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Homily for 5/2/10 - Pascha 5 - Samaritan woman/living water

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  • Fr David Moser
    John 4:5-42 In this Gospel account of the meeting between our Lord Jesus Christ and the woman at the well, we see how He seeks to draw all men up from the
    Message 1 of 1 , May 2, 2010
      John 4:5-42

      In this Gospel account of the meeting between our Lord Jesus Christ and
      the woman at the well, we see how He seeks to draw all men up from the
      things of the earth to heavenly things where it is possible to draw
      richly upon His divine grace and to be spiritually transformed. As He
      was sitting alone by this well on the outskirts of town, a woman came to
      draw water. She was focused entirely on her task – getting the water
      that she would need for her household – and had really no thought about
      the spiritual life. Even so, she was unexpectedly asked by our Lord if
      she would give Him some water to drink. This was surprising for a number
      of reasons; He was a stranger and it was uncommon for a man to directly
      address and unknown and unrelated woman. Also He was a Jew and she was a
      Samaritan and the Jews despised the Samaritans and believed them to be
      beneath any kind of notice. But Jesus did address her and engage her in
      a conversation speaking first about water and drawing her heart and mind
      up from the material world and leading her into a conversation about
      spiritual things. Is this not the way that He encounters us as well. God
      meets us where we are and catches our interest or attention – sometimes
      by surprise. It may seem unlikely to us that God would care about us and
      again that we see His presence even in the most mundane of circumstances
      but He does love us and He meets us wherever we are. But then from the
      moment we first are aware of God, He begins to move us ever so gently up
      from our preoccupation with worldly matters to the heights of His glory.

      Jesus began His conversation with this woman speaking about water. The
      well at which they met was a very old well and had been originally dug
      and built up by the Patriarch Jacob thousands of years prior as a place
      to water his flocks. The well itself was simply a hole in the ground,
      lined with stones, which had at its very bottom a spring of water
      welling up from the underground aquifer. The water then collected in the
      well and could be drawn out by lowering a vessel of some kind and
      letting it fill before pulling it up. Jesus turned the conversation
      quickly from the simple request for a drink to the topic of living
      water. This was not as abrupt a change of topic as one might imagine in
      our modern times, for “living water” was the term given to fresh running
      water, especially water that came directly from the earth in a spring.
      (The apostolic instructions which have preserved by the Church regarding
      baptism specify that baptism should ideally be performed in “living
      water”, that is in a stream or at a spring. Failing that, still water
      such as a lake or a pond would suffice. A well has its source in the
      living water of the spring at its base, however the collected water at
      the surface forms an artificial pool or pond and so is still water.
      Because of the living water at its base, the water of the pool is still
      fresh and good for drinking as it is continually refreshed by the spring
      and does not grow stagnant. And so, Jesus spoke to the woman suggesting
      that He could give her “living water” – and she understood that to mean
      that He had a way to draw water not from the top of the well but from
      its very base where the spring continued to supply the pool of the well.
      This was a difficult thing to do and she was surprised because the well
      was deep and He had no servants or equipment or any other means with
      which to reach the top of the water let alone to draw from the very
      bottom of the well. Of course Jesus was speaking not of the water of the
      well – not even of that water from the spring which fed the well – but
      of the spiritual water of divine grace which would satisfy the thirst of
      the soul.

      In response to the question of living water, the woman asked Jesus if He
      was greater than their forefather Jacob who had dug the well in the
      first place (for the patriarch Jacob was known as a great man.) The only
      water she had ever known had come from the labors of this great
      patriarch and now here was someone who implied that he could equal or
      even surpass the labors of Jacob and give to her living water. At this
      point, Jesus began to turn the conversation more clearly toward
      spiritual things for in asking about her husband, He revealed that
      though He was a stranger to her, He could see into her depths of her
      heart. This sudden revelation was the point at which the spiritual
      dimensions of the discussion opened to her and she began to climb to the
      matters concerning the worship of God and to her spiritual renewal. She
      began to speak of the religious traditions that they (the Samaritans)
      had received from their fathers and how they compared to those of the
      Jews. Jesus again answered her in a surprising manner indicating that
      there was relative truth in both traditions but that the time was at
      hand when God would be worshiped “in spirit and in truth”. From this
      point on, she began to receive the living water of grace that had been
      promised to her by the Lord.

      The well and the water remain as a metaphor for us concerning our own
      spiritual life. The living water at the source of the well is the grace
      that flows from the font of the living God. This grace from the spring
      is collected in the well of Holy Tradition from which we draw our
      worship of God and which governs our spiritual life. This spiritual well
      which is Holy Tradition stays vital, refreshing and life giving for it
      has as its source the constant outpouring of God’s grace upon us. We can
      draw from this well and from its waters obtain the grace by which we are
      saved and transformed into the image and likeness of God. However, we
      must never forget that it is not the actions or ritual of Tradition
      which saves us but the divine grace from which it flows. If we forget
      the source of the well and separate the waters of the traditions from
      the grace which is its source, then those traditions become empty and
      lose their lifegiving power for they have been cut off from the source
      of grace. So also if we take the traditions of the Church and cut them
      off from the source of the well – from the grace of God which saves us –
      then those traditions no longer are of benefit to us. And just like
      water that has become bracken and stagnant could bring illness or even
      death when drunk, such dead traditions may even cause spiritual illness
      in us.

      When Jesus said to the woman (and so to us as well) that we must worship
      God in spirit and in truth, He was not abolishing the traditions that
      she followed, nor did He abolish the traditions of the Jews which were
      held in contrast to those of the Samaritans. He points out to us that it
      is no longer sufficient to blindly follow these traditions without
      drawing from the source as well. Certainly our adherence to the Holy
      Tradition that has been handed down to us from the Apostles and from our
      spiritual fathers is necessary – but the Tradition itself is not enough.
      Our spiritual life must always be linked to and drawn from the source –
      the spring of Living Water, the grace of God which gives birth and life
      to those traditions.

      When we pray, therefore, we do not just recite the words that we have
      learned and heard all our lives, but we say the words each time as our
      own, with our whole being; our body, our mind and heart and soul. Each
      time we must connect the words of the prayer with their source – the
      grace of the Holy Spirit. Each time we must commune with God in our
      hearts. When we come to the divine services, each time we must remember
      that we are joining our whole selves with the corporate prayer of
      everyone there in the Church, and with all Orthodox Christians in all
      places and in all times, and again with that of the saints who pray with
      us before the throne of God. We do not come to the services just to
      watch or to be inspired, but to participate, to give of ourselves and
      actively join into the worship of the Living God. Each time we receive
      any of the Holy Mysteries whether it be baptism and chrismation, or
      confession, or the Eucharist, or any of the other mysteries, we must
      participate in it reaching out with the hands of our soul to touch God
      who comes to us and to commune with Him.

      Our Christian life is filled with traditions. We must never forget that
      these traditions are drawn from the well of divine grace which is fed by
      the divine spring of the Holy Spirit. We cannot go through our Christian
      life on “autopilot” just blindly following the rituals and prescriptions
      of tradition – but we must be fully engaged with Jesus Christ, Who
      reveals God to us and the Holy Spirit Who as God fills us and joins us
      to the divine Life, participating in these traditions in Spirit and in
      Truth. We may have grown up with the Church and the life of the Church
      from childhood. We may know our prayers as though they were second
      nature and live the rhythm of the Christian life as though it were our
      own – but that is not enough. We must be joined with the source of this
      life, we must be engaged with our Lord Jesus Christ, we must be filled
      with the Holy Spirit. We must live the whole of our lives “in Spirit and
      in Truth”. Only in this way will we remain connected to the source of
      grace which joins us to God to live in eternal union and communion with Him.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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