Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Rite of the Washing of the Feet

Today His All-Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, performed the rite of the washing of the feet at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy at the Annunciation Cathedral in Moscow. This is the first time in recent history that a Patriarch of Moscow has performed this rite. I have adopted what follows (and taken the photographs) from this story (in Russian); for a video of a news story (in Russian) see here; for a video of the entire rite see here.

Following the example of Christ, Who washed the feet of His twelve disciples at the Mystical Supper (cf., Jn 13: 1-17), the Patriarch washed the feet of twelve priests. After the prayer at the ambo, the Patriarch went to the cathedra in the center of the church, around which twelve priests were sitting on benches. The Patriarch removed his outer vestments (omophorion, panaghia, and sakkos) and tied a long white towel around his shoulder and waist.

The senior priest, taking the role of Peter, first refused, saying: Thou shalt never wash my feet. The Patriarch replied with the words of Christ: If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me. The senior priest replied: Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. To which the Patriarch replied again with the words of Christ: He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet.The Patriarch then proceeded to wash the feet of the twelve assembled priests.
After the washing of the feet of all twelve priests, His All-Holiness, Patriarch Kirill, put his vestments back on and offered a sermon from the ambon. He first congratulated all present on Holy Thursday, on which the institution of the Mystery of the Eucharist is commemorated. “Through the Mystery of the Eucharist we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, become participants not only of the Mystical Supper, but of all that the Savior accomplished,” remarked the Patriarch.

"Eating of the Body and Blood of the Savior,” the Patriarch continued, “we become communicants of His Divine life, becoming participants of His Divine Kingdom. It is namely Communion of the Body and Blood of the Savior that helps us to overcome sin. No exertion whatsoever of will or mind, no concentration of man’s feelings, is capable of overcoming the power of sin. However, taking on the power of the Savior, we become stronger than any dark forces.”

“In our tumultuous and troubled times, when man is susceptible to various afflictions and temptations,” the Patriarch continued, “we must especially come running to Christ’s Chalice and reverently eat of the Body and Blood of the Savior for our salvation.” Today’s celebration, in the words of the Patriarch, is an invitation for us to live an active liturgical life, not as observers, but as participants.

The Patriarch then related that, in performing the rite of the washing of the feet, he had “performed an action prescribed for us by our Holy Fathers.”

“In imitation of the Savior, the Patriarch today washed the feet of priests who symbolized the twelve Apostles,” said His All-Holiness, emphasizing that this rite helps us to understand the depths of the humility of Christ, Who became man in order to save us.

“At the Mystical Supper, bending His knees, He washed the feet of His disciples, in the same manner as a simple servant normally would, to demonstrate that every human person is important before God,” said the Patriarch. “Precisely this understanding helps a Christian to be a humble person, honestly fulfilling his responsibilities, whatever they may be, remembering that the fulfillment of one’s responsibilities, and the honors that go with it, does not overshadow the great truth that we are all equal before God.”

“Pride, however,” the Patriarch concluded, “destroys the connection that the Lord established with us after His suffering on the Cross and His Resurrection.”

At the same Liturgy, following the completion of the Eucharistic Canon, the Patriarch consecrated Holy Chrism. (See the story, in Russian, here.)

3 comments:

Philippa said...

Thanks be to God for sharing this Father. I was unaware that Orthodox participated in this.

Felix Culpa said...

The late Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, performed this rite every year at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY. I think the primary reason one doesn't see it performed more often in North America is that it's rare to have a bishop and twelve priests in one place on Great Thursday.

aaronandbrighid said...

A surprisingly practical explanation!