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Thoughts from the
Early Church
Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper
(Holy Thursday)
April 9, 2020

Commentary by Severian of Gabala

He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
(Jn 13:1)

The whole visible world proclaims the goodness of God, but nothing proclaims it so clearly as his coming among us, by which he whose state was divine assumed the condition of a slave. This was not a lowering of his dignity, but rather a manifesting of his love for us.

The awesome mystery which takes place today brings us to the consequence of his action. For what is it that takes place today? The Savior washes the feet of his disciples.

Although he took upon himself everything pertaining to our condition as slaves, he took a slave’s position in a way specially suited to our own arrangements when “he rose from the table.”

He who feeds everything beneath the heavens was reclining among the apostles, the master among slaves, the fountain of wisdom among the ignorant, the Word among those untrained in the use of words, the source of wisdom among the unlettered. He who nourishes all was reclining and eating with his disciples. He who sustains the whole world was himself receiving sustenance.

Moreover, he was not satisfied with the great favor he showed his servants by sharing a meal with them. Peter, Matthew, and Philip, men of the earth, reclined with him, while Michael, Gabriel, and the whole army of angels stood by. Oh, the wonder of it! The angels stood by in dread, while the disciples reclined with him with the utmost familiarity!

And even this marvel did not content him. “He rose from the table,” as Scripture says. He who is “clothed in light as in a robe” was clad in a cloak; he who wraps the heavens in clouds wrapped round himself a towel; he who pours the water into the rivers and pools tipped some water into a basin. And he before whom every knee bends in heaven and on earth and under the earth, knelt to wash the feet of his disciples.

The Lord of all creation washed his disciples’ feet! This was not an affront to his dignity, but a demonstration of his boundless love for us.
The Lord of all creation washed his disciples’ feet! This was not an affront to his dignity, but a demonstration of his boundless love for us. Yet however great his love was, Peter was well aware of his majesty. Always impetuous and quick to profess his faith, he was quick also to recognize the truth.

The other disciples had let the Lord wash their feet, not with indifference, but with fear and trembling. They dared not oppose the Master. Out of reverence, however, Peter would not permit it. He said: “Lord, are you going to wash my feet? You shall never wash my feet!”

Peter was adamant. He had the right feelings, but not understanding the full meaning of the incarnation, he first refused in a spirit of faith, and afterward gratefully obeyed.

This is how religious people ought to behave. They should not be obdurate in their decisions, but should surrender to the will of God. For although Peter reasoned in human fashion, he changed his mind out of love for God.

Homily on the Washing of the Feet
in A. Wenger,
Revue des Etudes Byzantines, 227-229

Severian (c.400), bishop of Gabala in Syria, was a strong opponent of Saint John Chrysostom and took part in the intrigues that led to his condemnation by the Synod of Oak. According to Palladius he was also responsible for the transfer of the exiled Patriarch from Cucusus to Pityus. which resulted in his death. Severian is important as an exegete of the strict Antiochene school. He had some popularity as a preacher

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Edith Barnecut, OSB. was a consultant for the International Committee for English in the Liturgy, Sr. Edith was responsible for the final version of many of the readings in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Journey with the Fathers
Commentaries on the Sunday Gospels
- Year A, pp. 50-55.
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