36 - The Samaritan Woman - Fifth Sunday of Pascha, May 22, 2011

Acts 11:19-26, 29-30

John 4:5-42

St John tells us that the Savior rested at the well of Jacob in Sychar of Samaria at about the sixth hour. Why would St John waste good parchment paper to tell us such an apparently inconsequential detail?

In the verses for the Matins service of this week, we learn that the sixth hour, or Noon, is the hour when Eve disobeyed the divine command and ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and gave it to her husband, Adam, who also ate. The sixth hour is also the hour when Jesus was crucified. Of course, it is also the hour when people normally eat lunch; and this, too, would seem to be of significance in view of Jesus’ word’s to His disciples when they return from the town where they had gone to get some lunch. They say to Jesus: “Rabbi, eat!” and, Jesus says: “I have food to eat that you don’t know.” And then He goes on to say: “My food is to do the will of the Father who sent me and to complete, or perfect, His work.”

We see, then, that the sixth hour, when this morning’s Gospel takes place, points to a connection between obedience and eating that is of cosmic and eternal import, which to us appears very strange, to say the least, in our ignorance of the bible and the culture of the Church. The bond that unites obedience and eating, moreover, is the Cross of Christ; for it was out of His obedience to the Father that the Son suffered death on the Cross “at about the sixth hour.”

The connection between obedience and eating is seen in this: it was through eating that Adam and Eve played out their disobedience of God, and in this morning’s Gospel, it was through not eating, through fasting, that the Savior was obedient to God – or rather, it was through doing the will of God that the Savior was nourished, as Adam and Eve nourished themselves by not doing the will of God but their own will. They ate, in other words, from the tree God told them not to eat from, and they did not eat from the Tree, the Tree of Life, that God did command them to eat from.

The Tree of Life, of course, is the Cross, and Christ is the “fruit” of the Tree of Life, for the Cross carries Him, so say the liturgical texts, as a cluster of grapes full of life. And Christ commands those who would follow God to eat His body and drink His blood, in other words to partake of God the Son, the “fruit” of the Tree of Life. In this way, they become, as St Peter says in his second epistle, “partakers of the divine nature”. But to partake of Christ’s body and blood means to partake of His obedience to the Father. To eat Christ’s body and to drink His blood, to partake of the Church’s Holy Eucharist, then, can be done only if one is obedient to the command of Christ to take up one’s cross in order to crucify the old man in us, the old man whose nourishment is to do his own will and not the will of the Father. To partake of Christ’s body and blood in Holy Eucharist means to live in obedience to the will of God, so that the food that one lives for and that gives one nourishment is the food that nourished Christ: the food of doing the will of the Father who sent Him. And what is the will of the Father that we should do it? Christ tells us: it is to believe in Him. In other words, to become a student, a disciple, of Christ, and to live one’s life according to His teaching and not according to the teaching of the world, so that out of obedience to the Word of God, one learns to love God.

What is love? It is joyous union in which lover and beloved partake of each other in ever deepening intimacy. To exist in love is how God made us, for He made us in His own Image, which is Christ, who is the Love of God. We came into being in God, in Christ the Love of God. Our being is love. Our nature is love. We are healthy and whole when we love. We are broken, sick and fragmented when we do not love. Even in this fallen world where we are subject to sickness and suffering of all kinds, if we love, then even in our sickness and our suffering we feel an inner wholeness that the sickness and suffering cannot touch.

Creating the world in His love is the “work” of the Father. I believe this is the “work” Christ refers to so often in the Gospel of St John. The work of creating the world is crowned when God fashions man from the dust of the ground; but man does not become a “living soul” until God breathes into him the breath of life, the Holy Spirit of God, who is the love of God. In the Hebrew, “soul” is “nephesh”, or throat, which means that man is a creature who by nature lives by what he eats and drinks and breathes. He becomes a living soul when he inhales the Spirit of God, when he breathes in the love of God. And so, after making man a living soul, God gives him food to eat. He commands him to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Life, which we learn from the teaching of the Church is Christ Himself. And Christ says, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.”[1] You see, then, how man comes into being in the love of God; and, by his very nature, man is made to live by eating and drinking and breathing God, i.e., by partaking of the divine nature; and, to partake of God is to partake of divine love, for “God is love”.[2]

It is noteworthy, I think, that in the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures – Genesis 2:3 reads: “God blessed the Seventh Day (Saturday) and made it holy, because on that day He rested from the works which He had begun to do.”

Love is completed, perfected, when the beloved returns the love of the lover and becomes a lover. Adam and Eve did not return the love of God because they disobeyed God. And so the “work” of God, the creation, remained at its crown incomplete. Man, the beloved of God did not become a partaker of God; he did not eat and drink God, the fruit of the Tree of Life, in love. Eating the forbidden fruit, he was disobedient and he became a partaker of the life of the world that is wedded to death.

In obedience, the Theotokos healed the disobedience of Eve and completed the “work” of Eve; for she, the Theotokos, became a lover of God. In her obedience and love for God, she gave birth to the incarnate God, the Second Adam, the “Son of God,”[3] and He completed the “work” of God, the creation, in His obedience to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross, “at about the sixth hour.” Thus, in the Panagia, the Second Eve, and in Lord Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, the work of creation that God had begun to do was completed on the Cross “at about the sixth hour”, for in that act of obedience, Christ, Son of the Virgin and Son of God, dies to Himself in order to live in the Father. But, because this work of the Savior is a work of love, both human love and divine love, it is not a work done only for Himself. Because it is a work of love, it is a work that saves the creation and heals all who receive it. That is you and me. To receive Christ is to obey His teaching; and to obey His teaching is to receive the love of God and, in that love of God, who loved us first, we are able by grace to grow into the perfection of our nature, learning to love God as He loved us. And, united to God in love, one ascends to the life of God that in Christ was wedded to death “at about the sixth hour,” and by virtue of His Cross, He destroyed death by His death to give life even to all those who were in the tombs.

The Scriptures do not tell us who this Samaritan woman was. Perhaps we could say that such knowledge is reserved only for those who receive Christ in love and are made children of God, born of the Spirit from above by submitting themselves in obedience to Holy Baptism to become united to Christ in the mystery of His death and resurrection, His holy Pascha. In Christ’s Holy Church, we learn the name of this Samaritan woman and we learn the story of her life. That is to say, we come to know this Samaritan woman as our friend, even as our sister in the love of Christ and in the joyous fellowship of Christ’s saints. We commemorate her on March 20. Her name is Photini, Enlightened One. No doubt, that name was given at her holy baptism, for it expresses the new reality of her life when she renounced her love of the world and united herself to Christ as to the Heavenly Bridegroom who comes at midnight. Her love for Christ was complete. After she became a lover of Christ in Spirit and in Truth there at Jacob’s well in Sychar of Samaria, she went to Carthage in Africa to proclaim the Good News of Christ. She went with her two sons, Victor and Josiah, and with her five sisters, Anatolia, Phota, Photida, Parasceva, and Cyriaca. In Carthage, they were arrested for preaching the Gospel and taken to Rome during the reign of Nero. They were thrown into prison. By the Providence of God, the daughter of Nero, Domnina, came into contact with Photini and Photini converted Domnina to the Christian Faith. They all suffered for the sake of Christ. Photini was thrown into a well where she died as a martyr, a witness to the Christ who finished the “work” of God’s creation in His obedience to God even to the point of death on the Cross, out of His great love for mankind.  

O immortal St Photini, help us now by your prayers before the throne of Christ the Savior that He would grant to us to become partakers of His divine nature in the love of God. Amen.[4]

[1] Jn 6:53

[2] I Jn 4:8

[3] Cf. Lk 3:38

[4] Cf. Prologue of Ohrid, vol I, p. 291.