Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
But as He Who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” I Peter 1:15-16
If you ask the majority of people what their number one goal in life is, the answer is “to be happy.” How one defines what is means to be happy probably varies from person to person. To be happy might mean getting to travel extensively for one person, to be wealthy for another, to be famous for another, to have a great marriage for another, to have successful kids, a big house, lots of money in the bank, live a long time, being healthy, and many more.
There are a couple of problems with “happiness.” The biggest one is that it is temporary. All of the things on the aforementioned list stop when life ends. We don’t take wealth or travel or money or fame or family or house with us when we die. Happiness is fleeting. Thus, if happiness is the number one goal in life, we are consigned to chasing something that we can never have. Because even if we “achieve” happiness, it is temporary.
The next problem with happiness is that it pits us against other people. It creates competition. Why? Because if my greatest goal is happiness and YOU stand in the way of MY happiness, then you become the enemy, you become a threat to my happiness. Thus you become my competitor, and my road to happiness is paved by defeating you.
The highest goal in life can’t be happiness. So, what then is the highest goal in life? The answer is “theosis,” (which can also be described as holiness, or deification) to be “like God.” Theosis is not just a destination, but a journey. And it is not a journey we can “achieve” in this life because if we could, it would be a competition to see who could get there first. To choose to live in cooperation with God is a daily choice, actually it is a choice we make multiple times day. When we have a situation where happiness is only possible at the expense of someone else’s happiness, the journey to Theosis dictates humility, putting someone else ahead. So that we are not obsessed with our place in the line of other people, but that we are obsessed with being in the line of sheep waiting for the security of the sheep pen which is the gate of heaven. (See John 10, when Christ talks about being the Good Shepherd)
Christ came to change the world. He didn’t come to take all the fun and happiness out of the world. Rather, He came to bring hope to the hopeless, and to bring purpose and focus. Instead of seeing the sand emptying out of the hourglasses of our lives as we get older, and losing our sense of happiness as our earthly lives come closer to the end, living a Christian life should give us hope that as we get to our earthly end, we will reach our heavenly beginning.
This becomes possible when we change our goals from personal happiness to serving others (and securing their happiness). This becomes possible when we lead with humility instead of pride, when we self-empty, instead of self-indulge. Jesus did not drive a fancy car. He rode on a simple donkey. He didn’t lead by expecting others to bow down to Him, He led by bowing His head and dying for us.
What is your highest goal in life? It is happiness, or something even higher than that? I like being happy. There is nothing wrong with being happy. God doesn’t tell us to be miserable. To the contrary He tells us not to advertise our prayers and fasting, so that these things don’t become part of a pursuit of happiness through bragging on our spirituality. God wants us to be happy. Yet, He wants us to be more than happy. He wants us to be holy, as He is holy. That should be the greatest and most important goal for every human life.
In this study on encouragement, I encourage you to pursue holiness, not just happiness. Because when happiness is not possible in a situation, it is easy to become discouraged. And of course many times our happiness is affected by external forces which we cannot control. The journey to holiness is something we can control, because we can control how we react to even the most difficult of external forces. If we pursue holiness, we can make positive strides even in negative circumstances. Which can leave us feeling encouraged spiritually, even when we might feel discouraged in other ways.
Lord, the heavenly, holy and blessed One, shine Your Light in my heart and on my life, so that I may be inspired to pursue holiness. Help me to set and meet spiritual goals, not just secular ones. Give me spiritual joy especially in moments of unhappiness. Help me in moments when I feel discouraged, to turn to You as the source of encouragement. May I find joy in the pursuit of holiness today and always. Amen.
Make holiness your highest goal!
The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! There you may find a database for past prayer team messages as well as books by Fr. Stavros and other information about his work and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
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