At the last supper our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ kneeled down and washed the dirty feet of each of his disciples. Imagine what your feet would look like if you traveled all over the desert of the Holy Land in nothing but sandals. Yet Christ washed them.
The Niptir or the washing of the feet is a symbol of humble service, given the extreme indignity involved in washing feet in the ancient world, a task usually reserved for the lowest slave of the house. Indeed, Jesus’ own explicit words seem to present it as such: “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” (Jn. 13:14-15).
In some Orthodox churches you may have the privilege to see the service of the washing of the feet. The service is done by a Hierarch or monastery Abbot, as they represent Christ and serve as our guide and shepherd to each of our parishes, and ultimately, each one of us.
During the Thursday Matins, which takes place Wednesday evening, or following the Vesperal Divine Liturgy on Thursday morning, the service of the Niptir or washing of the feet takes place. The Hierarch will wash the feet of 12 men, representing the 12 disciples. The washing of the feet occurs while the gospel account of Christ washing the feet of his disciples is read. In our churches, these are men of fine character, chosen from various parishes from throughout the Metropolis, who may serve the parish council, are Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, or are exemplary young men from the Metropolis. It is a blessing to be selected for this group.