The Samaritan Woman

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Sharing the Light of the Love of Christ
5th Sunday of Pascha
5 May, 2009
Acts 11:19-26, 29-30 ; John 4:5-42

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is risen

Today, we are witnessing the encounter between our Saviour and the Samaritan woman. It could be said that this encounter, in its own way, is bringing together the whole history of Israel, and giving a clear demonstration of the fulfilment of the Promise in “a strange land”. I am saying “a strange land” because Samaria was an area that was considered to be unclean by the Jewish people. There was no contact (or at least as little contact as possible) between the Jewish people and the Samaritans. Regardless of all this, the Samaritan woman knew very well the history of Israel. She knew who were her forefathers (including Jacob). She knew how the Lord had promised that the Messiah would come. She knew what to look for. When our Saviour is addressing her today in the ways that He does, she, being a person not lacking at all in sharp intellect, sees immediately what sort of person is confronting her.

The Samaritan woman is calling the Saviour “a prophet”. However, since the Samaritan people did not recognise any prophet since Moses, this means that she already understands that she is encountering the Messiah Himself – the Christ. She asks many questions, and the Saviour reveals her life to her. She very quickly accepts the uniqueness of this Man, and the uniqueness of this opportunity, and she immediately shares this with the whole city of Samaria. As a result, large numbers of people from Samaria now agree with her that this has to be the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Promised One of God.

We know from our Church history (although it does not say this in the Scriptures) that in due course the Samaritan Woman was baptised. Not only was she baptised, but her whole family was baptised. We know that her name is Photini, which means “enlightened”. We also know that she went to Carthage, in North Africa, and became a missionary. She also became a martyr there for the sake of Christ. This woman, together with her family, is a very significant person in our Church’s history because of the way they shared the light of Christ. In fact, she and her family are showing the consequences of what is happening today. That is the echo of what we heard at Pascha in the beginning of the Gospel according to Saint John that “the light shines in the darkness” (John 1:5). Therefore, the Saviour, who is that Light shining in the darkness, is today shining in the darkness that was burdening Photini. The Saviour shatters and scatters that darkness. He shows her the light. She accepts the light, and spreads that light.

Because the Fathers are so kind to us, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, to give us the correct sorts of liturgical reinforcement, we have today the same thing happening as a consequence of the Apostle Peter’s encounter with Cornelius. We hear today in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles about the Gospel being spread everywhere by the Hellenists (that is, the Greek-speakers). Some of the apostles were speaking to the Jewish people only, but the Greek-speakers were taking the Gospel everywhere. As a concrete example of that, we have Barnabas going to Tarsus to find the Apostle Paul. He finds Paul and takes him to Antioch. There they are again preaching about Christ and spreading the light of Jesus Christ. We are told today directly that it is there that the followers of Christ, the participants in the Way, are first called “Christians”. The Antiochian Archdiocese enjoys very often reminding us of that. I am glad that they do, because we do need to remember that we were not at first called Christians in the homeland (that is, in Palestine). We came to be known by the Name of Christ outside, in Gentile territory, as Antioch certainly was in those days.

Today, we are encountering our Lord while He is very concretely demonstrating that His love is for everyone. For us who are living the Orthodox life here in North America, this is a very important lesson for us to mark, learn and inwardly digest. There are always tendencies to minister predominantly to our own people. We often hear the saying : “Missionary work begins at home”. Yes, it is true that missionary work begins at home, but it does not stop there. Very often people who are saying that missionary work begins at home are also saying : “That is where it belongs, too”. However, this missionary work has to be spread everywhere because the Gospel must be preached everywhere. We, Orthodox Christians here in North America, are actually the inheritors, in our own way, of what is happening in the readings today.

We, here in Canada, are by-and-large either people who have immigrated from somewhere else as Orthodox or have found Orthodoxy here in Canada. As a result, we are people who have been sent by the Lord to be like Photini and her family. We are sent by the Lord to share this light and this love wherever we are, and whatever we are doing in this country. It is our responsibility to share this light of the love of Jesus Christ, who is the Truth. Our Saviour is saying to us this morning that the Father wants us to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. We see evidence of the Holy Trinity. God, the Father, is asking us to worship Him in Truth. Who is the Truth ? It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Spirit is the Holy Spirit. We are participants in the Person, Jesus Christ, who is the Truth.

There is only one Truth. There are not many truths, as many philosophical Canadians might like to say. There is only one Truth : Jesus Christ. The Lord wants us to worship Him in this Truth by the Grace of the Holy Spirit. He wants us to spread His truth by the way we live, by the way we love, by the way we have joy, by the way we face adversity, and by the way we have hope in Him in everything. The Lord wants us to share this with people around us, just as Photini and her family did.

This is our responsibility here : to spread the light of the love of Jesus Christ, to share our understanding of Him, who is the Truth, by the way we live. Let us ask the Lord, through the prayers of Saint Photini and her family, through the prayers of the Apostles Barnabas and Paul, and through the prayers of all the saints of North America, to be faithful to Him, to be faithful witnesses of His love, to be faithful witnesses of His truth. Thus may we proclaim, simply by who we are : Christ is risen.