(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today's saint, St. Photini, is found in Volume 1 of the series.)
Saint Photini, the Samaritan Woman
The incredible saga of the Samaritan woman rivals any other in fact or fiction. The story of her life is also the story of her remarkable family that lived during the early development of Christianity. In its scope and grandeur, her story reads like a passage from Homer; in fact, no amazon or superwoman of classical Greek literature could match the skill, courage and spirit of this religious heroine.
The New Testament gives the familiar account of the “woman at the well,” who was exiled from her native Samaria and was thus known as the Samaritan woman. According to the book of John (4:5-42), her life to that point had been anything but exemplary. However, she responded to Christ’s stern admonition with genuine repentance, was forgiven her sinful ways, and became a convert to the Christian faith. Tradition has it that the apostles of Christ baptized her and gave her the name of Photini, which literally means “the enlightened one.”
Without further ado, she set about bringing the word of Christ to others. She journeyed as far as Carthage on the African continent with the message of salvation, but not until she brought her sizeable family into active participation in the Christian cause. Photini had five daughters: Anatoli, Photo, Photes, Paraskevi and Kyriaki. She also bore two sons: Victor (later given the name Photinos) and Joseph.
Following the deaths of Sts. Peter and Paul at the hands of the tyrant Nero, Photini and her family traveled extensively, converting countless pagans to Christianity through her zealous faith in Christ. During the difficult days of Nero’s persecution of the Christians, Photini and her family contributed to Christianity beyond measure. Her son Victor became an officer in the Roman army even though he was a Christian. At first he managed not to incur the displeasure of his superiors because of his faith.
Soon enough, however, his duties as an officer came into direct conflict with his Christian principles. He was put in charge of a detail whose mission it was to seek out Roman citizens who dared to acknowledge Christ. Refusing to obey such an order, Victor was brought to swift military justice not only for insubordination and treason, but also for his own admission of belief in Christ. His subsequent imprisonment and torture were brutally inflicted by his former comrades.
Hearing the tragic news of her son’s imprisonment, Photini straightaway demanded and received an audience with Emperor Nero himself. In an impassioned plea for her son’s life, she boldly spoke for the cause of Christianity. She told the disbelieving tyrant how the gentle Jesus is worshiped by the world as the Messiah and the Son of God. The astounded Nero could not but admire her quiet courage, but his seething hatred for Christians could not be subdued and he sentenced her and her family to prison. There they languished for two years enduring endless suffering. But Photini not only lived when Jesus Christ walked the earth, she was also privileged to look upon his countenance, even if it was an encounter which evoked rebuke from the Savior, an admonition she never forgot and which placed her on a course of early Christianity from which she never wavered. She epitomizes the love to be found in the Lord and in the family – the very core of Christianity. The apostles have given her the name by which she is remembered. But it is of no consequence what she first was called, being remembered by the incident at the well. A mother’s impassioned plea for her son’s life can be expected, but St. Photini may as well have been addressing herself to Satan because she was pleading her son’s case before Nero. With a gesture of his vile hand the cruel emperor snuffed out the lives of Photini and her seven children, but he was helpless to snuff out rising Christianity, for which Photini and her children stood.
Finally, when Photini and her family of five daughters and two sons were at last put to death, it was the end of an unsurpassed labor for Christ and the beginning of immortality for the Samaritan woman who came to the well for water and was transformed into a wellspring of Christian faith.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.