Glory to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Last Sunday we read about the healing of the paralytic, and saw some ways that account teaches us about holy Baptism. But the Church is not done with that theme yet: This past Wednesday, and until next Wednesday, is the week-long Feast of Mid-Pentecost. This is why this morning we are singing:
At the midpoint of the Feast, O Savior, fill my thirsty soul with the waters of godliness, For you cried out to all: “If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink.” (John 7:37). O Christ God, Fountain of our life, glory to you! (Tropar of Mid-Pentecost).
That hymn is referring to Christ’s words in John 7, the reading for last Wednesday’s Liturgy:
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ”If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (Ex 17:6; Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 55:1; Joel 3:18). But this he spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:37-39).
In that passage, the feast John describes is the September Feast of Tabernacles. But the Fathers have put it here to be read and sung at Mid-Pentecost because it illuminates the theme of Baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit.
Archbishop Averky (Taushev) writes:
“On the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’” (John 7:37). In these words and what comes after, the Lord used the rites performed during the feast as points of departure for his preaching. After the morning sacrifice in the temple, the people walked in procession to the pool of Siloam, where the priest would fill a golden urn with water. Accompanied by the joyful cries of the people and the music of cymbals and trumpets, he carried it to the temple and poured the water onto the altar of whole burnt offerings… to remind the people of how Moses made the water pour from the side of a rock during the Hebrew wandering in the wilderness.
During this procession, the people sang the words of Isaiah that referred to the Messiah:
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord my God is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. In that day you will say: Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Sion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you (Isaiah 12:2-6).
What a spectacle! All the way up from the healing pool of Siloam at Bethesda, the people sang of the day King Messiah will be the Great Holy One in their midst. Now, as the high priest pours out pure water on the altar of God, and it runs down the stairs to moisten the earth, Christ stands up and says, “If anyone thirsts, come to me and drink! Then living water will flow from within you!”
The Lord Jesus Christ compares himself to the Rock that quenched the thirst of the Israelites in the desert, calling himself the Source of goodness, whom the rock typified (1 Corinthians 10:4). He also indicates that whoever believes in him will himself become a source of grace, which will quench the spiritual thirst of all who seek salvation. John the Evangelist explains, “This he spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37-39).
We are meant to have these words and hymns ringing in our ears when we hear Christ’s words to the Samaritan woman (John 4:5-42): “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… Whoever drinks of this water [from Jacob’s well] 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.”
On Pascha we sang, “Come let us taste a new drink, not miraculous water drawn forth from a barren rock, but the Fount of Immortality, springing from the tomb of Christ: in Him we are established.”
This week we are singing in the family of melodies called Tone Four. (We restarted the calendar at Tone 1 on Thomas Sunday.) So, every year, on this Sunday when we meet the Samaritan woman, at Matins we have sung: “By the Holy Spirit the streams of life are flowing, watering all of the creation, granting life upon it. By the Holy Spirit, every soul is made living, is exalted, and made shining through purification, by the Threefold Oneness, in a hidden manner.” We sing that also during the Paraclesis, to remind us, to build our faith and hope that the time has now come when the Holy Spirit is being poured out to fill and overflow us.
The prophets longed for these days. Isaiah says,
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost… For I will pour water on him that is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground: I will pour my spirit on your seed, and my blessing on your offspring” (Isaiah 55:1; 44:3).
“And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the Valley of Acacias” (Joel 3:18).
Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east. There, along the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other. And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. Along the bank of the river will grow all kinds of trees used for food: their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the Holy Place. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” (Ezekiel 47:1-12, condensed. Cf. Revelation 22:1,2)
We have two more Sundays before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and this present feast of Mid-Pentecost is meant to build expectation and longing and spiritual thirst. In the Pentecostarion we read, “This feast stands in the middle of the fifty-day period from Pascha to Pentecost as a mighty flowing river of divine grace which has these two great feasts as its source.” At Vespers last night, we sang: “The mid-point of the days is here, which begin with the saving Resurrection and are sealed by the divine Pentecost. It shines, for it shares the brilliance of them both, and unites the two, and it is honored for it reveals in advance the coming glory of the Ascension of the Master.”
If you’re new to the liturgical life of the Church many years ago you will have noticed there are a lot of feast days: By my count at least three hundred sixty-five of them every year! Well, more, because we celebrate ten or twenty saints, events, and miracles every day. But after a few years of immersion, we start to notice how they tie together. And in this current season, even as we continue to rejoice in the Resurrection, we are being guided to lift up our eyes and watch for Christ’s Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Seraphim (Rose) writes of this feast that, in the midst of feasting on earthly delights, in celebration of Pascha, it teaches us to thirst for what is above — for the grace and divine wisdom of Christ. Mid-Pentecost was especially loved by the elder St Joseph the Hesychast, who all his life thirsted for what is above and would especially prepare for it, in order to receive the “waters of godliness” that we sing of in the Troparion.
Pentecost will come in three weeks whether we are ready for it or not. But if we aren’t looking for it, if we don’t prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts, then we may be like one who comes to the well, to the source of living waters, without a bucket to draw any water.
We spent the period of Lent in so many services, in fasting and prayer, reminding ourselves that our sins have locked us out of the gates of Paradise, and we longed for the coming of the Lord. Now, after the Resurrection, feasting on every kind of food and drink and celebrating together, we find ourselves forgetting the joy and power of the resurrection. Now, even in the middle of the feast, we need to practice sobriety, keep the Lord before us, and walk with intention and purpose. Otherwise all our Lenten practice and acts of faith and all our Easter joy are empty buckets that won’t carry any of the water we need.
Saint Paul counsels us from his own experience:
I want to know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, so that by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press on toward the goal, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:10-14).
Saint John doesn’t tell us the name of the woman at the well. After Christ’s resurrection, the apostle Philip went to Samaria and preached the good news. When Philip preached, she was baptized and received the new name Photini – which means “the enlightened woman.” Her sisters received the names Anatole, Phota, Photis, Paraskeve, and Kyriake, and her two sons, Joseph and Photinos. Even before baptism, St John tells us Photini became a missionary to her whole city, telling everyone about Christ. Inside the woman, the living water became a fountain, as Christ promised: “Whoever believes in Me, from his heart will flow life-giving water” (John 7:38).
After baptism, Photini and her family became missionaries and traveled to Rome, where they received the crown of martyrdom.
They were filled, overflowing – and they became sources of life. Saint Photini took seriously her name, “Full of light.”
Christ had said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12), but later, he says, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5: 14-16).
We receive light in order to shine and become light. We receive the water of life in order to become sources of living water.
Do people gain hope when they talk to you? Do your words of kindness and patience (or even correction) serve the ones you live with and work with? Do life and help and peace from the Lord flow like a stream from the way you serve and speak and treat folks? That’s why today we are praying:
At the midpoint of the Feast, O Savior, fill my thirsty soul with the waters of godliness, For you cried out to all: “If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink.” (John 7:37). O Christ God, Fountain of our life, glory to you!
If there is one thing we need to learn from this feast it is this: to stay thirsty. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Rejoice and feast, but keep your sobriety and look ahead to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Stay thirsty.
“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev.22:1). And again: “And the Spirit and the bride say ‘Come,’ and let him who hears say ‘Come’. And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev.22:17).
To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.