This still taken from our film has a real story behind it! The Face of God’s first film location was in Birchdale, BC, Canada. I chose this location because it is a very special place for me, and in general. I wanted to start the year of principal filming on the 1st of September, the International Day of Prayer of Creation and also the very beginning of the Church Year (feast of All Saints). Birchdale itself is a remote wilderness location in the Kootney mountains and also the location of St John in the Wilderness Orthodox Sanctuary under the spiritual leadership of Fr Nil and Sheila Nellis. This place has been a spiritual home for me for years and there are few places as beautiful and steeped in prayer on earth. Birchdale is accessible only by boat and is surrounded by hundreds of thousands of hectares of raw untouched Canadian wilderness; it is the perfect place for the formation of the spiritual intellect through direct engagement with nature, and it is exactly this which Fr Nil and Sheila are offering through the development of an Orthodox wilderness school, the construction of a byzantine chapel in the forest (designed by Andrew Gould and using materials from forest itself).
I called Fr Nil and told him my intentions to visit and film there. I told him I wanted to raise a cross in the wilderness and proclaim the glory of God radiant in the natural world. He warmly welcomed the idea. When I arrived, he and his community had already been busy working on the cross! They had felled a tree on the property, and had planed it and shaped it by hand themselves. They had also found a beautiful location to raise the cross, which you can see in this image. As the cross itself is fourteen feet high and weighs over half a tonne, raising it in this location would be an enormous challenge, and we knew that there was only one chance to film doing it. We set up our cameras, carried the cross in four pieces up the side of the mountain, and prepared to raise it. However, as we did so, we were all completely caught up in the spiritual significance of doing this extraordinary act and forgot even about the cameras and crew. nature itself seemed to participate in this sacramental act, and we felt the presence of the saints and angels. Finally it was time to raise it. There seven people involved in the raising itself, with the camera crew capturing every moment. Fr Nil and I were vested of course (him in Russian vestments and me in Greek vestments to symbolize both churches) and the cross was indeed raised in this remarkable location. The film will depict this symbolic moment beautifully as the whole thing came out perfectly.
In a way, this image is meant to evoke the icon of the feast of the veneration of the cross with Saints Constantine and Helen and with good reason. The way of the cross is part of the very fabric of the spiritual life, and the spiritual world is in harmony with the natural world. Christ saved the whole cosmos, not just human beings. Furthermore, the cross in this location expresses the challenge ahead. It took three hundred years for the cross to go from an instrument of unimaginable torture and fear in the Roman empire to a symbol that the Roman emperor himself would bow down before in veneration and worship. The Church transformed the social fabric of the world through it’s witness and martyrdom. However, we have only a few decades to do the same for our current world – we must bring the cross into every aspect of our human society and transform our very way of life so that it returns to harmony with the created world and so that we can all not only honour God as Orthodox Christians in our daily life in His creation, but we can also offer a better world for our children.
This image represents much more than I have explained here, of course, but it also represents the very beginning of this film and has become the way we are taking in the making of it.