Wednesday, February 27, 2008

St Photina, Woman of Samaria

Although it isn't heard till Friday in the old rite, those given the Novus Ordo benefitted this 3rd Lenten Sunday just past from the Gospel passage de Samaritana concerning Our Lord's encounter with the Samaritan Woman (St John iv, 5-42); in select parts of Spain those following the Mozarabic Rite heard these salvific words on the 2nd Sunday, as do the people of the Church of Milan in their own Ambrosian Rite; the Copts must wait till the 4th Sunday of their Lent.

While it seems that at the time of the saving appearance of Christ this woman was no lady (consider her five husbands plus a de facto), according to the Greeks she was later baptized and given the new name of Φωτεινη ("enlightened" - cf. Hebrews vi, 4), for Baptism is after all the great sacrament of illumination (hence its Patristic name of Φωτισμος), drawing one from the darkness of hopeless sin and error into the Christ-light of grace and truth. Furthermore, according to various accounts, she preached the Good News until she was martyred at Carthage or Rome (her head being kept as a relic, 'tis said, at St Paul's Outside the Walls). Thus the Byzantine Menaion and Traditional Roman Martyrology revere her as St Photini (in Russian, Svetlana) or Photina respectively.

While for reasons of some paucity of evidence her mention is not found in the present ordinary form Martyrology, she is still feasted throughout Christianity, and it seems to me intrinsically plausible that one so privileged as to converse pertly and yet fruitfully with Christ would in due season be baptized and saved.

Her commemoration in the Byzantine Rite occurs on the 26th of February (when first I read of her) and on the 20th of March (in common with the West), and again on the 5th Sunday of Easter in the Byzantine Rite.

Here is her icon, and here her Apolytikion (Dismissal Hymn):

Illuminated by the Holy Spirit,
All-Glorious One,
from Christ the Saviour
you drank the water of salvation.
With open hand you give it
to those who thirst.
Great-Martyr Photini,
pray to Christ
for the salvation of our souls.

Our Lord indeed was tired and thirsty when He sat down at Jacob's well, as He toiled for our salvation; thirstiest of all was He when He cried out in death upon the Cross, thirsting more for our souls than for succour; may such labours not prove for me in vain:

Quærens me sedisti lassus,
Redemisti crucem passus;
Tantus labor non sit cassus.

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