Notes on Genesis (xi)

‘Then she quickly let her pitcher down to her hand, and gave him a drink.’ (Gen 24:18)

The task of the servant sent by Abraham to the land and tribe from which he had come to find a wife for his son Isaac turned out to be easily accomplished. Rebekah, a virgin very beautiful to behold, appeared by a well and, behaving with generosity and alacrity (the text emphasizes her speed and running), provided him and, on her own initiative, his ten camels with water. Typically, the discussion about marriage that ensues takes place among the men who have an interest in the matter, but having been asked for her consent Rebekah gives it, and leaves her homeland and family to marry Isaac. When she first sees him he is standing by another well. (Gen 24:62ff)

‘Observe how many things take place at waters.’ (Origen) Christ, sitting by a well, will ask a Samaritan woman for a drink of its water, but goes on to offer her living water, ‘a fountain of water springing up into eternal life.’ (John 4:6ff).  In speaking not of a well but a fountain (Greek pege) Christ picks up imagery from the Old Testament that describes a fountain of life (Ps 36:8 Prov 13:14), and of living waters (Jer 2:13, 17:13).  The living water he offers the woman (known in Greek as Photine, in Russian as Svetlana, both names suggestive of her being enlightened) will be Himself.

As so often in the understanding of the Church there is another twist. ‘In the language of the Church’s poetry, every image which includes nature is ascribed to our Lady, in order to exhibit exactly the entire renewal of the created which was accomplished in her person.’ (Chr. Yannaras) Hence the fountain of living waters can be identified with Virgin, ‘The Life-giving Spring’, but that which flows from the Theotokos is not just life but Life.

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