Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

The Great Fast and the Great Struggle - Part II: Thirsting and Seeking

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The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman marks the midpoint of the Great Fast, as the "center" of the Gospel readings, and fittingly so – because its message hits right at the heart of our lives. Here is a woman who has been searching in all the wrong places for fulfillment in life. Although, doubtlessly, she had tried every pleasure in life, the Gospel mentions just one – her husbands. She had evidently thirsted to the extreme, and sought to quench her parched soul by relationships with others; but they failed her every time. Yet she would not seek for something higher; with every relationship that failed, she swore she had made some mistake, and that the next husband would finally quench her thirst.

A poor soul! She was athirst for something that would make her happy, satisfied, fulfilled in life; but she was awfully lost in the thicket of her confusion. We see in her the yearning longings of our own hearts; we see in her the deep, searching thirst of our very souls. And the mistakes that she had made we know we still make in our lives. We might not be living the adulterous life that she had lived; but the running after this or that, the constant belief that we will be fulfilled with something just at hand – if we stretch out a bit more we'll be able to grasp it! – is as much a part of our broken lives as it was of hers.

"Give Me a drink" (John 4:7). What exactly is Christ trying to tell her in this mysterious request? Is He simply asking for refreshment after a long journey in the Oriental sun? Is it just a casual phrase used (as we often do) to initiate a conversation? As man, God Incarnate, His very words are the voice of all humanity. St. Augustine used to love commenting on Christ's thirst. "It was for thee that Jesus was wearied with His journey," he often said. "Give me a drink" – here, Christ acknowledges our thirst. "I know you are weary," He says to the lone soul reading this precious passage, "I know your throat is cracking dry, and I know what you need." And soon He was to reveal to her that great and blessed truth of the real source of all lasting happiness and delight.

Once the Samaritan Woman hears Christ's words, she pleads with Him to share with her some of that ever-fulfilling water. "Go, call your husband, and come here" (John 4:16), He replies. He points her first to all the failed sources of happiness she pursued, including the current one – her sixth relationship. She must first renounce all that is responsible for her emptiness if she is to drink of His water. And so must we. Very rarely is there a person who reads this Gospel without being earnestly in search for the "answer" to his or her soul's daily dissatisfaction.

It is probably true that we all, like the Samaritan Woman, seek fulfillment, in some kind of marriage, to a hobby, to some activity, to a career, or to a person. All these are wonderful blessings from God, to be sure; but once used as water to quench the soul's deepest needs, they become "broken cisterns" (Jeremiah 2:13). They will, sooner or later, fail our expectations. But now Christ comes to the Samaritan Woman, and to our soul, as the seventh husband – the perfect, true, and final marriage; leaving no room for any other. Too easily do we settle for the stale, stagnant water of "this life". But now Christ offers us the living, refreshing waters, that will not be sought outside ourselves, but which will pour out abundantly from within us.

Once a person is able to realize this, to know it and live it, then all of his life changes and becomes renewed; and all of a sudden, he who once was weak, becomes strong. "Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord! Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face evermore! Remember His marvelous works which He has done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth" (Psalm 105:3-5). You will take eagle's wings; you will soar. Enough of this weak life! All our strength, all our confidence will be found in Him. This is the Gospel of the Samaritan Woman. Christ is pursuing us. He sees us weak and thirsty, staring down an empty well. And He offers us peace and joy – rich fulfillment in a poor world. We must remember Him; we must come to Him. This is why the Great Fast has surrounded this Gospel with a frame of gold. In it is the answer. In it is life and in it is strength. A joyful fast to all!

~~~The Fathers Speak~~~

Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.

Abba Poemen
Sayings of the Desert Fathers

He fashioned us by His strength, He sought us by His weakness.

St. Augustine
Homily on the Samaritan Woman

All the secret places of our heart must be constantly examined, and the tracks of whatever enters them must be carefully investigated…At every single hour and moment we should make a furrow in the earth of our heart with the Gospel plow—that is, by the continual remembrance of the Lord's cross.

John Cassian

How is it possible that our good Shepherd, who for three years went in search of sheep that had gone astray, calling so loudly that his throat became parched, and following ways so hard and thorny that He shed all His blood and gave up His life; how is it possible, I repeat, that if His sheep follow Him…He should fail to turn His eyes to the lost sheep, take it into His divine arms, and make a welcoming feast for its sake?

Theophan the Recluse
Unseen Warfare

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