She is the kind of girl you might meet at Walmart or Target. She has tattoos and piercings and maybe two or three colors in her hair. If you get a chance to talk to her, you find that she’s not stupid and she even has some things to say about God and religion. Though she’s had a number of relationships, she’s not married but living with her boyfriend. She has several children and there is a third one on the way. They call her “Pho”, which is short for Photini. I ask her if she is Greek, and she smiles and says that she is just a little Greek. She has some Russian friends who call her Svetlana.

She is a member of a growing group called “Nones.”  If ask to check a box about religious affiliation, she marks, “none of the above.” She is a product of her time and like so many of her generation, she is a “spiritual” person. She wants little to do with organized religion. When you try to explain Orthodoxy to her, it sounds to her like the epitome of organized religion. What do you say to such a girl? How do you reach her?

We might take a clue from the Master. He met a Photini at the well and it changed her life. From the story, we can figure out a few things about her. She came to the well at a time when the other women were not present. Obviously, she was not well thought of due to her lifestyle and the pious women avoided her. She was a hungry soul, hungry for love and a meaningful relationship. After all,  she had five previous marriages and they all had failed. Even in the present relationship, there was no clear commitment. They were just living together, or shacking up as the modern Pho might say. This Photini was a spiritual person, and knew her theology, but she realized that she was in the presence not only of a Jew, but a true Rabbi. The Master let her know that he was aware of her situation, and perhaps she switched to a religious discussion to avoid embarrassment.

Here is what impresses me about the Master’s way of evangelizing Photini. Before any discussion began, he asked her for water. This is a curious way to evangelize someone, don’t you think? No, it is the right way to reach out. You make a human contact; in this case a contact that acknowledges a shared human experience-thirst.  Once this contact was made, the Lord let her know that he understood her thirst not only for water, but for love. So he told her that he had a different kind of water,  living water,  that would quench her thirsty heart. Brilliant!

So, I look at Pho and I wonder how I, an old man in black dress, can make contact and share a common human need. It’s a challenge, for sure. I have to tell you of an event in my life that mirrors this idea. The family and I were visiting the inner harbor of Baltimore. Matushka and Elizabeth were off in some store and I was standing out side in my black priestly garb and hat. I look off into the distance and i saw a group of Goth kids coming my way. I smiled wondering how they would react. Sure enough one of them saw me and then told the rest. They stood there for a minute, and then suddenly ran up to me. “Man,” they said, “This is radical! Where can I get a hat like that. And where did you get that robe? You are blacker than we are!”  I can’t say that I converted them, but we did have a short talk when I told them I was a priest so I tried to plant a few seeds.

Sometimes, it amazes me how conservative I have become, not so much in my dress as in my attitude. Is it just the way things go  as you get older? I want younger people to behave themselves and act like me. I want them to come in and take care of things for me. I deserve it after all I have done and sacrificed. Let some young person clean the church, or cut the grass, or take care of the money, etc.

The problem is that while we throw open our doors, few young people are coming through those doors. This is a truth that we must hear. If we do not get out  there among the Phos’ of this world and bring to them the glory of Orthodoxy, we too will perish with time. Of course, God will not forget all that we have done, and closing is not necessarily defeat. After all, the Church that Paul founded in Corinth or Ephesus is no longer there, but we would never say that St. Paul was a failure.

What I am saying is that we must be ready to meet the Photinis of the world. We need to be where they are and learn how to speak to them. You remember the story of the strict nun who terrorized everyone in the Church about their behavior in the service. Then one day, a Photini walks in, and the nun rushes to her side. The congregation trembles at what Mother will say to her. Surprisingly, Mother smiles and puts her arm around her and quietly answers her questions. Later, when they get a chance, they question Mother about this. She replied, “With ourselves, we must be strict; but those outside of our faith, we must always show love.”

My friends, let us learn from the Master. Everyday, as we live our normal lives, God brings people into our world with whom we share a common human need or experience. If we would recognize that God is at work in this, maybe we would not be so shy about it. We may fail many times, but we must learn how to speak to the Photinis that come our way, and offer them the living water of Holy Orthodoxy. It will be impossible to reach them if we sit in judgment of their piercings and tattoos. Photini is quick to sense rejection which to her is hypocrisy.

May the Master help us or this generation may be lost to us. We will age out until someone comes to buys our church building to start a business.

As I look at Pho, I wonder if I should ask her for a drink of water?

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