Abbot Mark Kerr
Homily for Sunday of the Samaritan Woman (St. Luke of Simferopol)
By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea (Delivered on June 3, 1945)
Is it possible to remain calm and indifferent while listening to the conversation of the Lord Jesus Christ with the Samaritan woman (see John 4:5–42)? This is one of His most important and deepest discourses. Our hearts should be filled with amazement before the mystery and depth of His words.
The Lord walked on a long journey from Jerusalem to Galilee, walked through the mountains, in a hot season, and, tired, on a hot afternoon, sat down to rest at the well of Jacob near the city of Sychar. A Samaritan woman came up to draw water from the well. Jesus asked for a drink. The Samaritan woman was surprised: "How can You, being a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink? After all, the Jews do not communicate with the Samaritans" (John 4:9). The Lord answered: "If you knew Who says to you: 'Give Me a drink,' you yourself would ask Him, and He would give you living water" (John 4:10).
The Samaritan woman does not understand these words, considering the Interlocutor an ordinary Jewish wanderer. How does He say that she herself must ask for living water? What kind of living water? She asks with surprise: “Can you get water from the well? You have nothing to draw, and the well is deep. Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well? Who are you?" (see John 4:11). What is the answer of the Lord Jesus Christ? "Whoever drinks this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks the water that I will give him will never be thirsty; but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into eternal life" (John 4:13-14).
The Samaritan woman still continues to think only of fresh spring water and, amazed that the Lord can give her such water that will stop her thirst, she asks Him: "Give me this water so that I will not have thirst and not come here to draw" (John 4:15). He did not speak of simple water, but of that which the Samaritan woman had never thought of, which was completely unknown to her. He, as on the feast of Mid-Pentecost, spoke of water flowing unto eternal life. The holy Apostle John the Theologian will later say the same about this in the Apocalypse, depicting the Heavenly Jerusalem: he saw a pure river of life, bright as a crystal, proceeding from the Throne of God and the Lamb, and the tree of life growing on its bank, which brings forth fruits every month and these feed with mysterious fruits all the righteous who have been honored to enter the New Jerusalem (cf. Rev. 22:2–14).
What is this wonderful water? Everyone knows that nothing living can exist without water. Without water, the life of our body is impossible, because those complex processes in which its life is manifested depend on it. In nature, the law of constant motion is fundamental: everything flows, everything changes, nothing is at rest. Even a stone only seems to be unchanged, because in its depths there is an incessant movement. To arise and move, it must be under the power of a driving force. So, in the physical world, movement does not stop for a moment.
And how could it be otherwise in the life of our spirit? Is it possible to think that our spirit is motionless? After all, this would be a violation of universal law. And in our spirit there is an uninterrupted movement directed towards eternal life, so that, as it improves, it approaches the Spirit of God, and thereby realizes the highest goal of its creation. Our spiritual growth, our movement along the path of goodness, virtue, mercy, worship of God indicated by the Lord Jesus Christ is the highest form of movement in the whole world, and it also needs a source. It is about this source of the life of the spirit that the Lord Jesus Christ speaks, meaning by water the living grace of the Holy Spirit, which serves as the source of all energy in the direction of good to the Throne of God.
No Christian can or should remain spiritually inactive. Even the apostle Paul said about himself: "I count not myself yet to have laid hold" (Phil. 3:13). He always strived forward on the path to God. This commandment is for us too.
The Samaritan woman does not understand anything, but she is still amazed at the extraordinary words of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then He says: "Go, call your husband and come hither" (John 4:16). She replies: "I have no husband" (John 4:17). - "You told the truth that you have no husband, for you had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband" (John 4:17-18). The woman is smitten. “So this is a prophet, for He said everything that happened in my life!” And the structure of her thoughts suddenly changes. "If this is a prophet, then He can remove all doubt." And she says, "Lord! I see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you say that the place where worship should be is in Jerusalem" (John 4:19–20).
It was established among the Jews that in all Palestine there should be one single temple - Jerusalem - and only here should sacrifices be made. And the Samaritans believed that it was necessary to worship on Mount Gerizim, which towered over the place where the Lord Jesus Christ spoke with the Samaritan woman. And see what Jesus answers her: "Believe me, the time is coming when you will worship the Father not on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, but the time will come and has already come when true worshipers will worship in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is a Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:21–24).
These words of the Lord did not fit into the consciousness of the people of that time: neither the Jews nor the Samaritans. For the ancient law of Moses was to a large extent ritual: containing the great truths of the knowledge of God and the great commandments, at the same time it prescribed a whole series of ritual service to God. And people thought that salvation consisted in the fulfillment of all the rites prescribed by law, that it was enough to come to the Jerusalem temple for the feasts. They could not comprehend more and did not understand at all that there is another form of worship of God - in spirit and in truth.
Why was this ancient law given to the Jews, and why was it largely ceremonial? This happened at a time when people were mostly still spiritual babies, uncultured, incapable of knowing the higher secrets of being. Just as small children are fed with milk, so the infant Jewish people had to be given a law that could be understood by them - a ritual law. But behind the rites, in the depths of this law, were hidden the great mysteries of the knowledge of God, which still remain unshakable in the New Testament. The same explains the dispute that arose between the Jews and the Samaritans about the place of worship of God.
What does it mean to worship God in spirit and in truth? God is a Spirit, and man is a spirit limited in his body; man is a particle of the Spirit of God. Worship of God is the worship of the Spirit of God on the part of the human spirit, and it consists in the fact that the human spirit enters into communion with the Spirit of God, and this becomes possible when it is cleansed and sanctified by repentance, constant prayer and striving to fulfill the commandments of Christ.
Worship must be done in truth. What is the truth, you heard from the mouth of Christ: "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life" (John 14:6). And serving God in truth should be a procession along the path of suffering and spiritual exploits indicated by the Lord to that eternal Divine Truth, which Jesus Christ revealed to the world.
The unfortunate sectarians, perishing in their pride, do not understand the words of the Lord about worshiping God in spirit and in truth, rejecting all service to God in the form in which we serve Him: they reject churches, do not seek the grace of God in the Mysteries, and think that they have access to direct communion with the Spirit of God. They left the Church, and came up with their own wild and absurd ways of serving supposedly in the spirit. Khlysts, of whom there are many in our diocese, believe that they can attract the Spirit of God to themselves by ugly dances, twirling and running around in a circle, leading them into a frenzy; this makes them dizzy and fall down. Coming to this state, they say: "The Holy Spirit has rolled over us." That's how perverted you can get.
We will remain faithful to our Church and go to the Source of living water. The great ascetic of piety, Bishop Theophan the Recluse, said beautifully about this: “Whoever thirsts for anything, no matter how contrary to the Spirit of the Lord, will certainly find satisfaction. If you are thirsty for knowledge, go to the Lord, for He is the only Light that truly enlightens every person. If you are thirsty for cleansing from sins and quenching the burning of conscience, go to the Lord, for He lifted up the sins of the whole world on a tree and tore their handwriting. If you are thirsty for peace of heart, go to the Lord, for He is the Treasure, the possession of which will make you forget all hardships and despise all blessings in order to possess Him alone. Whoever needs strength, He has all strength. Glory - He has the glory of the world. Liberty - He is the Giver of true freedom. He will solve all our perplexities, dissolve the bonds of passions, dispel all sorrows, allow us to overcome all obstacles, all the temptations and intrigues of the enemy, and level the path of our spiritual life. Let us all go to the Lord!" Amen.
This homily was translated by John Sanidopoulos and originally posted to his site, Mystagogy Resource Center, on 14 May 2023.
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Icon of the Samaritan Woman.