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The Lord asked his disciples if they understand his loving act of humility. It is a statement that sets the scene for all that will follow – his passion, suffering and death on the Cross. The focus through all of that for Jesus is not his physical suffering, but his love for his disciples, and for us. All the evangelists take pains to point this out by barely referring to his physical suffering. Both Mark and Matthew mention only that Jesus was stripped, mocked, struck on the head with a reed, then led away to be crucified. Luke mentions only that they led him away to be crucified. John says even less: “Then Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.”

This is just the opposite of the movie The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson, who makes Jesus out to be a Rambo V, beaten and bludgeoned ad nauseum. The evangelists, by saying so little, want to keep the focus on the deeper meaning of the Last Supper and the passion of Christ, and for us, the deeper meaning of the Eucharist and discipleship. It is all about the love that Jesus had for his disciples, and us, and the hope that we would enter into as intimate a loving relationship with him as he had with the Father. That is because it is a relationship of intimate love and not physical suffering that transforms hearts.

The lesson for us is that we are to imitate Jesus, the Lord and Master, to become a carbon copy of him, to do as he did, to let go of any need for possessions, prestige and power, to let go of any need to make a name for ourselves, and to give our lives in humble service out of love for him and for each other. We are to take off our outer robes as well, and to wash each other’s feet.

The gospel strikingly reminds us we do not celebrate the Eucharist for our own sake, or for our own personal holiness only, as if that was disconnected from life. We do it for others, for the broken world. 

Jesus washed the feet of his disciples to show the meaning of the priesthood, the meaning of the Eucharist, the meaning of our own baptism, and the meaning of what he would do on the cross. Love, following Jesus and Christian ministry is not about power and glory. No – love, following Jesus and ministry, is all about humble service.

There can be no compromise about this. Those who profess to follow Jesus, filled with his Spirit, must die to power and glory, and willingly accept to express their faith and love through humble service, through “washing each others’ feet.” To wash each other’s feet is to serve one another lovingly with complete humility. When we were baptized, we were made priests (prayer); prophets (truth) and shepherds (caregivers). We live out our baptism by celebrating the Eucharist together, and then going to live out the Eucharist through lives of humble service, washing the feet of our brothers and sisters.

Two hymns from the Service of the 12 Passion Gospels sung on Holy Thursday evening that always stir up great emotion within me are below:

“Every member of Thy holy flesh endured dishonor for us. Thy head, thorns; Thy face, spitting; Thy cheeks, buffeting; Thy mouth, taste of vinegar mingled with gall; Thine ears, impious blasphemies; Thy back, scourging; Thy hand, a reed; Thy whole body, extension upon the cross; Thy joints, nails; Thy side, spear. By Thy sufferings Thou hast set us free from suffering. In Thy love for mankind, Thou didst stoop down to raise us up. O Almighty Savior, have mercy on us!”

“Today He who suspended the earth upon the waters is suspended upon a Tree. (3x) A crown of thorns is placed on the head of the King of angels. He who wore a false purple robe covered the Heavens with clouds. He is smitten who, in the Jordan, delivered Adam. The Bridegroom of the Church is fastened with nails, and the Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear. Thy sufferings we adore, O Christ! (3x) Make us ready to behold Thy glorious Resurrection.”

If we want to remember our Lord’s saving Passion & Death, let us not forget His glorious Resurrection. We live in a “post-Paschal” world. To paraphrase one of the Orthodox Theologians: The greatest tragedy is to live as if He never came…

Let us also take to heart the meaning of these Divine Services of the day – humble service and intimate loving union with Christ. Let us pray for the faith and love to live out the Most Holy Eucharist and our baptismal priesthood in humble service.

May our Lord grant that, through prayerful attention during these services, we may each come to love Him more.

In conclusion, those who were in attendance at the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Great Prince Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago, IL, had an opportunity to once again participate in the prayers and the historical sequence of the events, as related in the Gospels and hymns, providing a vivid foundation for the great events yet to come.

Serving with Vladyka Daniel were the clergy of St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago, IL: Very Rev. Fr. Ivan Lymar – pastor and Protodeacon Andriy Fronchak, Very Rev. Fr. Mykola Lymar of the Protection of the Birth-Giver of God Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Milwaukee, WI, assisted by the seminarians of the Church Subdeacons Maksym Zhuravchyk, Andrii Akulenko, Roman Marchyshak and Yurii Izhyk.

Once again, the evening entered those in attendance into the celebration of the holy, saving and awesome Passion of Christ. To take away our sins, Christ willingly endured the spitting, scourging, buffetings, scorn, mocking and the purple robe; the reed, sponge, vinegar, nails, spear and, above all, the Cross and Death.