Metropolitan Laurus: Sermon on the Fifth Sunday of Pascha
Christ is Risen!
Today’s Gospel reading brings us the conversation our Lord Jesus Christ had with the Samaritan woman. This event took place after the first Passover celebrated during the Lord’s mission to mankind, which is why the Holy Church remembers it today.
The Lord Jesus Christ, after the Passover feast in Jerusalem, knowing that the hatred of the Pharisees towards Him is growing, yet the time of His suffering had not yet come, leaves Judea and goes to Galilee.
The Lord’s path went through Samaria. When our Lord Jesus Christ and His disciples approached the town of Sychar, it was noontime, and hot, so they decided to rest. The Lord and his disciples stopped by a well, which according to tradition was dug by the Prophet Jacob. The Lord’s disciples went to the town to buy food.
A Samaritan woman then came to draw some water, and the Lord says to her “Will you give me to drink?” The woman was surprised that a Jew would ask her for drink, for the Jews did not speak to Samaritans out of hatred. But the Lord Jesus Christ, Who came to earth for the salvation of all mankind, not only the Jews, did not despise sinners nor wanton women, for He came to save sinners. The Lord then told her that if she knew the “gift of God” that was sent to her by Him at this meeting, and if she knew Who was asking her for water, then she would ask Him for “living water.” The Samaritan woman did not understand the words of the Lord and says to Him: “You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
Then the Lord tells her: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
This blessed water, that is, the grace of the Holy Spirit, has a completely different property than physical water. He who drinks of the water of grace, the grace of the Holy Spirit, will never again sense spiritual thirst, for the needs of his soul will be satisfied. Earthly water has a different effect, for the thirst of one who drinks water is slaked for a time, but then again he thirsts. The water of grace forms within a person his own wellspring, bursting forth into eternal life, that is it makes a person a “communicant” of eternal life.
The Samaritan woman still didn’t understand the words of the Lord and thought that He speaks to her about common water, but of a special kind that will forever satisfy physical thirst, and she asks the Lord to give it to her so that she would have no need of returning to the well.
The Lord commands the women then to summon her husband. She replies that she has no husband. But the Lord rebukes here and shows that He knows everything about her life. The Samaritan woman, seeing that a Prophet speaks to her, knowing that which is secret, then asks Him the question that troubled all Samaritans: “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” The Lord responds that salvation is from the Jews (that is, that the Savior comes from the Jews), but a time will come and has already arrived when one can worship God everywhere, and that true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
The Jews and Samaritans thought that one must worship God only in a specific place. They tended to the external observance of the law and of customs, but they thereby limited their worship of God. They took care to maintain physical cleanliness, of bringing sacrifices to God. But the Bodiless God does not require physical purity, but spiritual purity, and not an abundance of animal sacrifices, but the sacrifice of praise, as King David said: “Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High.” All the Old-Testament rituals were prototypes of the spiritual. But this does not mean that the Lord canceled ritual, not at all. He teaches us, however, that ritual does not suffice in and of itself, that the external worship of God is only an expression, a reflection of the inner attitude of man. Prayer, fasting, repentance, faith-if they are simply observed as rituals, without a spiritual approach, then they have no meaning. For instance, the Pharisee in the parable fulfilled the law about tithing and fasting, but received no praise from God. This is one extreme-worshiping God through ritual alone. This was the sin of the Old Testament Pharisees.
But look at the opposite extreme: the sects of today, in which people distort the meaning of the words of the Lord: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” On this basis, sectarians reject the Church, divine services, churches, Lenten periods, prostrations and all the rites and Church traditions, saying that these are unnecessary, that the only thing one needs to do is pray to God in mind and spirit. But is internal worship of God possible without the external, when the body and soul are so closely linked? No, it is impossible. The sectarians themselves demonstrate that as they reject physical worship of God, they cannot develop their spiritual life, and it grows weaker and is finally extinguished.
It is only when the internal worshipful state of mind is expressed in physical ways that the worship and genuine bowing down before God are united, “Worship of God in spirit and truth,” which does not exclude physical worship of God. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself fasted for 40 days, He attended the Temple services, He prayed on His knees in the Garden of Gethsemane. If we look at the history of the Christian Church, we see that the holy ascetics performed not only spiritual podvigi, but physical ones as well: prostrations, fasting, standing during all-night divine services, and through these external efforts they conquered the flesh in favor of the spirit, for which the Lord granted them “living water,” the grace of the Holy Spirit, which strengthened them in continuing their spiritual work.
This blessed water was received by the Samaritan woman, and, quenching her spiritual thirst, hastened to Samaria and preached Christ the Savior there, for which she ultimately received a martyr’s death.