You will never be as hard-core as Photini.

Homily 596 – 5th Pascha
Holy Transfiguration, Ames, Iowa
June 2, 2024
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.  Christ is risen!

The Samaritan woman, in the Scripture, is a character that isn’t well explored.  Thankfully, the Church has preserved a lot about this woman, so we know much, much more about her than we can learn from the Scripture.

What we find, to me, is hands-down my favorite personality of the New Testament.  She is called Photini, the Greek word meaning “enlightened”.  In Slavonic, her name is “Svetlana”, which has the same meaning.

Phos in Greek, and Svit, in Church Slavonic, both mean light.  So, what we can discern from this is that we don’t really know the name given to her at birth.  What we know is that after her conversion, she became a new person, with a new name – she was called “enlightened.”

The brief outline of the story of her life is that she had several sons and sisters who were martyred.  One of her sons was even a Roman soldier.  She took that phrase we hear in the Gospel, “Come and hear a man who told me all I have ever done,” and continued saying it throughout the remainder of her life.

She was primarily in Carthage, which was an empire across all of northern Africa and southeastern Spain in the three centuries before Christ.  By the time of Christ, it had been conquered by the Romans, and Carthage became the city of Tunis in modern-day Tunisia.

Tradition holds that the Apostle Philip went to evangelize Carthage, and it would seem St. Photini went with him.  She is reported to have been a fierce preacher of the Gospel in that city.

But we haven’t gotten to the part that endures for her.  We learn that her sons and sisters, for a variety of reasons, were called to Rome, along with St. Photini, to appear before Nero the emperor.  The Lord revealed to St. Photini that everyone would be tortured and martyred.

Now, here is where my complete astonishment of St. Photini comes into play.  Nero forced her to watch as her sons, and sisters, and a couple of others who converted along the way – including Nero’s own daughter, by the way – were unspeakably tortured and killed.

Then, Nero asked her to give up and offer sacrifice to the idols.  And here is what this amazing woman said:  “O most impious of the blind, you profligate and stupid man! Do you think me so deluded that I would consent to renounce my Lord Christ and instead offer sacrifice to idols as blind as you?”

Beloved, that is chutzpah.  That is guts.

This man that she was speaking to was the most powerful man in the entire world.  There was no equal to him.  He was considered a god in his own right.  And here is this Samaritan woman, full of the fire of the Holy Spirit, speaking to him not even as a man, but as less than a man – a stupid and profligate man, to use her words.

It would be similar to us going up to the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, or to the leader of Russia or China, and saying, “know what?  You’re dumber than a rock if you think I will betray my belief in Christ.”

Talk about speaking truth to power.  I don’t think I’d have the guts.  I mean, we generally treat our leaders with respect, even honor.  We are told that they are in place by God’s design.

Yet, when they are in opposition to God’s path, encouraging us to work harder for the things that perish, instead of thinking of others and pursuing the Kingdom to come, for our salvation.

Our world is not drastically different than the Roman world.  We have a veneer of Christianity.  But do we have actual Christians?  Do we have the Photini’s among us who value Christ and Salvation more than the things of the world?

Not just more – that doesn’t convey enough.  The things of the world, to Photini and the Christians like her, the things of the world are absolute junk.  High power positions, lots of food and wine, fine cars, large homes, lots of servants.  To the Christians, to Photini, all of that was absolute junk – pure worthlessness.

Do we feel that way about our world?  What value do we place on the things of this world?  For St. Photini and the Christians, we can see through their speech and actions that it wasn’t just that they saw the world as irrelevant – they saw it as evil, and opposite to the world they were striving to live in.

I think, in our day and age, we try – or at least I try – to make peace with the world, and live out Christianity.  But looking at St. Photini, I believe I’ve got it wrong.  I can’t make peace with the world.  I have to actively reject the world.

In making that statement – actively reject the world – what does that even mean?  It means to do whatever we can to reject status and power and authority and wealth, and only seek to serve others.  It means to reject accumulating things and to distribute things.

That may be the biggest difference between the Christians of today and the Christians of the first centuries.  We try to reconcile the world with the Christian life, and that simply cannot be done.

We experience the same thing as St. Photini – and we tell others, come see a man who loves me, in spite of everything I ever did.  Come see a man who reconciles us to heaven, not reconciles heaven to earth.  Come see a man who transforms earth, who transforms earth into heaven, without a trace of fallen earth remaining.

This is our paschal joy – this is why we remember St. Photini on this day.  Because in Christ, all things are made new, and the world as we know it is gone, replaced with the Kingdom of Heaven.  The new heaven and new earth of the Apocolypse of St. John is here, now, in our midst.

That is the cause for our celebration, and that is the cause of our repentance, and our rejection of the world.  Because brothers and sisters, Christ is risen!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.  Christ is risen.