For most of the summer I wear sandals outside the house. After an afternoon in the hot city, the first thing I do when I get home is wash my feet. The practice not only cleans my feet, but also refreshes and relaxes me. I imagine that it is similar for those in arid climates like the Middle East, where washing their feet is a must to rid them of the dust of the desert.
During Holy Week this practice takes on an additional spiritual significance that is featured in the services of Holy Wednesday, and especially in the Vespers and Liturgy of Holy Thursday which commemorate the Last Supper and Jesus' washing of the disciples' feet. The washing of the feet is dramatized during the reading of the Gospel account. In most cases it is the local bishop who represents Christ and washes the feet of the disciples (the clergy and altar servers who are present). In a number of parishes, special permission has been granted to the priest to take on the role of Christ if no bishop is present and fellow clergy and/or altar servers portray the disciples. Many times there are not enough clergy or altar servers to fill twelve spaces and men from the congregation are asked to step in. If not enough men can be found, the chairs will remain empty.
...I was at a Holy Thursday Liturgy a few years ago where visiting non-Orthodox men were asked to fill the remaining two spaces although there were many faithful Orthodox women in attendance.
A few years later I was at another Holy Thursday Liturgy service at which there were, again, not enough clergy, altar servers, or men in attendance. This time, without hesitation, a young woman in the congregation and two other young girls filled the empty chairs and had their feet washed by the priest.
May we, like the disciples, be cleansed and enlightened at the washing of the feet and be prepared to meet the Crucified and Risen Lord.