5th Sunday of Pascha – Orthodox Homily on St. Photini

Today is the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman who meets Christ God at the well of Jacob and whose life is changed by this encounter with the Author of Life, the Living Water. She’s lost, confused—just like so many people today.  She’s been ‘going it on her own’: she’s had five husbands and the man she has now is not her husband, as she admits before Christ who sees all. She’s abandoned the confused faith of her fathers and embraced a licentious life—to no avail!  She’s still unfulfilled, still suffering; still in the dark, lost and confused, thirsting for more.  Christ proclaims to her that He is the Messiah, God Incarnate, “the living water.”He proclaims freedom to her—transfiguration, redemption, but notescape.  

Many people today speak about using “self-help”, or say they are ‘spiritual,’ not ‘religious.’ Often, what they really want is something to legitimize their own thinking, whatever they’ve cobbled together into some kind of self-styled ‘religion’ even if they’d be horrified to call it that.  Even atheism itself is a form of religion and often has certain beliefs and certainly a worldview on which its followers are dependent.  A ‘personal’ ‘spirituality,’ made to suite the particular wants or whims of the individual and the culture, will keep that person from accountability, repentance and growth in the likeness of the Only Changeless One—the Living Water that the Samaritan woman from today’s Gospel finds and can find only in our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.  

We see this kind of escapism in the increasing popularity of adopting or incorporating into one’s spiritual ‘path’, aspects of Buddhism, concepts of Eastern mysticism instead of turning to Christ and His redemption and healing of the brokenness in us and around us.  True belief in Christ bears with it the cross of dying to self, of vulnerability, submitting oneself to that life in Christ found only in His Body, the Church, which demands from us accountability, relationship and communion with the Truth.  There is no place in Christianity for running away or escaping from one’s problems with sin, depression, with God Himself—they will only follow you.  Instead, we bring Christ and the Church into our problems that we may truly find healing and salvation.  

Whatever people strive to put in the place of the hole that only God can fill, many people today arethirsting; they may even be looking for the Truth, but many people are also very confused because they want the Truth on their terms: we’re a ‘fast-food culture’ that’s grown accustomed to having it ‘my way.’   The Church is here to give you what you needand not necessary what you want.  The Church conveys to us the timeless Truth of Christ, that which alone enables us to become the men and women of God that He’s created us to be.  Anything else is just delusion.  

If we’re crafting a spirituality that suitesus, our lifestyle, or our priorities, rather than letting God shape that lifestyle and those priorities, then what we’re finding is actually just more escapism and not the path of true enlightenment, which leads us to “the Living Water,” Jesus Christ.  

This is the problem with sin: We want it ‘our way,’ not ‘God’s.’  ‘My will be done’ not ‘Thy will be done.’  People often wonder why they’re not fulfilled, why they’re still stuckand have no peace, why they are so reliant on all those temporary comforts and controls that help them ‘escape,’ but which in no way satisfy their thirstfor God Who alone can satisfy.  

Jesus affirms, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  We find in Him a single path because the Truth is a Person, not a multitude of choices which somehow equal the same thing while presenting God in different ways.  He is the Word of God made flesh who reveals God to us and the way that leads to life.  His life is the way to freedom from our pride—from all we fear, from all our struggles with ego and self-will.  

We don’t gain peace through escapism: our struggles, our sins follow us, continue to haunt us, harm us and others!  Instead, we gain peace by bringing Christ into the midst of our struggles, our passions, our doubts, our desire for healing from sin-sickness through repentance.  

There are no temporary, ‘fast-food’ solutions to the problem of sin.  Christ God offers us not a way of escape, of pretending these problems don’t exist, of ‘positive thinking.’  Instead, He offers us the opportunity to grow, to heal, to find true enlightenment by overcoming our passions and weaknesses, by embracing the reality He is, who we’re called to be in Him, thirsting for Him above all the temporal comforts and bandages we can vainly patch our souls with.

We embrace this new life in Christ by calling out to Him daily through our prayers, moment by moment in repentance.  We bring Him into the midst of our problems rather than turning to ‘self help.’  We avail ourselves of the services and Sacraments of the Church that communicate Christ’s life and truth to us and which we desperately need to hear because the rest of the time we’re so surrounded by a culture that largely doesn’t know God and rejects God.

Otherwise, if Christ and the Church are on the periphery, we can’t make forward progress in faith and healing, in the life that’s alone in Christ; the voices of the world are otherwise too dominant.  Christ assures us, “Narrow is the road that leads to life… but whoever drinks of the Water that I will give him will never thirst again.”   The choice is clear: darkness, escapism, fear, enslavement to this world, or, light, honesty, repentance, love, and freedom from this world.  

Jesus says to the Samaritan Woman, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, ‘but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.  But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”  Desiring this water, true life, eternal life, she repents of her sins, i.e., turns from them to Him who is Life itself.  The Apostles rightly name her, “Photini,” ‘the enlightened one.’  Her deeds are all revealed; nothing more is concealed; no longer does she walk in darkness and shame; now she’s found joy and freedom, life with God through repentance, a changed life; she’s given a new identity in Christ, true enlightenment.  

Not only does Photini herself turn to the Light, repenting; she also brings her people to the knowledge and love of God, that they too can find healing and salvation through repentance. Photini becomes one of the great evangelists of the early Church, helping others to find the same Living Water.  It’s exactly that love for God, found in her new life in Him, which animates her missionary zeal: a lesson for us as well who hope to grow our church in spirit and in numbers. 

Christ says to us today, if we follow Him, His way, the way of the Cross, not the way wewant, but the way of patience, of godly submission, of humility, of conforming ourselves to the life that He shows us through His Church and exemplified in the lives of countless Saints who have gone before us like Photini, then we’ll have ourthirst sated too.  There is One living Water.  By partaking of Him, we too will thirst no more. At the same time, as our love of God grows, we begin to love others more as well.  We will share with them the living water we too have found. 

Examine your life. What are you thirsting for? Is there anything holding you back from the Lord, from true enlightenment, from the fullness of life in Christ that He beckons us to receive?  Is Christ the center of your life or is He on the periphery in and amongst other priorities?  Each of us is given the opportunity today to follow the lead of St. Photini, to step out from the shadows of the darkness of sin, of escapism, of misplaced priorities, of brokenness, to embrace the spiritual rebirth of life with Christ—to be regenerated in the Living Water by which we put on Christ and by which, through Repentance and Confession, we are renewed in those waters of regeneration.  With St. Photini, we too thirst for Christ and drink from the living water He offers—the water that springs up inside us to healing and eternal life. Christ is risen!

Fr. Robert Miclean
Holy Archangels Orthodox Church
May 26, 2019—Sunday of the Samaritan Woman