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The Samaritan Woman – a lekwerekwere

26 May 2008

Yesterday was the 5th Sunday of Pascha, the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman.

Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

The Holy Martyr Photina (Svetlana) the Samaritan Woman, her sons Victor (named Photinus) and Joses; and her sisters Anatola, Phota, Photis, Paraskeva,…

Life of the Saint

Troparion and Kontakion

It was a most appropriate occasion for teaching about the evil of xenophobia, such as we have been seeing in South Africa recently.

For the Jews, the Samaritan Woman was a foreigner, a lekwerekwere, and in the Gospel Reading (John 4:5-42) we are told that the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. The Samaritan Woman was amazed that Jesus, a Jew, would talk to her. At that time Jews from Galilee, like Jesus and his disciples, would often make a long detour via the Jordan valley when travelling to Jerusalem for festivals, to avoid having to pass through Samaria. But on this occasion Jesus took the direct route, and his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well was a result.

In the Church, however, we are often part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Twenty years ago, when the first non-Greek priest was ordained by the Archbishop of Johannesburg and Pretoria at the Church pf Pantanassa in Melrose, Johannesburg, Greeks from other parishes came to the church to protest against the ordination of this xenos, and some of them yelled “Anaxios” (He is unworthy), and there were fisticuffs in the church, which was reported in the following week’s Sunday Times.

We’ve come a long way since then, and many people of different ethnic groups have been ordained. But the Samaritan Woman, whose name is not mentioned in St John’s Gospel, is given the name of Photini, the Enlightener. The light of Christ is to be spread to every ethnic group, and ethnic sanctuaries, like Mount Zion in Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim in Samaria are no longer important. To worship God in spirit and in truth we do not need to belong to any ethnic group.

So yesterday, at our service in the humble classroom in Mamelodi East, with crumbling concrete floor and flaking plaster on the walls, we remembered the makwerekwere like St Photina who remind us that Christ was a light to enlighten the Gentiles, the ethni, the nations, all nations.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 26 May 2008 4:11 pm

    Great posted. Linked to it from my blog.

  2. 26 May 2008 4:18 pm

    I was reflecting on the issue of ethno-nationalism in religion the other day, and it occurred to me that every religion is universalist in the beginning. In its primitive stages, a new faith is generally composed of people on the margins of society: foreigners, ethnic minorities, the poor. It’s the very experience of shedding old distinctions and assuming a new identity as members of a single spiritual communion that gives the new religion its strength and vitality, and enables it to flourish and supplant the established orthodoxy, despite opposition. Then gradually over time, after the new faith reaches the peak of its expansion, it becomes part of the establishment itself, and the faith becomes identified with the a specific culture, sometimes to such an extent that religious identity is more a matter of birth than conscious choice, as seems to be the case with Judaism. Today, every religion seems to be in that condition to some degree. There’s Hindu ethno-nationalism; there’s the ever famous Jewish and Islamic ethno-nationalism; there’s Buddhist ethno-nationalism in Sri Lanka and perhaps Tibet to some extent; there’s the endemic ethno-nationalism of the American church; and Zoroastrians are dying out because they refuse to marry outside their ethnic group. Sooner or later, all of these groups are going to have to find a way to shed their divisive ideological accretions and go back to the universalist roots of their faiths, if they want to escape the cycle of conflict they’re continuously embroiled in.


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