So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?" Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water." Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back." The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!"
Orthodox Icon (St. Photini)
The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem." Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us." Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you." Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, "What do you want?" or, "Why are you speaking with her?" Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, "Rabbi, eat something." But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." So the disciples said to one another, "Surely no one has brought him something to eat?" Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, 'Four months more, then comes the harvest'? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I have ever done." So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world." - John 4:5-42
About This Week's Prompts for Meditation
Oh, I do hope that golden bees make white combs and sweet honey from my old failures! (Meditation One). The Samaritan woman does just that, turning her weaknesses inside out to serve the Gospel. (See "Suzanne's Meditation" for the Orthodox rendering of her life, and a recap of the Biblical image of the well.)
This week's meditations follow the themes of transformation, the water of life, the undercurrent of divine nuptials (Meditations One and Two) and that our own inglorious story told with fearless conviction may win whole cities to the Holy Love calling us (Meditation Three).
May Lent turn you inside out. -Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) Water of a New Life
Last night as I was sleeping I dreamt—marvelous error!— that a spring was breaking out in my heart. I said: Along which secret aqueduct, Oh water, are you coming to me, water of a new life that I have never drunk?
Last night as I was sleeping, I dreamt—marvelous error!— that I had a beehive here inside my heart. And the golden bees were making white combs and sweet honey from my old failures.
Last night as I was sleeping, I dreamt—marvelous error!— that a fiery sun was giving light inside my heart. It was fiery because I felt warmth as from a hearth, and sun because it gave light and brought tears to my eyes.
Last night as I slept, I dreamt—marvelous error!— that it was God I had here inside my heart.
-Antonio Machado 1875-1939
Meditation Two (Insight) The Well of Love O nectar! O delicious stream! O ravishing and only pleasure! Where Shall such another theme Inspire my tongue with joys or please mine ear! Abridgement of delights! And Queen of sights! O mine of rarities! O Kingdom wide! O more! O cause of all! O glorious Bride! O God! O Bride of God! O King! O soul and crown of everything!
Thomas Traherne 1636 (or7)-1674 Love (first verse)
Meditation Three (Integration) Evangelist to a City
Observe her zeal and wisdom. She came to draw water, and when she had lighted upon the true Well, ... For what the Apostles did, that, after her ability, did this woman also. They when they were called, left their nets; she of her own accord, without the command of any, leaves her water pot, and winged by joy performs the office of Evangelists. And she calls not one or two, as did Andrew and Philip, but having aroused a whole city and people, so brought them to Him....
Observe too how prudently she speaks; she said not, Come and see the Christ, but with the same condescension by which Christ had netted her she draws the men to Him; Come, she says, see a Man who told me all that ever I did. She was not ashamed to say that He told me all that ever I did. Yet she might have spoken otherwise, Come, see one that prophesies; but when the soul is inflamed with holy fire, it looks then to nothing earthly, neither to glory nor to shame, but belongs to one thing alone, the flame which occupies it...
Do you see the wisdom of the woman? She knew, she knew certainly that having but tasted that Well, they would be affected in the same manner as herself. Yet any one of the grosser sort would have concealed the reproof which Jesus had given; but she parades her own life, and brings it forward before all men, so as to attract and capture all.
-John Chrysostom c.349-507 Homilies on John's Gospel
The Last Word
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.
Orthodox prayer Troparion (Tone 3)
The Samaritan Woman at the Well (Saint Photini) Panselinos, 14th century Macedonian School
Part One: The Well of Love
The setting of a meeting at the well already implies a nuptial scene. On his mission to Haran, Abraham's servant prayed that if a maiden offered to water his camels at the well, “let her be the one whom thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac.” Rebecca left Haran with a gold ring in her nose and a wedding proposal, and traveled south with Abraham's servant to marry Isaac. “And he loved her.”
Isaac and Rebecca's son Jacob traveled to that same well, saw his cousin Rachel for the first time and boldly kissed her. He adored her, and worked seven years to win her “and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.”
When Moses escaped Egypt after killing the Egyptian overseer, he rested by a well in the land of Midian. The priest of Midian had seven daughters who had come to the well to water their flock, but bullying shepherds drove the girls away. “But Moses stood up and helped them and watered their flock.” The priest invites Moses to his home and Moses marries Zipporah, one of the priest's daughters. When Moses' courage fails, Zipporah will urge him in his mission to free the Hebrew slaves.
The Song of Songs describes the beloved as a well within Paradise: “A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.” “A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.” (The Medieval imagination associated the enclosed garden with Mary, and in art the Annunciation sometimes takes place at a well evoking all the nuptial images described above.)
When John then, puts the Samaritan woman and Jesus together at a well, the listener already “hears” Rebecca, Rachel, Zipporah, and the Shulamite “beloved” in the Song of Songs, as a gentle chorus behind the conversation. Some kind of irrevocable bonding will take place there.
Part II: The First Evangelist
The Eastern Church never abandons the Samaritan woman to obscurity in her city. As Chrysostom points out (Meditation Three, above) she did not bring one or two disciples to Jesus like Andrew and Philip, but she brought a whole city. And not through empty superlatives but with the cleverness and conviction of her personal narrative.
The Orthodox give her a name, Photini (“the enlightened one”), a feast day (February 26), a title (Evangelist and Apostle), and a story.
Photini was present at the very origin of the church when the Holy Spirit empowered the company of believers at Pentecost. She brought along her family of five sisters, Anatole, Photo, Photis, Paraskeve, Kyriake, and her two sons, Photeinos and Joseph. Like the apostles, she traveled, proclaiming the Good News “to the ends of the earth.” While she was on a preaching mission in Carthage, Jesus came to her in a dream and at his urging she left for Rome to preach where Christian persecution was most severe. About to be arrested herself, she anticipates the soldiers and approaches Nero's palace on her own.
Nero tortures Photini, her sisters, her youngest son and the other North Africans who accompanied her. When that failed, Nero placed the women in a room full of gold, thinking the temptation of riches would drive away their love for Jesus. Nero brought his daughter Domnina to persuade them, but instead, Photini and Domnina admired one another and became friends. Domnina was baptized and then distributed the room full of gold to the poor.
Furious, Nero ordered prison and further torture for Photini and her company. During the next three years the prison-house became a “house of God” drawing many Romans to worship, to conversion, and baptism. Her son, her sisters, and the rest of Photini's friends were beheaded. She also longed for the crown of martyrdom, and she finally died of the results of torture and released her soul to God.
The Spirit of the Fountain dies not. It is called the Mysterious Feminine. The Doorway of the Mysterious Feminine Is called the Root of Heaven-and-Earth.
Lingering like gossamer, it has only a hint of existence; And yet when you draw upon it, it is inexhaustible.
-Lao Tzu Tao Teh Ching quoted from Bruno Barnhart's The Good Wine
Don't say, don't say there is no water to solace the dryness at our hearts. I have seen
the fountain springing out of the rock wall and you drinking there. And I too before your eyes
found footholds and climbed to drink the cool water.
The woman of that place, shading her eyes, frowned as she watched -- but not because she grudged the water,
only because she was waiting to see we drank our fill and were refreshed.
Don't say, don't say there is no water. That fountain is there among its scalloped green and gray stones,
it is still there and always there with its quiet song and strange power to spring in us,
up and out through the rock.
Denise Levertov 1923 - 1997 Poems: 1960-1967
Samaritan Woman at the Well, Mid 4th Century, Roman Catacomb