Good Shepherd College in Ponsonby is now the proud owner of an icon of the Transfiguration written by an artist of international renown.The icon, written by Michael Galovic, now hangs on a wall leading to the chapel at the college, at which theology and related disciplines are taught.
The icon was blessed after Communion at the inaugural Mass for 2018, celebrated in the college chapel.
Acting principal Fr Mervyn Duffy, SM, explained how the icon came to be at the college.
He started by noting that Mr Galovic is an artist and icon writer of considerable repute in Australia and New Zealand.
Graduating from the Belgrade Academy of Arts in the former Yugoslavia, since 1990 Mr Galovic has made his home in Australia. His work can be seen in more than 100 churches and institutions throughout his adopted nation.
In 2016 and 2017, he wrote a series of icons on the Transfiguration.
Fr Duffy has written commentaries on Mr Galovic’s art, giving a theological reading of some of his works, including on the Transfiguration series.
“As artists do, he is exploring his medium and the symbolism within it,” Fr Duffy told those at the inaugural Mass.
“I saw reproductions [of the Transfiguration series] and wrote about [it] in an article called the “otherness of Christ”, because the whole thing in the icon tradition is — how do you show how special Jesus is?”
“They have developed all sorts of conventions in the tradition — the cruciform halo, the almond shape of heaven around him, the rays of light radiating from him.
“And the Transfiguration is one of those moments when you want to show the ‘otherness of Christ’.”
Fr Duffy observed that the figures of Moses and Elijah, Peter, James and John in this icon have been produced in the Russian tradition, with subtle differences from other such works.
But the figure of the Christ is very different from traditional iconography.
“He has not done the Christ as the figure of Christ is usually done, whiter than white with garments,” Fr Duffy said.
“What he has done is — he has broken all the rules and he has done the Christ as a low relief carving. So you have got the flat plain of the icon, and when you look closely you see the figure of Christ comes out in three dimensions, as if [hinting at] divinity — we are all two dimensional, but Christ has this other dimension to him. It may or may not catch on. But he is an artist trying a technique to hint to us that Christ is ‘other’.”
In acknowledgement of Fr Duffy’s writing about his work, Mr Galovic gifted the icon to the college.
Fr Duffy noted that these works normally sell for thousands of dollars, so the college is very grateful for the generosity of the gesture and the chance to have on the premises such a holy and beautiful artwork.
The priest noted that it is not merely an artwork, but it is meant to be a holy image, taking people’s hearts and minds to God.
Fr Patrick Breeze, SM, rector of the Marist Seminary, asked in a prayer of blessing over the icon that God grant that “as we look upon it, our hearts may be drawn to things which can only be seen through the eyes of faith”.
Earlier in the liturgy, Fr Breeze noted in his homily that that day was the feast of St Polycarp, a second century bishop and martyr.
Fr Breeze mentioned the connections between St Polycarp and St John the Apostle and thus to Jesus. But St Polycarp was also linked to the faith story of St Ireneaus of Lyon and through him through a long line of bishops to Bishop Pompallier and hence to New Zealand.
Polycarp’s martyrdom and suffering were noted, and Fr Breeze asked if the life and example of the saint should act as a sort of purification for those at the Mass.
“What is our motivation for the various ministries we are now [in] and will be involved in in the future?” Fr Breeze asked. “Is it honour or adulation or status? Or is our motivations that we desire to follow Christ with our hearts, minds and souls and not be concerned if the world loves us or hates us?”
As the Gospel reading for the day noted “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me before you (John 15:18).”
Fr Breeze also challenged those at the Mass to find new and faithful ways to “pass on what we have received to future generations”.