The Samaritan Woman - 5th Sunday of Pascha - John 4:5-42

This well is very deep.

How to acquire the Holy Spirit.

The Lord puts Himself in our path.

Knowledge comes to us by degrees, a little bit at a time.



The Samaritan woman at the well.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.


Brothers and sisters, as the Samaritan woman said, “This well is very deep.” And there is much in the story; we could speak for days and not exhaust the story of the conversion of Saint Photini[1], Equal to the Apostles, the Samaritan Woman.

As in all scripture, it is good to see the part that is the most important. The story here is about how to obtain the Holy Spirit. And the Samaritan Woman did obtain the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is referred to sometimes as water, sometimes as fire. Because as water, it washes clean. As fire, it warms, and it burns away sin. In this case, the Lord referred to the Holy Spirit as Living Water.

And he met the Samaritan Woman where she was, going to the well when no one else was going at about noon, the sixth hour, because she had had five husbands and now was living with a man who was not her husband. So for her to go get water at the normal time, would subject her to ridicule. So she would sneak to the well at noon to get water. And the Lord knew this because the Lord knows all things.


The Lord puts Himself in our path.


We continually see in the Gospels where the Lord puts Himself in the path of someone who needs His help. The woman whose son had just died, the man left by the road half dead, the woman with an issue of blood. He made Himself to be present for them in their time of need.

This woman didn’t even know she had a need. She was getting by day-to-day and life was not easy for her. Anyone who goes to get water in the heat of the day obviously has some problems. Although she didn’t know what she needed, the Lord knew, and so He spoke to her on her level.

First He did something rather amazing for a Jew. The Jews considered the Samaritans to be like dogs and were very racist about them. And yet He spoke to her and said, “Give me to drink.”  - an amazing thing! She noted that, that: “The Jews don’t have anything to do with us, and You’re asking me to drink.” That was the beginning, so that they could have a conversation, so that she could learn about the Living Water.

Knowledge comes to us by degrees, a little bit at a time.


And of course I told you, the whole period of Pascha is speaking about enlightenment and how it occurs. Now, it’s different for different people.


For the myrrh-bearing women, they went to the tomb thinking they were going to anoint a dead man, not even knowing how the stone would be rolled away. But, because of their great love, they came.

Thomas couldn’t believe, but then he couldn’t go away either. He had too much love, too much yearning in his heart. So he received that which he didn’t even know that he desired, because he believed the one whom he though might be the Christ was dead.

The paralytic first was healed; then he knew that God was with him, and he knew that the cause of his illness had been his sins and that he was not to sin anymore or else a worse thing would befall him.

In every case, the common thread is that man, when presented with God, must react. We must listen. We must change because God is not some static thing, some fact which we can believe. God is life. So when we are presented with God, we must change.


And certainly in the case of the Samaritan Woman, the proper reaction to God is perhaps illustrated more than even all the rest.


Because this woman who was a sinner, who was basically an outcast in a society of outcasts, this woman, when she started to speak with Jesus and He told her bit by bit about the truth in words that she could partially understand, she had her view that was not correct. There are theological questions here that are interesting to look at, but they are a side issue. Suffice it to say that this woman like us had misconceptions; We have many misunderstandings, things we don’t know; and we don’t know that we don’t know them. But the Lord enlightened her.

Enlightenment does not complete until we change.


So the woman knew some things of the truth. He offered this Living Water, this tantalizing opportunity to not thirst again. He told her something of true worship, and then he told her to go call her husband. And she was ashamed; our services speak of it. She said, “I don’t have a husband.” That’s the truth, but not the whole truth, because she was ashamed to say what her true life circumstances were.


But the Lord gently told her, “Yes, you’ve had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband, and this you spoke truly.” So He praised her for being truthful and gently, kind of ignored that she wasn’t completely truthful. He didn’t legally upbraid her for it.

And what did she do? She said, “I perceive you are a prophet.” I am sure at this moment there was something in her heart that felt hope because she was living in a way she didn’t want to live, but she didn’t know how to get out of it. She was trapped. She lived a sinful life for many years, but she did believe she knew something of the law. She was a careful person; she asked intelligent questions, according to her level of understanding. She needed healing. And then when the Lord told her of her life, her heart must have felt this flicker of hope and warmth and maybe she could get relief.

Now, most people would not feel that. They instead would be angry that their sins had been shown. The Jews were like that, the Pharisees and Sadducees did not like when the Lord showed their hypocrisy. The people of the Gadarenes had been raising pigs unlawfully. Then the Lord removed this source of sin from them. And they knew that they had been sinning. What did they do? They were afraid but also angry, and they told the Lord to leave because they didn’t want their sins to be exposed.

The Samaritan Woman had her sin exposed. She was glad. In fact, she was so glad that she felt such relief, such hope in her heart, that she, the one who, as our services say, the Renowned One, went into the city and told everyone, “Here is a man who told me everything I did.”


Now, let’s be realistic here. If she tells someone that, they are going to say, Well, what did He tell you? So she would have to tell people of her sins in order to show that this man had told the truth about her. What nobility of soul! To be presented with your sins and to not be angry, but instead to be glad.

This is an amazing, amazing story. There aren’t many like it in the scriptures. This is how we must be. Yes, we know something of God. Okay. We know he’s Trinity. We know he’s born of a virgin. We know Jesus Christ is God and man. We know all these things. But do we live them? Have we become them?

The Lord said at one point to her, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is who sayeth unto thee, give me to drink, thou would ask, and I would give you Living Water.” Do we know the gift of God? It is not possible to know the gift of God without becoming like God, without changing as God reveals himself to us. This is what the story tells us.

If we want to have the Holy Spirit abiding in us -- and the Holy Spirit is life; without the Holy Spirit there is no life -- To have the Holy Spirit abide in us, we must, when God reveals himself to us, change. Not slink back, not be angry, not hide ourselves from God, and not cause ourselves to be distracted by this and that in life. But we must be like the Samaritan Woman. This is what the story tells us. This is the way of life.


Because salvation is not just forgiveness.


How in the world did that idea come about? A person forgiven seventy times seven is still a sinner and still bears wounds of sin and still is incomplete and hurting.

Salvation is to become changed, to become holy. To become one who used to have five husbands and lives with someone who is not their husband, to someone who becomes equal to the apostles. And full of life and purpose. This is what salvation is. Is the changing of the soul, to be perfected. But it is only possible with our participation.


God reveals Himself to us; otherwise, we would not know him. We know this. This is a fundamental dogma of our faith. But as He reveals himself to us, if we do not reveal ourselves to Him, He will stop revealing Himself. And we’ll only know facts about him. But we won’t know about life. And we won’t have the water springing up in us, the Holy Spirit.


It is only possible to have the Holy Spirit if, when God reveals himself, we change. This is Christianity.


It is not just belief. It is not just our practices, although all of those things assist us. It is when you meet God, you listen and you change, and this is what this woman did.

This is why this story is so glorious. And this is what we must compare ourselves to. How much are we like this woman?


Well, if we are honest, we know we are like her in at least one way. We sin and we have misconceptions, misunderstandings, things we don’t know. We are entangled in things like she was entangled. So we are like her, yes, absolutely.

But when she met God, she reacted with joy. You know, she came to get water. And the apostle tells us she left her water pot to go into the city because she had found the Living Water. It’s a very significant detail, one of those little pearls in the scripture. I love to read that line: “The woman left her water pot.” This is not an incidental detail. She had found the way of life, and she was becoming truly alive.

We have been presented with the way of life. How is it then that we do so many things that are not the way of life? Because we have not met God as she has. Oh, God has presented Himself to us, just as He did to her: On our level, according to our understanding. But we have not reacted to Him as she did. She turned her life upside down. She changed completely.

She reminds me of Mary of Egypt, when Mary of Egypt saw that she had been a sinner and she made the promise to the Mother of God. From that point on her life was completely changed.

When we meet God, we must change. That is what I want you to learn from this story. If you are to have the Holy Spirit in you, you must listen to what God is telling us and change.

And God help you to listen and to change. Amen.


(Grateful acknowledgement to the handmaiden of God Helen for transcribing this homily.)


Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[1] Photini, Russian: “Svetlana”, “light”