The Smallness of God


An annual December posting:

Whom have we, Lord, like you –

The Great One who became small, the Wakeful who slept,

The Pure One who was baptized, the Living One who died,

The King who abased himself to ensure honor for all.

Blessed is your honor!

St. Ephrem the Syrian

We draw near to the Feast of our Lord’s Nativity, and I cannot fathom the smallness of God. Things in my life loom so large and every instinct says to overcome the size of a threat by meeting it with a larger threat. But the weakness of God, stronger than death, meets our human life/death by becoming a child – the smallest of us all – man at his weakest – utterly dependent.

And His teaching will never turn away from that reality for a moment. Our greeting of His mission among us is marked by misunderstanding, betrayal, denial and murder. But He greets us with forgiveness, love, and the sacrifice of self.

This way of His is more than a rescue mission mounted to straighten out what we had made crooked. His coming among us is not only action  but also revelation. He does not become unlike Himself in order to make us like Him. The weakness, the smallness, the forgiveness – all that we see in His incarnation – is a revelation of the Truth of God. He became the image of Himself, that we might become the image we were created to be.

It seems strange to speak of God as humble, and yet this is what is revealed in Scripture. Cultural references to God are full of power and mankind’s own claim to wisdom that somehow the all-powerful God has not straightened things out yet. On this basis some will even come to reject the very existence of God. The power of God is nothing like our power. Though He created all that is, He did so out of nothing. This bears no resemblance to anything we think of when we “create.” And He who created is also He who sustains, and yet in His humility we cannot directly see His sustenance, unless He has given us eyes to see.

The all-powerful reveals Himself in His weakness, and not, I suspect, because it was a “backdoor” plan. Rather I believe the all-powerful revealed Himself most fully, most completely on the Cross because this is indeed what the power of God looks like. I do not know how to fathom the reality that the power that can only be seen in the Cross of Christ, is the same power that created the universe, but I believe it is so.

We never know fullness, until we empty ourselves into His emptiness. We never know love until we are drowned in the waters of His mercy that do not kill but make alive. We cannot see the great until we see Him very small. He who enters the womb of a Virgin will also enter the waters of Jordan, and will also enter infinitessimally small spaces of hades’ yawning gape. And there we shall see greatness indeed, He who is everywhere present and fillest all things.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





12 responses to “The Smallness of God”

  1. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    Dear Father, bless! That is a beautiful version of the Icon of the Nativity. What is the source?

  2. Moses Avatar

    “We cannot see the great until we see Him very small.”

    What exactly do you mean by this Father? Does it have something to do with simplicity?

  3. fatherstephen Avatar

    Karen C,

    Forgive me, I cannot remember the source.

  4. fatherstephen Avatar


    I do not think we can know Christ until we know Him in the weakness of the Cross. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Matt. 11:29

  5. Moses Avatar

    Thank you Father!

  6. Stephen W Avatar
    Stephen W

    Fr. Stephen, Christ is Born! Thank you for this post. He is truly the one who is Lord over all. It is easy at times to forget about the humbleness of Christ. One may not crucify Jesus directly but it can be quite easy to misunderstand the gospel, especially when one does not embrace forgiveness, love and self sacrifice. I find it tempting at times to try and know and learn everything-which is a kind of power- instead of embracing the humilty of Christ. May we all be drowned in the waters of His mercy and come out alive!

  7. Moses Avatar

    I can definitely relate with you Stephen, it is very tempting and prideful.

  8. d.burns Avatar

    Fr bless,

    In the icon you posted Mary is looking away from the Christ child. Why? I thought Mary always looks toward, or points toward, Christ in icons.

  9. fatherstephen Avatar


    I can think of many examples in which Mary is not looking directly at the Christ child or pointing – the most famous being the “Platytera” icon (more spacious than the heavens… in which Christ appears in a mandorla within her and she is holding her hands in the orans position. It is the most common depiction of the Mother of God in the Apse above the Orthodox altar). It’s not a strict iconic rule. In this Nativity icon, she is “pondering these things in her heart.”

  10. Robert Avatar

    Is that St. Joseph or St. Simeon at bottom left? The plenitude of greenery must signify new life.

  11. Stephen W Avatar
    Stephen W

    This is taken from Orthodox Wiki:

    “The Righteous Joseph is depicted away from Jesus and the Theotokos, off to the bottom left. This is because he was not involved in the miracle of the Incarnation of the Son of God, but he was the protector of Mary and Jesus. The old man speaking to him represents the devil bringing new doubts to Joseph. The devil suggests that if the infant were truly divine He would not have been born in the human way. (This argument, assuming different forms, keeps on reappearing through the whole history of the Church. It is the basis of many heresies.) In the person of Joseph, the icon discloses not only his personal drama, but the drama of all mankind, the difficulty of accepting that which is beyond reason, the Incarnation of God.”

    It seems that there is another interpretation other than the devil speaking to Joseph but I can’t remember what it was. Anyone know?

  12. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’ve always heard it described as you quote. You’ll notice that the “old man” is in profile. Normally, only the devil, demons, or the evil are depicted in profile. We do not behold them “face to face.”

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