Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Photini: Light and Living Water

By Suzanne

When I was chrismated on Pentecost 2007, I took on the name of my patron saint. I chose Photina, the Latin version of the name Photini (Russian: Sveltana), the Samaritan Woman at the well in John 4:5-42. I really wish I could describe what happened to my heart when I read her story, and what continues to happen the more I learn about her. For personal reasons, she is very important to me and I feel as if we have a connection that I continue to be amazed by.For example, when I went to my Godmother to inform her of my patron saint choice, I excitedly told her I had chosen Photina. She was pleasantly surprised, as she informed me that Photini was her patron saint as well. That was something I had not been aware of at the time, and was a beautiful way to know that this was the right saint for me. Saint Photini was also baptized and rechristened as “Photini” on Pentecost, the same day that I was chrismated. I was originally supposed to be Chrismated around Pascha, but due to situations beyond my control I had to wait - I don’t think it was a coincidence anymore. Perhaps I did not chose her, but she chose me.

Photina was an exile from the Samaritan community, forced to live among strangers, and lead by what all accounts the Bible refers to as “a sinful life”, meaning that among things, she was of initimate knowledge of at least six men in the community (John 4:18). Her story plays out as follows: During the hottest time of the day, Photina (Biblically known as the Samaritan Woman) goes to the well to gather water. She had to go at the hottest time of the day, when very few people would venture to the well, to avoid the harassment and judgement of other women who had the daily chore of gathering the day’s water.

At that time, Jesus approaches her and requests a drink of water. Jesus is alone, as his disciples have gone to buy food. Now, just imagine this scene - here is the Son of God, the Christ - but still a man - approaching a well-known loose woman in a public place. It is just the two of them. Anyone seeing them would be scandalized, and in fact his disciples are surprised on their return to find him talking with her. But let’s go back to that conversation that Jesus and Photina had at that well.

Jesus approaches Photina, and asks her for water. Instead of obeying Jesus, Photina shoots a question back at Jesus: “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9). Pretty gutsy! Jesus speaks to Photina thusly, saying, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Photina asks for this living water, and in doing so, Jesus reveals his divinity to her. The love of God, through his son Jesus Christ, was so powerful that Photina abandons her water jug at the well on the spot, and runs into town to spread the word. In doing so, the other Samaritan exiles in the town come to Jesus, and in the final passage of John 4:42, it says “They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

This amazing Samaritan woman was baptized by the disciples on Pentecost, officially taking on the name Photini, meaning “the enlightened one.” Following her baptism, Photini dedicated her life to preaching the word of God. It became an entire family affair; Photini’s gift of ministry was passed on to her seven children - five daughers (Anatoli, Photo, Photes, Paraskevi, and Kyriaki) and her two sons, Victor (later named Photinos) and Joseph. Through her preaching, she and her family brought innumerable people to life in Christ. Following the imprisonment and torture of her son Victor (who refused to participate in anti-Christian military measures) Photina decided to preach directly to the vehemently anti-Christian Emperor Nero.

Though Nero was impressed with Photina’s eloquence and passion, he still disliked the fact that she was a Christian. Photina and her family were imprisoned and tortured for two years before she was received into the Lord’s hands. Through it all, her faith in her beloved Christ Jesus did not waver. Photina may have met Jesus by drawing well water, but because of his gift of living water she was able to make an incredible contribution to the growth of Christianity.

Photini’s life of love for Christ, her love for her family, her martyrdom and her message have made her Equal-to-the-Apostles in Orthodoxy, and we celebrate her on both February 26th and March 30th on the Orthodox calendar.

I don’t know about you, but every time I read her story I am filled with such admiration, love, and inspiration. Photini not only had the gift of preaching, bringing her message to thousands, but she had the honor of speaking to our Lord Jesus Christ - looking at his face, hearing his voice, perhaps even touching his hand, his arm, his robe…if ONLY I could have been Photini back then!

I look at my life - a 27 year old woman convert, living in this materialistic, hedonistic world, trying to do the best I can. I’ve been an outcast myself. And believe me - converting to Orthodox Christianity doesn’t exactly make you MORE popular in our society, let me tell you. It couldn’t have been that popular in Photini’s time either; with Nero’s army running around imprisoning and killing Christians, her unflailing loyalty and determination to preach his love is something we have to understand didn’t just make her unpopular among many social circles, but also put her and her entire family at risk! That’s some powerful love for God!

Photini is an amazing inspiration. To me, she is one of the most glorious women in our church history. I’m thankful every single day that she is my patron saint and that I get to revere her icon in my home. It’s my daily reminder that while at first I thought that I chose her… God works within us in ways we may not always understand, and perhaps she actually chose me.

Thou wast illumined by the Holy Spirit and refreshed by the streams of Christ the Saviour. Having drunk the Water of Salvation thou didst give copiously to the thirsty. O holy Great Martyr Photini, Equal-to-the Apostles, entreat Christ our God that our souls may be saved.


No comments:

Monastery of the Holy Martyrs - Orthodox Monastery, Syriac Orthodox

 Have you stopped the monastery's new web site?  Come on by and visit, either on line or in person.  I love meeting new folks and make n...