The Rev. Stanley S. Harakas is a priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and is Archbishop lakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology Emeritus in the field of Orthodox Christian Ethics at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA. Fr. Harakas is the author of five pamphlets and fifteen books, both scholarly and popular, and over one hundred thirty published scholarly articles and book contributions. For twenty-one years (1980-2000), he was a weekly columnist in the national Greek-American newspaper, The Hellenic Chronicle. He is a beloved teacher to generations of Greek Orthodox Christians in America, thanks to his many years as a professor and his prolific writings.
The earthly mind is confined to itself. When it accomplishes something, it takes full credit for the accomplishment, and self-centeredly assumes that what is accomplished is the result only of the efforts, talents and abilities that it enjoys.
The reverent mind transcends itself, and understands that whatever accomplishments we achieve are the results not only of our own efforts and talents, but of scores of other factors over which we have little control.
Circumstances play a role also. Being in the right place at the right time with the right idea or concept sometimes is the difference between success or failure. Having the right idea, at an inopportune time, however, is a commonplace. We say, “He was ahead of his time.”
But, often we expend effort on good ideas and organize properly, and the fruits of our labors are outstanding. Nevertheless, before we take credit for ourselves, we need to remember all those who contributed to our success. In many cases, the earliest contributors to our lives, who formed us and gave us the foundational attributes of our character, are our parents. We would be nothing without them. Sometimes in our lives there have been people who, in one way or another, have inspired us, and conveyed to us dreams and confidence. Often, it is our spouses who motivate us. Many remember teachers, priests, coaches, or the schools from which they have graduated, acknowledging how much they made possible their successes.
As true as all these are, the reverent person knows that even these are not adequate to completely explain why we have been able to accomplish important and significant things in life. The reverent mind knows that in the deepest sense, what we are is a gift of God.
Our very life is God’s gift to us. The Psalmist put it this way, “For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). Elsewhere he declares, “Upon thee I have leaned from my birth; thou art he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of thee” (Psalm 71:6).
Science speaks to us of genes, which influence many aspects of our life. They are part of our make-up, and there is little that we can do about how they influence us. In the same way, the reverent heart senses that much in our lives is due to the grace and mercy of God. So when we experience the joy of accomplishment, before pride and celebration, thankfulness is in order.
In one of the Orthodox Holy Week services, we say the Prayer of Azarias. At one point, we pray these words, which can serve us well as we rejoice in our successes: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures for ever. Bless him, all who worship the Lord, the God of gods, sing praise to him and give thanks to him, for his mercy endures for ever” (1:67-68).
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