At all the sinks at St. Simeon Skete, you will find the Ablutions posted. They are to be said before each Prayer Office.
- Wash the hands to the wrists: “May these hands be instruments of peace”
- Then cup a handful of water to the lips with the right hand, rinsing the mouth three times: “May this mouth speak only the pleasing words, the healing words, the truthful words”.
- Then lightly snuff water into the nose three times, which has remarkably brightening effect on the senses: “May I long for the sweet fragrance of His Presence.”
- Then wash the whole face and eyes: “May this face shine with the light of His countenance. May these eyes see the hand of the Creator everywhere they look.”
- Clean the ears by inserting the tips of the index finger wetted with water into the ears, twist them around the folds of the ears then pass the thumb behind the ears from the bottom, upwards, and then over the nape of the neck: “May these ears hear only the resonance of His Word; may this neck bend in humility to the One.”
- Wash the feet (right foot first) up to the ankles, making sure that no parts of the feet are left dry: “May these feet walk on holy ground.”
Exodus 30:21 “So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not: and it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his seed throughout their generations”.
Exodus 40:31 “And Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet thereat:”
More often than not, Christians see this “ritual” as belonging to another religion - when in fact it was from our Jewish roots, carried on by the early Christians. It remains a practice at St. Simeon Skete and with many Christians in the East. As time went on the physical expressions of our Christian worship were left behind. We say our prayers as we lay in bed, as we drive from one appointment to another, or whenever we find a moment to remember - a lot of the time we tend to catch God “on the fly”. There is nothing wrong with meeting up with God in any situation. We should be in prayer at all times in all that we do (“pray without ceasing”). Many times I find myself in prayer while doing normal, regular chores - while baking a pie - saying the Jesus Prayer with every cherry that I pit, with every stroke of the scrub brush as I wash the dirty floor. Even in the shower, as I wash my hair I add to the listed ablutions... “may this hair remind me to keep myself untangled from the ways of the world”, etc. All that we do should be done in prayer, however it is crucial that we come apart from the world, our work, our busy lives each day to deliberately make an effort to make time specifically set aside for Him. It is this effort, going out of our way to do something special with Him.
As a child I remember my mother, after breakfast, returning to her bedroom to say her prayers. My brother and I knew not to disturb her during her time with God. Of all the things I remember in my childhood, it is the importance my mom placed on her prayer time that I find the most endearing. The effort she made to arrange that special time alone with God - a time where my brother and I had no doubt of the huge significance that God played in her life. Despite demanding, cranky kids, despite the piled up housework, despite financial worries... she left it all to be with Him. Somehow, as a child, that made me feel all the more secure, knowing that God came first.
Beside the sink on every wall at St. Simeon Skete, you are reminded to pray. The purpose of washing each of these parts outlined in the Ablutions is that it gives you time, bit by bit, part by part, to move your awareness away from the world and toward God.
2 Samuel 12:20 “Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat.”
Time to say within your heart:
I am now going to establish a connection with God
I am now going to turn toward God
I am going to hand over my responsibilities, my love, to God.
This determination must become strong through the process of your ablutions. By the time you have finished, you must have the intent and the aim of seeing God. The day you succeed in these ablutions, your prayer becomes fruitful!
In 1 Timothy 2:8 it says “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting”. The lifting up of holy hands - to lift up the hands - denotes supplications, as it was a common attitude of prayer to lift towards heaven. The “holy hands” refer to the Jewish and early Christian custom of washing their hands before prayer; this was/is done to signify that they had put away all sin, and purposed to live a holy life.
Acts 21:26 “Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.”