By Lambros K. Skontzos Theologian – Professor
The biblical figures of the New Testament have a special place in the holy calendar of our Church. This is because they are those who lived in the time when our Lord Jesus Christ lived in the earth, and most were related to Him.
One of these figures was also Saint Photini, the Equal-to-the-Apostles and the Great Martyr, who is also known as the Samaritan woman. She lived in the 1st century AD in Palestine.
She was born and lived in the town of Sychar, which was located north of Judea and inhabited by Samaritans, who were of Jewish origin, but over the centuries there was an intermixing with neighbouring pagan peoples. This is why they were considered apostates by the Jews, and therefore, there was hatred between the two people.
However, the Samaritans lived in a manner more closely to the pagans than to the Jews.
Samaritan Photini also lived a promiscuous life, constantly changing partners. It seems she had a reputation in the city and everyone was deriding her for her sinful life.
We have to mention that her name at the time of her meeting Jesus is unknown, though she was later christened “Photini”.
Once upon a time Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near Jacob’s well, which, according to tradition, ancestor Jacob gave to the Samaritans two thousand years ago.
Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well, and waiting for someone to come and drink water. His disciples had gone to the city to buy food and other supplies. It was a hot summer day.
It seems that the well of Jacob served as the main source for drinking water for the city dwellers. As Jesus awaited, a woman came to draw water.
It was the Samaritan woman. Jesus asked her to give him water. She was astonished, seeing a Jew, accepting to discuss with her and ask her for water, because, as we mentioned earlier, it was forbidden, because of the hatred, for the Jews to share things in common with Samaritans, who the Jews considered be intermixed.
He asked her for water, and in exchange for “living water”. When someone drinks the living water, one will never be thirsty. Jesus did not imply some kind of “miraculous” water, but His salvific Word.
Photini asked him to find the bucket to draw this “miraculous” water, since the well was deep.
Jesus found the opportunity to discuss and to reveal to her great truths, which He had not yet revealed to His disciples.
As an Omniscient God, He understood that the soul of this sinful woman was virgin and fertile to accept the word of God. He knew that she was to become His apostle in Samaria, and this is why He made these revelations.
She revealed to her the spiritual nature of God and the need for His spiritual worship, which does not require a specific place that was defined until then. He revealed himself as the Messiah of the prophets. He told her all that He knew about her private life in order to persuade her.
After that, Photini went back to the city and began crying, yelling and announcing that the Messiah had come to her, and in order to persuade her, He told her things about her private life.
She managed to persuade many city dwellers to come to see and hear Jesus, to whom many believed. Jesus stayed in Sychar two days preaching.
Photini, improved her conduct, abandoned her promiscuous life and became prudent. It is said that he had five sisters, Anatoli, Photo, Photida, Paraskevi and Kiriaki, and two sons, Photinos and Joses. She managed to convince both her sisters and her children that the Messiah who came was Jesus.
After the death on the Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus, Photini, along with her sisters and her children, went to Jerusalem. On the holy day of the Pentecost they heard the sermon of Peter the Apostle and were among the three thousand people who were baptized and joined the Church.
He then asked the apostles to work as a missionary. She went with her sisters and her children to Syria, where they spread the word of God and turned many into the new faith.
Then they went to Phenicia, to other regions of Palestine, Egypt, Carthage, and eventually arrived in Rome, the heart of the Roman Empire. Everywhere preached with fervor and enthusiasm the faith in Jesus the Saviour, whom revealed her the God’s mysteries, by converting a multitude of idolaters and Jews into Christianity.
She often travelled outside of Rome. During the time of the emperor Nero (54-68), who displayed excessive cruelty against Christians, she lived in Carthage. Victor’s great son was ranked in the Roman army, and was appointed military commander.
The insane Nero was the first to call the first persecutor of Christians, wanting a pretext to cover up his responsibility and blame the devastation on the Christian community in the city He ordered the army officers to execute his order and persecute the Christians.
Victor, who was also a military officer in Roman army, was called by Nero to Italy to arrest and punish Christians. He refused. In vain, his friend, Sebastian, tried to persuade him to submit to the will of the emperor. In the end, Sebastian was convinced to become a Christian! Meanwhile, Victor was baptized and christened Photinos.
At Rome the emperor ordered the two officers, Photini, her sisters and her children be brought before him. They stood before him and confessed their faith in Christ.
They have been subjected to horrible and inhuman torture. Miracles took place during their martyrs, so many idolaters converted into Christianity. Both Saint Photini and her relatives sacrificed their lives for Christ. Saint Photini and her family are commemorated on February 26 and Fifth Sunday of Pascha, the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman.