Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States
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Please explain what Saint Basil the Great meant by saying that we must not “claim the first place”? Is he referring to praise and honor; or to other accomplishments?

There is a difference between claiming a place of honor and being successful in what we do. St. Basil is teaching what St. Paul had written in his letter to the Philippians "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others" (Phil 2:3-4).

It is great to be successful at school or at work and strive to be the best as long as we are not motivated by self-pride or haughtiness. We must bear in mind that whatever success we accomplish is a gift from the Lord; and we should not attribute it to our own efforts. In his first letter to St. Timothy, St Paul did not condemn richness but warned those who trust in the uncertainty of riches; stressing the fact that all things are given to us from the Lord "Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life" (Tim 6:17-19).

St. Paul tells us that we should earnestly desire the best gift of all which is love. "But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor 12:31-13:1).

St. Paul compares our life and endeavors on earth to a race in which people operate on competitive basis trying to beat each other in order to reach the first place. However, in running the race of the Kingdom of God, where the main goal is God and not the race itself; everybody is a winner. Everybody who is faithful and makes an effort to bring glory to Gods name and advancement to Gods  kingdom, is a first place winner, because its system is not built on competitiveness; but on love to God and to one another. In Gods race, the first shall be last and the last shall be first; depending on how much effort, self sacrifice, love, and faith, one presents while he is running the spiritual race.

"Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown" (1 Cor 9:24). "And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all" (Mk 9:35) and also "Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mt 20:26-28).
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