A few days before Pascha the Lord was walking towards Jerusalem. The roads were sandy and rocky. The road from Bethany to Jerusalem was difficult and as the hours went by, they were all getting tired. Their discussions revolved around who among them would be greater in the Kingdom of God. It was a heated discussion reviewing who would be first, who would be least, eventually arriving in Jerusalem to partake of the Mystical Supper, the First Eucharist. However, the Disciples were so preoccupied with their own greatness that they forgot the meaning of why they had gathered around Jesus.
In ancient Judaic tradition, a slave would be called forth as a guest entered, and the slaves would wash their feet. Having traveled along the dirty and dusty roads, the feet of the travelers were caked in mud, as the dust creeped in through their sandals.
Christ looks at His Disciples and before the dinner commences, He took a towel and basin of water, dropped to His knees, and washed their feet, one by one, and having washed them, carefully dried them, kissed them, and then moved on to the next. The Lord ensured that they were all refreshed, as he performed the duties of a slave.
As they humbly take their places around the table to enjoy their dinner, the Lord tells them that He wants them to love each other, as He loves them, and as He showed them by washing their feet. He wants them to follow His example and love each other.
So St. Paul later hears of the arguments taking place in the Church of Rome. There is discord and upheaval, so he writes a letter to the Romans to make peace amongst themselves and to cease the disputes. St. Paul needs someone to carry this most important letter to Rome. He asks St. Phoebe, a noble woman who was a benefactress and served the Apostles and directs her to take this letter and restore peace in Rome. St. Phoebe is made a deaconess, the first deaconess in the Church, and her first duty was to deliver this letter. St. Paul trusted her with this great responsibility to get this letter and restore peace.
Jesus spoke about love to His Disciples, St. Paul instructs St. Phoebe to deliver his instructions to Rome, telling them to love each other. Everything we do, we should do with love and out of love for one another. If we do not love, there is no point in saying we believe in God, in fasting, in praying, for if we have no love, all these are meaningless. The service of not only hierarchs, clergy, deacons, seminarians, but the service of every single person must begin with love – love of God, and love towards others.
Judas was full of love. He was faithful for Jesus for three years. He followed him, collected funds, helped the poor. He loved Jesus, but, over those three years his love shifted away from Jesus to the position which he held. What crucified Jesus was not the Jews or the Romans, but a confused sense of love. Every time we betray our Christian teachings, every time we behave against the teachings of Christ, we crucify Him, with our mistaken conception of love. When we get full of pride and anger, we crucify the Lord.
His Eminence continued by stating that in every school, be it a seminary or even an elementary school, we teach that we must love. We teach children to be kind, to share, and to give of themselves. As we grow older our concept of love shifts. Why do we allow our childlike concept of love to a distorted and misguided sense of love. Why have we taken the most holy aspect of humanity, love, into something dark and harmful?
In the Seminary, the young men are taught and prepared to enter the School of Life, as they will be assigned one day as clergy to parishes. They will need to be able to love. Love their parishioners, but also love the dirty homeless man on the street corner. They will love their families, but also they will need to love their parish family many of who will disagree with them, or behave badly. They will need to live their lives in pastoral love to all. The calling of a human being is to love.
The Lord called specific men, women, people, to teach love and preach love. The Elders of the Church were taught to preach and explain the teachings of God. The deacon was not to preach or teach, but to serve the Word of God. He is to teach it through practical application. St. John Chrysostom stated that the best sermon is not the one that is preached with words, but the one that is witnessed by the way we live our lives, by the Word of God, with directing our words, actions, and thoughts. That is the best sermon.