In ancient Greece, two virtues were particularly philosophized about and discussed for their unique value, and were summed up as "kalos k' agathos" or "beautiful and good". These were two internal characteristics that extended towards all their external ways of life. The singular balance of beautiful and good made up a man who was both healthy in soul and body, in other words, an Athenian gentleman who was a perfect and ideal man.
Though all cultures, to a certain extent, possess their own set of virtues that are unique, it is commonly held that modern Greeks are especially abundant in two virtues that are almost untranslatable in the English language, yet bear a certain resemblance on a deeper level to the virtues of the ancient Greeks. These two virtues are Philotimo and Leventia.
Whereas in ancient times more emphasis was placed on external beauty as a sign of virtue, Christianity helped the Greek people de-emphasize the external factor of personal beauty for a deeper internal love of beauty within one's soul. It removed a more "selfish" characteristic and emphasized instead, in imitation of Christ, a certain "selflessness" that places the welfare of others above that of one's self. Such self-sacrifice bordered on a particular form of martyrdom that was deemed heroic, noble and full of integrity. These are the characteristics of a person who possesses philotimo. It is a person who is filled with love, humility and hospitality.
The Greeks are also a suffering people who have had much acquaintance with being oppressed, especially in recent times under the Ottoman Turks. These times called for a special courageousness to behave bravely and with honor to overcome oppression. Even in the midst of hardships and humiliation, one was expected to develop an internal form of excellence that would not show one as ever defeated, but always show one victorious even in the midst of apparent defeat. This is best exemplified once again with self-sacrifice on behalf of others. These are the characteristics of leventia.
In his appeals to the Greek people who would visit him, Elder Paisios would invoke these two virtues in order to reach their "collective unconscious". It has been said that if you want to encourage Greek men to agree with you and bring them higher to a more lofty ideal, you have to appeal to their philotimo. Furthermore, if you want to give Greek men encouragement to fight for what is right and true, then you would appeal to their leventia. Though leventia is more commonly applied to young men, in truth it could apply to all men. Typicially when a child or teenager displays characteristics of being a leventis, he is called a palikari to show that he is in the preliminary stages of being a leventis through his determination in displaying a good and manly heart.
Elder Paisios was absolutely correct when he once said that "Greeks may have a pile of faults, but they also have a gift from God, philotimo and leventia; they celebrate everything. Other peoples do not even have these words in their dictionaries." Philotimo, according to Elder Paisios, means "the reverent distillation of goodness; the radiant love of the humble man bereft of himself, but with a heart full of gratitude to God and his fellow man; because of his spiritual sensitivity he tries to repay even the slightest good that others do to him." Leventia means courage, honesty, generosity of heart, directness, manliness and in general the willingness to lay down ones life for others.
Here are just a few ways Elder Paisios used the term philotimo to appeal to his listeners:
- "Those who have philotimo, because they move within the heavenly sphere of doxology, joyfully accept their trials as well as their blessings, and glorify God for them. Thus, they are continuously receiving God’s blessing from everything and are melting internally out of gratitude towards God, which they express in every spiritual way possible, like children of God."
- "Unfortunately, in our day, words and books have multiplied and experiences have diminished, because the worldly spirit, which pursues all conveniences and avoids all bodily effort, influences people. Most of us find rest in much reading but little or no implementation. We simply marvel at the holy athletes of our Church without realizing how much they’ve labored, for we have not toiled so as to be able to understand their toil, to love them and to struggle out of philotimo in order to imitate them."
- "Those, however, who struggle with philotimo and do not give themselves rest, removing their egos from every one of their actions, help very positively. For only then are the souls in need of help given rest, and only then will their own souls find inner rest, in this life as well as in eternity."
- "When one realizes one's sinfulness and the great mercy of God, the heart cracks, as hard as it may be, and real tears fall of themselves and then man prays and weeps without effort. This is because humility works continuously together with philotimo and drills on the heart so that the springs increase, and the hand of God continually strokes the hard-working and philotimo child."
Read also: Philotimo: Greece's Most Valuable Commodity