Great-martyr Photina (Photini) the Samaritan Woman February 26th
and Those with her: Sisters Photida, Phota, Paraskeva,
Anatolia and Kyriake, and Sons Victor and Josiah
Her faith in Jesus Christ was so strong that she did not wait for Nero to summon her and punish her for preaching His Holy Gospel.
Instead, she sought him out. And when the infamous Roman tyrant (54-68 A.D.) glared at her and demanded to know why she and several of her companions had asked to meet with him, she answered without hesitation: “We have come to teach you to believe in Christ!”
The startled Emperor, famous for his hatred of Christians and his eagerness to kill them upon the slightest provocation, could hardly believe his ears. Amazed, he leaned forward on his throne and demanded that she identify the five women and two young men who had accompanied her to this interview. Without objecting, she gave him the names of her five sisters (Anatolia, Phota, Photida,
Paraskeva and Kyriake) and her two sons (Victor and Josiah) – all of whom, as devout Christians, were unafraid of martyrdom. Increasingly agitated, Nero waited for her to finish with the introductions. He was glaring even harder now, and his round face had begun to go purple – not a good sign.
“And have all of you agreed to die for this . . . this Nazarene?”She smiled. Her own name was Photina, and she had come from Rome by way of Carthage in northern Africa, where she and her family and friends had been preaching the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed, Photini had actually been dragged to Rome by Nero’s soldiers, after they had observed her telling throngs of rapt listeners about the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, and the Last Supper, and the Three Crosses that had once stood side by side atop a hill in Palestine named Calvary.
“I asked you a question! Are you prepared to die for the Nazarene?”
St. Photina – also known to generations of Christians as the “Samaritan Woman” who encountered Christ at Jacob’s Well and was converted to His Holy Gospel on the spot – looked into the eyes of the most powerful man on earth.
“Yes, for the love of Him we rejoice, and in His name we will gladly die.”
But Nero had heard enough. Whirling on his jewel-studded chair, he called for the palace guards – and quickly ordered them to beat the hands of the prisoners with iron rods. They did so . . . for more than an hour, but were astounded when their captives appeared to feel no pain, whatsoever. Nor were their hands injured in any way. And when Photina was asked to explain why she was not screaming in agony, she spoke in a voice that rang with joy as she quoted a well-known psalm by David: “God is my help. No matter what anyone does to me, I shall not be afraid.”
Nero shook his head in amazement. Then he decided to attempt another ploy. After throwing her sons into a cell, he ordered that Photina and her five sisters be led into a huge, glittering reception hall. Soon each was seated on a golden throne, in front of a table loaded with fine fabrics, jewels and golden coins. If torture wouldn’t work, why not tempt these silly Christian women to give up their faith for the sake of gleaming jewels and opulent gowns? Intent on his plan, the half-mad Nero also sent his own daughter Domnina and her slave girls into the golden chamber, where they would attempt to persuade the captives to renounce their faith and deny their God.
But Nero’s cunning plan backfired. After embracing the princess warmly, the Samaritan Woman began to tell her about the wonders of the Holy Gospel and the miracles of the Son of God. And within a few hours, both Domnina and her hundred slave girls were converted and baptized. Renamed “Anthousa,” Nero’s daughter then instructed the servants to sell off all the jewels and finery and give the proceeds to the poor!
Nero was nearly at his wit’s end. When he ordered that Photina and her companions be thrown into a roaring furnace for seven days, they emerged without a single hair having been singed. When he announced that they were to drink poison, she volunteered to become the first victim: “O King, I will drink the poison first so that you may see the power of my God and Christ.” When the poison failed to harm any of them, the enraged tyrant had them all beheaded – all except St. Photina, that is, who was first thrown down a dry well and then left to languish in a prison cell.
There, after a vision in which Jesus reportedly appeared to her and made the Sign of the Cross over her three times, she at last gave up her spirit and went to her heavenly reward.
Known to Christians for nearly twenty centuries as the “Woman At The Well,” St. Photina had led an admittedly sinful life in Palestine until her encounter with the Messiah at Jacob’s Well. Described with great beauty and eloquence, the story is told by the Evangelist John:
A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. (John 4: 7-19)
The encounter at Jacob’s Well changed the Martyr Photina’s vision of reality in a flashing moment. Baptized at Pentecost, she traveled throughout the Middle East in search of converts, and did not hesitate to include her beloved sisters and her two sons in her labors for the God and His Holy Church.
The life of the Great Martyr St. Photina teaches us a wonderful lesson about God’s infinite mercy. Though she was struggling with her own sinfulness at the hour when she approached Jacob’s Well, God sent her the grace – in a moment of lightning-fast conversion – that transformed her into a loving woman of faith. How inspiring and comforting it is, to know that He has the same burning love for each one of us!
Apolytikion in the Third Tone
All illumined by the Holy Spirit, thou didst drink with great and ardent longing of the waters Christ Saviour gave unto thee; and with the streams of salvation wast thou refreshed, which thou abundantly gavest to those athirst. O Great Martyr and true peer of Apostles, Photina, entreat Christ God to grant great mercy unto us.
Kontakion in the Third Tone
Photina the glorious, the crown and glory of Martyrs, hath this day ascended to the shining mansions of Heaven, and she calleth all together to sing her praises, that they might be recompensed with her hallowed graces. Let us all with faith and longing extol her gladly in hymns of triumph and joy.