Sunday of Saint Svetlana

A homily given at St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Russian Orthodox Mission Church in Lewisburg PA on the Fifth Sunday of Pascha, the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, May 17, 7529 (May 30, 2021 on the civil calendar).

Christ is Risen,

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Today we worship together in our Lord’s Church on the fourth Sunday of Pascha, just past the Mid-Pentecost feast, heading toward the Ascension and the Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the Church and fully established the Church of the New Testament for all time. This is a very special time in our Church calendar.

When we ask when our Church was established, we can rightly say Pentecost, for our mission as well as for all of Orthodox Christendom.

The account of the saint whom we commemorate today, St. Photini or Svetlana, the Samaritan Woman, relates blessedly to all this.

When the Samaritan Woman was baptized by the Apostles according to tradition she was given the name Photini, which means “Enlightened One,” as does Svetlana, similar to Lucia in the Latin West.

For she is told by our Lord Jesus Christ that He gives her living water, and so He does for all of us in His Church, through baptism and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, symbolized by our candlestand on the altar’s seven branches. That living water given by Jesus Christ is also associated with the Holy Spirit, which from the time of Creation in Genesis 1 moved upon the waters.

So our baptism is renewed each time we have Communion and we drink of the living water of our Lord’s blood and eat of the living bread that is His body, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These involve the uncreated energies of God, which come from the undivided Trinity, although in particular the Church Fathers tell us they flow through the Holy Spirit, as at Pentecost with the tongues of fire that also opened the tongues of language for evangelizing the world, undoing the sin of Babel.

It is the Greek Septuagint version of Isaiah that makes clear the Seven Gifts of the Spirit as articulated by the Fathers of the Church, namely wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

They were symbolized too by the ancient seven-branched menorah in the Holy of Holies of the Old Testament temple.

The experience of the Samaritan Woman recalls this fulfillment of the Old Testament Church in the New Testament Church that is the new Israel. It happened at Jacob’s Well, a place associated with the plot of land where Jacob set his tent and then purchased the land about two millennia ago, as described in Genesis 33. It is a deep well hewn of solid rock that currently is within the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Jacob’s Well on the West Bank. There, the living water of the New Testament fulfilled the ancient well of Jacob, the patriarch of Israel, father of the patriarchs of the twelve tribes, which were fulfilled in the work of the twelve apostles.

The distinction and continuity between the Old Testament and New Testament Church also is seen in the witness of the modern saint from that place, St. Philoumenos, the head of the monastery of Jacobs Well. He was martyred in 1979 at the same place where St. Photini met our Lord Jesus Christ, by a fanatically religious and mentally ill Jew, who threw a grenade into the monastery and then hacked the saint with an axe, killing him. Today the martyr Philoumenos intercedes in heaven for us all in the Israel of the New Testament, which reaches out to all the nations, as is attested by the Seventy Apostles of the early Church who were established by our Lord to go out to all seventy of the nations, the number indicated for all the nations of the world in Genesis.

Even the Church’s commemoration of St. Photini-Svetlana on the fourth Sunday of Pascha has significance, because five is symbolically related to the five books of the law, and perhaps going beyond the regular world of cosmology to a deeper sense of God’s revealed law. Four is significant symbolically in the Church as related to the reaching out to the Creation. Thus we have the four Evangelists, the Four Gospels, the four categories of books in the Old Testament (the law, historical, prophetic, and wisdom) but also the four directions, the four seasons, and the four winds. Three is a number symbolically identified in the Church theologically with the Trinity, while four has cosmological connections with our mission’s duty to evangelize. Five goes beyond it to remind us of the Pentateuch fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ.

So on this fifth Sunday of Pascha we also commemorate a woman who was evangelized indeed from a very worldly situation, and who became an evangelist herself to the world, known as equal to the apostles, coming to reflect Jesus Christ’s fulfillment of God’s law, indeed His embodiment of the Logos as Principle in His incarnation.

For St. Photini was a Samaritan woman, she was a member of a group of people who had split off from the Temple worship in Jerusalem, a remnant of the lost kingdom of Israel whose worship and traditions had been mixed up through the long captivity of Israel with other nations, giving rise to the legends of the lost tribes of Israel.

Samaritans also were viewed as a despised minority often by Jewish leaders of the day, and had lost the pure teachings and practice of the Old Testament Church.

And she had had multiple husbands and her current one was not really her husband, as our Lord pointed out, for he knew her situation as God, just a He knows ours.

She was honest with him in saying she had no husband and He told her she had spoken well. In this he also reminded us of the nature of Christian marriage as a commitment to our Lord and God as well as an ascetic partnership with a fellow Christian. That marriage is between a man and woman symbolizes the difference of God and Man in what the Bible also describes as the marriage of God and His Church, as well as their complementarity in Christ, and in the oneness of theosis of man with God through His uncreated energies but not essence. This is love in truth, which Jesus Christ offered divinely in the Spirit to the woman at the well.

In response to the Samaritan woman’s honesty about her fleshly immoral situation, Jesus Christ gently revealed Himself to her as the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament of the Jews. Yet He also said to her as a Samaritan that her schismatic culture’s beliefs in its own separate place to worship God was not true, that we know what we worship because salvation is of the Jews, because the Messiah is come from the Jews, fulfilling the Old Testament promises in the Word of God in both senses–the Word of God the Logos, and the word of God in Scripture, which flows from Him through the Holy Spirit as living water.

Because those promises are fulfilled, he adds,  “…the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Thus here we in this little mission in northern Appalachia too worship Him in Spirit and truth. Like the Samaritan woman we come from heterodox and lost remnants, sinners, to a personal sense of fulfilling the Law of God in Christ. Here in the Israel of the New Testament Church we reconnect through our baptism with the living waters of Jesus Christ, and that baptism is renewed continually through the Eucharist.

Just as St. Photini told others, and many were converted to believe in Jesus Christ because her testimony led them to Him, so we must do likewise.

For “then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed [a]the Christ, the Savior of the world.”

St. Photini is sometimes described as the first to proclaim Christ in evangelism at large. This is likely also why the Church commemorates us on this Fourth Sunday of Pascha.

Known as the Equal to the Apostles, she converted her five sisters and two sons, who all became evangelists and martyrs for Christ. She and her family left Samaria to Carthage to proclaim the Gospel there, after the martyrdoms of the Apostles Paul and Peter. During the persecutions of Emperor Nero, they were all martyred in north Africa, a family of saints and evangelist: Saints Anatole, Photo, Photis, Paraskeve, Kyriake, Photinos, and Joses, with her. Let us likewise be so dedicated to witnessing to the Gospel as the Law of God fulfilled, and spreading it to our families and neighbors today at the confluence of the Susquehanna River, whose waters God willing we will bless at Theophany this coming year.

Holy St. Photini-Svetlana, pray to God for us!

Christ is Risen!


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