December 16, 2009

The Sublime Beauty of a Selfless Act

2009 1535 25 capENIS AND KOSTYA, THEOLOGY STUDENTS AND ROOMMATES AT ZAOKSKY Adventist University, had been on each other’s nerves all day. Nothing seemed to go right, and they argued over every small thing.

With heavy hearts the two young men sank into their dormitory beds that night, neither wanting to be the first to apologize, but both longing for peace.
Before Kostya knew it, his alarm went off. He automatically hit the snooze button and drifted back to sleep. After some time, he opened his eyes and saw Denis, kneeling at his bedside. Startled, he sat up and swung his feet over to where he had placed his slippers the night before.
Instead of slippers, his feet slid into lukewarm water. A basin used for washing clothes and mopping the floor had replaced his slippers at the side of his bed.
2009 1535 25Denis silently knelt before Kostya and began washing his feet. Stunned and still groggy with sleep, Kostya didn’t say a word. When Denis finished, he dried Kostya’s feet with a towel.
Kostya went to the bathroom to brush his teeth.
“That was the moment I realized what Communion meant,” Kostya said on a recent Sabbath afternoon in my apartment as a group of church members shared their memories of their first Communions.
“It means forgiveness and humility,” Kostya said, his serious brown eyes shifting from me to Denis, who was seated next to him.
I looked over at Denis, eager to learn what had prompted him to wash his friend’s feet.
Denis, quiet and soft-spoken, said he had been unable to sleep that night as he relived their petty arguments. Finally he got up and began to read the Bible. As he read, he resolved to apologize by washing Kostya’s feet in the morning.
He knew that Kostya would hit the snooze button, so when the alarm went off, he went to the bathroom and filled the washbasin with hot water. Then he knelt by the bed to pray, and waited for Kostya to wake up.
“It was a long wait,” he said with a chuckle, noting that the water had cooled considerably by the time Kostya finally awoke.
“That wasn’t my first Communion, but it was the first time I understood what Communion meant,” Kostya said.
What does Communion mean for you? Jesus Himself asked the question when He washed the disciples’ feet, saying, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” (John 13:12).

Communion was my main motivation for being baptized when I was 9 years old. I wanted to participate in the “adults-only” rite. So I memorized Bible verses and attended baptismal class with university students at Solusi, where my parents taught.
At my first Communion I quickly washed my partner’s feet, treating the ritual as an entry ticket to the main event, the chance to eat in church while the other children watched me with envy, which they did.
Several years later I entered an Adventist boarding school and took Communion to another extreme, avoiding foot washing altogether. I blamed foul foot odor, which really was a problem. The foot odor disappeared after two years, but I had become an insecure teenager who feared that no one would want to wash my feet. So I fled to the library during foot-washing services on Communion Sabbaths, hoping no one would notice me there.
Despite their youth, two Russian teenagers have already grasped the sublime beauty of Jesus’ selfless act—and received a promised blessing. When Jesus finished washing His disciples feet, He told them, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17).
Denis and Kostya applied Jesus’ instructions to their daily lives. Have you? 
Andrew McChesney is a journalist in Moscow. This article was printed December 17, 2009.