|34 - Fifth Sunday of Pascha, Samaritan Woman, May 13, 2012|
Acts 11:19-26, 29-30
On this the Fifth Sunday of Pascha, we leave the Midfeast of Pentecost like the myrrh-bearing women who fled the tomb of Christ in joy and wonder, having beheld the tomb of Christ now radiant with life in the glory of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. We read this morning’s Gospel in the light of Pascha, so we read as a Gospel of the Resurrection of Christ. More specifically, since we are now coming out of the heart of the Pascha season, we read it as taking place liturgically at the tomb of Christ, the heart of the Christian Faith.
Illumined by Pascha, we see the Christ who appears to Photini, the Samaritan woman as the crucified and risen Christ. He sits down on the well to rest from His journey. One thinks immediately of Great and Holy Sabbath when Christ rests from His work of re-creating the world on the cross on Great and Holy Friday. He sits on the well of Jacob that provides water for those who draw from it at the sixth hour. This is the hour when He was crucified on the Cross and when His side was pierced by a spear, and there immediately came out blood and water to give life to those who would draw near to the mysteries of His Body, the Church, in the fear of God, with faith and love. The Samaritan woman comes to the well, like the myrrh-bearing women coming to the tomb on Pascha morning. She encounters Christ, but does not recognize Him as Christ until He begins to speak to her; in other words, until she hears Him, like Mary Magdalene who did not recognize the Christ standing before her until she heard Him speak to her. With this, one thinks of the Lord’s words to St Thomas in the Upper Room: “Blessed are those who believe without seeing;” that is to say, who believe by hearing, as the villagers will say to the Samaritan woman: “Now we believe not because of what you said but because we have heard His word ourselves, and we know (from hearing) that He is the Savior of the world.”
He speaks to her of living water that she can drink and never thirst again. The living water of which Christ speaks we know, from the Gospel texts for Pentecost Sunday, are the living waters of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. To drink the living waters of Christ, therefore, is to drink the Resurrection of Christ. From this, we understand the waters of the well that Photini is drinking from also stand for spirit – but not the Holy Spirit. They stand for the spirit of which St Paul speaks in his letter to the Ephesians: “The spirit of disobedience that is the ruler of this world, the spirit that rules and is the power even of the very air that we breathe in this world, and that works in the sons (and daughters) of disobedience,” so that the sons and daughters of this world live in the disobedience that kills their souls and bodies.
To live in the spirit of this world is to drink the waters of disobedience and to die in the sins and trespasses of disobedience. To drink the living waters of Christ is to live in the Spirit of obedience and in the Resurrection of Christ. Then our dying in this world is made radiant with the life of Christ’s Holy Resurrection.
I think it noteworthy that Christ offers to give these waters to Photini – this, according to the Tradition of the Church was her name, which means “Enlightened One”; I would guess it was given to her at her baptism – after He asked her to give Him to drink from her waters. I see this speaking to the mysteries of the Church and to the ineffable goodness of God. Is Christ not asking Photini to give to Him the spirit of her disobedience, to offer to Him her death that follows from her sins and trespasses? Indeed, what good can we offer Our Lord that is not laced with the evil of our self-will and disobedience? What spirit, what waters, can any of us offer to Our Lord that is not laced with death? What are we witnessing in this exchange between Photini and the Savior but the sacramental mystery of confession? He asks us to offer to Him the water that we have; but, the water that we have to offer Him is the spirit of our disobedience, our soul that is spiritually dead from our sins and trespasses. And yet, when we offer that to Him in the sincere confession of sins, and in repentance, what does He offer to us? He offers to us His living waters, the Life of His Holy Spirit that raised Him from the dead in His Holy Resurrection. If from the obedience of the most blessed Panagia, He received the offering of our humanity that was dead in the sins and trespasses of our disobedience, did He not receive the offering of our death? And, in His ineffable compassion, He freely accepted it in the agonizing tenderness of His Incarnation to become flesh and blood like we are so that He could become one with us even in our death. And then, from His holy tomb that He made a well of living water bubbling over with eternal life in the terrible mystery of His Holy Resurrection, He offers to us the living waters of His Holy Spirit that raised Him from the dead so that we can become one with Him in the joy and the glory of His Holy Resurrection. How could those who hear this Gospel and who see with the eyes of faith the indescribable goodness of the Only Lover of Mankind whom the Gospel proclaims not cry out in fear and joy: Christ is risen! Indeed, He is risen! Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory to God forever! Lord, have mercy on us sinners and save us!
I think that it is clear from Photini’s words to Christ that she was beginning to love Him, surely because she felt radiating from Him the humility and the tenderness of His ineffable compassion and love for mankind. I think it is this love for Christ that we see aborning in her soul when she says to Him: “Give me this water to drink!”
Here, I think, we come to the heart of the heart of Pascha and of the Christian Faith. The Lord says to her: “Go, call your husband!” Now, the husband is the lord of the woman. He represents her highest love whom she obeys in expression of her love for him as her lord. Photini says: “I have no husband.” The Lord reveals to her that she in fact has had five husbands. That means that she has had five different lords, five different lovers, five different gods, five different idols.
I wonder if in the presence of Christ, to whom, let us remember, she has offered a drink of water – that is to say, to whom she has begun to offer a tentative confession of her sins – Photini’s heart has begun already to soften. I wonder if from the tenderness of Christ she has not already been drawn imperceptibly into the tomb of her heart where her soul lives in the loneliness and grief of death. And, I wonder if her words: “I have no husband” are the spontaneous confession pouring out from the depths of her soul, crying out: “Lord, I call out to Thee, hear me!” Lord, I am dead. I am weeping with grief because I have given my love to lords who are not my husband, they are not my lover, they are not the true God whom my soul yearns for. I am dead. My soul is in despair. I am cold and empty, lonely, anxious and afraid.
It is in this confession that she offers to the crucified and risen Savior sitting on the well before her, like the angel sitting on the stone of the tomb of His Holy Resurrection proclaiming to the myrrh-bearing women that He is risen, that Photini receives the Gospel of Christ directly from Christ Himself. It is the Gospel, of course, of Christ’s Holy Resurrection; but, even more than that, it is the Gospel of the incomprehensible love of God, the Gospel of Christ, the Only Lover of Mankind, accepting in His obedience to the Father the offering of our disobedience, the offering of our souls that are dead in our sins and trespasses, in order to unite Himself to us in His love for us in the tomb of our heart, so that He can offer to us if we would receive Him the living waters of His Holy Spirit that would make us to become children of God, born not of the blood, or the desire or the will of man but born of the blood, the desire and the will of God, and to be raised up in our union with the Christ who loved us to live the uncreated, divine life of His Holy Resurrection.
I say that this moment when Photini confesses her sin, the grief of her heart, to Christ is at the heart of the heart of Pascha and of the Christian Faith because I believe that it is in the confession of our sins in the sacramental mystery of confession that we penetrate beneath the façade of our blustering bravado, the veil of our external sophistication and enter into the tomb of our heart, the existential, personal center of our soul where we live in the fear and grief of death; and that is where we encounter directly the risen Christ who died for us out of His great love for us. For, if the tomb of Christ has become the font of our Resurrection, then it is in the confession of our sins that we enter into the tomb of our heart that has become in Christ the font of our Resurrection, the well of living water springing up to bathe our souls in the healing and the life of the Holy Spirit, making our dying in Christ to be radiant with the life of Christ’s Holy Resurrection.
We are called to take up our cross. These are the ascetic disciplines of the Church; but outside the confession of our sins, outside the tomb of our heart, our prayers, our fasting, our reading of Holy Scripture are dry like the dead bones of Ezekiel’s vision. But, these ascetic disciplines of the Church become wet with joy in Christ’s Holy Resurrection only as they proceed from out of the tomb of our heart in the sincere confession of our sins. For, it is in the confession of our sins that the grief of our soul steps into the pool of Christ’s healing and life-giving Resurrection. It is in the sincere confession of our sins that we begin to acquire humility and the love of Christ and slowly become, like Christ, radiant with life. It is in the confession of our sins that the whole mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection begins to open up to us we join in the testimony of the Samaritan villagers of Sychar: “We believe that Jesus Christ is in truth the Savior of the world.” Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ! Christ is risen!