Christ is Risen!
This morning’s Gospel Reading is one of my favorites. It is broad, it is deep and there is so much that we could speak about in it; however, I would like to focus on how God reveals St. Photine to be a theologian, despite her utter lowliness.
St. John very specifically says that is about the sixth hour when St. Photine comes to the well. In other words, it is about noon — the hottest time of the day. This is not the time to go gather water. Any one who has ever hauled water knows that it is pretty heavy. You don’t want to be hauling water at the hottest time of day because it will make the hard work of getting water even harder. The normal time for getting water was early in the morning or late in the evening when it was cooler.
The reason that St. John points this out is to call our attention to the fact that this woman is so ashamed of her status — that she is living in adultery and that she has had five husbands — that she goes to the well when she knows that no one else will be there. This way she can avoid encountering anybody and have to face her status and her shame.
This compounds all of these marks against her:
- She’s a woman. In the eyes of the Jews and the ancient world, she is a second class citizen.
- She’s a Samaritan. This is worse than being a Gentile. The Samaritans were seen as “fake Jews” — the mixed bloods and half-breeds that worship on Mt. Gerizim instead of in the Temple.
- On top of these, she is adulterer.
She is the lowest of the low.
Yet, Jesus comes to her and starts to have this conversation with her. Now things become interesting, because when He tells her that He knows she’s had five husbands, and that she is living with a sixth man who is not her husband, instead of defending herself or saying “how do you know that?” or “who told you that?” or being embarrassed, she asks a theological question:
The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” — John 4:19-20
What is the correct way of worship? How should we worship God? Even in her lowliness, her mind is focused on higher things. Thus, whenever we find ourselves at the bottom, the place where we should be looking is towards God. We should be putting our minds towards Him.
God gives us an interesting answer to St. Photine’s question, what is the correct way to worship? Christ says:
The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth — John 4:23
I’ll start with the second one — truth. I have said this before and I will say it again: Truth is not an idea, it is not something that we get from philosophy, it is not something that we get through science and it is not something that we can prove or disprove. Truth is a person — our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. He has told us that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Thus, correct worship is in truth — in Jesus Christ. The way we get there is in spirit.
Throughout the Gospel we see the Holy Spirit coming in front of Christ, paving the way for Him. At the Annunciation, it is the Holy Spirit that descends upon Mary so that she becomes pregnant with the Christ (Luke 1:35). At the baptism of Christ, it is the Holy Spirit that descends upon Him in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22, John 1:33). At the beginning of His ministry, it is the Holy Spirit that leads Him into the desert to fast for forty days (Matthew 4:1, Mark 1:12, Luke 4:1).
It is the Holy Spirit that leads us and brings us to our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. Our entry into the Church is our baptism and chrismation when we are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. We speak of the Holy Spirit all the time and throughout the liturgy. We implore that God send us His Holy Spirit. Let us read the prayer of the Proskomide — the prayer of preparation:
Lord, God Almighty, You alone are holy. You accept a sacrifice of praise from those who call upon You with their whole heart. Receive also the prayer of us sinners and let it reach Your holy altar. Enable us to bring before You gifts and spiritual sacrifices for our sins and for the transgressions of the people. Make us worthy to find grace in Your presence so that our sacrifice may be pleasing to You and that Your good and gracious Spirit may abide with us, with the gifts here presented, and with all Your people.
It is through the Holy Spirit that the whole liturgy is made possible and manifest. Let us now read the prayer where we ask God to make the Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood:
Once again we offer to You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood, and we ask, pray, and entreat You: send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here presented.
And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ. Amen.
And that which is in this cup the precious Blood of Your Christ. Amen.
Changing them by Your Holy Spirit. Amen. Amen. Amen.
We worship in spirit. We participate in the Holy Spirit and through the Holy Spirit, we live in Jesus Christ — the Truth.
Today, we also celebrate one of my favorite saints, a guy I have spent a lot of time getting to know — St. Athanasius the Great. He was one of the guys leading the charge against those who claimed that Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are not God, one in essence with the Father. One of the arguments that he made was that the whole purpose of Christ going to the cross and resurrecting was so that we could participate in the Holy Spirit. If either of them are just creatures, it renders all of Christianity meaningless. The Holy Spirit is God. By participating in Him, through Him we can be in and with Jesus Christ and do the will of the Father. I mention St. Athanasius because he informs us of a practical way to worship in spirit.
He wrote a letter to his friend Marcellinus on the psalms. He tells us that the Psalms should be prayed and should be chanted, due to their unique status in Scripture. They have the things that other parts of Scripture have — history, prophecy and the Law. What makes them unique is that they are written with human emotion. We will find the whole range — from joy to sorry, to anger and to despair. This allows us to take these words and make them our own. When we feel despair, we can read a Psalm that speaks about despair and make those words our words. Since these words are inspired by the Holy Spirit, we participate in Him by making those words our own.
This pattern is also true about our hymns and our services. Our hymns and services are to the Fathers what the Psalms are to Scripture. Our hymns are full of joy and wonder — human emotion. When we sing them and make these words our words we speak with the voice of the Fathers and those generations of Christian who came before us. We participate in the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit we live and walk in Jesus Christ.
So, let us today learn how to make these words set before us in the Psalms and the hymns and the services of our great and holy Orthodox Church our own. Make them our words. Own them. Feel them. Worship in spirit and in truth. Amen.