5th Sun. of Pascha; St. Photini; Equal to the Apostles-The Woman at the Well Gospel John 4: 5-42

Christ is Risen! We have passed the half-way point in our journey from Pascha to Pentecost, the mid-feast was on Wednesday and so soon we will be praying “O Heavenly King” again. Of course, we do not use this essential prayer to the Holy Spirit from Pascha until Pentecost when The Holy Spirit is sent in fullness to start the Church. Let us do all we can to retain the Pascal joy!

Today we have the Gospel reading from the Woman at the well, St. Photini, “Equal to the Apostles” as the Church knows her. Saint Photini went on from this encounter with Christ to be baptized at Pentecost and became a great evangelist. She brought her two sons, her four sisters, and even Nero’s own daughter Domnina along with Domnina’s 100 servants and many of those Nero sent to torture Photini to Christ, as she proclaimed the gospel to Nero and all whom she encountered.  She was thrown into a well to end her life as a great saint and martyr for Christ, even as today’s encounter at the well transformed her and set her on the course for the kingdom of God. Her family and the others all joined her as martyrs under Nero around 66 AD.

There is so much we can learn from today’s Gospel:

– We see God’s love for all of humanity demonstrated in His coming to the Samaritan’s and the women at the well who had had 5 husbands. “for you have had 5 husbands and the one you now have is not your husband.”

– We see the true path of humility demonstrated in the women’s response to Christ confronting her with the sinful reality of her life when she reacts not with excuses and defensiveness regarding how life had forced this on her, but with true thirst for God “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.”

– We see the eternal values of the kingdom of God represented by the living water Christ offers, contrasted with the worldly water which does little to relieve the true hunger for eternal life – which is the fundamental need and hunger of all the human race. The seed of the image of God planted in each of us, needs to be watered with this true living water to come to life and growth.

The first point is that Christ brings His love and salvation to all. In today’s gospel, He receives a much more welcoming reception from these “outsiders” – the hated Samaritans than from His own race – God’s chosen people the Jews. Christ is traveling from Judea north to Galilee, and Samaria lay directly between these two places. The Samaritans were despised by the Jews so greatly that they would avoid traveling through Samaria, putting on many extra miles by going around it. The Samaritans were family gone bad so to speak; originating with the “lost” 10 tribes of Israel but rejected by the Jerusalem based tribes of Judah – from whom Jesus’s human ancestral lineage came. The Samaritans followed the 5 books of Moses – the Pentateuch but rejected all that came after Moses.

We should pay attention to the love that Christ shows for these Samaritans, for it is not difficult to compare the theologically correct Jews with our theologically correct Orthodoxy; and the theologically impoverished Samaritans with the “heterodox” and quasi Christian cults that abound all around us in our present day. Previously, Christ used the example of the “Good Samaritan” in His well-known parable as the one who showed through his compassion and love in action, to be the “good neighbor” when the priest and the Levi (the Levites were the Jewish tribe that the priests and rulers came from) didn’t act in love and walked around the wounded stranger. Today, Christ tells the Samaritan women at the well “You worship what you do not know, we (the Jews) know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.” There is no debating that the Samaritans did not have it theologically correct. They were in error. Yet, in all the many encounters throughout the gospels where Christ was interacting with “God’s chosen people” the Jews, when was He ever able to simply say the truth and purpose of who He was and why He came; and have it accepted? The women at the well and then the Samaritan community completely got Who He was  in today’s gospel. Today He plainly says to the future St. Photini “I who speak to you am He (the Messiah)“ and her reaction is to go and tell her fellow townspeople – even though she probably didn’t have a lot of credibility as she was not held in high regard because of her promiscuous lifestyle – “Come and see;”Could this be the Christ” and they came and the scripture says, “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified…” “And they said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you have said, for we ourselves have heard Him, and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” We see here that belief comes from an encounter with Christ, all we can do is invite those who are thirsting, as did the woman at the well, and as did Andrew and Philip before her to “Come and see.”

How wonderful when the invitation bears fruit as with today’s Samaritan community at Sychar. However, all we can do is invite, never compel or argue. Even with His disciples towards the end, when Christ says, (Matt; 16: 13,14) “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man am?” they answer, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jerimiah or one of the prophets.” Only Peter confesses that “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” Earlier when Christ plainly said to the Jews (John 8:58,59) “…before Abraham was I AM” and (John 10: 30,31) “I and my Father are one.” We hear the Jews “took up stones again to stone Him.” Indeed, Christ was crucified with the charge being (John 19:7) “…He ought to die because He made Himself the Son of God.” There is no mistaking Christ’s message and throughout every generation, each individual will be free to choose to land on the side of belief and faith that He is indeed the Christ the Saviour of the world, or that He is a deceiver, and throw in with those who crucified Him. Nothing could possibly matter more than this choice and the congruence of our actions which demonstrate our choice.

The second lesson from today’s gospel is the great humility demonstrated by both Christ and the woman at the well. Christ’s constant humility; coming to all of humanity as a suffering servant when He was the source of all life and the Creator of all, and the future St. Photini in her willingness to simply repent and follow Christ, not following the usual path of self-justification. One of the main actions of humility is not insisting on our own viewpoint.

All through the ages, the Fathers have seen humility as one of the most important virtues to cultivate in our journey to unite with Christ. It is a great protection against the mother of all sins, that which gives birth to all sins, “pride.” St. John Climacus said, “An angel fell from heaven without any other passion except pride, and so we may ask whether it is possible to ascend to heaven by humility alone, without any of the other virtues.” He gives us 3 properties of humility:

  1. Acceptance of indignity with pleasure
  2. Loss of all bad temper and modesty regarding this accomplishment.
  3. True distrust of one’s good qualities and constant desire to learn.

If I might be so bold I would add a fourth; the desire to protect and love our brother when they sin and act from their brokenness, rather than a desire to expose, correct or even attack them.

In our present culture where self-promotion, self-confidence, personal fulfilment, and standing up for our rights are considered the crowning virtues of the human potential movement, humility is hardly considered. When it is considered, it is often seen as a weakness to be corrected with positive thinking or assertiveness training. As usual, Orthodoxy is paradoxy. Take any of the “self” prefixes and replace them with either “God” or “Christ” and you start to move from pride to humility and do a direct U-turn into oncoming societal thinking traffic. Self-will to God’s will; Self -determination to God’s-determination; Self-confidence to God-confidence; Self-seeking to God-seeking… Beginning to understand just how completely dependent we are on God and how tiny our understanding usually is can be a good starting point. St. Maximus summed up the underlaying mind set well, “A person is humble when he knows that his very being is in loan to him.” We should be very careful not to hold onto our opinions too strongly as we usually understand very little of what is really going on in any given situation, and we can be quite easily deluded.

A third wonderful lesson we learn from today’s gospel is that only God can fill the God shaped hole in each one of us. We are desperately trying to slack our thirst with worldly water. When we drink deeply from this worldly water; comfort lasts about 2 days if we’re lucky, before we are desperately looking for more. We are thirsting for love and friendship, for safety and security, and we drink from the latest marketing promise, putting our faith in a combination of vitamins and holiday trips, investments and purchases, and wonder why we are still so thirsty? Only Christ can give us the living water which will satisfy our deepest needs and replace our fears with peace. Today He tells the woman at the well “If you knew the gift of God; and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink’ you would have asked Him and He would have given you “living water.” “Whoever drinks of this water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

Do we know Who it is that speaks to her? I hope so! Let us ask Him for this living water, He has promised He will give it to us. Why do we then still try to satisfy our thirst with the empty promises of the world? Over and over again we find they do not fill our spiritual reservoir. They bring a fleeting moment of contentment and then leak through the cracks in our holding tank.

(Jeremiah 2:13), “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken Me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Only the living water God offers us can satisfy our souls and quench our spiritual thirst. We are made for God and only Christ can bring us safely home.

St. Photini got it. Immediately she ran and brought her community to come and see, “Can this be the Messiah?” She had been through five unsatisfactory relationships – searching for love in all the wrong places – but through her great hunger for truth and fulfillment, when she met Christ she immediately came to the end of her search. How about us? We have seen the true light!  We have received the heavenly Spirit! We have found the true faith! Worshiping the undivided Trinity, Who has saved us. Have we arrived? Are we done with the search and rejoicing in living in and being consumed by Christ and His Church? Gratefully giving thanks that despite our complete unworthiness He has come and saved us and brought us into His family?  Or are we still trying to fill our cracked and broken vessels with the water of the world? It’s time to know we have arrived, we have come home. May we rejoice and let the fountain of living water overflow and bless all we come in contact with. They are desperately seeking the living water – let us let our fountain of living water overflow into their lives. Christ is Risen!