In the Spotlight: The Svetlana Cross

Our Svetlana Cross takes its name a popular name for Russian women, meaning the “bright”, or “shining one”. “Svetlana” is also the Russian translation of the Greek name “Photina” and is often applied to St. Photina, the holy martyr.

The design of the cross is based on a late 17th or early 18th century Old Believer original. The abbreviated inscriptions read at the top, “King of Glory”, on the crossbar, “Jesus Christ Son of God”, and “(he) conquers” at the foot. On the reverse side is the Slavonic verse, “Let God arise…”

The Holy Martyr St. Photina


St. Photina is probably best known as the Samaritan woman who spoke with Christ at Jacob’s well.  After conversing with Him, she repented for her sins and spread His word among her fellow townspeople.  “For this, she is sometimes claimed as the first to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.”

St. Photina converted her family (which included her five sisters and two sons) to Christianity and they all worked tirelessly to spread the Gospel.

Unfortunately, this was during the reign of Emperor Nero who strongly and cruelly opposed Christianity.  This, however, did not sway St. Photina who, along with her younger son Josiah, fearlessly preached His word around Carthage.

Her older son, Victor, was away fighting the barbarians with the Roman army.  “After the war Victor was appointed military commander of the city of Attalia, where he was instrumental in converting many people to Christianity, including the ruler of the city, Sebastian.”  Sebastian had initially warned Victor that his dedication to Christ could prove dangerous and that, should Victor submit himself to Nero’s will, he will be bestowed with the property of any Christians he turned over to the Emperor.  He also advised Victor that Photina and Josiah should practice their faith in secret.

Sebastian’s words, however, proved to be his undoing and he was struck blind and mute for three days.  “On the fourth day, he suddenly loudly exclaimed, “Only the Christian faith is true; there is no other true faith!””  With his newfound faith, Sebastian’s sight and voice were restored.

Emperor Nero heard of Sebastian’s conversion  and ordered that St. Photina and her family be brought to him in Rome.  Though they knew of the trials that awaited them, the family was comforted when the Lord appeared before him and said ‘”“I will be with you, and Nero will be defeated, together with all those who serve him.”’


Before Nero, the family refused to renounce their faith.  Though the emperor ordered them to be brutally tortured, they remembered the Lord’s words and felt no pain and were left unharmed by Nero’s cruel devices.  “Then the Emperor, not knowing what else to do with them, ordered Victor, Josiah, and Sebastian to be blinded and thrown into prison together with Photina and her sisters.”

During the three years they spent in prison, the holy martyrs prevailed and were comforted by a long stream of visitors who came to listen to the family preach.  The dark, dank prison, became a bright place full of sweet fragrance; it was now a most holy place dedicated to His glorification.

Fed up with their persistence and unwillingness to give up their faith, Nero ordered that the family be crucified and beat with straps.  However, “[a]n angel of the Lord freed the martyrs from their crosses and healed them.”

“In an impotent rage Nero gave orders to flay the skin from Saint Photina and to throw the martyr down a well.”  Her sons and sisters were then dismembered, flayed, and eventually beheaded.  After all of this, St. Photina was taken from the well and brought to Nero.  When asked if she would renounce her faith, “St. Photina spat in the emperor’s face, and laughing at him said, “Most impious, blind, lost mad man! Can you possibly think me so stupid that I would agree to renounce my Lord Christ and offer sacrifice to idols as blind as you?!””  She was then thrown back into the well where she gave the Lord her soul.

For her suffering, martyrdom, and unwavering faith, St. Photina is commemorated on February 26th (in the Greek tradition) and March 20th (in Slavic tradition).

Main image (center) by Nadahnuti ikonopisac. Via Wikimedia Commons
Holy Martyr St. Photina (Svetlana) the Samaritan woman –
Holy Martyr Photina (Svetlana) –
Photine of Samaria –
Martyr Photina (Svetlana), the Samaritan Woman, and Her Sons –
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