Guarding salvation, guarding peace.
Homily 544 – 5 Pascha
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
May 14, 2023
Epistle: (28) – Acts 11:19-26, 29-30
Gospel: (12) – John 4:5-42
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Christ is risen!
We know the woman at the well by two names – one in Greek, Photini, and one in Slavonic, Svetlana. Both mean the same thing – Phos is the Greek word for light, and Svet is the Slavonic word that means light.
So either way, using Greek or Slavonic, her name is “Enlightened One.”
It is an apt name for her, because she, along with her sisters and a couple of sons, not only followed Christ, but preached him, told everyone in her town, everyone in her region, moved to Carthage in North Africa in modern Tunisia and told everyone there, told the Emperor’s daughter who was her guard, and eventually, told the Emperor in Rome, just before the martyrdom of her sisters and sons.
I’m fascinated by the women around Jesus. They were such a diverse bunch, yet, in many respects, Svetlana personifies everything about all of them.
She was intelligent. She was strong. She was fearless, some would say feisty. In Texas they would say that she’s a handful.
Look at the reading today – she is unafraid to speak to the Jewish man she found herself with, and even had the audacity to question Him, knowing that it was not allowed for Him to talk to her.
When this man tells her about her past, she recognizes Him and calls Him out as a prophet. And – and this is utterly fascinating to me – doesn’t just call Him out, but takes the opportunity to ask a pretty deep question regarding who is right, Jews or Samaritans, about the appropriate place where God dwells and desires worship.
And in so doing, Svetlana becomes the first to learn that Jesus is the Messiah.
The intellectual honesty, the humility that is fearless, continues throughout her life. At the end of her life, under arrest and in Rome preparing for martyrdom, she is given one more opportunity to offer sacrifice to the idols after having watched her sisters and sons be tortured and killed.
She spits in the face of the Emperor, calls him profligate and stupid, and says he is out of his mind if he believes she will denounce Christ to offer sacrifices to idols that are as blind as he is.
That is some chutzpah. I have to be honest, I wish we had more of her, able to speak truth to the power of the world, fearlessly. I wish I were like her.
We frequently forget that as Christians living in the world, we have to be on guard that our priorities don’t get corrupted and mangled in the tasks of everyday life. We have to be on guard that we don’t subtly adopt the standards of the world on our lives, how they should be lived, by what standards they shall be evaluated.
The women around Jesus in the Scripture remind us that what the world thinks is absolutely irrelevant to us. How the world evaluates is irrelevant. The opinions of the world are irrelevant. The standards of the world are irrelevant. Meaningless.
It isn’t just that we should prioritize Christ before the world. I think that leads us to frustration and defeat. The world shouldn’t even be on the list. Our priorities should only be to focus on Christ. There is no other priority, there is no other element to life. Christ only, Christ always.
It was the women who embodied this ethos, this way of life. They are the ones who took Christ at his word, and simply followed Him, lived as He lived, without regard to the world around them. Their lives revolved around Him, and only Him. Nothing else. Even in His death.
The Apostles and Disciples, at least at the first after the crucifixion, hid in fear. Locked their doors. Looked over their shoulders.
We should be like the women. It isn’t easy. Our instinct is to care about what others think about us. We are evaluated and ranked and accepted and rejected. We get our feelings hurt, we get our egos stroked.
All of that – all of it – we have to reject. We want to get to the point that the thoughts of others don’t even enter our minds to begin with. How does that miracle happen?
We do that by focusing all of our attention on Christ. All of it – not one distraction from anywhere about anything. Sounds impossible, right?
It isn’t! Dear brothers and sisters, it is difficult, but not impossible. We have to look at our lives and see what we have that isn’t Christ. I can share for me:
First, turn off the TV. That is the most challenging for me. And then, for me, don’t substitute something like YouTube for Television. There is a lot of edifying and useful content on YouTube and social media, but sometimes it is difficult to determine what is appropriate to consume. Any content that encourages you to break away from another, to separate yourself from another human, is to be distrusted. Division of all types is from the evil one. Don’t trust or consume those sites that encourage you to shun others.
Then, turn off social media. Maybe not turn off – it is after all a way to communicate with others and particularly those we love. So again, this is for me – don’t express an opinion on social media. That is tough as well. Because there is so much I disagree with on social media, and folks deserve to be educated. But I’m not appointed to educate them. I must refrain.
With all this time now available – fill it with edifying Christ-following activities. Some of it should be prayer. Some should be reading, particularly the lives of the Saints, the teachings of the Fathers, and of course Scripture itself. Some should be silence, perhaps.
Mostly, again I’m preaching to myself, re-establish interaction with our families, our neighbors, our friends, and those people we encounter in our lives. Not just be with them, be present and engaged with them. Be curious. Understand their problems and concerns. Help where you can, share what you can’t give, give what you can.
Perhaps, through reprogramming ourselves, we can also become the Enlightened Ones we already are in Christ, our very own Photini.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Christ is Risen!