The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John 4:5-42
On this Sunday we hear the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. This is a long and fascinating passage that deserves to be studied carefully and I would encourage you to do so. I would like to focus on some of the difficult things our Lord Jesus Christ says to the woman at the well. In our society we are being very well trained not to cause any waves with the things that we say. We are taught to be politically correct with all of our speech. We are taught that there are no absolute truths and objective realities only opinions and feelings are relevant.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the great healer and yet He can also divide in that His word is a two edged sword. It is binding in our lives and this word has the power to unite yet it can most certainly divide us and put us at odds with others. At such times we should not be surprised when people throw accusations at us. They can call us hateful and cruel and many other things but we are at peace when we follow the king of peace. We want others to know the truth of a life with Christ and in Christ.
In today’s passage our Lord says to the Samaritan “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” This is really an epic statement and it breaks all of our conventions and rules for polite and sensitive discourse. Sensitivity is good, but never at the expense of truth.
The Samaritans were an off-shoot of the Jewish faith. They believed in the same God. They had the Torah of Moses as their holy scriptures. They were very similar in their beliefs and yet the Lord boldly declared that they worshipped what they did not know! He went even further to say to them that their worship and practice of religion was not salvific. Meaning the way that they practiced the faith would not bring them to salvation. All of this really makes us pause and wonder about the ways of God. They are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts.
In our day and age I have heard people often say “We all pray to the same God.” But that’s not really true is it? We don’t all pray the same God. But taking this further, according to the Lord, even worshipping the same God in the wrong way means that we don’t understand our worship and who we worship and this means that our very salvation is at risk. This is not my opinion but it is the word preached by Christ.
According to the Lord Jesus salvation comes from the Jews. This is most certainly true since we know that Our Lord Himself was born into the Jewish people, and He is our salvation. But this saying teaches us so much about having the proper knowledge and worship of God. Not everything is simply a matter of feelings or opinions. Some very important matters require definition, exactness and a healthy dose of reality. Our Lord tells us that our worship and religious practices are such matters.
He continues in today’s passage saying “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” St. Basil the great, commenting on this verse has this to say “To worship in the Spirit implies that our intelligence has been enlightened. Consider the words spoken to the Samaritan woman. She was deceived by local custom into believing that worship could only be offered in a specific place. But the Lord, attempting to correct her, said that worship ought to be offered in Spirit and in truth. By truth he clearly meant himself.”
How we worship is a sign of how we believe and what we believe. As Orthodox Christians we believe that there are right ways to worship God and wrong ways to worship God. There are also right ways to speak of God and wrong ways to speak of God. There are ultimately right ways to know God and wrong ways to know God. Without right belief we will not have right worship and without right worship we will not enter into right faith and practice which brings us into right relationship with the Lord. It is right relationship with the Lord that leads us to salvation.
That is what the Orthodox Church is all about; Holding the doctrines and practices that have been handed down to us with love and reverence in order to share them with humanity. Orthodox Christianity is about human beings coming to a right knowledge of God and entering into a right relationship with God through the genuine practice of faith and proper worship.
Why am I telling you all of this today? Because I want us to understand that the Church is not a museum but a living temple to God. The Church is an institution of God’s love for mankind. What we do and what we believe are closely related and they both matter! Being a part of the community of Orthodox Christians is for us not simply a matter of preference, it is in very truth, a matter of salvation. You may have had various reasons for coming to the ancient apostolic faith but God has in His abundant mercy, brought you into the Church in order to heal and to save you.
Let’s not be wishy washy and unstable like much of this generation but let us be like the woman at the well who held fast the truth when it was revealed to her. Her name is St. Photeini and we keep her feast on February 26th. Her life changed through her encounter with Christ and she travelled everywhere spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. She even gave her life as a martyr in Rome. That is a changed life. That is worship in spirit and truth….and this type of love for Christ and His Church, is what the Lord desires for our lives.