The Orthodox Pages

email: pater@christopherklitou.com 

 TALK ON THE READINGS FOR

SUNDAY OF THE SAMARITAN WOMAN

 14th MAY 2009

Homepage

 

   Back                     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



After Jerusalem, the town which played the most important role in the spreading of the Gospel and in strengthening the Church of Christ was Antioch. It was one of the most beautiful towns of the Greek, Roman and Byzantine eras. It was well populated, wealthy with beautifully constructed buildings and adorned with a volume of artistic treasures and monuments, and was a centre of learning. It was one of the most well known cities of the Mediterranean basin and third in importance after Rome and Alexandria. Antioch was built in 293BC on the eastern side of the Orontes River near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great’s generals. After Alexander's death in 323 BC, his generals divided up the territory he had conquered. Seleucus I Nicator won the territory of Syria, and he proceeded to found four “sister cities” in north-western Syria, one of which was Antioch, named after his father Antiochus. The majority of its citizens were Greek settlers from Ionia, Crete and Athens, but there were also Syrians and many Jews and settlers from other places. Because of its strong Greek influence, it was also known as the Syrian Athens and because of its position in the Eastern Mediterranean it became a important centre for trade and commerce and for education and culture. But wherever wealth is concentrated there is always a lot of corruption. So like the ancient cities of Greece, Antioch with its strong cosmopolitan character, suffered a great moral and ethical decline. This Sunday’s Apostolic reading refers to the founding of the Antiochian Church. From then on it became, after Jerusalem, the first centre of the Apostolic campaign to spread the Gospel.
The Church of Antioch will grow very rapidly and will play an important role in the life and action of the Catholic Church. It was the hometown of the Evangelist Luke who wrote the Acts of the Apostles as it was also the hometown of St. John Chrysostom and St. John of Damascus and many more great Church Fathers. In the third century it founded the famous theological school which contributed in the development and growth of Christian thought, of interpretation of Scripture and the fight against the heresies. Such was the importance of the Antiochian Church that it was recognized as one of the five ancient Patriarchates, and of the four that remain today, Antioch holds the third position of honour. So with that as an introduction to Antioch, let’s hear the reading for this Sunday which is from the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 11, verses 19-30.

“In those days, the Apostles which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the LORD Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord. Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.”


19) “In those days, the Apostles which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.”
L
uke, who as already mentioned, is the author of the Acts of the Apostle and a son of Antioch, wants to give us the history of the founding of the Church of Antioch. He attempts to chronologically link together the beginnings of the Christian preaching in the Syrian Capital with what had just recently taken place in the Church of Jerusalem. In other words the martyrdom and death of Stephen, the persecution of the Church that immediately followed, the preaching and conversion of Samaria, the journeys of St. Peter to Lydda and Joppa, which we heard of in last weeks reading, and his journey into Caesarea, which resulted in the conversion of the first gentiles to the Christian faith. The persecution that followed Stephens’s death resulted in the scattering of the Apostles and many Christians of Jerusalem to many other places. Through God’s providence, such a painful event for the first Disciples of Christ was to have a wonderful continuance: the spreading of the Gospel and the increase of the Church.

The places where the persecuted Apostles took refuge on abandoning Jerusalem were Phenice, Cyprus and Antioch. Phenice or rather the land that remained of the Ancient Phoenician civilization consisted of a large strip of land along the Mediterranean coast stretching from the north-west of Palestine to Lebanon. The main Phoenician towns were Tyre and Sidon, Beirut, Byblos and Tripolis. During the time of Christ and the Apostles, it was part of the Roman province of Syria and inhabited with many Jews. By using the geography of the region it is not difficult for us to work out the journey of the Gospel preachers. From Jerusalem they went to Samaria and from there to Caesarea where by boat the visited the Phoenician towns of Ptolemais, Tyre and Sidon. From here some set sail for Cyprus and others via Seleucia went to Antioch. The Persecuted disciples, in spite of the trials they underwent and their departure from Jerusalem, continued their work of preaching the Gospel, but still only to the Jews of those regions. In chapter 10 of the Acts up to the verses just before today’s reading, Luke tells us of Peter’s visit to Cornelius and how God revealed to him that the Gentiles must also be accepted as members of Christ’s Church, but now with Luke’s testimony we are told that only the Jews of the places mentioned received the word. We can then only assume that the departure of the disciples from Palestine happened before Peter visited Cornelius and so before God made it clear to him that the Gospel was to be preached freely also to the Gentiles.
20) “And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the LORD Jesus.”
A
mong the persecuted Christians who reached Antioch were some who were originally from Cyprus and Cyrene. Cyrene was the Capital of an ancient Greek colony of the African country known today as Libya. From the names mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, we know that Barnabas (Acts 4:36) and Mnason (Acts 21:16) came from Cyprus, Lucius from Cyrene (Acts 13:1) and Nicholas, (Acts 6:5) one of the Seven Deacons came from Antioch.
On reaching Antioch, the Cypriot and Cyrenian men began to preach the Lord Jesus to the Greek speaking Jews. When speaking of the ministry of preaching, Luke mentions in other places that they preached the Gospel or they preached the word, but here he says that they preached the Lord Jesus. In other words, the content of their preaching was the Person of Jesus, the cross and his Resurrection. The Christian preaching is not some abstract idea or an ethical concept of what is right and wrong, but the person of Christ and the sacred historical events which brought about the salvation of the world and which rendered man once again a partaker of eternal life and an heir of the kingdom.
21) “And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.”
I
n the work of preaching the Gospel, the Cypriot and Cyrenian men had with them the power and blessing of the Lord. The expression “hand of the Lord” was a Jewish expression and here it wants to show the strength which the Lord gave to these ministers of the Gospel. This power and strength of the Lord was made manifest with miracles so that their listeners would believe their word. Now these men were not of the Apostolic circle, and from what we can assume they were just ordinary, but fervent and passionate Christians. Even so the grace of God guided their missionary work and richly blessed their efforts. Through their preaching of the divine word, strengthened by the hand of the Lord, many of the Antiochians believed and returned to the Lord.
22) “Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.”
T
he news of the success the preaching of the Gospel had in Antioch reaches the members of the Church of Jerusalem. In fact the first Christian community watched very carefully the conversion of the gentiles (Acts 11:1) and as on other occasions once again expresses her interest in maintaining a relationship with the other Churches. On these other occasions the ties were established personally by the Apostles, (Acts 8:14, 9:32) but here, for reasons not mentioned by Luke, the first Church only sends a representative who is not even an Apostle. St. John Chrysostom asks: “Why, when such a great city as Antioch was receiving the word, did not the Apostles come, but instead sent Barnabas”? And he answer: “Because of the Jews”. It seems the Apostles thought that the time had not yet come for them to expand the area of their mission beyond the borders of Judea. Yet at the same time they thought it appropriate and their obligation to be concerned for all Christians, even those who came from the ranks of the gentiles. Barnabas was deemed as the most suitable to be sent to Antioch. Without a doubt, by choosing Barnabas, they took into account his spiritual gifts and capability, but also his nationality. He was Cypriot, a Greek speaking Jew, thus he was the most suitable to understand and watch the missionary efforts in Antioch which his fellow countrymen began.
23) “Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.”
B
arnabas reaches Antioch and immediately he is verified of the wonderful results from the efforts of the Cypriot and Cyrenian men. By the expression he “had seen the grace of God” Luke means the great number of the Antiochians who believed and the zeal that discerned them. If the grace of God is not working within a man, then he can neither believe nor live the new life in Christ. But when the energy of God’s grace is there then others can perceive it just as a tree is recognizable by its fruit. So taking part in the Christian gatherings in Antioch, by talking with them, by observing their personal and family life, Barnabas could see the progress made and was glad and encouraged and urged the new disciples to remain faithful to the Lord with their whole heart and soul. Encouragement as a way of teaching is a method which finds particular response from people: it respects the divine gift of man’s freedom and at the same time commends them to continue with their praiseworthy efforts which serves in strengthening the Church. Barnabas had the special gift of knowing how to encourage; in fact his name was a Jewish name meaning the Son of Consolation or the Son of Encouragement. (Acts 4:36)
24) “For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.”
T
he present verse consists of a short but concise laudation for Barnabas. Over and above his natural qualities and capabilities that he had, he stood out for the goodness of his character. His goodness is verified by his action to sell his land and give the money to be distributed to the poor (Acts 4:37)
Barnabas was not only a good man, but also full of the Holy Spirit and faith: a combination of true and sincere piety and genuine kind-heartedness. Goodness and love are only genuine and steadfast when they are the fruit of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our heart. As also any other natural virtues a man might have, they are not enough and are ineffectual on the road for holiness and salvation, if at the same time the person does not partake of the life-giving grace of the Holy Spirit. Barnabas’ virtues, the graces of the Holy Spirit of which he was full and his fervent faith are all those things which contributed to his successful mission in Antioch. How successful and fruit bearing his stay in Antioch was is made clear in the second half of the verse “and much people was added to the Lord”. His personality, his authority and his presence in the renowned city increased dramatically the numbers of the members of the Antiochian Church.
25) “Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:”
T
he growth of the Church in Antioch brought with it an increase of missionary workload for Barnabas. Foreseeing that he would not be able to competently carry out the work of the Gospel on his own, he remembers Paul who he had personally met in Jerusalem and was convinced of his sincere return to Christ and also of his great capabilities.
From what Paul himself tells us, (Gal. 1:21) after his visit to Jerusalem he went to Syria and Cilicia. How long he stayed there and when exactly he accepted Barnabas’ invitation to go to Antioch is difficult to pinpoint but the view of various interpreters puts the year around 43AD.
Barnabas needs to seek for Paul who had withdrawn and lived in isolation and as he himself says he: “was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ” (Gal. 1:22). Barnabas eventually finds him and invites him to go with him to Antioch which Paul accepts.
26) “And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”
O
nce before, Barnabas found Paul and took him to Jerusalem before the Apostles. Now this second time he finds him and takes him to Antioch. These two occasions comprise important moments in the historical journey not only of the Church but of all humanity. Barnabas is indeed revealed as a man guided by the Holy Spirit, endowed with the gift of discernment, capable of foreseeing what Paul’s invitation to Antioch would mean for the spreading of Christianity. A man of genuine virtue, he is not afraid of the possibility of being overshadowed and taking second place. Above every personal ambition he places the progress of the Gospel and the establishment of the Church. And it is for this reason that not only does he accept to work together with Paul. but it was he who pursued to seek out Paul.
The stay and collaboration of these two men in Antioch lasted for one complete year. They took part in the assemblies of the faithful of the Church, in other words the gatherings for the common worship and prayer and taught the Gospel of salvation without resting. The rich results of Barnabas’ and Paul’s joint missionary efforts are not only implied by the words that they “taught much people” but is also testified by the fact that the disciples of the new faith now included a great many of the Gentiles and had to be discerned from the Jews and so for the first time received a separate name and were called Christians.
It stands to reason that the name was given to the disciples of Christ from the Greeks, in other words the gentile inhabitants of Antioch and not from the Jews who called the followers of Christ Nazarenes. Just as today so also then, it was usual for followers of a certain man to be called with a name that derives from their leaders Name. Thus it was natural for the faithful of Antioch to be called Christians and thereby declaring their faith, love and devotion to Christ. The way in which Luke mentions the name does not allow us to think that it was originally used condescendingly, but it is not impossible. Whatever the intentions of the people who first thought up the name, the members of the Church of Christ accepted it and since then until today bear the name with pride and joy. With the name of Christian, the faithful manifest their faith and love towards their saviour Jesus Christ and their will to live according to the Gospel and their hope in his promises.
27) “And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.
T
he life of the first church is marked with various extraordinary and wonderful events which were the fruits of the presence of the Holy Spirit with the aim of strengthening the faith and the expansion of the Church. One of these events is now mentioned here by Luke during the time of Barnabas’ and Paul’s stay in Antioch. It is the arrival from Jerusalem of certain Christian prophets to the church of Antioch. From what we can assume from the text, they came to Antioch through their own initiative. As we are told in other places in the Acts of the Apostles, there were prophets in Jerusalem as there was later in Antioch, in Ephesus and in Caesarea who were Christians that prophesized by being inspired by the Holy Spirit. This can only be the fulfilment of the prophecy by Joel mentioned in chapter 2 of the Acts: “And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” (Acts 2:18) Just like the Prophets of the Old Testament so too the Christian prophets announced the future, that is, mainly events that concerned the life of the Church. At the same time they also exercised other roles e.g. encouraging and giving support to the disciples.(Acts 15:32)
As Priests, we are often asked if there are prophets in the Church today and if there are, then is this not in contradiction to what Jesus said: “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.” (Matthew 11:13) In other words John the Baptist was the last of the prophets so how can there now be mention of Christian prophets in the New Testament? The presence of prophets in the New Testament does not contradict what Christ said, because what he meant was that John the Baptist was the last of the prophets who foretold of his coming into the world.
28) “And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.”
A
mong the prophets who came to Antioch was a certain man named Agabus. As a prophet, Agabus is mentioned one more time in the Acts of the Apostles. (21: 10-11) During one of the assemblies of the Antioch Christians, Agabus stands up and signifies which here means “with some sort of sign” and announces by the Holy Spirit that there was to be a great famine in all the world. The term world or universe in the New Testament often has different meanings. Here it should be understood as meaning Judaea and the bordering countries or the Roman Empire which was the civilized world of that time. Agabus’ prophecy came to pass during the reign of Claudius Caesar. Claudius was the fourth Roman emperor and ruled from 41-54AD. His full name was Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. During his reign there were four famines in various places of the empire. The famine mentioned by Agabus was the second and happened in the fourth year of Claudius’ reign and extended mostly in Syria and Judaea.
The fifth century historian Orosius mentions this famine in Syria which occurred in 46 and 47 A.D. A translation of Orosius was later made by King Alfred of England during the middle ages and was quoted in what is known as “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle”. The Chronicle lists British history from 1 A.D. to 1154 A.D. and contains the following remarks:
“A.D. 46: In this year, Claudius, the second Roman emperor to invade Britain, put much of the island under his control and added the Orkneys to Rome’s kingdom. This took place in the fourth year of his rule. In this same year, a great famine in Syria took place which Luke mentions in his book, “The Acts of the Apostles.” Due to his incompetence, the Emperor Claudius Nero almost lost control of the British isle.
29) “Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea:”
T
he famine which mainly struck Judaea gave cause to the Antiochians to express their brotherly support to the Christians of Judaea. They decided that each person should contribute according to his ability and send whatever was collected thus with this help they would bring some relief to their Judean brothers. This testimony by Luke tells us that the Christian community of Antioch did not introduce the common ownership of goods which was adopted by the Church in Jerusalem “where no one said that the things he possessed was his own but had everything in common.” (Acts 4: 32) In Antioch everyone held on to whatever possessions he had and according to his ability contributed to the common efforts of the Church. In our talk two weeks ago we saw the importance the Church gave to the ministry of preaching but also to the ministry of serving. The ministry of serving is the care and relief of the needy. In the words of St. Paul it means the contributions that were made for the poor. (Rom. 15: 25-28) The concern and care of the Antiochians was not directed only to their brothers in Jerusalem but also to all those scattered throughout Judaea. It is reasonable to say that the first and foremost duty of every local Church is to take care of her own members in need. Even so, the spirit of Christ’s love requires that this care is extended beyond her borders when the need arises for we are all members of the one body of Christ and we are obliged to become partakers of the joys and hardships of our other brethren. St. John Chrysostom say: “Look at how the famine became for them a cause for salvation, a cause for them to show charity, an occasion for many good things. They had only just come to believe and immediately they bore fruit: and not only for their own people, but also for those who were distant.
30) “Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.”
T
he decision of the Antiochian Christians becomes an act of reality. The product of love is loaded to be transported to Jerusalem by Barnabas and Paul. This event, in other words the choice of the two most important persons to carry out the mission for the famine relief, verifies the understanding the Antiochians had for the value of the load and the seriousness of the mission in aid of their poor brethren.
This journey to Jerusalem will be Paul’s second after his conversion, but neither Luke nor Paul in his letters make mention of the actual visit. Paul possibly keeps silent because he didn’t meet up with Peter but only with the Elders and also possibly because the purpose of the journey was to deliver with Barnabas the famine relief sent by the Church of Antioch.
But why was the mission made to the elders and not to the Apostles? Two explanations can be given, the first that none of the Apostles were in Jerusalem because of the persecution of the church mentioned in the following chapter which seems rather unlikely, or second because the Apostles were no longer involved with the serving of tables which was now the responsibility of the elders.
But who were these elders? In the Greek they are called Πρεσβύτεροι which properly translated does indeed mean elders, but it is also the official title of Priests which in English has also retained the Greek form of Presbyter. The Presbyters which are mentioned here for the first time had ecclesiastical - liturgical duties. Now because the Acts of the Apostles is silent concerning the introduction of this new ecclesiastical order, the opinion was formulated that it came about in imitation of the council of elders who were at the head of the Jewish synagogue and were mentioned in order after the high priests and so in a similar way the Christian Presbyters were mentioned after the Apostles.
After this first mention of the Presbyters, we come across them many times. We see them together with the Apostles, playing an important role in the first Apostolic Synod held in Jerusalem. We see them again in Jerusalem together with James who was the first bishop of Jerusalem, we see also many that were ordained by Paul and Barnabas in the Churches of Lystra, Iconium, Antioch, Pisidia and Ephesus (Acts 14: 23) which means that there were also Presbyters in the other newly formed churches.


This Sunday’s Gospel reading is the account of the Samaritan woman who went to Jacob’s well to draw water and there met Jesus who told her that instead of the water from the well he would give her living water so that she would never thirst again. The reading is very long and we don’t have time to analyse it properly so I think it would be better to leave the analyses for another time and instead, after hearing the Gospel so that it is fresh in our minds for Sunday, I will tell you what became of the Samaritan woman after her conversion to the Christian faith.
The reading is from the Gospel according to St. John, chapter 4, verses 5-42.


“At that time, Jesus cometh to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour. There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. (For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.) Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw. Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly. The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he. And upon this came his disciples, and marvelled that he talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her? The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? Then they went out of the city, and came unto him. In the mean while his disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat. But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of. Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him ought to eat? Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours. And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did. So when the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days. And many more believed because of his own word; And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”

So what became of the Samaritan woman after her encounter with Christ? Well she did indeed drink of the living water. At some time after she was baptized into the Christian faith and received the name Photini which means bright and refers to her being enlightened. In Russian the name Photini is Svetlana, so if you know any Svetlanas give them a ring on Sunday and wish them a happy name day. During the time of the emperor Nero (54-68), Photini lived in Carthage, Africa where she dedicated her life to spreading the Gospel. She had two sons of whom the youngest named Joses lived with her and the oldest named 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.
An official in Italy named Sebastian said to 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.” Victor replied, “I too want to be a preacher of Christianity like my mother and brother.” Sebastian wanting to put fear into Victor told him that if he doesn’t renounce Christ then we all know what suffering awaits you, your mother and brother.” At this, Sebastian suddenly felt a sharp pain in his eyes and became blind and also lost the sense of speech.
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.” Victor asked him why suddenly he had changed his mind, and Sebastian replied, “Because Christ is calling me.” Soon he was baptized, and immediately regained his sight. 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 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 Sebastian to persevere until the end.
All these things, and even future events, were revealed to Photini. She left Carthage in the company of several Christians including her five sisters 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 Saviour. 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 Sebastian, Photinus and Joses be blinded and locked up in prison, and Photini 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 Photini 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 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 a rage Nero gave orders to flay the skin from St Photini and to throw the martyr down a well. Sebastian, Photinus and Joses had their legs cut off, and they were thrown to dogs. The sisters of St Photini also suffered terrible torments. Nero gave orders to cut off their breasts and then to flay their skin. An expert in cruelty, the emperor prepared the fiercest execution for 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 Photini 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 Photini spit in the face of the emperor, and laughing at him, said, “O most impious of the blind, you degenerate 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).
St Photini is also commemorated on February 26 together with her sons and sisters and others who received martyrdom with them.