|32 - The Samaritan Woman and the Soul's True Lover, May 26, 2019|
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Acts 11:19-26, 29-30
The Orthodox Church is Patriarchal and Hierarchical. What does this mean? Our Gospel this morning tells us and, perhaps, corrects major destructive misunderstandings many have of the Church.
One priest’s wife we talked to on our road trip, at coffee hour after the Divine Liturgy, shared with us her thought that the reason men seem to be drawn to the Orthodox Church but women are not is because they perceive the Church as “patriarchal”.
Well, it is; but neither patriarchy nor hierarchy mean what they are generally thought to mean: the rule of male tyranny and oppression and the subjugation of women in the name of God.
Now, I’ve said that “hierarchy” can be translated as “sacred root”. If we stick to that definition for “archy”, then “patriarchy” would refer to the Father as the root.
But, Christ is the Chief Hierarch of the Church. He is not the Father. His Root is the Father, and so if we understand Patriarchy to mean that God the Father is the Source of all things—both of the creation by the agency of His WORD or His Son (Heb 1:3) through His Holy Spirit, and even the “uncreated” Source or Cause of His uncreated Son and of His uncreated Holy Spirit, both of whom are fully divine in essence, even of one essence with the Father—then we will have a correct, an “Orthodox” understanding of Patriarchy; an understanding, in fact, that is given to us by Our LORD Jesus Christ Himself. He testifies that He that the Source of all His words and Teaching, as well as of His Holy Spirit, is the Father.
But, we still have a problem. What do we mean, then, when we speak of the “fathers” of the Church, or when we call the priest, “Father So-and-So”? We understand the priest as an image of Christ; but, Christ is not “Father” and when we say, “Father”, we mean God the Father. We do not mean Christ; He is the Son. How are we to explain this?
Beloved faithful: this morning’s Gospel is nuptial, for the well is a nuptial image. The Gospel this morning is charged with erotic love and desire.
The Samaritan woman (her baptized name is Photini) had five husbands, and when she says to the LORD, I have no husband, He says to her, “you’ve answered truly.” How so?
It’s because we’re not talking about marriage between a man and a woman, or an “earthly” marriage. We’re talking about the nature and destiny of the soul. We’re talking about “spiritual” marriage, the soul’s deepest erotic desire and longing. We’re talking about where the soul’s erotic yearning originates, and where it’s meant to go. We’re talking theology, or about the really real.
In this, the woman answers truthfully because none of her husbands were her real husband. They were “idols”, false gods, false lords, false ba’als, false husbands. They were not the true God; they were not her True LORD, her True Husband. That was the One sitting before her on the well of Jacob.
He was there from having been on a journey. Where was He going? Well, He was going precisely to the well. The well, viewed against the backdrop of the Church’s liturgical setting, comes into view as the LORD’s Tomb, and we have learned that the LORD’s Tomb opens onto the human heart.
How did He get to the Tomb? By the Cross. How did He get to the well of Sychar to find the Samaritan woman? By way of the Sixth Hour, the hour when He was crucified on the Cross. Blessed Augustine of Hippo wrote a most beautiful hymn in which he articulates the vision of the Church: the Cross of the LORD is the marriage bed on which Our LORD—the true Heavenly Bridegroom—consummated His nuptial union with His Bride, the human soul.
The Samaritan woman, like Mary Magdalene, is the human soul. Mary Magdalene, remember, the sister of Lazarus, the LORD’s dear friend, was a prostitute. She had loved how many men who were not her true husband? The LORD cast out of her seven devils and she became His devoted Beloved. She became His “Bride” in the same way that the faithful who are baptized and Chrismated and who receive the LORD’s Body, and His Living Water as their food and drink, their “life”, are called to become His Bride.
The Samaritan woman was a lover of five false husbands, or idols. As images of the human soul, the Samaritan woman and Mary Magdalene reflect back at us, like mirrors, the idolatry of our soul. We have our erotic yearning to all the wrong gods, and so we are frustrated, angry, out of sorts, grumpy, in emotional and psychological misery. In that misery, we have numbed ourselves with more idols, more false gods, more false lovers, and so we have lost the integrity and virginity of our soul; but we keep coming back to the well, to the fountain of our erotic desire to drink waters that do not quench our thirst, that do not satisfy our erotic desire.
The Samaritan woman is precisely the one whom the LORD has gone on His journey for. He has been looking for her. He has been looking for you and for me. He comes to her, He comes to you and me at the Sixth Hour, He is weary from His journey. Both the Sixth Hour and His weariness tell us that His journey is of His Cross.
The word translated “weary” denotes a weariness resulting from intense labor and toil. This is the word the LORD uses when He cries: “Come unto me, you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). The word is derived from another word, kopos, that denotes a weariness resulting from the beating of one’s breast from grief and sorrow; the weariness associated with the loss of one’s strength from labor and toil. One thinks immediately of the LORD’s “weariness” such that He had not the strength to carry His Cross.
He is weary, it says. He is looking for rest, the rest of a Bridegroom holding His Bride in His arms in the bliss of nuptial intimacy on the marriage bed in the Bridal Chamber.
Seeing this, we are set back on our heels by the boldness of His request to the Samaritan woman. Give me to drink, He says. You know what that means in the nuptial imagery of the well? “Give me your spirit, give me your heart, give me your love. Give me your hand.” “Will you marry me?” And then one is equally struck by the Samaritan woman’s response.
Remember, we are not watching some letch trying a new pick-up line on some slut in a bar. We are in the realm of the soul, in that “chamber” where the soul’s erotic desire originates and where it burns hot with an unquenchable thirst that can be quenched only by the Spirit that is eternal, not by the flesh that passes away.
I hear in the Samaritan woman’s response that of the soul who sees herself as a dirty slut, altogether unworthy of the loving attention of a noble Prince. God is love; and, He is a consuming fire. In the LORD’s loving advance to her, the Samaritan woman could feel a divine warmth that touched and stirred her soul to her depths. His advances toward her did not feel like those of a lecherous gigolo, but of a lover whose love warmed her soul with the feeling that was pure, clean, noble, majestic.
And, when the Savior says, “If you knew who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would ask Him and He would give you to drink,” you know what He means? If you knew that I am your true husband, the Heavenly Bridegroom your soul has been longing for your whole life, the One who was the real Lover you were dreaming about in your fantasies dominated by your idols, if you knew that the One who is talking to you is the Source of the Beauty and Goodness you have longed for, even the Source of your erotic yearning, the Son of the God who is love and who, in His love, was impelled by His own erotic yearning for His Bride to come out of Himself and to clothe Himself in your own ragged garments so that He could come looking for you and seek to woo you to Himself, if you only knew that I am the One you long for in your heart of hearts, you would say to me: Give me to drink.
And this Gospel of erotic, nuptial imagery is assigned to our contemplation this morning at the Midfeast of Pascha. We’re at the “heart” of Pascha, we’re at the “heart” of the Church, the Paschal heart that was hidden in the Sunday of the Cross, the “heart” of Great Lent, the Sixth Hour, and is now revealed at the well, at the Font of your erotic desire. And what is revealed to us, in veiled imagery so as to protect the sacredness of the Bridal Chamber, the inmost Sanctuary of the Heart from desecration by profane eyes, is the Marriage Bed of the human soul and her Heavenly Bridegroom—your soul and mine with the LORD of All in whose image we were made and to whom we were betrothed while we were yet in our Mother’s womb (Eze 16:1ff.)!
Christ, the Heavenly Bridegroom is the Chief Hierarch of the Church, the Church’s Sacred Root. But the Church herself is the mystery of the Theotokos. She is the Sacred Root of our Life because was chosen from before the ages to be the Bride of God. She received the Seed of the Father into her womb and brought forth the Son of God as the Son of Man.
See, then, how the “Hierarchy” of the Church is fundamentally nuptial and how its fundamental character is erotic love. The maleness of the Church is not the men, not the bishops and the priests, but Christ the Heavenly Bridegroom. The men whom we call Father we call so because, in the Holy Spirit of the Heavenly Father, they bear witness with the Father to the Son of God, the Bridegroom of us all. To say that the Church is “patriarchal,” then, is to say that she is of God the Father and that, as such, she witnesses, as the Bride of God, together with the angels and the myrrh-bearing women, the prophets, the apostles, the bishops and the priests and all the laos to her Beloved Bridegroom. She, in her union with Him brought about by the Font and the Marriage Supper in the Bridal Chamber, has become one with Him; she has become His Body, she is now “flesh of His flesh, bone of His bones.”
See how vicious is the cunning of the anti-Christ. Somehow, it has succeeded in making Christians themselves into false witnesses, presenting a Christ who is a dominating male—actually an image more of Lucifer than of Christ—who gives license to an angry, arrogant male chauvinism. It has turned Christ and the Christian Faith into a boring, dry religiosity, so that to find excitement, one must go, surreptitiously and loaded with guilt for even wanting excitement, to all the wrong places that would destroy her (Eze 16:36ff!) And so, it has driven many Samaritan women, many of us, away from the LORD because we took Him to be an effeminate milque-toast sentimental sap or an angry, arrogant tyrant. What anti-Christ has done is to deceive us into taking its face for the Face of Christ while we look for the face of Christ in its face, and so we look away from Christ to the anti-Christ, and our soul is led to her destruction.
The Source of our soul’s erotic longing, the Source of the Beauty and Goodness our soul longs for, the Source of the love we long for, is revealed to us by the Church, the LORD’s Bride, this morning to have come to the well of your soul, the place where your soul’s erotic desire originates. He comes to us, offering the Living Waters, the love of His Holy Spirit to us to drink; but, first, we must desire Him and want to give Him to drink of our erotic love. But, who would not desire Him who has seen the Beauty of His Face and heard the music of His Voice?
If we could align our erotic desire with the LORD’s love for us, everything in our life would fall into its proper place and we would find ourselves at rest in the joy the love and the peace of Christ’s Holy Spirit, in the patriarchal hierarchy of the Christ’s Holy Orthodox Church. Amen!