St. Photini and the Mystery of Confession

Christ is Risen!

We heard on Great and Holy Pascha the Great Prokimenon, which I am reminded of each and every time I stop foot on our little Garden of Eden here in Fenton:  “Who is so Great a God as our God!  Thou art the God Who does wonders!”  

It is at this point in our Post-Pascha celebration, that we begin to hear about some of those wonders in the scripture readings! Last week, it was the healing of the Paralytic at the pool of Bethesda.  Next week, it is the healing of the blind man.  

We are also reminded of the wonders of God outside of scripture as well!  St. Tikhon’s is hosting the Weeping Icon from Hawaii this weekend, the same one that brought hundreds of pilgrims to our little Church in the woods!  We see God’s wonders when we walk through a park, when we pray, when we watch a sunset… so many wonders for us to see!  If we could just some-how break out of our day to day routines, we would be able to see the power of God working through every nook and cranny of the world!  

On this 4th Sunday after Pascha, we are reminded of the one thing that is necessary for us to experience God’s Wonders with more clarity.  In the scripture reading today, we hear how our Lord encounters this woman, who we know to be St. Photini, at the well.  As in all encounters with God, this one didn’t happen by accident.  Jesus knew that this woman was searching for clarity…thirsting for something more in life.  He also knew that she had been living in the routine of sin, having spent her life with many different husbands, and living with another man who was not her husband.  St. Photini was a woman who was truly “missing the mark” on a daily basis!  

How does God act towards this sinful woman? One of the striking things that we notice is that He never judges or condemns her of the life that she was leading!  Like a loving Father, He rather gently and compassionately leads her in confession, showing her the truth of who she is, and more importantly, showing her what kind of life awaited her.

St. Photini’s encounter at the well is a reminder to us of the importance of a mystery of the Church, that at least outside Orthodox (and maybe Roman Catholic) circles, often gets brushed aside as un-necessary:  The Sacrament of Confession.  Our spiritual lives are not so different from that of the Samaritan woman.  How often have we gone to confession to a priest, or spoken to a spiritual father or mother about making changes in our day to day routines, only to find ourselves in the same boat where we started in the first place?  There is something different that plagues each and every one of us…something that always seems to keep us from true and unwavering repentance.  

In the encounter at the well, it is interesting to see how Christ, the True Physician, helps St. Photini to reach a state of repentance.  We notice that He did not simply tell St. Photini to “stop sinning”.  Jesus instead guided her to see the problem herself. He helped her prune out the things in her life that distracted her from partaking of this life-giving water of God! Our Lord does the same with us, through the hands of the priest, in the mystery of confession.  

Confession is not just a listing of the ways we have failed as Christians.  It isn’t an obligation that we have to fulfill a few times a year because Fr. Gabriel says we do!  I remember hearing a story one time in seminary, (and I’m sure every priest has experienced this at one point or another), about a man who went to the priest and started to look at the examination of conscience, and said:  “Father, I’m a pretty good person…I don’t really do anything wrong...I’m just here because you said I had to be”

The priest smiled and said:  “Your obedience is admirable.  But if you haven’t done anything wrong in your life…perhaps we should have an iconographer add your image next to the other Saints of the Church.  But for now, let’s start with wiping away your pride...and we can go from there”

A few days after the confession, the man came up again to the priest, brought him a professional self-portrait of himself, and in all seriousness asked:  “will this work for the iconographer?”

Don’t be that person!  Confession isn’t an obligation that we fulfill!  It is an incredible. Grace that we receive, to help build our spiritual life.  Conversations with our spiritual fathers are a way for us to dig deeper into our conscience…to lay our entire life out onto the table…and to uproot the cause of WHY we continue to fall away.  

Living a God-centered Christian life is a struggle. Everyone falls.  That man in the story would have never had his picture on the wall with the saints, because if we asked the men and women with halos, they would all be the first to tell us that they were the worst of sinners!

We all have our off days, and it is so easy for us to let those off days become the routine…to allow that broken wheel to continue to spin, causing us to fall even farther away from the love of God. This is why regular participation in the mystery of confession is so vital to us as Christians!  It is a re-set button…a release from the routine of sin, and the beginning of the path back to the Life-Giving Streams which our Lord spoke about with St. Photini! 

Today’s feast day, as I mentioned last week, is a particularly meaningful one for our Church here in Fenton, because we are blessed to have a real link to this Gospel story…a real link to one of the very first confessions that took place in Christian History.  St. Photini’s relics were placed in the altar table that we consecrate the very Body and Blood of Christ at every Divine Liturgy! She is physically present with us each and every time we enter into the Church.  

What a tremendous blessing for us to know that each and every time we come to confession here at the Church, we have the holy bones of St. Photini to inspire us to break from the routines of Sin, to break away from a world that rejects Christ, and to leave behind all of the things that pull us away from the joy of the Liturgy, so that we can re-orient our lives like she did, towards union and communion with our Lord, who never ceases to do wonders for the world.