Definitions

Foot_washing

Foot washing

Foot washing or washing of feet is a religious rite observed as an ordinance by several Christian denominations. The name, and even the spelling, of this practice is not consistently established, being variously known as foot washing, washing the saints' feet, pedilavium, and mandatum.

The foot-washing was an example, a pattern. Many groups throughout church history have practiced literal foot washing as a church ordinance. However, present culture in many lands does not call for the need to wash dust from the feet of one's guests. The Bible does not record foot washing being practised by the early church, but it would be assumed that they would have performed this ordinance, as they performed the other ordinances instituted by Jesus, including The Lord's Supper.

Background

The root of this practice appears to be found in the hospitality customs of ancient civilizations, especially where sandals were the chief footwear. A host would provide water for guests to wash their feet, serve the guests by washing their feet, or even provide a servant to wash the feet of the guests. This is mentioned in several places in the Old Testament of the Bible (e.g. Genesis ; ; ; ; I Samuel ; et al.), as well as other religious and historical documents. A typical Eastern host might bow, greet, and kiss his guest, then offer water to wash his feet. Though the wearing of sandals might necessitate washing the feet, the water was also offered as a courtesy even when shoes were worn.

Biblical reference

Christian denominations that observe foot washing do so on the basis of the authoritative example and command of Jesus as found in the Gospel of John :

Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put 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 was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.

Washing the saints' feet is also mentioned in I Timothy .

History

The rite of foot washing finds its roots in scripture. After the death of the apostles, the practice was gradually lost.

Nevertheless, it appears to have been practiced in the early centuries of post-apostolic Christianity, though the evidence is scant. For example, Tertullian (145-220) mentions the practice in his De Corona, but gives no details as to who practiced it or how it was practiced. It was practiced by the church at Milan (ca. A.D. 380), is mentioned by the Council of Elvira (A.D. 300), and is even referenced by Augustine (ca. A.D. 400). Observance of foot washing at the time of baptism was maintained in Africa, Gaul, Germany, Milan, northern Italy, and Ireland. According to the Mennonite Encyclopedia "St. Benedict's Rule (A.D. 529) for the Benedictine Order prescribed hospitality feetwashing in addition to a communal feetwashing for humility"; a statement confirmed by the Catholic Encyclopedia. It apparently was established in the Roman church, though not in connection with baptism, by the 8th century. The Albigenses observed feetwashing in connection with communion, and the Waldenses' custom was to wash the feet of visiting ministers. There is some evidence that it was observed by the early Hussites. The practice was a meaningful part of the 16th century radical reformation. Foot washing was often "rediscovered" or "restored" in revivals of religion in which the participants tried to recreate the faith and practice of the apostolic era.

Roman Catholic practice

In Roman Catholic Church, the ritual washing of feet is now associated with the liturgy of Holy Thursday, the day that celebrates in a special way the Last Supper of Jesus, before which he washed the feet of his twelve apostles.

Evidence for the practice on this day goes back at least to the latter half of the twelfth century, when "the pope washed the feet of twelve sub-deacons after his Mass and of thirteen poor men after his dinner."

From 1570 to 1955, the Roman Missal printed, after the text of the Holy Thursday Mass, a rite of washing of feet unconnected with the Mass. The 1955 revision by Pope Pius XII inserted it into the Mass. Since then, the rite is celebrated after the homily that follows the reading of the gospel account of how Jesus washed the feet of his twelve apostles (). Some men who have been selected - usually twelve, but the Roman Missal does not specify the number - are led to chairs prepared in a suitable place. The priest goes to each and, with the help of the ministers, pours water over each one's feet and dries them. In the United States it is common to have a communal observance: lay members of the congregation take turns washing one another's feet. There is some controversy, or at least variation in practice, as to whether this ritual should properly include laypeople, and if so, whether women should be excluded.

At one time, most of the European monarchs also performed the Washing of Feet in their royal courts on Maundy Thursday, a practice continued by the Austro-Hungarian Emperor and the King of Spain up to the beginning of the 20th century.

Eastern Christian practice

Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic

The Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches practice the ritual of the Washing of Feet on Holy and Great Thursday (Maundy Thursday) according to their ancient rites. The service may be performed either by a bishop, washing the feet of twelve priests; or by an Hegumen (Abbot) washing the feet of twelve members of the brotherhood of his monastery. The ceremony takes place at the end of the Divine Liturgy.

After Holy Communion, and before the dismissal, the brethren all go in procession to the place where the Washing of Feet is to take place (it may be in the center of the nave, in the narthex, or a location outside). After a psalm and some troparia (hymns) an ektenia (litany) is recited, and the bishop or abbot reads a prayer. Then the deacon reads the account in the Gospel of John, while the clergy perform the roles of Christ and his apostles as each action is chanted by the deacon. The deacon stops when the dialogue between Jesus and Peter begins. The senior-ranking clergyman among those whose feet are being washed speaks the words of Peter, and the bishop or abbot speaks the words of Jesus. Then the bishop or abbot himself concludes the reading of the Gospel, after which he says another prayer and sprinkles all of those present with the water that was used for the foot washing. The procession then returns to the church and the final dismissal is given as normal.

Oriental Orthodox

Foot washing rites are also observed in the Oriental Orthodox churches on Maundy Thursday.

In the Coptic Orthodox Church the service is performed by the parish priest, not just by a bishop or hegumen. He blesses the water for the foot washing with the cross, just as he would for blessing holy water and he washes the feet of the entire congregation.

Protestant practice

Foot washing is observed by numerous Protestant and proto-Protestant groups, including Pentecostal and Pietistic groups, some Anabaptists, and some Baptists. Though history shows that foot washing has at times been practiced in connection with baptism, and at times as a separate occasion, by far its most common practice has been in connection with the Lord's supper service.

The observance of washing the saints' feet is quite varied, but a typical service follows the partaking of unleavened bread and wine. Deacons (in many cases) place pans of water in front of pews that have been arranged for the service. The men and women participate in separate groups, men washing men's feet and women washing women's feet. Each member of the congregation takes a turn washing the feet of another member. Each foot is placed one at a time into the basin of water, is washed by cupping the hand and pouring water over the foot, and is dried with a long towel girded around the waist of the member performing the washing. Most of these services appear to be quite moving to the participants.

Among groups that do not observe foot washing as an ordinance or rite, the example of Jesus is usually held to be symbolic and didactic. Among these groups, foot washing is nevertheless sometimes literally practiced. First, some reserve it to be a practice of hospitality or a work of necessity. Secondly, some present it as a dramatic lesson acted out in front of the congregation.

A few Baptists (and perhaps others) that literally observe the washing of feet scruple to call it a third ordinance and rather refer to it only as an example.

Foot washing rites are also practised by some Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist churches. Within the United Methodist Church foot washing is most often experienced in connection with Maundy Thursday services and, sometimes, at ordination services where the Bishop may wash the feet of those who are to be ordained. The foot washing service is practiced regularly by members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Primitive Baptists, and the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee).

Non-Trinitarian Groups

In the Latter Day Saint movement, foot washing has historically taken two forms. In 1830, founder Joseph Smith, Jr. directed missionaries, while proselytizing, to shake or wash the dust from their feet as a cursing against those who reject them. This was based on the New Testament practice outlined in Matthew 10:14 for early Christian apostles. In the mid-1830s, Smith also introduced a separate ordinance (ritual) of foot washing in the faith's temples as a ritual cleansing. This practice was later expanded and incorporated into the washing and anointing ceremony.

The True Jesus Church includes Footwashing as a scriptural sacrament based on . Like the other two sacraments, namely Baptism and the Lord's Supper, members of the church believe that footwashing imparts salvific grace to the recipient -- In this case, to have a part with Christ ()

References

  • Historical and Informational
    • Appalachian Mountain Religion: a History, by Deborah Vansau McCauley (ISBN 0-252-06414-3)
    • Catholic Encyclopedia, Charles G. Herbermann, Edward A. Pace, Condé B. Pallen, Thomas J. Shahan, and John J. Wynne, editors
    • Eerdman's Handbook to the History of Christianity, Tim Dowley, et al., editors
    • Encyclopedia of Religion in the South, Samuel S. Hill, editor
    • Foxfire 7, Paul F. Gillespie, editor
    • Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, by Fred H. Wight
    • Mennonite Encyclopedia (Vol. 2), Cornelius J. Dyck, Dennis D. Martin, et al., editors
  • Historical and Theological (con)
    • Footwashing by the Master and by the Saints, by Elam J. Daniels
    • Manual of Church Order (ch. 6), by J. L. Dagg
  • Historical and Theological (pro)
    • The Washing of the Saints' Feet, by J. Matthew Pinson (Randall House, 2006, ISBN 0-89265-522-4)
    • A Free Will Baptist Handbook: Heritage, Beliefs, and Ministries, by J. Matthew Pinson
    • Baptist Doctrine: the Doctrine of Foot Washing, by R. L. Vaughn
    • Footwashing in John 13 and the Johannine Community, by John Christopher Thomas
    • Washing the Saints' Feet shown to be an Ordinance of Christ, by Joseph Sorsby
  • see also entries such as "Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Maundy Thursday" in the Catholic Encyclopedia

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