The Samaritan Woman, Christian Kenosis, and Luminous Thoughts

We cannot control the automatic thoughts and associations that arise in our heart through the course of the interactions of the day. We have conversations with others that can take many twists and turns, which are often unfortunate. But we can choose to focus on what is good; we can choose to focus on the teachings of Christ, so that those teachings come more readily to the surface as we interact with others. When we do such, conversations can at times have a prophetic force and we can sometimes even discern the voice of God leading us to Himself, just as He led the Samaritan woman to the waters of everlasting life.

samaiitan-woman-at-the-wellAs the Samaritan woman draws near to the well in the heat of the day, the Lord Christ begins to prepare her heart to desire the living water that only He can provide.  In His humility, He asks her for a drink.  He empties Himself, seeks her level and bids her to respond.  In Christ Our Way and Our Life, Archimandrite Zacharias writes, “Christ’s kenosis is the beginning and the condition of any spiritual ascent.  It is offered to the faithful as a path of true life, which conquers death and brings to life in them ‘the fullness of the divine image’.  Only ‘by the gift of the Holy Spirit’ can the faithful, as members of the Church, ‘know existentially, by actual experience’, this mystery of Christ’s kenosis.”  While the Lord purposefully humbles Himself before her, the Samaritan woman can only understand through what she sees with her physical eyes. Nevertheless, her mind turns slightly upwards to matters of the faith responding, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?”  The Lord gently coaxes her to look beyond the present circumstances of Jew and non-Jew as well as the depth of the well and the fact that he has no bucket with which to draw water.  He continues to offer her the Living Water of grace and salvation, which is His very Person.  Once she responds that she desires this water for her own material comfort the Lord gently reminds her of her life circumstances.  It is important to note that she does not try to hide her past life or excuse it away.  She responds honestly in true humility and the seeds of repentance are borne within her heart.  Her eyes begin to open and she recognizes more than a prophet but the Messiah, the Christ Who is to come.  She immediately leaves her water pot, the very reason she came to the well, in order to go to the city to tell others of whom she had found. In the presence of the Light-giver, she too became full of light, as her name, Photini, in Greek eloquently makes known.

photiniSaint Photini, the Samaritan woman, had many virtues. She accepted the corrections of others; she spoke with honesty; and she let her mind rise beyond her water pot to things on high. Saint Gregory Palamas notices that despite her earthly life of cares such as coming for water, despite her earthy life of having five husbands and now living with one who was not her husband, she thought upon the faith and reflected on Scripture perhaps more than many Christians do today.  Saint Gregory of Palamas writes, “How many believers nowadays, born and brought up in the Church, are ignorant of what the Samaritan woman knew, that our fathers, namely Jacob and his sons the Patriarchs, worshipped God on that mountain? Christ accepted her knowledge and her intelligent meditation on divinely inspired Scripture as sweet savor, and gladly continued His conversation with her.” Even if we know and understand only in part, actively seeking to learn about the things of God and to know God, like the Samaritan woman did, is the beginning of a conversation between God and the soul that leads the soul to union with Him.

The focus of the mind is powerful enough to ignite a flame in the heart that, when concentrated on what is good and holy, can attract God Himself, but when concentrated on what is evil, it can also drive God from us. Saint Gregory Palamas put it in this way, “If you put something fragrant on burning coals, you motivate those who approach to come back again and to stay near, but if instead you put on something with an unpleasant, oppressive smell, you repel them and drive them away. It is the same with the mind. If your attention is occupied with what is holy, you make yourself worthy of being visited by God, since this is the sweet savor which God catches scent of. On the other hand, if you nurture evil, foul, and earthly thoughts within you, you remove yourself from God’s supervision and unfortunately make yourself worthy of His aversion.”

The Gospel of the Samaritan Woman, Photini, is a particularly powerful passage in the Paschal cycle.  During the season of Pascha, the glorious light of the Resurrection shines forth on all creation and is beheld by those who have the spiritual eyes to see it.  In this Gospel, the Lord humbles Himself so that the Samaritan woman can see Him.  She recognizes the divine Gift in her presence and responds with a corresponding humility.  Archimandrite Zacharias describes her transformation as follows: “Man’s heart is cleansed and it opens up fully.  It becomes receptive to enlightenment from on High, and reaches out totally to grasp the word of God.  In this condition, a man is approaching the perfect measure of the commandments of Christ and he is schooled in His selfless love.  Just as the Lord put aside the riches of His divinity, and by His poverty enriched man, so too, man sets aside everything that has become life for him in this world (cf. Lk. 14:26) so as to establish all his being in readiness to be a dwelling-place for God.”

Like the Samaritan woman, Photini, may we learn to think about the things of God and bring those things into our every conversation, may we learn to humble ourselves, may we learn to accept correction from the voices of those who are near us, may we learn to set aside our water pots of earthly cares, so that we might become bearers of Christ’s glad tidings in the world and like that Samaritan woman, refreshed and refreshing with living waters that make us truly radiant with the Light of Christ.

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