We remember the Samaritan woman on the fourth Sunday after Pascha and on February 26 each year. The Holy Gospel has not given us the name of the Samaritan woman, but the Tradition of the Church remembers, and calls her in Greek – Photini, in Russian – Svetlana, in the Celtic languages – Fiona, in Western languages – Claire, all these names speak to us of one thing – of light. Again light, we spoke of light only two weeks ago! There is not a mention of light in the Gospel story of the Samaritan woman but, the light is there in the person of Our Lord. As in many encounters with Jesus, there is light or rather enlightenment.
St. Photini and XC
The Apolitikion for St. Photini begins with these words, “All illumined by the Holy Spirit…,” once again, light. The constant mention of this phenomenon should cause us to stop and wonder. In this meeting with Jesus, the woman at the well gained insight into her own life and into salvation history. Enlightenment can be defined as: the action or state of attaining or having attained spiritual knowledge or insight. OK, what insight did she gain. She understood the relationship of Jews and Samaritans. She knew she was living with this guy who wasn’t her husband. She well knew her marriage history. What is left? It seems to me that Photini still had doubts as to Jesus’ identity. We read her question to the city dwellers, “Can this be the Christ?” She did peak the people’s interest so that they went out to meet Jesus. After they came face to face with him and listened to him they believed.
The tradition of the Church tells us that Photini and her family were present at Pentecost. We read that St. Peter addressed the crowd by saying,”Repent and by baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2, 38) Her enlightenment was linked to her baptism, which the Church refers to as illumination. She sought forgiveness for a life away from God. This was a process beginning with her meeting with Jesus and His coming into her life and her receiving the Holy Spirit, her empowerment at Pentecost. She was on fire with Christ, but the flame had to be nurtured and fanned from a spark lit by the Light and the warmth of the Holy Spirit.
Chapters 7 and 8 of Behr-Sigel’s essays centre on the central theme of Mme. Sigel’s life, the issue of women and men in the Church. As these chapters are read, it must be pointed out that the essays were written for the most part in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The reason I call this to the mind of readers is that at that time this topic was being encouraged by the general trends in ecumenical and theological scenes world-wide. Unfortunately, the extension of this movement, a more significant role for women in the Church, led to a relativism that opened the door for the current and more difficult issue within the contemporary ecumenical setting. The newest difficulty for the Orthodox is the problem of the role of practicing homosexuals, be it their “marriage” or ordination.
Some Women Saints of the Church
The injustice is that this current development has pushed aside the valid concern of the role of women. This issue is a topic that must be faced with thoughtful study and consideration. Behr-Sigel introduces her approach to this topic with a discussion of the question of Holy Tradition vs. common tradition. This inquiry is tantamount to the consideration of the conversation about women and the Church. What is true Tradition and what is custom? Our Church is a Church of Living Tradition; from this Holy Deposit of truth springs all the teachings of the Church. The Bible, the dogmas, the teachings of the Holy Fathers and Mothers of our life as a people of God are all part of Holy Tradition. This Tradition is the sinew of faith. In addition, the life of the Church in history develops traditions with a little “t” which are the practices and customs which acculturate the Church in a time and place. There are times that these two traditions are confused. They are not only confused, but in an attempt to preserve essential Tradition, everything is zealously preserved even the non-essential. What is the true authority by which the Church is regulated? Within these two traditions, the ferment and question of the role of women becomes entangled. Did we not have women deaconesses within the Holy Tradition of our Church? Did we not see their diminished manifestation in the tradition (little t)? The Church of today must grapple with this question. Behr-Sigel asks the difficult questions, while witnessing to the process by which the Church is using to deal with these matters.The theological foundation which forms the backdrop of this conversation is the subject matter of the next few chapters.
The beginning point is, of course, the example of Jesus and His relationship with women. The essay points out correctly Our Lord dealt with the person, not with groups. He encountered individual humans, not men or women, not colours or nationalities, nothing but a personal encounter with God was the reality of coming face to face with the Messiah. Behr-Sigel rightly calls to our attention that Jesus shattered the “tradition” of His time concerning with whom he “should” associate. Women, tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes, Samaritans, lepers, those possessed by demons; none were taboo for the touch of the Master. These examples are telling us what is important is the person relationship with Christ, the encounter not the convention of society. Is this example borne out in the life of Church? What is the Tradition and what is tradition?