13 May – The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

“The Eastern Orthodox Churches commemorated the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman. Saint John’s Gospel tells us of the extraordinary conversation she had with Jesus at Jacob’s Well in Samaria. Not only does Jesus break through accepted Jewish practices by meeting with a woman and a Samaritan, but He reveals that He knew exactly what had been going on in this woman’s past.

“More fundamentally, however, Jesus Christ reveals to this woman her own deepest desires, and her thirst for God, and
He Himself fulfills this thirst. He asks her for a drink of water, but she ends up realizing that He is the Living Water that she
is longing for. The Church gives us this Gospel account in the middle of the Easter season because we too are realizing our own thirst for the Living Water that only the Risen Christ can give us. This past Wednesday on mid-Pentecost we prayed: ‘Give to my thirsty soul to drink from the waters of true praise.’

“Like the Samaritan woman – whom the Church identifies as St Photini – we often do not realize our true need for God. We may even have become adept at lying about who we really are in the same way as she sought to cover up her shady past. A
true encounter with the Risen Christ will involve acknowledging the truth of who we really are in order to be able to accept God’s mercy and His overwhelming love.”

From Evangelion, a weekly Bulletin of Orthodox Christian faith that is made available to the Churches of the Archbishopric of Good Hope.

Part II- The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman: Her Name was Photina

[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.

The Samaritan Woman, Photina

The Samaritan Woman, Photina

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!

Part I- The Sunday of The Samaritan Woman, Chapter 4, Gospel of John

Verses 1-44, The Gospel of John (CEV): This time he (Jesus) had to go through Samaria,  and on his way he came to the town of Sychar. It was near the field that Jacob had long ago given to his son Joseph.  The well that Jacob had dug was still there, and Jesus sat down beside it because he was tired from traveling. It was noon, and after Jesus’ disciples had gone into town to buy some food, a Samaritan woman came to draw water from the well.

Jesus asked her, “Would you please give me a drink of water?”  “You are a Jew,” she replied, “and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink of water when Jews and Samaritans won’t have anything to do with each other?” Jesus answered, “You don’t know what God wants to give you, and you don’t know who is asking you for a drink. If you did, you would ask me for the water that gives life.”

The Samaritan Woman at the Well

The Samaritan Woman at the Well

“Sir,” the woman said, “you don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. Where are you going to get this life-giving water?  Our ancestor Jacob dug this well for us, and his family and animals got water from it. Are you greater than Jacob?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again.  But no one who drinks the water I give will ever be thirsty again. The water I give is like a flowing fountain that gives eternal life.” The woman replied, “Sir, please give me a drink of that water! Then I won’t get thirsty and have to come to this well again.”

Jesus told her, “Go and bring your husband.” The woman answered, “I don’t have a husband.” “That’s right,” Jesus replied, “you’re telling the truth. You don’t have a husband. You have already been married five times, and the man you are now living with isn’t your husband.”

The woman said, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. My ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say Jerusalem is the only place to worship.” Jesus said to her: Believe me, the time is coming when you won’t worship the Father either on this mountain or in Jerusalem.  You Samaritans don’t really know the one you worship. But we Jews do know the God we worship, and by using us, God will save the world. But a time is coming, and it is already here! Even now the true worshipers are being led by the Spirit to worship the Father according to the truth. These are the ones the Father is seeking to worship him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship God must be led by the Spirit to worship him according to the truth. The woman said, “I know that the Messiah will come. He is the one we call Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

“I am that one,” Jesus told her, “and I am speaking to you now.”

The disciples returned about this time and were surprised to find Jesus talking with a woman. But none of them asked him what he wanted or why he was talking with her.

The woman left her water jar and ran back into town. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! Could he be the Messiah?” Everyone in town went out to see Jesus. While this was happening, Jesus’ disciples were saying to him, “Teacher, please eat something.” But Jesus told them, “I have food that you don’t know anything about.” His disciples started asking each other, “Has someone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said: My food is to do what God wants! He is the one who sent me, and I must finish the work that he gave me to do. You may say that there are still four months until harvest time. But I tell you to look, and you will see that the fields are ripe and ready to harvest.  Even now the harvest workers are receiving their reward by gathering a harvest that brings eternal life. Then everyone who planted the seed and everyone who harvests the crop will celebrate together. So the saying proves true, “Some plant the seed, and others harvest the crop.” I am sending you to harvest crops in fields where others have done all the hard work.

A lot of Samaritans in that town put their faith in Jesus because the woman had said, “This man told me everything I have ever done.” They came and asked him to stay in their town, and he stayed on for two days. Many more Samaritans put their faith in Jesus because of what they heard him say. They told the woman, “We no longer have faith in Jesus just because of what you told us. We have heard him ourselves, and we are certain that he is the Savior of the world!” Jesus had said, “Prophets are honored everywhere, except in their own country.” Then two days later he left and went to Galilee.

From Sermon 22.2, St. Maximus of Turin (ca. 380-ca. 465): And in a new kind of miracle the woman who had come to the well of Samaria as a prostitute returned chaste from the source of Christ. She who had come to look for water brought back chastity. As soon as the Lord points her sins out to her, she acknowledges them, confesses Christ and announces the Savior. Abandoning her pitcher, she brings not water but grace back to the city. She seems, indeed, to return full of holiness. She returns full, I say, because she who had come as a sinner goes back as a proclaimer, and she who had left her pitcher behind brought back the fullness of Christ, without the slightest loss to her city. For even if she did not bring water to the townspeople, still she brought in the source of salvation.

The prayer of a servant: Lord, grant me the grace with which you greeted the woman at the well. You recognised her heresy and her impurity, yet you revealed yourself to her as you did to few others. You went further still, sowing Your word among her friends, family, and community for two precious days, delaying your arrival among your own kinsmen.

What love is this! Reaching out across boundaries, ignoring proprieties;  in spite of  social and spiritual divisions, offering to save one and all. O Lord, your example shows me my own smallness. Grant me the grace to fearlessly open my heart and reveal my love for you.

Son of David, have mercy on me, the sinner.

And a modern voice speaks from the well: