The Well of Love

Lent 3 (year A) The Samaritan Woman

Part One:  The Well of Love

The Woman at the Well, Saint Photini, Panselinos, 14th Century Macedonian School

The setting of a meeting at the well already implies a nuptial scene. On his mission to Haran,  Abraham’s servant prayed that if a maiden offered to water his camels at the well, “let her be the one whom thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac.” Rebecca left Haran with a gold ring in her nose and a wedding proposal, and traveled south with Abraham’s servant to marry Isaac. “And he loved her.”

Isaac and Rebecca’s son Jacob traveled to that same well, saw his cousin Rachel for the first time and boldly kissed her. He adored her, and worked seven years to win her “and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.”

When Moses escaped Egypt after killing the Egyptian overseer, he rested by a well in the land of Midian. The priest of Midian had seven daughters who had come to the well to water their flock, but bullying shepherds drove the girls away. “But Moses stood up and helped them and watered their flock.” The priest invites Moses to his home and Moses marries Zipporah, one of the priest’s daughters. When Moses’ courage fails, Zipporah will urge him in his mission to free the Hebrew slaves.

The Song of Songs describes the beloved as a well within Paradise: “A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.” “A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.” (The Medieval imagination associated the enclosed garden with Mary, and in art the Annunciation sometimes takes place at a well evoking all the nuptial images described above.)

When John then, puts the Samaritan woman and Jesus together at a well, the listener already “hears” Rebecca, Rachel, Zipporah, and the Shulamite “beloved” in the Song of Songs, as a gentle chorus behind the conversation. Some kind of irrevocable bonding will take place there.

Part Two:  Saint Photini

The Eastern Church never abandons the Samaritan woman to obscurity in her city. As Chrysostom points out (see meditation three) she did not bring one or two disciples to Jesus like Andrew and Philip, but she brought a whole city. And not through empty superlatives but with the cleverness and conviction of her personal narrative.

The Orthodox give her a name, Photini (“the enlightened one”), a feast day (February 26), a title (Evangelist and Apostle), and a story.

Modern Orthodox Icon, Saint Photini, Great Martyr and Equal-To-The-Apostles

Photini was present at the very origin of the church when the Holy Spirit empowered the company of believers at Pentecost. She brought along her family of five sisters, and her two sons, Photeinos and Joseph. Like the apostles, she traveled, proclaiming the Good News “to the ends of the earth”. While she was on a preaching mission in Carthage, Jesus came to her in a dream and at his urging she left for Rome to preach where Christian persecution was most severe. About to be arrested herself, she anticipates the soldiers and approaches Nero’s palace on her own.

Nero tortures Photini, her sisters, her youngest son and the other North Africans who accompanied her. When that failed, Nero placed the women in a room full of gold, thinking the temptation of riches would drive away their love for Jesus. Nero brought his daughter Domnina to persuade them, but instead, Photini and Domnina admired one another and became friends. Domnina was baptized and then distributed the room full of gold to the poor.

Furious, Nero ordered prison and further torture for Photini and her company. During the next three years the prison-house became a “house of God” drawing many Romans to worship, to conversion, and baptism. Her son, her sisters, and the rest of Photini’s friends were beheaded. She also longed for the crown of martyrdom, and she finally died of the results of torture and released her soul to God.

Illuminated by the Holy Spirit, All-Glorious One,
from Christ the Saviour you drank the water of salvation.
With open hand you give it to those who thirst.
Great-Martyr Photini, Equal-to-the-Apostles,
pray to Christ for the salvation of our souls.

-Orthodox Prayer

5 Responses to “The Well of Love”

  1. Richard Thornburgh Says:

    Thank you for Part 1 … an aspect I’d not before considered.

  2. Lent 3: A Well Blessed Woman « The Painted Prayerbook Says:

    […] as an apostle and a saint. For more about Saint Photini, visit Suzanne Guthrie’s reflection “The Well of Love” at her lovely blog Come to the […]

  3. Diane Stavrum Says:

    Isn’t also interesting not only was she a woman but also a woman outside of wedlock with 5 husbands, thus a sinner, and to boot she was of a despised group of outsiders to an Jew.
    She represents the full extent of the God’s love and redeeming Grace. Jesus died for us ALL.

  4. ammaguthrie Says:

    There’s hope for us all!

  5. claire Says:

    This is such a beautiful post, Suzanne, and I am getting here so late, but not too late to share it with friends. I love the way you weave the well and the women in the Bible, all loved and lovers. And Jesus offering love to all who come to the well.
    Thank you.

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