“God embraces and encompasses everything, and is in Himself everywhere and also above everything, worshipped by true worshippers in His Spirit and His Truth”

Do you see how forbearing and keen to learn the woman was? “Our Fathers,” she said, “worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the pace where men ought to worship” (John 4:20). … But when was it that our fathers worshipped God in this mountain? When the patriarch Jacob was fleeing from his envious brother Esau and, heeding the advice of his father Isaac, departed for Mesopotamia, and when he returned thence with his wives and children. On the return journey, after the incident concerning Dinah and the destruction of the Shechemites, when Jacob pitched his tents at about the place where the Lord spoke to the Samaritan woman, the Lord said to Jacob, as is written in Genesis, “Arise, go up to Bethel: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother” (Gen.35:1). After these words, Jacob arose and went up to the nearby mountain and built there, it says, an altar, and named the place Bethel, since God appeared to him there (Gen. 35:67). That is why the Samaritan woman said, “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain” (John 4:20), identifying herself with the forefathers. For all the ordinances concerning the Temple in Jerusalem came later. Since that place had been called God’s house by Jacob, for that is what Bethel means, the Samaritan woman was puzzled, wanting to know why the Jews said that the house of God, where it was their custom to make sacrifice to God and worship Him, was in Jerusalem rather than Bethel. The Lord, already reaching the conclusion of His discourse and prophesying that the woman was to be the sort of person God sought and accepted, said in answer to her words, “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father” (John 4:21). Then a little later He added, “For the Father seeketh such to worship him” (John 4:23).

Do you see that He confirmed in regard to her that she would be such as God sought and that she would worship the heavenly Father not in any particular place, but according to the Gospel—for the words, “Ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father,” were addressed to her—while at the same time openly announcing to her that the law would be altered? Because changing the place of worship by necessity also means changing the law.

The intervening passage, “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22), is both a reply to her words and a continuation of His own discourse. “We the Jews,” He said (for He counted Himself as one of them, being of their race according to the flesh), “those of us who are not unworthy to be called Jews, but who observe our religious duties, worship differently from you Samaritans, because we know that it is laid down that worship should be performed in Judaea for the reason that the salvation of the world, that is, the Christ, will come from the Jews.” Since Christ was not to come in the future, but was He Himself, He did not say, “Salvation will be,” but “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). “But the hour cometh,” He went on, “and now is.” In this too He was speaking prophetically. He said, “The hour cometh” because it was not yet accomplished but would be, whereas He added, “and now is,” because He saw that she was about to believe  and worship in spirit and in truth. “But the hour cometh and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). The heavenly Father whom we worship is the Father of the Truth, namely, of the only-begotten Son, and has the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit; and those who worship Him in these Two do so because they believe in these persons and act through Them. For the apostle tells us that it is through the Spirit that we worship and pray, and God’s only-begotten Son says, “no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

The true worshippers are those who worship the heavenly Father in spirit and in truth. He had rejected both Jerusalem and Samaria, and lest anyone should think that He was going to substitute some other place, He went on once more to lead His listener away from any physical concept of place and worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), meaning that He who has no body is entirely outside everything physical. For in this way the worshippers shall truly see Him everywhere in His Spirit and His Truth. As God is a Spirit He has no body, and being without a body He is not in any one place or circumscribed by spatial boundaries. Accordingly, anyone who says that God must be worshipped only within the confines of Jerusalem, or the mountain of Samaria, or anywhere else at all on earth or in heaven is not speaking or worshipping truly. Being bodiless, God is nowhere, but as God He is everywhere. If there were a mountain, a place or any part of creation where God was not, then He would be found to be in some way circumscribed. So He is everywhere and in everything. In what way is this so? Is He contained not by each part but by the whole? No, because then that would be a body. He embraces and encompasses everything, and is in Himself everywhere and also above everything, worshipped by true worshippers in His Spirit and His Truth.

Everywhere, not just on earth but above the earth, God will be worshipped by those whose faith is true and worthy of Him, as the incorporeal Father who is invisible in time and space, in the holy, pre-eternal Spirit, and in the Son and Word who together with the Father is without beginning, and who is the Father’s Truth in His very person.

St Gregory Palamas

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