Tabitha vs. Photini

In yesterday's matchup between the Golden Mouthed John Chrysostom and the Harp of the Holy Spirit Ephrem of Nisibis, the bishop plucked the deacon 74% to 26% to advance to the Elate Eight.

Today, we're back up to the Biblical quadrant of the bracket as Tabitha takes on Photini. The winner of this battle will meet Martha of Bethany in what promises to be a bruising Elate Eight pairing.

Yesterday, we also celebrated the release of Tim's new book on coffee and faith, titled Holy Grounds: The Surprising Connection between Coffee and Faith - From Dancing Goats to Satan's Drink. It makes a terrific gift for everyone on your Lent list! And, yes, even tea drinkers will find it a compelling read.


Tabitha is a saint who has inspired apostles to put words into action and poets to put her actions into words.

In his poem by the saint’s Greek name, “Dorcas,” George MacDonald guesses the saint may have heard Jesus speak. After all, as others have noted, the Bible describes her as a disciple.

Maybe she heard Jesus tell the parable of the sheep and goats: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Maybe that’s what inspired her to the action for which she is remembered: making robes and other clothing to help the poor and widows at Joppa. Maybe she clothed them, or maybe she sold the clothing to help support them.

MacDonald closes his poem, imagining Tabitha’s life and death:

“Home, home she went, and plied the loom,
And Jesus' poor arrayed.
She died-they wept about the room,
And showed the coats she made.”

In another poem — “The Widows' Tears; Or, Dirge Of Dorcas”— Robert Herrick gives words to the widows gathered around Tabitha’s body, crying and showing off the clothing she had made. In Herrick’s words, they address the saint:

“Sleep with thy beauties here, while we
Will shew these garments made by thee;
These were the coats; in these are read
The monuments of Dorcas dead:
These were thy acts, and thou shalt have
These hung as honours o'er thy grave.”

This is what brought Peter to Joppa — now Tel Aviv-Jaffa — after the disciples there sent several men to urge him to come and heal Tabitha. It’s also what led to a breakthrough for Jesus’ early followers, throwing open the doors of the church to welcome all, Jewish or Gentile. While in Joppa, Peter stayed with Simon the tanner, whose work would have left him smelly and often ceremonially unclean according to Jewish law. And Peter had a vision at Simon’s house in which God told him not to call anything impure that God had made clean.

He then immediately had the opportunity to put what he heard into action when several men asked him to come to the home of a centurion named Cornelius, who also had a vision. This meant associating with and visiting a Gentile, which, he told them, is against Jewish law. And yet Peter went. Maybe he was inspired by Tabitha to put words into action.

Later “Dorcas societies” were. They formed to provide clothing for the poor.

And who knows who else she continues to inspire, as she is remembered with feast days in a number of Christian traditions, depicted in stained glass windows in all kinds of churches and considered by the Orthodox Church in America to be the patron saint of tailors and seamstresses.

-Emily McFarlan Miller


PhotiniPhotini (one of many spellings of her name) encounters Jesus at the well as she is drawing water and he comes for a drink. She engages him in conversation, a testament to the boldness that would define her life as an apostle and missionary and her words that proclaimed fearlessly the Good News in Jesus.

Her words converted her own family. On Pentecost, Photini, her five sisters, and two sons were baptized. She continued her missionary career, going to Carthage to preach the Good News of Jesus, then to Rome. Photini boldly proclaimed to Nero, when asked why she was in Rome, “We have come to teach you to believe in Christ.”

Nero asked if she was prepared to die for this man she called Christ, to which Photini, never one to be a silent witness, proclaimed to all the Roman court, “Yes, for the love of Jesus, we rejoice in his name and will gladly die for him.”

Nero tried to martyr Photini and her companions, to which she responded repeatedly with words of prayer and praise for Jesus. Nero beat them, and Photini sang psalms. He ordered his sister to have a banquet for them, hoping to tempt them with wealth and luxury. Photini’s witness converted Nero’s sister, who ordered all the gold from the banquet distributed to the poor citizens of Rome. Nero ordered them burned for seven days in a furnace. Photini sang hymns, until they walked out of the furnace, still singing hymns. Nero ordered them to drink poison. Photini offered to be first, saying, “I will drink first so you will see the power of God.” They all survived.

For three years, Nero imprisoned Photini. While she was imprisoned, she turned her jail cell into a church as she preached and baptized, converting many Romans. Nero eventually threw Photini into a dry well, where she welcomed embrace of the Living Water into eternal life.

In the 11th century, an epidemic causing blindness swept through Constantinople. A man named Abraamios, wept and called out for help from his failing sight. One night he saw an elderly woman, holding a candle that cast away all shadows from his dimming vision. She said to him, “Receive the light.” She directed him to a cave. Abraamios immediately ran to the place, where he found an underground chamber holding the bones of Photini. Abraamios kissed her bones and wept, and he regained his sight.

The witness of Photini continues to preach to us. The church built at the Well of Jacob near modern-day Nablus is filled with icons telling the story of her encounter with Jesus. And the Monastery on Mount Athos houses her incorrupt foot and leg, while Grigoriou Monastery has a portion of her skull. Her relics and icons are venerated daily in thanksgiving for her words and her life that led many to believe in Jesus.

-Laurie Brock

Tabitha vs. Photini

  • Photini (58%, 3,991 Votes)
  • Tabitha (42%, 2,883 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,874

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Photini: WikiCommons
Tabitha: St. Dorcas window at All Saints', Freshwater on the Isle of Wight.


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86 comments on “Tabitha vs. Photini”

  1. Today's musical interlude takes us back to old school Ethel Merman as we salute these Biblical women to the tune of Everything's Coming Up Roses from Gypsy:

    I had a vote!
    I voted for Photini
    And Dorcas, also, sweetie!
    But one’s gotta go – quite neatly.

    An’nias came; eye scales fell.
    Yet, he lost to that gal by the well.
    Talked with Christ.
    Gave him praise.
    That’s why Photini vies for the Halo!

    Dismas, as you recall,
    Dorcas nailed the good thief to the wall.
    For her works,
    She was raised.
    That’s why Tabitha vies for the Halo!

    These two women,
    One from John, one from Acts.
    Both served Jesus.
    Read up if you don’t believe us!

    Dorcas sews for the poor,
    While Photini converts by the score.
    Both have works, large and small.
    How they served one and all.
    The time to laud these two is overdue!
    That’s why Photini vies for the Halo
    – And Dorcas does, too!

    Strong, yet tender,
    They brought many to Christ.
    Praise was rendered.
    Persistence overcame gender.

    Tab, get up! Pho, please draw!
    Later, you’ll testify what you saw.
    Both are swell. Both are great.
    Both should be Elate Eight.
    That Halo made of Gold’s crafted for you!
    Honey, everything’s coming up Dorcas and Pasta Girl.
    Everything’s Dorcas and a Roman FotoHut.
    Everything’s gotta be Dorcas and fancy drinks.
    Who’ll wear the Halo? It could end up one of these two!

    1. Bwahaha! I really recommend singing these along with YouTube, 'cause then you get--*orchestra*!! So much fun, this one! "Pasta Girl"! I was dancing in the breakfast room.

    2. What a musical production you set off in my head—it was spectacular! Thank you for my morning laugh!

    3. "Roman Photo-Hut"--I'm sure you can hear me chuckling, giggling, snorting from wherever you are.

    4. I have been SO inspired by the daily dose of show tunes that this popped into my head over this match-up. In no way does it come close to your lyrical prowess, but I decided to share>

      Sung to "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" by Rodgers and Hart

      It’s wild again; I’m riled again
      To choose from the two who knew Christ back then.
      Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I.

      How can I choose? I know I’ll lose…
      The tortured or one who made robes and shoes?
      Bewitched, bothered and bewildered, am I!

      Sheep and goats; clothe the needy…
      Widow’s tears, on her grave.
      At the well, is Photini…
      Drank poison, burned…for…days.

      So, shame on thee!
      You SEC!
      Tabitha (or Dorcas), or Pho-ti-ni?

      Bewitched, bothered and I so want to cry!
      Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I.

      1. Fantastic, Robin! I enjoyed yours even more than Michael's today!!

    5. Michael, you are a musical genius. I am in awe of your wonderful lyrics. You have added so much to this year's Lent Madness.

  2. From our church’s east window she gazes:
    The good seamstress that St. Peter raises.
    Her service to Joppa
    Not once did she stoppa;
    For today, Tabitha earns my praises.

  3. I had to go back and read the original blogs for these two, so slight is their impress on my memory, as Tabitha and Photini. I voted for the Samaritan woman at the well. She had the longest conversation with Jesus of anyone in the gospel. That's good enough for me. I don't need all the accreted stories. If a woman got that much attention in the gospel, she must have been remarkable. Think of all the symbolism of water. Jesus needed the water she had to give to him. She provided.

    1. I have been dreading this matchup, because I dearly love them both. That they both have stories in the gospels speaks volumes. I ended up with Tabitha--same reasons as before: for my Dorcas sisters at work in the world, and because it's Lent Madness--for "Bewitched"!

  4. Tabitha gets my vote as the contender whose virtue, as well as her existence, is documented in Scripture. Photini’s Gospel appearance is only as a foil for Jesus; her subsequent career is impressive but apocryphal. Those may seem to be dry criteria, but I see no reason to go beyond the historical record of a praiseworthy member of Jesus’s own circle.

    1. At least Tabitha's name is more authentic. I can never get used to these made up names for people the biblical writers decided should remain anonymous. That phoney/phakey pheel I get from the other candidate's name may not be the best reason for voting for Tabitha so I'll attribute it George MacDonald.

      1. Yes, we know about Dorcas/Tabitha from Scripture. Photini" we know only as "the woman at the well," who evidently had something about her that made Jesus tell her who and what he was, and who brought her whole village to him--nothing more. Those details alone might be enough to put her in the running, but the rest of her story detracts rather than augments.

      2. I think the Biblical spelling is pHotini. She's definitely not neutral; I'd give her a basic 10.

  5. Yet another impossible choice. I’m voting for Photini because of her willingness to ask questions, to change, to become a witness and apostle to her people (Shocking! She a woman and a Samaritan proclaimed a Jewish Rabbi to her Samaritan village) Sometimes the strongest leadership comes from those who have been forgiven much and thus can love much.

  6. Oh what a difficult decision this morning. Both of these women are worthy of the Golden Halo. They both have so much to teach us: Photini praising Jesus and singing hymns through torture, imprisonment unto death and Tabitha serving the poor and marginalized throughout her life. Photini, Tabitha, Tabitha, Photini, eenie-meenie-minie-mo. What to do?

    I finally voted for Tabitha (Dorcas) in honor of all the members of all the Dorcas societies following her example.

  7. I had to go with Tabitha (aka Dorcas). I’m a volunteer at our local food bank and like to think Tabitha is our patron saint.

  8. Being a Samaritan, a person considered outcast even among the people of Israel, although worshiping the same God, I feel a call to Photini. This is where the decisions are hard. Tabitha is a great figure in the church and her own work is inspring, but the story of a woman who was an outcast and a sinner (she had five husbands and was living with a man not her husband at the time of meeting Christ), calls to me as someone who has been less than perfect in my life.

  9. Still taking my lead from Sam Cooke and supporting Photini. "Jesus gave her water; He gave that woman water. Gave her living, loving, lasting water, and it was not in the well."

  10. No hesitation here. Photini is absolutely my favorite story in the Bible. Love that Sam Cooke quote, Carolyn! Anyone who engage Jesus in witty conversation and then evangelize so successfully has my envy and my vote.

  11. What to do, what to do? The 'woman at the well' is an important piece of scripture for introducing anyone to Christ, and has had loads of influence down the ages. And so have 'Dorcas societies'--and today, the first Wednesday of the month, is our church's quilting circle. I guess I'll go pray and quilt!

  12. Very difficult day for a quilter and a pilgrim who has been to Photini’s well/church. Oh my.....

    1. Yes. I saw both in the mid-Nineties, when travel was less restricted; Nablus was tricky, but highly rewarding, even so,

  13. David Dassori's comment perfectly sums up my reason for voting for Tabitha. Thank you for expressing my feelings so well, David.

  14. How can I vote for anyone other than the woman at the well? Deserving as Dorcas may be...

  15. My church is one of the many with Dorcas (Tabitha) in a window! So that broke the tie for me. It was really hard to choose between these women.

  16. I was all set to vote for Photini, then I thought about Tabitha. Due to the out pouring of grief at her passing, Peter was called. His thinking was changed by the visions he had in Joppa and thus the Gentiles were no longer cast into outer darkness, but welcomed as Christ's own. Tabitha's life and death changed the course of Christianity and Peter's ministry for Christ.

  17. As a handspinner and maker of garments, I have a vision of the time and effort and expense Tabitha put in to make clothing for the poor and needy. This is “slow clothing” to extreme. This is love in action. My vote went to Tabitha.

  18. Photini today, because the woman at the well, and helping A’s eyesight, as that’s a struggle at our house.

  19. The write-ups taught me several enlightening new details such as the important implications that Simon was a tanner. Lent Madness ignites my spiritual horizons as I realize, of course! Christian tradition often gives us clues to where the parties in the NT faith journey led.
    Photini is my favorite in that department. It absolutely charms me that the Early Church continued the Woman’s story with a name and tales of her character and deeds.
    One mystery I’ve personally encounterd: I’ve been to the church in Nablus, formerly Shechem, in the West Bank, but I never noticed icons of Photini. I do remember amazing paintings, icons with intense imagery, but nothing of Photini. At that church, over the very well Jesus received Photini’s draw, there was nothing I saw that featured her nor her name. Since “meeting” Photini here in LM ‘19, this has had me perplexed.

  20. SO hard--but aren't they all, especially at this stage of the game?
    Photini--because of a long-ago meditation on what she might have felt when asked to give water to the One who gives the Water of Life.

  21. Photini; the saint and apostle
    A sinner forgiven; no fossil.
    Her questions, so smart
    Stay alive in my heart
    For she’s quite a strong woman; not docile.

    Photini; apostle and saint
    Forgiven by Christ; free from taint
    It’s the imperfect ones
    Who are humble (and fun)
    For a true, perfect Christian I ain’t.

  22. It's Tabitha and Dorcas in every parish that has kept the Anglican Church alive and reaching out to the world down through the ages. Often the unheralded, behind-the-scenes workers who have been the core of the parish. I like to think of the scene in Acts as the first show of work, the first bazaar of the early church . Surely Dorcas is the patron saint of all those mainly anonymous women and I honour them in her

  23. Tabitha worked; Photini witnessed.
    To me this is a similar juxtaposition of Martha who worked and Mary who listened.
    Both Tabitha and Martha gave witness and example through their work.
    Both Photini and Mary gave value in the listening: if we do not hear, how can we know what there is for us to learn.
    Tough choice today.

  24. The story of the woman at the well has always been one of my favorites, for all the reasons cited in the comments preceding mine, but I just don’t buy the “sequel.” Though I’m always convinced that legends spring from kernels of truth, I’d really like to know what the primary sources are and when these sources appeared. Which sister of Nero’s is Photini supposed to have converted? He had three. On the other hand, Tabitha reaches me personally, as a widow and a seamstress. She is certainly a model for doing good with the talents we have been given. And what a beautiful write-up! The implications of Peter staying with the tanner would never have occurred to me.

    1. I am a seamstress, too, a seamstress who is losing fabric stores right and left, as one by one they continue to fold. (I guess there are fewer and fewer seamstresses out there.) But, coincidentally, I found a fabric store not too far from me yesterday, and was so happy to be in among those piled-to-the ceiling bolts of fabric and possibilities. Every color imaginable, from chartreuse to daring scarlet. Every fabric imaginable--lace, sequins, wool, batiste, satin, corduroy, chambray! And the bins of buttons, rainbows of zippers and spooled thread! It was such a welcome-home--I had to vote for Tabitha, too.

      1. I voted for her too. I also love fabric stores! Like a kid in a candy shop. The hard part is exercising restraint!

      2. A high-quality fabric store is a palace for creatives. As good as confitures. Nay, better.

      3. St. Claire is the patron saint of needleworkers. At an early age, I was contriving doll clothes. I got my first sewing machine by the age of 12. It had to be Tabitha for me. Alas..., I continue to back the Underdogs.