Talk on the Samaritan Woman: The True Worship of God

What does the tale of the Samaritan Woman teach us? Archpriest Pavel Velikanov discusses the Gospel reading of today’s Liturgy.

Gospel of St. John, Chapter 4:5-42

5 So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.

Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

11 The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? 12 Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”

17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.”

Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”

19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”

21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.”

26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”

27 And at this point His disciples came, and they marvelled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why are You talking with her?”

28 The woman then left her water pot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, 29 “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” 30 Then they went out of the city and came to Him.

31 In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.”

32 But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”

33 Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?”

34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! 36 And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37 For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you have not laboured; others have laboured, and you have entered into their labours.”

39 And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.”40 So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of His own word.

42 Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”

velikanovIn today’s Gospel reading we hear the Saviour affirm unexpectedly that He is the Messiah.  This declaration takes place before a woman who, it would seem, is an enemy of any right-believing Jew – a Samaritan.  During this conversation the subjects of truly serving God, of the place of this servitude, and the conditions of pleasing God are discussed.

I would like to draw your attention to a comment that the Saviour makes, “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.”  These words reveal the paradigm of true religious life.  You often come across people who are convinced in their arrogance that religious life, that church services, and that everything an Orthodox Christian’s life revolves around, are imperfect factors, important only for those who have not reached a complete freedom in spirit.  In reality, it is the very self-deception that Christ the Saviour warns us about today.  We must do more than worship some kind of personal experience, a personal sensation of the Divine.  We must know who it is we believe, who it is that we worship, and who it is really that gives us Divine answers.

True worship of God is possible only in Spirit and Truth.  The spirit is created by way of the form; the Truth is kept by the Holy Church.  And every person who regularly attends the Divine temple, who takes part in Divine Mysteries knows how this participation in the services affects the soul in a healing and profitable way.

Those who think that personal prayer is sufficient for them, dispossess themselves.  For people attend church not only to tell God about their personal problems.  They attend church in order to become a cell of the One Body of Christ, to be close to others who, like them, came to God upon hearing Him call.  They come in order to turn their backs on their personal problems towards the needs of others thus becoming live and active arms and legs of Christ while still here, on Earth.

In today’s Gospel reading the Saviour says, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”  But we have to learn how to worship in this manner, and the best school that can teach us this art of arts in extraordinary and inexplicable ways are church services.  I want to wish every single one of us to do more than to be outward and formal participants of what takes place in church, but to grow to love this incredible treasury of truth and of meaning that is our Orthodox worship.

Translated from the Russian by Maria Nekipelov


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Homily for the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman in the Orthodox Church