May 26, 2019

‘I Am He Who is Speaking to You’

By Hierodeacon Raphael Misiaoulis

Christ is Risen!

It is the fifth Sunday after Easter and the Church presents us with the dialogue between the Lord and a Samaritan woman. This was a dialogue of real substance and a validity that will last throughout the ages, with a great deal to say to each of us.

Christ goes to Samaria, to the town of Sychar, to the place where the patriarch Jacob had made a well[2]: ‘And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for one hundred pieces of money the plot of land on which he had pitched his tent. There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel [God the God of Israel]’[3]. He later gave this piece of land to his son, Joseph. So when Jesus went and stopped at the place where the well was, tired, and in the full heat of noon- ‘for it was the sixth hour’[4]- He waited for someone to come by and draw some water for Him to drink. He was the All-Powerful Lord. Couldn’t He have arranged to drink by Himself, without needing any assistance from others? At this point, He teaches us that we must have patience, must work together with others, help them and be helped by them: ‘bear one another’s burdens’[5]. We need to wait for the right moment for something to happen in our life and not expect everything here and now.

The Lord finds just the right time, knowing that, in that town, at that time of the day, there was a spiritual prey, as Saint John Chrysostom puts it, ready to be caught. One question is why the Lord distanced His disciples from the proceedings, sending them into the town to buy food. Chrysostom tells us that if the woman had seen all of them there with their teacher, she would certainly have made herself scarce and the prey would have been lost[6].

So a Samaritan woman comes to get water and the Lord says ‘Give me some to drink’ [7].Saint John the Evangelist mentions the provenance of the woman, a Samaritan, because for the Jews the Samaritans were idolaters. The woman was surprised that a Jew would speak to a Samaritan, since they hated them. At this point the Lord reveals His true identity. He reveals His role as the Messiah, telling her that if she knew Who it was Who was asking for water, she would be asking Him for water to drink, the water which, if anyone drinks of it, they will never in their lives thirst again. The Messiah declared that He was the ‘water of life’.

We should note here the allegoric interpretation given to us by Saint Maximos the Confessor regarding the five husbands whom the woman had had, and the sixth who wasn’t her husband[8]. The Samaritan woman represents the soul or nature of each one of us, which, without the prophetic gift, lived in accordance with the rules of our nature. Nature took as husband the first law, that of Paradise, then the second law, after Paradise, the third after Noah’s flood, the fourth that of circumcision after Abraham, and the fifth the law of the sacrifice of Isaac. These were the laws which our nature was given and which it rejected because it bore no fruit in terms of the works of virtue.

Saint Maximos also makes an allegory of the well, saying that it’s Scripture, the water from it is the knowledge contained therein and the drawing of it is learning the word of God by the letter. This was not what the Lord offered, since He Himself was the Word of God. He didn’t give eternal wisdom, which never has any end, to those who believed in knowledge from study and learning, but to those who were worthy from the point of view of spiritual grace[9].

We should mention that, among the many gods in whom the Samaritans believed, they still retained some form of belief in the God of Israel. They did so not because they knew this God but out of respect for Israel, who had once lived among them. This is why the Samaritan woman spoke of ‘our father, Jacob’[10]. The Samaritans would certainly have heard the prophecy concerning the star that was to arise from Jacob[11].

In a homily on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, the shepherd of Thessaloniki, Saint Gregory Palamas, mentions that, from the moment that Jesus confessed that He is the Christ, the woman immediately became completely committed to spreading the Gospel, leaving everything behind and bringing many of the Samaritans to Jesus Christ. And so, the rest of her luminous life as Saint Photini [ or Lucia, i.e. luminous] was stamped with her martyrdom and her love for Our Lord Jesus Christ[12].

In the case of the Samaritan woman, Jesus first brought her to an awareness of her sinfulness, revealed to her that He knew the secrets of her heart, illumined the dark points of her life and then created an internal crisis of conscience within her which led to a genuine confession[13]. Then came repentance, which transforms people into genuine and faithful children of God.

‘Give me some to drink’ is the characteristic phrase of the Lord’s. He said these words not only to the Samaritan woman, but addresses them to all generations until the end of the ages. Christ Our Saviour didn’t give the living water only to the Samaritans and the Jews. He gave it to all people who are aware of their spiritual thirst in the wilderness of this life, and He continues to do so to this day.

Saint Nikolaos Cabasilas writes that the thirst in our soul requires infinite water[14]. This ‘infinite water’ is divine Grace, which ‘always heals the sick and supplies what is missing’[15]. God alone, Who is in all things perfect to an infinite extent and is the source of all good, can solve this problem of dryness that we have.

It’s impossible for us to know the Lord except through the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul confirms this when he says that no-one can say that Jesus is the Lord except through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit’[16]. Outside Christianity there’s no virtue, there’s no good that deserves heaven. What is good, says Saint Mark the Ascetic ‘is impossible to do and to believe in except through the union with Jesus Christ, and with the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit’[17].

Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov says that the good works we do as part of our nature aren’t worthy of God, because they arise from our fallen nature. There is good within us, mixed with wickedness, and the small amount of good is hard to find within the superfluity of badness. So God and the Gospels set no great store by our natural goodness and the actions which derive from it[18].

Blessed are they who hear His voice and approach Him in faith. Christ isn’t going to ask them what language they speak nor what nation they belong to. He doesn’t want to know how old they are, nor whether they’re rich or poor. He gives to all the ‘living water’ to invigorate and revive them, to renew them and regenerate them, to adopt them, to bring them out of the fiery furnace of this world and lead them to the promised land[19]. Only a true Christian, that is a Christian who combines faith with works, can be a true believer in God.

May we also be worthy of becoming faithful children of Our Lord, just like Saint Photini, Equal to the Apostles, who represents a role model for every Christian wallowing in the mire of sin and not repenting.


[1] John 4, 26
[2] Ibid, 4, 25
[3] Gen. 33, 19-20
[4] John 4, 6
[5] Gal. 6,2
[6] Saint John Chrysostom, Homily on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman
[7] John, 4, 8
[8] John 4, 16-18
[9] Saint Maximos the Confessor, Philokalia
[10] John 4, 13
[11] Numbers 24, 17
[12] Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki, Homily on the Gospel of Christ on the Samaritan Woman.
[13] Metropolitan Nikolaos of Fthiotida, «Εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν Θεοῦ», Αποστολική Διακονία –Έκδοσις Β΄ 1999
[14] Saint Nikolaos Kavasilas, On the Life in Christ, Discourse 2 66.
[15] 1st Prayer at the Ordination of a Priest.
[16] I Cor. 12, 3
[17] Saint Mark the Ascetic, Chapters on the Spiritual Law, 6, 2.
[18] Saint Ignatij Brianchaninov, Bishop of the Caucasus and Black Sea, Ascetic Homilies I
[19] Excerpt from Saint Nikolaj Velimirović, 3 Homilies on the Day of the Resurrection