St. Photina Receives the Living Water

· Biblical,Lay Person
Saint Photina Receives the Living Water from Letters from the Saints Blog with an image of Jesus meeting with the Samaritan Woman at the Well

The Woman at the Well

One of the longest accounts in the Gospel of John is Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well. (Jn 4:1-45)

The passage describes how Jesus was tired and sat down beside a well in the city of Sychar in Samaria. It was noon when most people sought shelter from the heat. A Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. The well was a social gathering place, and yet she comes at noon probably in order to avoid meeting others. However, Jesus was there waiting to speak with her.

Jesus, bridging all social taboos, asked the woman for a drink of water. The woman was surprised but forthright and asked Jesus why He would ask her for a drink of water.

Typically, Jewish men did not speak with women in public or share food or drink with Samaritans. Yet Jesus persisted and went on to have a long conversation with the woman. He indicated that if she knew He was, she would have asked Him for living water.

As they continued to talk, the woman learned that Jesus knew all about her sinful past, yet He does not dismiss her or even condemn her. Instead, He continued to answer her questions. Then Jesus revealed Himself to her when He told her that He is the Messiah. She believed, left her water jar, and excitedly went into the city to tell others about her conversation and Jesus.

Her fellow Samaritans came out to meet Jesus and they prevailed upon Him to stay. Jesus remained with them for two days, and many came to believe in Jesus during that time.


According to Greek tradition, the Samaritan woman is known as St. Photina. After Photina found out that Jesus was the Messiah, she hurried to tell others in the town. The woman who came to the well at noon in order to avoid others because of her sinful life, hastened to tell others the awesome news that Jesus had told her. The encounter that she had with the Lord at Jacob's well was a true point of conversion. 

Also according to tradition, soon after Jesus' resurrection, Photina embraced the Gospel and was baptized. Then, after she received instruction in the faith, she preached the Gospel in places as far from Samaria as Smyrna in Asia Minor and Carthage in Africa. Photina had five sisters and two sons, Victor and Josiah. All of them became Christians, as well. As we see in the Gospel passage, Photina did not like to keep great things to herself.

Arrest and Death

When they were in Carthage to share the Good News, Photina and her sons Victor and Josiah were arrested and sent to Rome during the persecution of Nero. They did not stop proclaiming Christ even while they were imprisoned. While in jail, Photina came into contact with Domnina who was the daughter of Nero. Through her witness, Domnina and a number of her servants embraced Christianity. Eventually, Photina and her sons were put to death by order of Nero.

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God's Thirst for Souls

From the story of Photina as recorded in the Gospel of John, we can learn several important lessons about sharing the Gospel. Photina received the news that Jesus was the Messiah, and, later, she used what she had learned to share the Good News to others.

The first lesson is regarding thirst. Jesus thirsts for souls. He had a physical thirst at Jacob's well, but He has a divine thirst for our souls. St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) had the words Jesus said on the cross, "I thirst," placed next to the crucifix in every chapel of the Missionaries of Charity. She explained,

We have these words in every chapel of the MCs to remind us what an MC is here for: to quench the thirst of Jesus for souls, for love, for kindness, for compassion, for delicate love.

We need to remember that those with whom we share the Gospel in small or great ways are deeply loved by God. He thirsts for them. He longs for them to receive Him. As much as we want our friends and family to believe in the Lord and enter into His Church, God has a far greater desire for their salvation. We can take comfort in that fact instead of worrying that it is completely up to us. We need to do what God calls us to do, but it is He who is constantly calling them home to Him.

Living Water

The second lesson is that what Jesus wants to give others is living water. Photina might have initially thought that what Jesus meant by living water was some type of flowing water compared to the stagnant water in a well. Of course, Jesus did not mean physical water as she came to find out. Instead, He meant the life which flows from the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. And, we know that we first receive that new life in the flowing water of baptism.

That living water which God gives fulfills the deepest desires of our hearts more than even cool, flowing water could satisfy us in the dry, hot, and dusty scene that is pictured in the Gospel passage. We should always remember that when we share the Good News through our words and actions, we are sharing the greatest possible gift available. It is God's gift of mercy, and although, the people we share it with might not always acknowledge it, it is the answer to their deepest longing.

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Doing God's Will

The third lesson is to do the will of the Father. Jesus always did the will of the Father, and in the Gospel He refers to His food being to do the will of Him who sent Me. (Jn 4:33) All sharing of the Gospel must be done in conformity with God's will. We should prayerfully ask God how He wants us to use our gifts, talents, and opportunities to spread the Good News. Each of us is called to be a laborer in the harvest. Through our prayers, sufferings, words, and actions done in line with His will, we can share in the labor of God's desire to save all men and women.

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