The Acts of the Apostles and Evangelism

The Gospel lessons for the Post-Paschal Sundays are wonderfully rich and deep and give us a treasury of inspired ideas to contemplate.  The “other” readings we do each Sunday,  called the Apostolos or reading from the Apostles (which we frequently refer to as the Epistle reading) is also Scripture, the Word of God and so essential to our understanding God’s own revelation.  We might get the idea that since the Gospel lessons give name to each of the Post-Paschal Sundays (for example, the 5th Sunday of Pascha is called The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman), that the reading from the Acts of the Apostles is somehow of secondary importance, but not so!   “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work”   (2 Timothy 3:16).

Acts 11:19-30 begins by noting that the first Christians concentrated their evangelistic efforts exclusively on their fellow Jews even after Stephen’s death at the hands of the Jews.  Being persecuted by their fellow Jews did not detour them from trying to convince the Jews that Jesus is Lord, God and Messiah.  However, some of these early Christians, fleeing  the persecution that began in earnest after the martyrdom of Stephen, went to the city of Antioch starting a successful mission to the Gentiles.  It is in Antioch that the name “Christian” is bestowed on those who believe Jesus is Messiah. The Antiochian Christians are direct descendants of this original mission work of the early Church.  The Antiochian mission is the oldest of the Christian missionary endeavors.

Note that in Acts 11, it is nameless Christians who are doing the evangelism not the apostles!

Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to none except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.  And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number that believed turned to the Lord.

The text only identifies these evangelists only as “some of them” but they are not the Apostles.   This evangelism is not intentional church planting but rather the result of the Christians being persecuted and scattered through the countryside.  Fleeing persecution, they go into the city of Antioch and find people receptive to their message.  They are being persecuted and fleeing and yet they are proclaiming Good News!   What seemed so good to them that despite being persecuted, running for their lives and becoming homeless refugees, that they still believed they had a message from God to offer to others?   Today prosperity Gospel people try to sell others on the notion that “faith” will lead to prosperity and good times.  But the early Christians had to acknowledge the truth that belief will lead to persecution – as Jesus had warned – and despite this others still join them.  The Kingdom of Heaven was desirable even though one had to suffer for it.  We should be so faithful!  We are not to be fair weather Christians – claiming to be Christians because it brings us prosperity, because times are good.  We need to be Christians even if we are living in poverty or in persecution.  That is true faith.

Note also, the faith is spreading ahead of or beyond any organized missionary outreach of the apostles.

And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number that believed turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.

The Apostles aren’t doing the evangelism, they hear that the faith is spreading and have to catch up with what the Holy Spirit is doing!  The Apostles are themselves learning what the Holy Spirit is doing throughout the world.  Rather than being led by the Spirit, the Apostles are following what the Spirit is doing elsewhere in the world.  Despite the fact that the Holy Spirit is leading evangelism far beyond the reach and knowledge of the Apoostles, the efforts of evangelism had to be approved of and endorsed by the apostles – already there is church structure and hierarchy, a recognized leadership – the apostles don’t accept that everyone can do and teach what they know to be the truth.  The Apostles insist on correct doctrine and church unity.  The apostles have the power to recognize which Christian communities are legitimate and they insure that correct doctrine is being taught.  They  are determining who is in communion with them.  On the other hand, the believers don’t wait for the apostles to tell them what to do, they are not looking to Jerusalem or Constantinople  to tell them when and where to start new missions.  All the believers are both living the faith and sharing it with others.  The Apostles however maintain the right to determine who is teaching the true faith.  The Apostles do send their representatives out to ensure there is correct doctrine and also that the new Christian respect apostolic authority.

Barnabus, the Apostle’s appointed delegate, looking at the new missionary effort and Christian community, “saw the grace of God”  – grace can be seen, it is visible.  He was able to see with his own eyes what the Holy Spirit was accomplishing.  The work of  the Holy Spirit in our own lives should be so visible to us, to the saints and to non-believers.

When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a large company was added to the Lord.

Barnabus’ response to this new unplanned mission is joy and gladness.  He offers encouragement to these new believers.   He doesn’t feel threatened by or worried about the fact that new people are embracing Christianity even though the disciples themselves are not responsible for this church growth.  He exhorts these new disciples to continue with the Lord, to remain loyal, for discipleship is a continuous process of devotion.  Being a Christian is not a one time conversion but is a lifetime process of living the Gospel.

Note also when the Christians in Antioch learn of the impending famine threatening their fellow Christians, they don’t wait for fund raising letters from the Jerusalem or the Apostles, they take action themselves – they know what their response should be as Christians.  They understand their role in the church is to practice love.

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world; and this took place in the days of Claudius. And the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brethren who lived in Judea; and they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

May we too be inspired to live the Gospel, to do what we know we should be doing as God’s people in terms of evangelism and charity.  Bringing both the Good News of eternal life to all as well as the love of God in the form of charity.

This brings us to the Gospel of the Samaritan Woman (John 4:5-42).  First though I remind you of the words of our Lord Jesus:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.   (John 15:16-17)

Jesus goes into the land of the Samaritans – into a foreign land which belongs to those who consider the Jews their enemies.  Christ is showing us we are to have a relationship with the world – with those who don’t know the Gospel, who don’t understand God as, with those whom we may be suspicious about or consider them to be dubious people.  What should our relationship be with old friends and family who aren’t Orthodox?   The Samaritan woman shows us the way – she goes to them and talks to them about her encounter with Jesus.  She doesn’t tell these others how wrong they are in beliefs and practices, rather she extols Christ.

For His part, Jesus doesn’t judge the Samaritan woman for her life/lifestyle – she has been in multiple relationships with men, serial monogamy some would say.  He is irenic toward her, and calmly, wisely and gently leads her way from a worldly perspective to the truth.  But note first he asks her for help – give me a drink.  He helps bring her to the faith by first showing his own vulnerability, his own dependency, and that He needs the Samaritan woman to help Him.  That even becomes the basis of their conversation, for the woman quite rightfully can see the obvious – you can’t even get yourself a drink of water, how are you going to give me “living water“?     Jesus uses his obvious weakness and need to lead her into a conversation about the Kingdom.  He does not rebuke her sinfulness, but leads her to the kingdom.  Jesus fulfills what He has taught:

I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.   (John 10:14-16)

The Scriptures today show us two ways that we Christians might respond to strangers, to non-believers, to those we don’t like, and even to our enemies.  1) We might find that others reject our message and lifestyle, that others not only reject us but want to persecute us to change our minds or to drive us out of their towns.  We might have to find a new place to live and new people with whom we can share the Gospel.  Or,  2) We can show our humility by asking others for their help, showing our own vulnerability and humanness, recognizing that we are in need of and share their resources.  Only then, when we have established a human relationship do we  share with others the Good News of salvation as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman.  Instead of doing imperialistic evangelism (where we wrongly show our superiority and proclaim our triumphalism), we are to establish relationships with others first by showing we need them to be our neighbors.   [By the way, the Samaritan Woman is not anonymous, for in tradition we know her name as Photini.]

Whether we encounter people who are non-believers or are hostile to us, we are to respond as Christ did and as His disciples.  As St John Chrysostom once said, “Our warfare is to make the dead to live, not to make the living dead.

The Samaritan Woman: Coming to Faith and Ending Religion

So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into 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?” For Jews have no dealings 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 nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 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 he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks 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 (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”  Just then his disciples came. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, “What do you wish?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the city and were coming to him. Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has any one brought him food?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages, and gathers 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 all that I ever did.” 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 your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”  (John 4:5-42)

Fr. Alexander Men referring to the end of the Gospel lesson when the Samaritans come out to see Jesus writes that today we are all like these Samaritans in how we come to faith in Christ:

Samaritans surrounded the Jewish traveller, not caring that He was from a hostile nation, and led Him to their village; we do not know what happened then, but the most important thing in this story is the result. After listening to Him, they said to the woman: “Now we see the truth; no longer because of what you said, but because we have seen for ourselves.

So now all of us are in the same position: at first we believe in the words written in the Scriptures and in other books, then we believe in what other people tell us. But the happiest moment in our spiritual lives is when we come to know the mystery of God, the mystery of the Lord Jesus, as revealed in our hearts, no longer through the words of others but through our own instincts and our own profound experience. We, like the Samaritans, guess at what is true and ponder on it. But He is near us, He reveals His word to us. Only we must also be ready to hear Him – like that simple woman of Samaria, like everyone who has ears to hear and hears. Amen. (Awake to Life!, p. 78)

Fr Alexander Schmemann comments on the Gospel lesson and how it shows that Christ was declaring an end to religion not creating a new one for Christ is calling us to life itself:

Christianity, however, is in a profound sense the end of all religion. In the Gospel story of the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus made this clear. “‘Sir,’ the woman said to him, ‘I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’ Jesus saith unto her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father…but the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him’” (Jn. 4:19-21, 23). She asked him a question about cult, and in reply Jesus changed the whole perspective of the matter. Nowhere in the New Testament, in fact, is Christianity present as a cult or as a religion. Religion is needed where there is a wall of separation between God and man. But Christ who is both God and man has broken down the wall between man and God. He has inaugurated a new life, not a new religion. (For the Life of the World, pp. 19-20)

That Woman at the Well

4264210180_5f21ae97a2_nThat woman was a sinner,

The woman at the well,

Not the type who talks with God

Very earthy, carnally so.

No searching her heart for things of heaven.

But for a man, she would seek

The kind sensuous women want.

Song of Songs is she, literally.

 

That woman was a Samaritan,

The woman at the well.

Wrong race, wrong morals. Them!

God would not be seeking her kind

He seeks only the holy of heart and mind. Right?

He loves the righteous, not the suspicious.

Can’t she learn her proper place?

She acts as if God speaks to her.

That woman was an outcast,

The woman at the well.

Even heretical Samaritans knew that, knew her.

Divorced! How many times? Living with some man.

A failure, a social misfit, irreligious to the max.

She came to the well at noon, shamelessly.

Decent women came together in the morning, not her.

She comes to seduce Him from His mission!

 

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That woman was shameless and bold,

The woman at the well.

Not the kind decent people care to meet.

She wants a drink, I’ll bet she does.

Flirting with a man in broad daylight,

Not just any man, a foreigner!

So alluring, so tempting, so seductive.

Is she the lover or the beloved?

 

That woman was too open,

The woman at the well.

To new ideas, and to divine love,

So ready to embrace any man.

How dare she speak of God?

He sees right through her.

Can’t she see how wrong she is

To believe, to convert, to share the Gospel truth?

 

8186718360_5b5d5d5ab4_nThe woman was a sinner, that woman at the well.

She confessed, God already knew.  It helped her see.

Very desirous, her heart was smitten,

She found what she looked for but could not see.

Rightly named.  Disciple, saint, evangelist, martyr.

Photini, pray that we may drink as deeply as you

Of the Living Water whose source He is.

I’ve come to the well, a sinner too.  “Give Me a drink,” says He wearily.

 

Holy Desire – The Samaritan Woman

John 4:5-42: The Samaritan Woman

One would expect that if  Jesus was trying to convert the world and make everyone be His followers, His disciples, that He would aim to meet with the most influential people around.  When he went into a town, you would think He would try to talk to the village chief, the mayor the town, the high priest or someone of some influence and importance.

Yet, the Gospels tell us that Jesus meeting with important people – The Governor Pontius Pilate, King Herod, and the High Priest – did not go so well for Jesus.

It seems Jesus was not much of a top – down thinker, but rather was  one to move from the bottom up.  Or maybe for Jesus there are no real important people contrasted with unimportant people.  For Christ, all people, whatever their age, gender, social rank, skin color, nationality or language are simple people – God’s creatures all of equal value, yet of infinite importance to God.

When Jesus begins talking to the Samaritan woman , according to history her name is Photini,  as he sits by the well in the village of Sychar, He is not being distracted from His true mission.  Christ is there to unite all humans to God.  It’s just as significant to start with one woman, and a sinner at that, as with some man of influence.   Christ redeems us personally as we all form a relationship with Him.

Jesus engages in a serious theological discussion with this “sinful” woman.  She is a  a social outcast.   First of course she is a Samaritan, a kind of people whom the Jews despised.  But then even within the Samaritan people she is an outcast:  Married multiple times, living with a man who is not her husband – coming to the well at Noon instead of in the morning when all the rest of the women of the town were there.

Yet, strangely, and God does work in mysterious ways, by avoiding the crowd, by avoiding the social life, she finds God.

But still, if Jesus wants to convert the world, why is He wasting His time with this social failure and misfit?   She’s not exactly His poster child, nor a good PR spokesperson, nor a person who respectable people would trust.

Jesus Himself is quite willing to speak with her, He is not distracted or annoyed.  He is on task, fully engaged, fulfilling His mission.   Speaking with this woman is not beneath His dignity.  He is not amusing Himself, or her.   He doesn’t leave this task of talking to this insignificant woman to His disciples.  He is fully engaged with her, and wants to give her what He has to offer.  No sense whatsoever that talking with this woman is less important to Him than talking to Jews or to His disciples.

He helps her become a disciple.  And in fact in the Orthodox Church Photini is given the title, “Equal to the Apostles”.  She is a martyr in our church.  A saint, an evangelizer.

Photini comes seeking well water to drink, goes away thirsting for living water.   She comes looking with her body, her feelings, her physical needs, her eyes.  She leaves looking for living water for her soul, seeing Jesus no longer as a Man, Jewish male, but as the Messiah.  Her heart, soul, mind have been awakened – given life.

She realizes that when it comes to the spiritual life, we cannot take every discussion at face value.  The discussion on water, on living water, is not about H2O  but about the Holy Spirit.

Living water.”    Not water having living things in it (like fish), but having life in the water itself, having the power of life, life-giving.  It is flowing, moving water from a spring – the source can’t be seen, it is deep and hidden, yet the water is flowing from it.  It is an image of God.

It is not pond water, or puddles of rain water.  Not even the purest bottled water.  But water that is forcefully moving, has vitality to it.  It moves and can move things.  Like all gushing water it makes sound – it is seen and heard.

Photini comes to know what each of us here has to come to know, a relationship with God is a spiritual relationship which requires me to think in a spiritual way about spiritual things.   Even words like heart, mind, eyes, ears, hands have a spiritual meaning, and we have to be able to move beyond the physical to understand the spiritual.

The Gospel lesson about Photini is about you and me and our relationship to Jesus Christ and to God.

And so we see in the Scriptures that God describes Himself as the fountain of living water:

O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You shall be put to shame; those who turn away from You shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water. Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for You are my praise.  (Jeremiah 17:13-14)

If we want living water, we have to find God in our lives.  We cannot buy this living water, it’s not a commodity for sale,  for Christ gives it to us freely as a gift.  Our task is to know how to receive it.

And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment.  (Revelation 21:6)

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let him who hears say, “Come.” And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price.  (Revelation 22:17)

St. Ignatius of Antioch says this: “My love has been crucified and there is no burning love within me for material things; instead there is living water, which also is speaking in me, saying to me from within: “Come to the Father.”  I have no pleasure in the food that perishes nor in the pleasures of this life.  I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, from the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is imperishable love.”

The living water is tangible, yet completely spiritual!  Women and men, everyone is offered this gift by Christ.  Receive it!  Christ offers this gift to sinners, misfits, failures, people of any race or color, female or male, young or old.  He offers this to all people – to each of us, without exception.

As Isaiah the Prophet proclaimed:

You will say in that day:

I will give thanks to you, O LORD,

for though you were angry with me,

your anger turned away,

and you comforted me.

Surely God is my salvation;

I will trust, and will not be afraid,

for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might;

he has become my salvation.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

And you will say in that day:

Give thanks to the LORD,

call on his name;

make known his deeds among the nations;

proclaim that his name is exalted.

Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously;

let this be known in all the earth.

Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,

for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.  

(Isaiah 12:1-6)

 

The Samaritan Woman: Desire Was Created for Christ

For those who have tasted of the Savior, the Object of desire is present. From the beginning human desire was made to be gauged and measured by the desire for Him, and is a treasury so great, so ample, that it is able to encompass even God. Thus there is no satisfaction, nothing stills the desire, even if men attain to all the excellent things in life, for we still thirst as though we had none of the things for which we long. The thirst of human souls needs, as it were, an infinite water; how then could this limited world suffice?

This is what the Lord hinted when He said to the Samaritan woman, “he who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst’ (Jn. 4:13-14). This is the water that slakes the thirst of human souls, for it says, “when I behold Thy glory I shall be satisfied with it” (Ps. 17:15 LXX). The eye was capable of perceiving light, the ear for sound, and each member for its appropriate end; the desire of the soul has for its object Christ alone.

(St. Nicolas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, p. 96)

Gospel of the Samaritan Woman:  John 4:5-42

Christ the Stranger

Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra reflects on Christ as the stranger, a theme we encounter in the Gospel lesson of the Samaritan Woman (John 4:5-42).

“Christ was a stranger on the earth, because even though the world was made through Him, the world knew Him not. Indeed he was a stranger even among His own brethren, for He came to his own home; and his own people received him not Jn. 1.11-12). But, as St. Makarios suggests, it is not simply in this sense that Christ agreed to become a stranger, but in the deeper sense that Christ has rejected all rights.

In one glance, the eyes of Christ can encompass the universe. In a single gesture, He can embrace and contain all things, both in heaven and on earth: His heavenly Father, the Holy Spirit, the angels the stars the planets, everything in an instant. But He did not account equality with God a thing to be grasped at, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, a stranger (Phil. 2.7). It’s as if he said: ‘I refuse every place of rest other than your soul, so that you will know that I, Christ, empty Myself in order to be filled by you. Though you be a worm and not a man (Ps. 21.6), I will honor you in this way, so that you can become My bride, My bridal chamber, My completion, My perfection. And though you are but a wretched earth-worm, I will make you the most beautiful thing there is: I will make you God. And because I am God, I lack nothing: I am in need of nothing. Whatever I have done, whatever I have become, has all been on account of you. My self-abasement, My exile, My hunger, My thirst, my loneliness, are things that I have voluntarily chosen and which can only be satisfied by you; for you are My food, and My clothing, shelter and place of rest.’

This is how far God has abased Himself! In order to fill us with His plentitude, He has voluntarily emptied Himself. This is what He means when He says: I was a stranger, and I was hungry and thirsty, and so on, namely: that He has rejected everything in order to embrace everything. He abandoned the bosom of the Father (cf. Jn 1.18) to make His home in our hearts. Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich (2 Cor 8.9).

‘Let us therefore,”’St. Makarios concludes, ‘welcome Him into our hearts’ –and here he reverses what he has just said– ‘for he is our food and drink and eternal life.’” (The Way of the Spirit, pp. 246-247).

Christ who hungers and thirsts in His life on earth, hungers and thirsts for our salvation by becoming the food and drink of eternal life.

The Samaritan Woman at the Well

St. Ephrem the Syrian gives us poetically vivid imagery to help us understand the Gospel Lesson of the Samaritan Woman at the well (John 4:5-42).

8186047331_e19fe9005e“Our Lord labored and He went like a farmer

to water the seed that Moses sowed.

Directly to the well He went to give

hidden and living water for the sake of the revelation.

Blessed is Moses, who, with the book he wrote, sowed

the symbols of the Messiah, still young;

by [Christ’s] watering were the seeds of the house of Moses perfected,

and they were reaped by His disciples.

Refrain: Praises to your humility!

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Blessed are you, drawer of ordinary water,

who turned out to be a drawer of living water.

You found a treasure, another Source,

from Whom a flood of mercies flows.

The spring had dried up, but it broke through to you and gave you to drink.

He was poor, but He asked in order to enrich you.

You left behind your pitcher, but you filled understanding and gave your people to drink.

Blessed are you to whom He gave living water to drink,

and you did not thirst again, as you said.

For he called the truth “living water,”

since all who hear it will not thirst again.

Blessed are you who learned the truth and did not thirst;

for one is the Messiah and there are no more.”

(HYMNS, p 355)

Jesus Seeks us in Our Daily Labor

The 5th Sunday after Pascha continues the pattern of alternating the Post-Paschal Gospel lessons between having men and then women being the focus.  The 2nd Sunday focuses on the Apostle Thomas, the fourth on the paralytic man and the 6th on the blind man; while the 3rd focuses on the Myrrhbearing Women, and the 5th on the Samaritan woman.

Men and women both respond to Christ, becoming His disciples through a variety of encounters with Him both before and after His resurrection.  One does not have to be part of the chosen circle of apostles to come to believe in Him. Even having doubts about Christ do not disqualify one from eventually being chosen to follow Him.  In part, the Gospel lesson of the Samaritan woman (John 4:5-42) includes these words:

The Lord came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into 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?”

Encounters with Christ do not just occur in “religious” settings such as when we are in prayer.  Even those looking for Him are sometimes surprised by an encounter with Him.  We come to realize He speaks to us in our daily lives, even in our fears and disbelief, in our sorrows,  in our despair, in our sin, in our suffering, in our separation from others.

“In order to meet her at Jacob’s well, Jesus chooses the hour when He knows that the Samaritan woman come to draw her water each day. It is in our daily needs – in our daily  labor – that Jesus wants to meet us.” (A Monk of the Eastern Church, Jesus: A Dialogue with the Savior, p 64)

Fighting for Unity

The Gospel Lesson of John 4:5-42 presents to us Jesus leaving his homeland and entering a Samaritan village where He engages in a theological conversation with people whom the Jews considered religious enemies.

The Gospel lesson of the Samaritan woman touches upon a topic that has plagued Christians from the very onset of the faith.  How can one bring together diverse peoples who are not just strangers but rather are even enemies one of another  and unite them into one church?  The New Testament shows us how difficult it was for the first Christians – all of them Jews – to reach out to Gentiles and to include them in the table fellowship.  The Jews had many prohibitions about eating with Gentiles.   Their religion as practiced called them to be different and separate from all the other peoples around them.   It was virtually the basis for their entire spiritual discipline to keep themselves separated from the non-Jews in order to keep themselves pure.

It was a difficult transition for Jews to believe it was good and right to welcome Gentiles as family at the same table.    We see in the epistles of St. Paul him wrestling with these issues.   And in Acts 15, we see the Apostles struggling with whether converts to Christianity had first to become Jews following Jewish dietary laws, circumcision and other Jewish practices in order to become Christians.   The Apostles decided that becoming a Jew was not the prerequisite for believing in the Messiah.  So Christianity morphed from a Jewish religion into being a form of Judaism that welcomed Gentiles into the faith.  The dividing walls between races were brought down.

The pattern has continued to repeat itself through time, so that as Greek speaking Gentiles began to dominate the Church, then the Christians again had to wrestle with whether it was required to become a Greek in order to be a Christian.  Converts!

The Samaritan Woman, Photini is her name in tradition,  places before Jesus exactly what separates Samaritans and Jews:

“Sir, I   perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”

Let’s talk about what separates us.  Who is right?  For we have nothing to talk about until we know who is right on this essential issue which has separated our peoples for centuries.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 

Jesus takes a Judeocentric viewpoint in that debate but then changes the terms of the debate.  It is not a matter of worshipping God in only one place or the other.  It is not a matter of geophysical location.  The issue is worshipping “in spirit and truth.”   That which has divided Jews and Samaritans theologically and made it impossible for these people to get along or worship together is irrelevant.  True, spiritual worship is not a matter of place but of spirit and truth.  The Messiah, Lord of the Sabbath, declares other religious ritual to be for humans and to serve our religious needs.  We are not meant to serve the Law, but the Law was meant to serve our religious growth.

When the disciples return to Jesus and see Him speaking with the Samaritan woman, they are obviously uncomfortable with what Jesus is doing.  Social barriers are being crossed, religious differences are being ignored.  Suddenly a multitude of Samaritans are coming to see Jesus.  The disciples were probably pretty quickly overwhelmed by the  events and their understanding of Christ.

From the time of the Apostles, Christianity has struggled with incorporating new peoples into the church.  The same goes on in our parishes today.  New people enter the church with diverse perspectives, and parishes struggle with how to maintain the unity of the faith.  How do we bring together people who are rivals or even enemies?  In America, civil culture wars enter into the church threatening to divide people whose common unity is Christ.  Liberals and conservatives find it hard to agree on anything, but in the Church, Jesus Christ is Lord and Christians have to figure out how to love one another.  How do we welcome strangers into our communities?   How do we bring the Gospel to people who do not believe God has any interest in them or worse that God could love them?  How do we overcome in Christ that which divides us so that we can serve God?

Christ in reaching out to the Samaritan woman and her townspeople, modeled a way.  We have to know what is universal in the Christian message.  We have to  know what it means to love others as Christ loves us.  And we have to believe the oneness Jesus envision in John 17 for the Church is not an impossible ideal but rather fundamental to the Body of Christ.  So essential that we each have to deny ourselves and take up the cross in order to follow Christ.

Photini and Baptism

I decided to post this quote from St. Gregory Palamas on the Gospel lesson of the Samaritan woman  John 4:5-42 (+++ see below) because it fits well into a Paschal theme I’ve mentioned and feel is very important.  Orthodox Great Lent was originally conceived of as a time for preparing catechumens for baptism.  The Post-Paschal Sunday Gospel lessons from St. John’s Gospel seem to me to have been chosen to offer continued reflection on the baptismal experience.  The newly baptized received instruction on baptism in the ancient church not before they experienced the Mystery, but afterwards.  They first experienced the Mystery, and then were given weeks to learn what they had experienced.   St. Gregory Palamas in his sermon references a connection between the Samaritan woman at the well and being baptized.

“When the Samaritan woman heard these extraordinary and divine words from Christ, that God can not be truly worshipped anywhere, except in His Spirit and His Truth, she, like the soul betrothed to God in the Song of Songs, was stirred up by the voice of the immortal bridegroom and made mention of Him for whom she waited and longed, and whose presence was still concealed (Song of Songs 2:8). ‘I know,’ she said, ‘that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things’ (John 4:25). Do you see how ready she was to believe that the awaited one was already at hand, and how hopeful she was? Surely David’s words apply also to her, ‘My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready: I will sing and give praise in my glory’ (Ps. 57:7 Lxx). How could she have known this with such certainty or had such a disposition in her soul, had she not studied the prophetic books with the utmost understanding? This is why she had her mind on such high matters, filled with divine inspiration. When I look with admiration at this Samaritan woman’s great spiritual longing for Christ, it occurs to me to apply to her once more words from that song, ‘Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, chosen as the sun’ (Song of Songs 6:10 Lxx). For when she proclaimed that soon Christ, the spiritual Sun of righteousness (Mal.4:2), would appear through her, I see her as though she were emerging from the baptismal font of the well where she was standing, having been instructed by Christ, looking forth as the much-loved morning. She was fair as the noon, because she gave light even though the night of ungodliness still reigned. She was chosen as the sun since she was given the name Photini by the Savior and was enrolled in the list of those who were to shine forth as the sun, according to the Gospel (Matt. 13:43), since she was to set the seal of a blessed martyr’s death on her subsequent radiant life. Even now she recognized Christ as true God and proclaimed Him with perfect theology.” (St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, p 159)

+++   John 4:5-42

The Lord came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into 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?” For Jews have no dealings 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 nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 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 he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.”The woman said to him, “Sir, I   perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks 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 (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.”  Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

Just then his disciples came. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, “What do you wish?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the city and were coming to him. Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has any one brought him food?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages, and gathers 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 all that I ever did.” 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 your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”