Post originally written in May of 2013. Images are not my own.
The village is nestled amongst mountains and forests, the monastery perched at its peak. The nine members of the monastery live a life that is centred around their lives of worship but they involve and include the Muslim community of the village they call their own. They farm their crops, worship their God with ages-old chants and hymns, cook, eat and clean. But they also study and write about their faith and the faith of the village they are in, and daily meet, counsel, and serve their local community, dispersing medicine, footwear, and advice, even joining them to celebrate their Muslim ceremonies. All the while they remain distinctly Christian. They are a true picture of a body of Christ living and serving in a secular culture.
And yet this life is not without its darkness. There are forces in the world who hate the church and its faithful work in the world. In this picture of a film, those forces are Muslim extremists who make their way towards the village, slicing the throats of those who don’t abide by their rules. The story of this film is about this threat and how the brothers choose to respond.
It is told with a quite, honest, and steady camera, less affectious then Terence Malick’s, simpler then Lech Majewski, in a sense perfectly matching the patient lifestyle of its subject.
There is a scene halfway into the film that is often described by its admirers. They brothers are in the midst of wrestling through the decision of whether to stay in the village and risk certain death, or to flee to their former homes, lives, and safety. They bring their thoughts before some of the village elders, confessing that that they feel helpless "like birds on a branch. We may be leaving.” After a pause, one of the villagers responds, “We are the birds. You are the branch. If you go, we will loose our footing.”
I had been enjoying this film up until that moment, but from then on it resonated on a whole new level. Just the other week, having left work for five days to attend a family funeral, a colleague and friend told me that “work feels soulless without you.” This film became a commentary on my role in living out my faith in what is my village.
This group of brother lived their Christian walk with honesty and devotion, before each other, their fellow man, and their God. The film is an honest look at the evening of their lives, and it is one that spoke volumes into my own situation. I hope to return to it, and I hope that it becomes part of the fabric of my life.