It is human to be drawn to a higher standard. It is our nature.
From massive feats of architecture to landing on the moon, humans have always grasped for the “next big thing”. That discovery, or that view, or that result.
What’s with this constant pursuit of “better.” Why is it so hard for humans to settle for a mediocre existence? I would argue that this pursuit is built into the very nature of our being. We are meant to pursue higher things. We are meant to find something outside of ourselves and run towards it like the master prize. It’s the same concept behind longing to summit a mountain, or listen to a beautiful piece of music and let it touch our souls. There is a search for the infinite, the eternal going on.
I think this search comes from our constant search for God.
We were made for Him and to live with Him forever in Heaven. We are called to a supernatural life, even while still living our natural one. We have a deep desire to be with God and our search for earthly greatness is only a response to this desire.
Where is it from?
I first came in contact with the concept of “Epektasis” while reading an article a friend gave me. Unfortunately the article is long gone, but we had been talking about the idea of Wonder and how it has really driven me to find God all around and really fall in love with my Catholic faith. In this article, they mentioned the word Epektasis and how it was an idea of “Constant Growth” or “Upward Striving.”
I was intrigued.
So, like any good Millennial, I “Googled it.” I stumbled across one of the few articles ever written on the subject by Joe Rawls. The article goes on to say that the concept first appeared in the Apostle Paul’s writings to the Phillipians: “Forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forth [epekteinomenon] unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark” (Phil 3:13). The idea is then picked up and formulated by Gregory of Nyssa (335-384), the great Christian Theologian in his work, Life of Moses. Below is an excerpt from that work:
“For this reason, we also say that the great Moses, as he was becoming ever greater, at no time stopped in his ascent, nor did he set a limit for himself in his upward course. Once having set foot on the ladder which God set up (as Jacob says), he continually climbed to the step above and never ceased to rise higher, because he always found a step higher than the one he had attained.
...He shone with glory. And although lifted up through such lofty experiences, he is still unsatisfied in his desire for more. He still thirsts for that with which he constantly filled himself to capacity, and he asks to attain as if he had never partaken, beseeching God to appear to him, not according to his capacity to partake, but according to God's true being.”
I read this two years ago, and it has completely overtaken and changed my life.
What does it mean?
My real passion for Epektasis stemmed from my Faith as a Catholic. I’ve always wanted to be the best Catholic I can be, and here was a motto for how to live the best Catholic life I could. Of course, we’ve all heard the motivational speakers and read the blogs talking about bettering yourself, pushing yourself to achieve your dreams, etc. But this was different. This was calling us outside of any goals WE could ever dream of, and inspiring us to strive for goals set by God.
What are those goals?
Perfection on earth and Heaven for all eternity.
But nevertheless, that is what we are called for, and whether or not we achieve those goals here on earth, it is in the effort that we are sanctified. That’s why Epektasis means so much. It’s not saying, “Be better if you want to live a happy, more ordered life” and it’s not saying “You have to be perfect if you want to reach Heaven”.
“Try your hardest to be perfect because that’s what God is asking of you”
When we life our life striving for perfection, not for us, but for God, then we will truly be happy and fulfilled.
It’s about never settling for where we are because we know we can be better. It’s about never letting off the gas until we’ve heard “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:21).
How do we use it?
In the last couple years, I have made Epektasis my “Ethos” you might say. It has truly transformed the way I live my life. Living every day with this idea of constant improvement, this motivation spurs me on toward a closer union with Christ I never knew I could have. It has made me realize that it is much more beneficial to run towards a goal, than away from past mistakes. What a freeing thought...that we don’t have to be bogged down by our past, but we have an enormous future to look forward to and can partake in the divine life every day in our journey towards Heaven.
Moving forward, I would encourage you to look inside yourself and find the parts of your life where Epektasis can call you out and make you better. Take 15 minutes, take a walk, unplug, and truly realize that you are called to greatness. I am called to greatness. We may never reach our full potential while we’re alive, but it’s in trying that we find our character. The prize is found at the end of our effort. And if we keep this concept of “Upward Striving” on our minds, mediocrity is no longer an option. Dull relationships are no longer an option. Lazy lifestyles are no longer an option. Simply “existing” is definitely not an option.
We were made for God’s glory...how better to glorify God than by living life to the fullest in all its stages. St. Irenaeus said that “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Epektasis is what will fulfill our existence and make us “fully alive”.
Epektasis is calling us to a higher standard of living. And by pursuing this higher standard, we will inch, ever closer to our eternal home in Heaven.