the extraordinary phenomena surrounding the Italian Padre Pio.
When he is not moving coal to the monastery boilers, and shoveling it into the furnaces, he makes a series of private boat trips to a small deserted island where he continually prayers “The Jesus Prayer.” The Jesus Prayer is a repetitive prayer of the Eastern Churches which goes like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.” Throughout the film, and presumably through his life, he says this prayer over and over again. In the West, this would be somewhat analogous to the recitation of the Rosary. This adds to the overall sense of mourning that surrounds the picture. And, herein lies the great import and lesson to be learned from “Ostrov:” for the sinner, especially the sexual transgressor, in order for true repentance and healing to take place – there must be an extended, if not indefinite, period of solitude, remorse, fasting, privation, and total commitment to unceasing prayer. Through these extreme acts of penance, the Lord Jesus Christ will humble us. In Orthodoxy, as in the film, this humility is sometimes achieved by aping a certain insanity – making others believe that one is ignorant, head-strong, or even unbalanced; it goes beyond a sort of self-deprecation into a willingness towards accepting ridicule; a near-contemporary equivalent in the West would be Fr. Solanus Casey. And, through this humility, we are able to accept the forgiveness of God; and sometimes to forgive ourselves; in other words, to drop the pride and admit that we are indeed a sinner – worthy of God’s Love.