While the glorious Disciples were being illumined at the washing of the feet during the Supper, then, too, did Judas the ungodly one, succumb to darkness, being sick with avarice. And he delivered You, the righteous Judge, to lawless judges. Look here, O lover of money, and see the one who for money’s sake hanged himself. Flee from the greed that made him dare commit such a deed against the Teacher. O Lord benevolent to all, glory be to You.
~Apolytikion, Nyptiras Service, Holy Wednesday Evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas
And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside His garments, and girded Himself with a towel. Then He poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to Him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not every one of you.” For He knew who was to betray Him; that was why He said, “You are not all clean.” When He had washed their feet, and taken His garments, and resumed His place, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
John 13: 2-15
A blessed Lent! Kali Sarakost!
As we are going through this series on the hymns of Holy Week, you’ll notice that there is no mention of the Sacrament of Holy Unction. There are two reasons for this. First, Holy Unction was not part of Holy Week until the last few centuries. Because Holy Unction does not have a set date that it is done, some churches were doing it once a month, others during every fasting season, and others, not at all. It was decided that Holy Unction would be placed on Holy Wednesday, immediately preceding the commemoration of the institution of the Eucharist. The second reason is that there are no hymns in the Sacrament of Holy Unction that relate to the events of Holy Week. There are no parts of the “Greatest Story Ever Sung” that are parts of the Sacrament of Holy Unction.
The Service of the Nyptiras (washing of the feet) is the Orthros/Matins of Holy Thursday that is offered on Holy Wednesday evening, though in many parishes it is suppressed, as Holy Unction alone is offered. The theme of this service shifts from Christ the Bridegroom, to the Last Supper. In some instances, this service is actually called the Service of the Bridegroom. There is also a specific service called “The Washing of the Feet” where a bishop washes the feet of twelve priests, or a priest washes the feet of twelve laypeople.
The Apolytikion for the service Wednesday evening will also be the Apolytikion of the Service of the Holy Passion on Holy Thursday evening, as there is a connection between the two events. The hymn references “the glorious disciples.” In Greek the phrase is “endoxi Mathitais” which literally means, “in glory disciples,” in others words, the disciples that were immersed in Christ’s glory, because they were be illumined by His teachings and His example and were about to be further illumined through the washing of their feet and soon after, the Holy Eucharist.
The account of the Last Supper varies in the four Gospels. In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, there is no washing of the feet, Judas is at the table but leaves before the institution of the Eucharist, the Eucharist is instituted, the disciples then go to the Mount of Olives and some of the final teachings take place there. In the Gospel of Luke, it is not clear whether Judas is at the Last Supper, he betrays Jesus for the money and then seeks an opportunity to turn Jesus over to the chief priests. There is also no washing of the feet. The final teachings take place in the upper room. The Gospel of John includes the washing of the feet and Judas is present at that point. His feet are washed by Jesus. Then Judas leaves after the betrayal is foretold. There is no institution of the Eucharist in the Gospel of John (though it is alluded to earlier in the Gospel), and the final teachings take place in the upper room. Only after Jesus is finished teaching do He and the disciples go to the Garden of Gethsemane.
We know that each Gospel account is slightly different. What is beautiful about the hymns of Holy Week is that they tell the story of the Last Supper from all the Gospels at once. Thus, in the hymn that highlights this reflection, we read about the washing of the feet of the disciples, followed by the departure of Judas, who as Matthew and Mark point out was at the table in the upper room. Only in the Gospel of John, however, do we read of the washing of the feet.
As we will find out, the hymns of Holy Week are rather heavy on negative attention towards Judas. There will be plenty to say on Judas in upcoming reflections. For this one, let us focus on the washing of the feet. At the time Christ walked the earth, washing the feet of a guest in a house was usually done by a slave or a servant. Thus, it would have been unheard of that the teacher, the one the disciples called “Lord,” and “Master” would stoop down to wash their feet. In doing this, Christ was showing an example of humility, as well as showing the disciples that they were to be servants of one another and of humanity. They were to divest themselves of glory and honor and instead put forward the glory and honor of others by serving them.
The apolytikion contrasts Judas with the disciples, that even though he was one of the twelve, and had his own feet washed by Jesus; that despite being shown honor by Jesus, his soul was at the same time succumbing to the darkness of greed, and therefore he sold his Savior for thirty pieces of silver. It not only reminds us, but it implores us to flee from the greed of Judas, which is a temptation to all of us. We are constantly tempted to sell out—our Lord, our friends, our faith, even our souls. The hymn reminds us that we are servants of Christ, and to remember His ultimate acts of service to us, first in the washing of the feet of His disciples, and then in the laying down of His life for the whole world.
Judas, the transgressor of the Law, who at the supper dipped his hand in the dish with You, O Lord, lawlessly extended his hands to take the pieces of silver. He who calculated the price of the fragrant oil was not afraid to sell You, the priceless One. He who offered his feet for You, the Master, to wash them kissed You deceitfully in order to betray You to the lawless. Thrown out of the company of Apostles, and having thrown down the thirty pieces of silver, he did not see Your Resurrection on the third day; through which, have mercy on us. (Praises, Bridegroom Service, Holy Wednesday Evening, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Christ washed the feet of His disciples, showing them an example of being a humble servant. We should “wash the feet of one another” showing humility to others and serving them, following the example of Christ.
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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