Audio length: 11:13 minutes
Transcript published: May 17, 2012
Fr. Gregory speaks about the Woman at the Well who we know as St. Photini. As surely as Photini means “enlightened” it is our calling also to enlighten others with the Light of Christ.
One of the most ancient cities of the Promised Land was Shechem, also called Sikima, located at the foot of Mount Gerazim. There, the Israelites had heard the blessings in the days of Moses and Jesus of Navi. Near to this town, Jacob, who had come from Mesopotamia in the nineteenth century before Christ, bought a piece of land where there was a well. This well, preserved even until the time of Christ, was known as Jacob’s Well. Later, before he died in Egypt, he left that piece of land as a special inheritance to his son Joseph (Gen. 49:22). This town, before it was taken into possession by Samaria, was also the leading city of the kingdom of the ten tribes. In the time of the Romans it was called Neapolis, and at present Nablus. It was the first city in Canaan visited by the Patriarch Abraham. Here also, Jesus of Navi (Joshua) addressed the tribes of Israel for the last time. Almost three hundred years later, all Israel assembled there to make Roboam (Rehoboam) king.
When our Lord Jesus Christ, then came at midday to this city, which is also called Sychar (John 4:5), He was wearied from the journey and the heat, and He sat down at this well. After a little while the Samaritan woman mentioned in today’s Gospel passage came to draw water. As she conversed at some length with the Lord and heard from Him secret things concerning herself, she believed in Him; and through her many other Samaritans also believed.
Concerning the Samaritans we know the following: In the year 721 before Christ, Salmanasar (Shalmaneser), King of the Assyrians, took the ten tribes of the kingdom of Israel into captivity, and relocated all these people to Babylon and the land of the Medes. From there he gathered various nations and sent them to Samaria. These nations had been idolaters from before. Although they were later instructed in the Jewish faith and believed in the one God, they worshipped the idols also. Furthermore, they accepted only the Pentateuch of Moses, and rejected the other books of the Holy Scripture. Nonetheless, they thought themselves to be descendants of Abraham and Jacob. Therefore, the pious Jews named these Judaizing and idolatrous people Samaritans, since they lived in Samaria, the former leading city of the Israelites, as well as in the other towns thereabout. The Jews rejected them as heathen and foreigners, and had no communion with them at all, as the Samaritan woman observed, “the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9).
So the significance of this encounter between St. Photini, the name of this woman and Christ can hardly be underestimated. Jesus was conversing with a woman and a Samaritan. You just didn’t do that if you were a respectable Rabbi… but Jesus was no mere Rabbi, respectable or not. Here was God in the flesh and buried deep below all the pointless disputes about where worship was best offered and notwithstanding her concealed sins, a moment of divine mercy and power came down upon this woman as she listened to the teaching of the living water that might gush forth and bubble within herself as well. This striking image crafted by the Word of God in the heat of the day hit home. She instinctively responded to this offer of new life, at first simply impressed with our Lord’s ability to see into her own soul but eventually coming to Him to have her spiritual thirst slaked as surely as He had come to her to have his physical thirst satisfied.
Sometimes people wonder what happened to these believers we encounter in the Bible. What happened after the chapter closed? Well, in the Scriptures themselves we hear that St. Photini starts to witness to her friends about Christ and what he had done for her. For this, she is sometimes claimed as the first to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.
Beyond this point the Church’s Tradition takes over. She converted her five sisters (Ss. Anatole, Photo, Photis, Paraskeve, and Kyriake) and her two sons (St. Photinos, formerly known as Victor, and St. Joses). They all became tireless evangelists for Christ.
After the Apostles Paul and Peter were martyred, St. Photini and her family left their homeland of Sychar, in Samaria, to travel to Carthage to proclaim the Gospel of Christ there.
In 66 AD, under the persecutions of Emperor Nero, they all achieved the crown of martyrdom, along with the Duke St. Sebastianos, the close friend of St. Photinos.
So from humble and despised beginnings as a heretic and a woman, Christ bestowed upon St. Photini an eternal memory written in love and her own blood. By placing her memory annually just after the midfeast of Pentecost, the Church prepares us to receive the gift of the same Spirit that made St. Photini an international evangelist and martyr. The implications are clear. If we also open our hearts and lives to the bubbling, life giving Spirit, the fountain of life, we shall see wondrous things as the life of Christ flows out through us to others. As surely as Photini means “enlightened” it is our calling also to enlighten others with the Light of Christ.
“Illuminated by the Holy Spirit, All-Glorious One,
from Christ the Saviour you drank the water of salvation.
With open hand you give it to those who thirst.
Great-Martyr Photini, Equal-to-the-Apostles,
pray to Christ for the salvation of our souls.”