Growing up Greek in America, my parents used to hammer one word into my thick little skull. PHILOTIMO. Every time I turned around Mama and Baba were giving me the "philotimo" lecture. I may not have been a great practitioner of this time honored Greek virtue, but at least I knew what it looked like when I saw it. To me it always meant doing the right thing, a difficult task in the best of times. Luckily for me even though I often failed to live up to the high standard of Philotimo required of a Greek, I had plenty of Greek (and non-Greek) role models in my life that epitomized this attribute encouraging me to do the same. These role models were my parents, priests, teachers, relatives, even fellow Marines. Thankfully, they never gave up on me.
The best description of Philotimo I have ever read is the following: "Philotimo is that deep-seated awareness in the heart that motivates the good that a person does. A philotimos person is one who conceives and enacts eagerly those things good." Philotimo originated with our ancient ancestors but was incorporated seamlessly by Orthodox Christianity and its importance is preached by many of the Greek-speaking elders of our Church such as Elder Paisios:
(from the book "Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain" by monk Christodoulos of Mt Athos)
Father Paisios told me an incident from his childhood years:
"When I was a child and my soul was still pure, I loved Christ very much. I used to walk in the woods carrying a cross in my hands, chanting and praying and wishing to become a monk. My parents told me that I should first grow up and then leave to go to the monastery. One day, as I was taking my usual walk in the woods, I met a fellow villager. When he saw me carrying the cross, he asked me; "what is this?" "The Cross of our Christ," I replied. Since he did not have any positive thoughts in his mind, he said to me, "Arsenios, you are silly. You don't mean to say that you believe in God. He does not exist. These religious stories are made up by some priests. We have evolved from the monkey. Christ was simply a man like all of us.
When he finished, he got up and left. His twisted thoughts filled my innocent soul with black heavy clouds. Being alone in the woods, I began to think that maybe God does not exist. As I was feeling confused, desperate and extremely asked, I asked Christ to give me an indication of His existence, so I could believe in Him. But He did not respond. Feeling exhausted, I lay on the ground to rest. Suddenly, a positive thought, full of philotimo (responsive gratefulness), entered my innocent soul; "Hold on for a second! Wasn't Christ the kindest man ever on earth? No one has ever found anything evil in Him. So, whether He is God or not, I don't care. Based on the fact that He is the kindest man on earth and I haven't known anyone better, I will try to become like Him and absolutely obey everything the Gospel says. I will even give my life for Him, if needed, since He is so kind.
All my thoughts of disbelief disappeared and my soul was filled with immense joy. The power of my grateful thought (philotimo) dissolved all the ambiguous ones. When I started believing in Christ and decided to love Him as much as I could, solely out of philotimo (responsive gratefulness), I experienced a miracle that firmly sealed my grateful thought. Then, I thought, "I do not care any more if someone tells me that God does not exist!"
As the story of the Elder regarding his grateful thought did not completely satisfy me, I asked him with a certain curiosity to tell me about the miracle he experienced I the woods. Father Paisios was found in a difficult position and replied that he could not tell me about it. This way, he indicated that I, too, should not look for miracles, but rather trust my feeling of philotimo, as it is the key which opens the door to every good.
Later on, Father Paisios told me that he had seen the Lord.
He had this to say about Philotimo:
"The righteous Christian does not practice good acts for his own benefit, i.e. in order to be rewarded or to avoid hell and gain paradise, but rather because he prefers good to evil. Everything else is a natural consequence of the good that fills our soul without having asked for it. This way, good has dignity; otherwise, it originates from the cheap attitude of "give and take."
Please read the entire essay on Philotimo at www.OrthodoxWiki.org, it's well worth a few minutes of your time. Many thanks to the friend who told me about it.