A Celebration of Living Light
Margaret Broadbent rsm
Editor: The Mercy Mission, Spirituality and Action Hub in North Carlton, Victoria, was the perfect setting on Saturday, 18 May, for an exhibition attended by a large number of Sisters and guests, of the work of four Australian iconographers: Margaret Broadbent rsm, Margaret McHugh rsm, Pauline Pervan lcm and Mrs Alice Vaughan.
Adding to the atmosphere, the afternoon's programme featured the Melbourne Capella Choir, an ensemble of professional choral and operatic singers performing works sung in English, Greek, Georgian and Russian, conducted by Nicholas Cowell.
Margaret Broadbent rsm, organiser of the exhibition, described the theme behind "A Celebration of The Living Light”. 'We live in the Light of the Resurrection. The use of gold in architecture, sacred worship, halos in icons is key to today’s celebration. Gold is the pure reflection of light – a brilliance which is inexplicable. It is a symbol of Divine Living and plays a very important part in Iconography.'
The origins of the exhibition can be traced to a 10 day study tour the four women took to St. Petersburg, Russia's imperial capital and cultural centre,in 2005 to study Icon Painting under the guidance of Philip Davydov – Professional Iconographer and Instructor. They studied the prototype “Christ the Redeemer” in a small Franciscan Church for ten days under Philip’s expert care.
The study tour was a result of prayer and twelve months of detailed work with the then Rector of the School of Religion and Philosophy, Dr Natalia Pecherskaya, now President of the (renamed) Center for Science, Religion and Philosophy Programs (SRPh).
Margaret Broadbent rsm explained: 'Alice Vaughan and I had planned to study Icon Painting at the British School of Art in Florence, Italy. With everything organised, we set our hearts on going to Italy until after prayer one morning Russia came into being.
Now Alice’s desire to paint Icons was the main reason for further studies for the both of us. I, the teacher at the time, needed this basic instruction for the teaching of future students in Iconography.
Not to be deterred, I placed my trust in the God who placed Russia into my head and typed in the specifics of an Icon Course in St Petersburg, Russia. Up came ‘The School of Religion and Philosophy’- Dr Natalia Pecherskaya as the Rector.'
Dr Pecherskaya was the guest speaker at the exhibition. In her talk entitled "The Motivations behind setting up of the St Petersburg School of Religion and Philosophy", she traced her personal journey 'to bring together what I can call my intellectual baptism with the spiritual baptism' and her decision 'to find like –minded people who also wanted to bring together their faith and professional lives, to cultivate rich inner life, and to help others to do the same', work that evolved into St.Petersburg School of Science, Religion and Philosophy (SRPh).
'We, Christians nowadays can see our mission and our goal to help the others to reconnect with the true content of religious symbols, revealing their equivalents in our own mental experience.
Is this sense, the exhibition we are presented with is one of the way to do this. It combines an intentional mixture of icon images of the Saviour, Mother of God and of the saints, side by side with the pictures of common life of the persons whose mental and spiritual experiences penetrate each other and add to each other. I find this method of representing simultaneously the heavenly world of the saints on the icons, the architecture of churches and cathedrals in the photos, and the earthly images of the ISMAPNG Sisters of Mercy in Russia, smiling, singing, looking at something wonderful, as a true way to reconnect their religious lives in the Order by revealing their equivalents in their mental expression.'
'Thanks to one Russian woman who said “yes”, an incredible journey between Russia and Australia is continuing to evolve', said Sr Margaret.
Responded Dr Pecherskaya, 'We became a source of inspiration for each other. Together we accomplished several important events organized in Russia and in Australia. One of the SRPh’ programs which is called “Visions of Beauty” became our joint project with ISMAPNG, also because of Margaret’s energy and spirit. Twenty eight sisters have already visited Russia...
And we may thank God that the Celebration of Living Light is going on.'
Photos: Adele Howard rsm (ISMAPNG). Video: Rockmans Creative Media