Friday, November 28, 2014

St. Porphyrios: "It is Good to Listen to Music"

"It is good to listen to music. The highest of all is Byzantine music, because it doesn't disturb the soul, but unites it with God and gives it perfect rest. If you really want to, you can listen to secular music, but I say that it is preferable to listen to music without words."

- Saint Porphyrios of Kavsokalyva

Monday, November 24, 2014

PJ Harvey and St. Catherine Chapel In Abbotsbury

St. Catherine's Chapel in Abbotsbury
The musician PJ Harvey once visited St Catherine's Chapel in Abbotsbury, England (she grew up and lived nearby) which has a wonderful acoustic quality and decided to record a song there. The chapel is situated on a hill, as are most chapels to St. Catherine (Katherine) in the West, probably in reference to her shrine on Mount Sinai. It dates to the 13th or 14th century, but it is probably built on the ruins of an earlier Christian church, which was probably built over pagan ruins.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bram Stoker on Christ and Fiction Writing

By Bram Stoker, 
author of Dracula

Fiction is perhaps the most powerful form of teaching available. It can be most potent for good; and if we are to allow it to work for evil we shall surely have to pay in time for the consequent evil effects. 

Let not anyone with a non-understanding or misapplied moral sense say or believe that fiction, being essentially based on something that is not true, should be excluded altogether from the field of morals. The highest of all teachers and moralists, Christ Himself, did not disdain it as a method or opportunity of carrying great truth. But He seemed to hold it as His chosen means of seeking to instil truth. What is a parable but a novel in little? A parable may be true in historical fact — its ethical truth may be complete, but if so the truth is accidental and not essential. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Movie Review: "Beyond the Hills" (An Orthodox Christian Perspective)

By John Sanidopoulos

April 8, 2013

Warning: Contains spoilers

Beyond the Hills (Romanian: Dupa dealuri) is a Romanian film that was released there in October 2012, and was inspired by the non-fiction novels of Tatiana Niculescu Bran, who investigated the 2005 death of a novice during an exorcism ritual in a Moldavian monastery. It was directed by Cristian Mungiu and stars Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur. The film received world-wide attention when it premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, where Mungiu won the award for Best Screenplay, and Stratan and Flutur shared the award for Best Actress. It was also selected as the Romanian entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards, making the January shortlist.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Movie Review: "The Hunger Games"

When the first Hunger Games movie was released a few years ago, I wrote a review to answer some of the concerns parents had about this movie. The review is re-published below, since the third movie in the series will be released this weekend.

Movie Review: The Hunger Games (2012)

By John Sanidopoulos

March 30, 2012

Story: Set in a future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister's place for the latest match.

Director: Gary Ross
Screenplay: Suzanne Collins
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson

Official Trailer
Official Website


The Hunger Games is based on the best-selling Suzanne Collins dystopian novel of the same name. It is rated PG-13 mainly due to its brutal child-on-child violence and death. The film currently holds the record for the third best opening weekend box office sales of any movie ($152.5 million) in North America behind The Dark Knight ($158 million) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 ($169 million) and the biggest for a non-sequel. It was well received by critics, who praised Lawrence's performance and its themes and messages, whilst it was mildly criticized for its watered-down violence and its filming style. It has also been hailed as "darker than Harry Potter, more sophisticated than Twilight."

Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the Capitol of the nation of Panem (as in panem et circenses, Latin for "bread and circuses") forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games. They are living under the constant reminder that the Capitol obliterated District 13 for their rebellion, and for this they began the annual event. Part twisted entertainment, part government intimidation tactic, the Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which 24 "Tributes" must fight with one another until one survivor remains.

Pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who enters the Games voluntarily to replace her younger sister, is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). If she's ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

Entering the movie, I had not read the book but did have high expectations knowing how popular the book has become. I was not disappointed, as I found it to be a compelling, intelligent and action-packed film which is well-acted and entertaining. However, the quick, jumpy movements of the camera throughout was hard to handle at times. For the most part, I didn’t notice the jerky camera shooting, except during the action scenes. Perhaps this was a way to keep the movie PG-13 and not show the gore and violence going on, but at the same time it adds to the film a sense of danger since the book is written from the perspective of the main character Katniss, and one would think this is how she would view the events around her. I would have also liked the soundtrack to be more dystopian, with a song like "Disposable Teens" by Marilyn Manson which is about how teenagers are disposable in a dystopian society, as opposed to Taylor Swift, although she is more palpable to younger audiences.

I have heard parents worry about their children viewing the movie. The movie does handle heavy subjects and issues and is violent, at least suggestively, so I would be cautious having any child under 10-years-old seeing this movie. Beyond that the film is careful to not dwell too much on the violence so as to make it viewable for younger audiences. The first time I saw it was opening day with my brother-in-law and he was strongly against having his 8-year-old daughter seeing it, but the second time I saw it was with my two 12-year-old nephews who loved the film and their only complaint was that it was a bit long. Personally I think the beloved children's movies I grew up with were much more frightening, like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and The Goonies, but the serious tone and the length of The Hunger Games is more designed for teenagers.

As far as the morality of the story, some caution could be made. I don't know what the books say, but Panem appears to be a godless society that has reduced itself to the pagan-like entertainments of barbaric times. Some would see this as a negative, but I more view it as a caution as to what we can become. The viewer knows that what he is seeing in this post-apocalytpic society is wrong and they are cheering for the victims. Altruistic sacrifices are made throughout the movie, and virtues are displayed as opposed to vices. The lack of public outcry against the barbarity of the Hunger Games is lacking severely however and one voice of reason would have been nice to see, but the end does have such a moment which I assume carries into the second book.

The Hunger Games is a post-apocalyptic take on a familiar American myth. We have seen the gist of the story time and time again and everyone has been exposed to one form of the story in one way or another. When Shirley Jackson published "The Lottery" in 1948 it also had wide controversy, but today it is considered one of the best short stories in American literature. Similar things could be said for William Golding's Lord of the Flies and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Hunger Games is a bit of a combination of the three. I would also add in the dystopian movies Metropolis, Blade Runner, Death Race 2000, The Truman Show, Cube, Gattaca, Zoolander, The Most Dangerous Game, The Running Man and even Spartacus. One also sees traces of television reality shows like Survivor and The Bachelorette. I was also amazed how similar this movie was to Kinji Fukasaku's Japanese film Battle Royale, but there are differences and the Japanese film, also based on a book, is much more violent and cut-throat. Equally I was amazed how similar the society created in The Hunger Games was similar to that of the mini-series Amerika, which also had America divided into twelve districts by the communists. Even in ancient literature and history we find the themes spoken of in The Hunger Games, such as in the stories of Theseus and the goddess Diana, as well as in Robin Hood, the gladiatorial games of Rome, the scapegoat of the Old Testament, and even the sacrifice of Christ. It is common for artists to borrow from and improve on many sources; after all Quentin Tarantino has built his career on this principle.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Movie: "Time Of Violence" (a story of Balkan Christians under Ottoman rule)

Time Of Violence (1988; 288 min.) is a MUST WATCH Bulgarian movie and its free of charge (see links below) with English subtitles.

The year is 1668 AD. The Ottoman jihad is in its heat in Southeastern Europe. The Turkish siege of the Venetian fortress of Candia (now Heraklion in Crete) has been lasting for a second decade now. The Rhodope Mountain is seen as a strategically important base of the war but its Christian population is a potential source of instability. The sultan orders its conversion into "the right faith". The sacred forests and valleys, where according to the legend Orpheus was born, now screams under the yataghans enforcing the foreign creed in blood and fires.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Spiritual Invocation" by Elder Gabriel Dionysiatis

Blessed Elder Gabriel Dionysiatis (1886-1983) was for forty years Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Dionysiou at Mount Athos. He has been called "the abbot of abbots of the twentieth century", and "a great man of Greece and of the Orthodox Faith".

Dr. Constantine Cavarnos, who has written the only existing book in English on this significant elder whom he knew personally, characterizes Elder Gabriel as a "remarkable confessor and spiritual guide, a profound analyst of twentieth century society, and an inspiring writer on many vital topics". Below is a piece he wrote in 1965 and is just one of many examples in which his wisdom is manifested, offered here on the anniversary of his falling asleep which occurred on November 6, 1983.

Spiritual Invocation

By Elder Gabriel Dionysiatis

So many years have passed and we still cannot forget the horror of the Second World War and the foreign occupation [Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy]. What can we remember first? The fear and terror of the barbarian conquerors? The bombarding or the hunger? The hundreds of thousands in Greece who were killed or died of starvation? Remembrance of these things chills the blood of man.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Mystique of Hitchcock's "Psycho"

One of my favorite movies of all time is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, released in 1960. There are many reasons for this, but it is pretty much unanimously agreed by film buffs and critics that this film is the hinge in Hollywood history that changed the movie experience like no other. With the release of the movie Hitchcock in 2012, an interesting and informative piece was written in Entertainment Weekly that I thought may be of introductory interest. Below are some excerpts: