I watched the movie The Shoes of the Fisherman around twelve years ago, and from what I remember, I thoroughly enjoyed it. After learning more about the Eastern Churches and, in particular, the person whom the lead character of this movie is based on, I decided I would have a better appreciation for the story, so I bought the book. It was a well written book, but now that I've finished it, I feel that my time would have been better spent reading something more inspirational.
Like many, I saw this story as being prophetic of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. The book came out in 1963 and the movie came out in 1968. Ten years after the movie came out, Karol Wojtyla became the first Slavic pope, as well as the first one to come from a Communist nation, both of which occur in The Shoes of the Fisherman. Even the names of Pope John Paul II and the protagonist of The Shoes of the Fisherman are similar: Karol and Kiril.
As I said many see the connection between this movie and the pontificate of Pope John Paul II; however, very few people seem to know the actual inspiration for The Shoes of the Fisherman: Major Archbishop Josyf Slipyj.
Josyf Slipyj was the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Byzantine (Greek) Catholic Church between 1944 and 1984. A major archbishop has basically the same jurisdiction and autonomy as a patriarch without the actual title of patriarch. Technically, this title didn't exist until 1963 when Pope Paul VI created this new office instead of establishing Archbishop Slipyj's see as a patriarchate. Before 1963, Archbishop Slipyj had the same duties, but not as much authority and autonomy.
Such authority and autonomy allowed him to consecrate three bishops without approval of the pope. This annoyed some of the Roman Curia since such ordinations are illicit in Roman canon law (this is why those three bishops of the Pius X Society were excommunicated), but not in Eastern canon law. One of these bishops was Lubomyr Husar, who now holds the office that Major Archbishop Slipyj held.
The KGB offered to make Josyf Slipyj the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church if only he broke union with Rome. He refused, so they put him in a Siberian concentration camp for almost 18 years. In 1960, Blessed Pope John XXIII created him a Cardinal in pectore, and three years later succeeded in bringing him to Rome.
This real story is much more interesting and inspiring than The Shoes of the Fisherman. My favourite part of the movie is when Pope Kiril sneaks out of the Vatican and comes across a dying man in a Jewish community of Rome. When the man dies, Kiril begins chanting a Jewish lament in Hebrew. I don't know if Josyf Slipyj would have done this, but I do know that his predecessor, Servant of God Metropolitan Andrey Sheptysky, used to preach to the Jews in Hebrew. Unfortunately my favourite part of the movie, the chanting in Hebrew, is not in the book.
Instead of reading The Shoes of the Fisherman, I would have much rather read a biography of Josyf Slipyj or of Andrey Sheptysky. This is a plea to all Ukrainian historians that have a command of the English language: please write a biography about Major Archbishop Josyf Slipyj and one about Metropolitan Andrey Sheptysky.