[Jesus said] “For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all are alive to Him.” Luke 20:38
Then he [the thief on the cross] said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come in Your kingdom.” Luke 23:42
In November 1997, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople spoke at the National Cathedral in Washington DC as part of his American tour. One phrase of his talk stayed with me: he spoke of the members of the Orthodox Churches as “the children of memory.”
The faithful within the Eastern Church rejoice that we have the Son, the living Word of God, and the Scriptures, the written Word of God, to guide, guard, and guarantee our profession of faith. But our reason to rejoice is even greater: our liturgy, our veneration of the saints, and our prayers for the dead are all anchored in the memories carried from the church of the Old Testament Church into that of the New. The living memory of the Church, what the apostolic churches call Holy Tradition, contains those words and acts of Christ and those around him that John alludes to at the end of his Gospel, those volumes that were not written down. These lived on in the early church as oral tradition, eventually integrating themselves into our liturgy, our devotions, and our beliefs,under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
This past Sunday in the Orthodox Churches was devoted to the Samaritan Woman at the well. In Holy Scripture, she has no name; nothing is noted concerning her fate. Through Holy Tradition, she is remembered in the Church, the Kingdom of God on Earth, and is therefore alive in God and alive to us. We know her as the Holy Martyr Photina. Her family is known to us as well: her sons Victor (known as Photinus) and Joses; and her sisters Anatola, Phota, Photis, Paraskeva, and Kyriake. During the time of the emperor Nero (54-68), who displayed excessive cruelty against Christians, St Photina lived in Carthage with her younger son Joses and fearlessly preached the Gospel there. Her eldest son Victor fought bravely in the Roman army, and was appointed military commander in the city of Attalia (Asia Minor). After Victor was called to Italy, his faithful witness lead to the salvation and sanctification of Sebastian, an official in Italy, and his household.
Having seen through the Lord the coming persecutions, St Photina left Carthage in the company of several Christians and joined the confessors in Rome. At Rome the emperor ordered this faithful family to be brought before him and had them tortured them when they refused to apostatize. During the torments, the confessors felt no pain, and were said to escape the wounds that such torture should have inflicted upon them. Eventually, the men of the family were blinded and locked up in prison. St Photina and her sisters were sent to the imperial court under the supervision of Nero’s daughter Domnina. Just as St. Paul did among so many of his captors, St Photina converted Domnina and all her servants to Christ.
Three years passed. Messengers from the prison reported to Nero that Sts Sebastian, Photinus and Joses, had completely recovered, and that people were visiting them to hear their preaching, and indeed the whole prison had been transformed into a bright and fragrant place where God was glorified. Horrible tortures fell upon the family afterwards. The saints prayed for their persecutors and were consoled and healed by angels of the Lord. They cared for their fellow prisoners; their examples led to more conversions. One by one, the family members were killed in terrible ways as they refused to renounce Christ.
In her final days, St. Photina was whipped, thrown in a well and then returned to prison. She was again brought before Nero and asked if she would relent and sacrifice to the idols. St Photina spit in the face of the emperor and laughed at him. Nero again gave orders to throw the martyr down the well, where she died and entered into the eternal kingdom of Christ. As she was saved by Christ at a well, so too did a well end her earthly persecution.
May her memory be eternal!
Kontakion – Tone 8: The Samaritan Woman came to the well in faith; She saw You, the Water of Wisdom, and drank abundantly. She inherited the Kingdom on High and is ever glorified!