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The Holy Martyr Photina (Svetlana) the Samaritan Woman, her sons Victor (named Photinus) and Joses; and her sisters Anatola, Phota, Photis, Paraskeva, Kyriake; Nero’s daughter Domnina; and the Martyr Sebastian: The holy Martyr Photina was the Samaritan Woman, with whom the Savior conversed at Jacob’s Well (John. 4:5-42).

During the time of the emperor Nero (54-68), who displayed excessive cruelty against Christians, St Photina lived in Carthage with her younger son Joses and fearlessly preached the Gospel there. Her eldest son Victor fought bravely in the Roman army against barbarians, and was appointed military commander in the city of Attalia (Asia Minor). Later, Nero called him to Italy to arrest and punish Christians.

Sebastian, an official in Italy, said to St Victor, “I know that you, your mother and your brother, are followers of Christ. As a friend I advise you to submit to the will of the emperor. If you inform on any Christians, you will receive their wealth. I shall write to your mother and brother, asking them not to preach Christ in public. Let them practice their faith in secret.”

St Victor replied, “I want to be a preacher of Christianity like my mother and brother.” Sebastian said, “O Victor, we all know what woes await you, your mother and brother.” Then Sebastian suddenly felt a sharp pain in his eyes. He was dumbfounded, and his face was somber.

For three days he lay there blind, without uttering a word. On the fourth day he declared, “The God of the Christians is the only true God.” St Victor asked why Sebastian had suddenly changed his mind. Sebastian replied, “Because Christ is calling me.” Soon he was baptized, and immediately regained his sight. St Sebastian’s servants, after witnessing the miracle, were also baptized.

Reports of this reached Nero, and he commanded that the Christians be brought to him at Rome. Then the Lord Himself appeared to the confessors and said, “Fear not, for I am with you. Nero, and all who serve him, will be vanquished.” The Lord said to St Victor, “From this day forward, your name will be Photinus, because through you, many will be enlightened and will believe in Me.” The Lord then told the Christians to strengthen and encourage St Sebastian to peresevere until the end.

All these things, and even future events, were revealed to St Photina. She left Carthage in the company of several Christians and joined the confessors in Rome.

At Rome the emperor ordered the saints to be brought before him and he asked them whether they truly believed in Christ. All the confessors refused to renounce the Savior. Then the emperor gave orders to smash the martyrs’ finger joints. During the torments, the confessors felt no pain, and their hands remained unharmed.

Nero ordered that Sts Sebastian, Photinus and Joses be blinded and locked up in prison, and St Photina and her five sisters Anatola, Phota, Photis, Paraskeva and Kyriake were sent to the imperial court under the supervision of Nero’s daughter Domnina. St Photina converted both Domnina and all her servants to Christ. She also converted a sorcerer, who had brought her poisoned food to kill her.

Three years passed, and Nero sent to the prison for one of his servants, who had been locked up. The messengers reported to him that Sts Sebastian, Photinus and Joses, who had been blinded, had completely recovered, and that people were visiting them to hear their preaching, and indeed the whole prison had been transformed into a bright and fragrant place where God was glorified.

Nero then gave orders to crucify the saints, and to beat their naked bodies with straps. On the fourth day the emperor sent servants to see whether the martyrs were still alive. But, approaching the place of the tortures, the servants fell blind. An angel of the Lord freed the martyrs from their crosses and healed them. The saints took pity on the blinded servants, and restored their sight by their prayers to the Lord. Those who were healed came to believe in Christ and were soon baptized.

In an impotent rage Nero gave orders to flay the skin from St Photina and to throw the martyr down a well. Sebastian, Photinus and Joses had their legs cut off, and they were thrown to dogs, and then had their skin flayed off. The sisters of St Photina also suffered terrible torments. Nero gave orders to cut off their breasts and then to flay their skin. An expert in cruelty, the emperor readied the fiercest execution for St Photis: they tied her by the feet to the tops of two bent-over trees. When the ropes were cut the trees sprang upright and tore the martyr apart. The emperor ordered the others beheaded. St Photina was removed from the well and locked up in prison for twenty days.

After this Nero had her brought to him and asked if she would now relent and offer sacrifice to the idols. St Photina spit in the face of the emperor, and laughing at him, 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?”

Hearing such words, Nero gave orders to again throw the martyr down the well, where she surrendered her soul to God (ca. 66). On the Greek Calendar, St Photina is commemorated on February 26.


Fr. Steven Kostoff 

May 22, 2014


In my humble opinion, the dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4:5-42) may just be the most profound and amazing dialogue ever recorded in human history. There are, of course, the incredible Platonic dialogues that present the attractive and irrepressible figure of the philosopher Socrates and his quest for moral and ethical truth.  But with Jesus, there is someone “greater than Socrates” present. We were blessed yet again this past Sunday - the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman - to hear this passage during the Liturgy. The incomparable quality of this dialogue is based upon both the content and the identity of the two protagonists of the dialogue.  This will be discussed more fully below.  For the moment, we need to realize that this great dialogue has a carefully conceived and executed literary structure. That literary structure adds to the inherent drama, refined characterization, theological depth and overall quality of this unique and unforgettable scene in Saint John’s Gospel.  This is an inspired text that can be read over and over endlessly and still inspire the reader as it yields endless insights into the revelation that comes in and through Jesus Christ – “ the Savior of the world” (v. 42).

Jesus sat down by the well because He was “wearied” from His journey.  This “weariness” reveals the true humanity of Jesus.  Having “become flesh,” He is subject to the “blameless passions,” those weaknesses of the flesh that are inherent to our human nature within the conditions of this “fallen world.”  That would include hunger, thirst, fear, suffering and death.  Jesus is not a divine figure roaming around the world “incognito” under the illusory veil of human flesh.  He does not merely “seem” to be human.  The Word actually became flesh, therefore freely accepting the human frailty that we all experience.  Refreshing Himself at the well, Jesus was joined by a woman, a Samaritan, who came to the well to draw water and take it back to her village.  At this point, the dialogue commences between the two and, since they are at the well,  the dialogue initially centers around the theme of “water.”  As is typical in these dialogues recorded in Saint John’s Gospel, a particular word or phrase will carry a double meaning—earthly and spiritual, we could say.  Jesus informs the woman that if she had asked for a gift from God, she would have received “living water.”  The woman, thinking in earthly or natural terms, would like to receive living water, for that would mean it would be fresh and flowing, coming from a fountain or stream and not from a well or cistern.  But Jesus, who has come to reveal heavenly things, will “elevate” the dialogue to the spiritual level.  By “living water,” He is drawing on Old Testament allusions that equate water with divine wisdom and revelation.  And “living water” is also a clear reference to the Holy Spirit.  This is made explicit a bit later in the Gospel:  “He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”  Now this He said about the Spirit, which those who believe in Him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:38-39).

The Samaritan woman responds with a certain confusion.  She still cannot understand how Jesus can draw this “living water.”  (She is not even sure why Jesus would speak with her—a woman of Samaria—“for Jews had no dealings with Samaritans”).  Disregarding her objections, Jesus will further elaborate and elevate His meaning, culminating in what could serve as a magnificent definition of baptism “of water and the Spirit:” “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).

At this point the words of Jesus are beginning to penetrate the mind and heart of the Samaritan woman.  Something about Jesus and about what He is saying is attracting her to His enigmatic words.  (As the narrative progresses, she ultimately comes to believe that Jesus is the Messiah – 4: 29, 39).  Her response captures her slow movement from the earthly level to the beginning of her elevation to the spiritual level, for her “request” vocalizes a “thirst” that is progressing beyond the merely natural level:  “The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw’” (John 4:15).

As well as Saint John the Evangelist captures the distinctiveness and uniqueness of her character, the Samaritan woman is also representative of humanity “thirsting” and seeking to satisfy that thirst.  On that level, she represents the endless human quest to go to the “well” – any well – from which to draw some “water” that will sustain our search and quench our thirst for that “something more” in life.  The choices are endless.  The wells are attractively presented.  In our restlessness and spiritual confusion, we go from well to well, drinking this or that water, but always ending up with an unquenchable thirst.  As much as our secularism and pop-culture frenzy has seemingly stifled that spiritual thirst that was more apparent in the past, the human spirit is still thirsting for the Holy Spirit of God.  That is why the choices and the frenzied pursuits of the world are multiplying to a dizzying degree.  If we try hard enough, perhaps we can cover up that basic human need for the divine.  Perhaps we can make the thirst go away by drinking endlessly from a variety of wells.  Or, perhaps there is nothing “out there” to satisfy our thirst.  Perhaps the thirst is only an illusion….

Even though we are believing and practicing Orthodox Christians, do we periodically succumb to such a temptation?  Do we try and quench our own thirst at “wells” other than the well of the Gospel and the Eucharist?  Do we believe that if we travel enough,  spend enough and accumulate enough, we can fool ourselves into thinking that that will quench our thirst?  Why drink from the living water of the Gospels, when one can drink the stimulating water of a soap opera-type novel or splashy magazine?  Why drink from the cup of the Bridegroom of the Church when one can dream of luxuriating in the whirlpools of the latest “bachelorette” or “bachelor” series?  Why observe a fast of the Church when we can eat and drink to our heart’s content?  Why drink from the difficult teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, when we can easily drink from the latest self-help book or the guidance of a financial guru?  Of course, we will continue to go to church and fulfill our “religious obligations,”  but the Church may only provide a “reservoir” of water kept for emergency situations.  The real “fun” begins after and outside of Church!  These are the types of temptations that we must always be vigilant toward.  Yet, this leaves us with the question:  From where do we draw our “water?”

When the Samaritan woman eventually left the well to return to her village and tell her fellow villagers about Jesus, she left behind the water jar that she brought with her to the well.  This small detail did not escape the vigilant eye of the evangelist.  She no longer thirsted for the water from the well, but was now intent upon the living water that came through the presence and teaching of Jesus.  So she left her water jar behind to signify this.  When we worship the Father, we receive the “living water” of “Spirit and truth.”  This is an inexhaustible font of “water” that quenches our thirst for the meaning of life.  The Spirit guides in a life that is lived within the light of God’s design for the world.  It is the gift of God that we can ask Jesus for, and He will give it to us as He promised the woman of Samaria.


Source: Orthodox Church in America



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