It Is But A Small Thing

childcandleI have noticed in my daily struggle that most of the things that are of importance turn on very “small things.” The decisions that set me on the course of prayer or kindness are made not with fanfare or even large efforts, but on a moment’s turn. By the same token, the decisions that set me on a course of sin are often so small that I can hardly notice that they were decisions at all.

History books are written about large things – making the in between times in our lives seem insignificant and not worth much trouble. Generally, large decisions are made because we have reached an unavoidable crossroad – but a crossroad that would not exist except for many, even hundreds, of small so-called insignificant decisions.

Dostoevsky is correct that God and the devil engage in warfare and the battleground is the human heart. However, the battle is often fought in very small skirmishes. Brief encounters with the good and brief encounters with evil.

It is not true that the little things do not matter. It may well be that the little things are all we will ever encounter. It is true in every great battle. The historians write about large movements of troops and the effect of terrain – but those who actually do the fighting are aware of each stroke of the sword, of the difficulty of fighting wounded, or without food or rest.

By the same token, those who take up their prayers and beg for the mercy of God, may appear to be engaged in a very small thing. Yet prayer is never small. If it has gained the ear of the God of the universe, how can it ever be small?

No act of kindness is ever too small. No generosity of spirit is ever insignificant. No harsh word not spoken is a minor act of restraint. No effort of forgiveness is without value.

This is the day of salvation. It may come in a thousand discreet moments, every one of which is alive with the fire of God. May He gives us grace to know that all that we are, have and do, is truly great and worthy of every prayer and effort of grace.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





16 responses to “It Is But A Small Thing”

  1. Lana Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    Father bless.
    Thank you for all of your postings. I know I am not alone in saying that they are wonderful and tremendously helpful.
    On Friday, we will have the opportunity to venerate a relic at our church (a piece from the coffin of St. Nicholas when his relics were translated to Bari, Italy). Are you familiar with any preparatory prayers for venerating relics? I have asked a couple of priests and they are unaware of any. I would appreciate any help you could offer.
    Thank you.

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    I do not know of a specific prayer. I would prayer the Trisagion Prayers (which begin almost all services) and then add the Troparion and Kontakion of St. Nicholas:

    Troparion Tone 4
    The truth of things revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith,/ a model of meekness, and a teacher of temperance./ Therefore thou hast won the heights by humility,/ riches by poverty./ Holy Father Nicholas, intercede with Christ our God that our souls may be saved.

    Kontakion Tone 3
    Thou wast a faithful minister of God in Myra,/ O Saint Nicholas./ For having fulfilled the Gospel of Christ,/ thou didst die for the people and save the innocent./ Therefore thou wast sanctified as a great initiator of the grace of God.

  3. […] Stephen & “It Is But a Small Thing” 3 12 2008 Fr Stephen posts a great reminder of how the small thoughts, attitudes and actions in our daily lives are so important. When I was a […]

  4. Robert Avatar

    Small? Insignificant?

    “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” Luke 18:16

    That is a wonderful and very appropriate photograph – thank you Fr. Stephen.

  5. Phil Avatar

    Amen. Your posting is so true.

  6. Tia Avatar

    I posted about a small thing with large significance today as well. Seems to be what God wants me paying attention to right now, as the message is very consistent. Maybe that’s the biggest benefit to a quiet, subdued “holiday” season… we can hear the small things better.

  7. luciasclay Avatar

    This reminds me of a history professor I had in college, an Englishman. He taught that the great wars of history were largely meaningless to study beyond the question of “who won”. It was his position, and in this I think he is correct, that it was the little stuff in between the great conflicts that mattered because ultimately that was what lead to the great struggles.

  8. […] Read the whole meditation here. […]

  9. Danny Avatar

    The horses of all the intelligence services of all armies that have ever existed draw water from the same stagnant ponds. I discovered this relatively recently, when, while living in Holland I decided, along with my then girlfriend, to visit the battlefields of Waterloo. There was absolutely no posterity on the battlefields. The gifts of Elisha have indeed surpassed all things, but only because The Giver Himself, is glorified throughout all eternity.

  10. Seraphim Avatar

    Fr. Stephen.

    Would you remember me on the Paten this St. Nicholas day? I’ve been estranged from Church for many paschas.

    please pray for me a sinner.


  11. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    Dear Father, bless! This is a great encouragement to me. Thank you. It is a mercy God does not often reveal to us immediately in specific terms the momentousness of some our small decisions, our small acts of courage, honesty or fortitude–we would truly quake and falter under the crushing sense of responsibility for the cascade of events in the spiritual battle such small acts of faith can precipitate. Similarly, it is a mercy when we take HIs admonitions about the cascade of evil we can set in motion by our small acts of unfaithfulness to heart such that we are fortified in our resolve of restraint. Your post seems to me to be summed up in the familiar Scripture: “He who is faithful in little, is faithful also in much!” It is a comfort to know also that even when I blunder and begin to act out of something other than faithfulness to God, that God is not thereby hindered from still working even that blunder out to the benefit of those who love Him and for His greater glory. Truly He is to be praised.

  12. Alexander Avatar

    Just a thought: isn’t constant watching “thoughts” described in “Unseen warfare” and in other Fathers’ books – all for making the small decisions correctly?
    Thank you, father!

  13. Danny boy Avatar
    Danny boy

    No creative acts this side of Eden? These are my thoughts.

  14. Moses Avatar

    To Alexander… yes, but watching “thoughts” could also be done wrong without proper guidance and without so-called “true intentions”. At least that’s what I think.

  15. fatherstephen Avatar

    I agree with Moses. Unseen Warfare and the Philokalia are books that originally were collections or translations (in the case of Unseen Warfare) primarily directed to monastics in the Church who live in a world in which spiritual direction and guidance are more abundant.

    It is far more problematic today. We have access to writings that are extremely beyond our own spiritual competence – we “know” too much though we know almost nothing. In some ways the same can be said of Scripture.

    The thoughts the fathers speak of are those that can be seen from within the heart, though this presumes we have already learned to unite the mind with the heart (as the phrase has it). This is quite rare in reality. Thus we wind up watching thoughts from our psychological perch and it simply drives us to a “spiritualized” neurosis and does not heal.

    It is why I advocate that we admit our ignorance and struggle to practice the most basic of spiritual things: pray, fast, repent, give alms, be faithful in Church and in the reception of the sacraments. Read, but read modestly. Forgive others as much as possible and struggle not to judge another.

  16. zoe Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen for this post and about what you said that “It is why I advocate that we admit our ignorance and struggle to practice the most basic of spiritual things: pray, fast, repent, give alms, be faithful in church and in the reception of the sacraments. Read, but read modestly. Forgive others as much as possible and struggle not to judge another.” This counsel is very much appreciated and applies to me very much. If I read too much, even reading materials related to patristic orthodox teachings, especially without praying first, I get confused. You are so right. I need to practice the “basic of spiritual things”, especially forgiveness and not judging others. I need to do small steps and not giant leaps, lest I hurt myself.

    Thank you and God Bless.

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