As noted in my preceding post, I was introduced to this word through reading about the Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain who used it quite frequently in his teaching. The following short article appears on OrthodoxWiki, the online Orthodox encylopedia. It is a worthy read on an important virtue as taught by the Church. May God, by His grace, increase such virtue in us all!
The virtue of philotimo is commonly emphasized in Greek Orthodox Christianity. It follows in line with two other important words; ethos (demeanor, manner) and phronema (mind-set, attitude/disposition). Philotimo is the humble, dignified and respectful way people interact with one another (family members, extended friends and family, fellow parishioners and extends to the workplace). And it is perhaps more especially referred to in the highly refined and profoundly simple monastic literature of Orthodoxy. In our times and from the works and words of Elders Paisios (+1993) of Mount Athos and Porphyrios of Athens, we see the term and its antecedent spirit used quite frequently. That these two modern spiritual giants of the Greek-speaking world use the word so naturally (as most Greeks do) is no coincidence however, because it is an anthropological concept that was first observed by the ancient Greeks. It was always used with regard to eager and grateful living. When one is grateful he responds toward God and others by enacting other virtues. Hence, some would say that the philotimo spirit is the singularly unique virtue from which stem all the virtues. When used specifically in the spiritual sense, philotimo expresses the intense and constant feeling of deep appreciation and heartfelt gratitude for God’s gifts, to such a degree that the soul feels the inner need to freely and thankfully respond. It is the feeling of not being able to “give back” enough. It can mean gratitude for anything from a small gift someone might have given you (or the small act of kindness someone may have shown you) to an appreciation for one’s heritage and ancestors (to one’s own parents) as according to the word of the Apostle Paul who writes, “Remember, it is not you that holds up the root, but the root that holds you up (Rom. 11:18).” At another level, in our effort to successfully define philotimo, we might also simply suggest these two English words “responsive gratefulness.”
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. The term is formulated in a beautifully synthesized Greek word which comes from two Greek root words; 1) the prefix filo (filw) – which literally means I love (cf. John 21:16 as in Apostle Peter’s response to the Lord’s question, “Do you love me?” – “nai kurie, su oida oti filw se,” – which also has height, depth and breadth of meaning in and of itself). Philo can be more precisely understood also as having deep heartfelt appreciation or gratitude for some one or some thing. It is also the prefix to many other etymologically Greek monikers (eg. philanthropist, philosopher, philologist, philharmonic etc.). As a prefix, philo denotes one as an appreciator or friend (lover) of the essence of another concept found in the term which follows it, in this case, “timi” (Grk timh, h).” Timi is yet another very important ancient Greek and Christian concept that means honor or value. Honor (or the value of things) is itself the immeasurably deep philosophical concept about which volumes could be written. Another way of thinking about philotimo is when considering a clean or clear conscience and how one act eagerly upon that which the conscience dictates. Philotimo is therefore intimately intertwined with the grateful conscience, the stirrings of one’s inner disposition, but it is infinitely more.
Olivier Clement says the following about love in his book The Book of Christian Mysticism, “Spiritual progress has no other test in the end, nor any better expression, than our ability to love. It has to be unselfish love, founded on respect; a service, a disinterested affection that does not ask to be paid in return (“our” philotimo), a ‘sympathy,’ indeed an ‘empathy,’ that takes us out of ourselves enabling us to ‘feel with’ the other person and indeed to ‘feel’ him or her. It gives us the ability to discover in the other person an inward nature as mysterious and deep us our own, but different and willed to be so – by God.