This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

March 20 -- Feast of Saint Photina and Family

Don't lose your jug, Photina
When reading about the martyrdom of Saint Photina, her sons, her sisters, and some other folks along the way, one might easily get caught up in the grisly details and overlook the Gospel link.  To avoid this, let's start with the fourth chapter of John, where Jesus is hunkered by Jacob's well in Sychar, Samaria. 

I tend to think of wells as cylindrical walls with little roofs and buckets hanging on hand-cranks, so when Jesus is sitting by the well and asks Photina (unnamed by John) to get him a drink, I was a little confused.  Of course the well was nothing more than a hole in the ground to which one brought one's own bucket and rope.  Photina, being a Samaritan, was a little confused too, since her people and Jews did not get along very well. 

Photina and Jesus discussed several things: food, drink, culture, religion, and finally her marital status.  His knowledge of her connubial history persuaded her that he was in fact a prophet.  She mentioned the Messiah, and Jesus told her that's who he was.  As the disciples returned with some food, she headed back to town to tell the other Samaritans that the Messiah was hanging out at the well.  They were so interested in his message that they persuaded him to spend two days in Sychar before he moved on to Galilee.

A rope on the pitcher makes sense
We next meet Photina during the reign of Nero; she was living in Carthage with her sisters and her younger son, Josiah.  Her older son, Victor, was a military commander in Asia Minor.  Victor was warned about his Christianity by Sebastian, the provincial governor.  Finding Victor's faith firmly rooted, Sebastian sadly commented, "Oh, Victor, what woes await you, and your mother, and your brother."  Sebastian couldn't see as far as the woes of his aunts, but moments later, he couldn't see anything at all.  When we say blinding headache, we usually mean it hurts to open our eyes.  Sebastian's blindness was complete, and his pain was barely endurable.  Three days he spent like that  -- on the fourth, he declared Christianity to be the one true faith and was healed.  Then he received baptism so he could be martyred with the others.  

There's a funny element to these stories.  The Romans torture the Christians to break their faith.  Sometimes it worked, but the Christians naturally recorded more of the incidents where their brothers and sisters held out.  Yet in these same stories, God too tortures polytheists like Sebastian to break their faith.  I'm not sure that's any more jake than what Nero was doing, but who am I to judge God?

Both Photina and Victor received divine messages to go to Rome for their triumph over Nero.  It was sort of a figurative triumph, since he lived (for a while longer) and they died, but we know they get eternal life and he is damned.  Photina also managed to convert the Emperor's daughter and her household, which must have been a bitter turn of events for Nero.  She also managed to convert a sorcerer who brought her poisoned food, which is a strange but intriguing detail. 

The rest of the story is basically hagioporn (copyright: Hagiomajor 2013).  I know that's a little sanctimonious of me to say when I have written such ghastly details about previous saints, but I'm not inclined to wallow this morning. Here's a brief list of the methods of martyrdom, if you're interested, and a link to a source of you're really, really interested.  

Victor -- blinded (but healed miraculously), then crucified, beaten, freed by an angel, eventually dismembered, flayed, and given to dogs

Josiah --  blinded (but healed miraculously), then crucified, beaten, freed by an angel, eventually dismembered, flayed, and given to dogs

Sebastian --  blinded (but healed miraculously), then crucified, beaten, freed by an angel, eventually    dismembered, flayed, and given to dogs

Photida -- Tied to bent trees, then ripped apart as they were released
Anatolia -- breasts cut off, flayed to death
Photo --  breasts cut off, flayed to death
Paraskeva -- breasts cut off, flayed to death
Kyriakia -- breasts cut off, flayed to death
Sorcerer -- unknown

Photina --thrown down a well while her family was murdered then dragged back out and questioned; when she spit in the Emperor's face, she was thrown back down the well to drown

Quick thought:  Nice symmetry that she gained everlasting life through a conversation with Jesus at a well and then lost her worldly life in a conversation with Nero at a well.  

Side note:  There's another saint named Paraskeva honored on March 20.  You can read about her here.  

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