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. We draw near to the end of Lent (for the Orthodox). The benefit we will have gained will rest on the grace we have received – mostly as we went faithfully about the small things. Even Pascha itself – for us – will largely consist in our efforts to be present. Christ is our Pascha. We do not have to make it happen. We need only come to the feast. Christ our Pascha is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast.

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.



18 responses to “It Is But a Small Thing”

  1. handmaidleah Avatar

    Thank you and a an “Amen” from Colorado!

  2. mic Avatar

    “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.”

    i can always convince myself differently concerning my own actions.

    thank you Fr. for the post


  3. Jane Avatar

    This is so much what I needed to hear today. (Now I must go and clean my kitchen!). The photo is beautiful too. I love that the children can reach the candles themselves. In our parish they have to be lifted up to light a candle – though that is also an act of love, as many who are not parents of small children can help them. May we all be blessed to go up to Jerusalem with the Lord, and *be present* through all the great and saving events of this Holy Week, so that we too may Keep the feast.

  4. Death Bredon Avatar

    A slightly niggling: I have always preferred to say that God’s servants and handmaids, whether bodiless powers or corporeal creatures, are engaged in spiritual warfare with the Satan — not God himself –, as it is difficult to say, except poetically (and that Dostoevsky certainly was!), that God can engage in real warfare with any thing because he has no chance of loosing! In fact, God has already won the side for us if we choose to come to the wedding feast!

  5. […] that aside, Fr Stephen has some words about small things. And just how truly significant they are. Big things become big things because […]

  6. Mak Avatar

    Beautiful. I would agree with you death bredon, the notion of God and satan warring has never sat well with me – it gives an image of the 2 of them as equals…and we know that’s not true.

  7. Teena H. Blackburn Avatar
    Teena H. Blackburn

    I’ve been in a skirmish all day with one of the schools I work for, trying to get money they owe me-having problems because of the apparent ineptitude of someone else. I feel angry and put out-and I feel terrible for being angry and put out. God have mercy on us all.

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    Death Bredon,

    Sorry to disagree but the Septuagint rendering of the OT has this:

    Exodus 17:16 Now Moses built an altar and called its name The-Lord-My-Refuge; for with a secret hand the Lord wars with Amalek from generation to generation.

    Amalek, in the fathers, is always interpreted as Satan. Dostoevsky had an Orthodox take on the subject. It is not a battle of equals – but why would Michael engage in a war in heaven if there is no battle – and surely he is on the Lord’s side.

    And, “the Lord fought for us,”

  9. Death Bredon Avatar

    It is the easy sliding into equating God and Satan as equivalent counterparts that worries me about God fighting Satan, but I see that their is no way around it: “Because there is none other the fighteth for us, but only thou O God.”


  10. MichaelPatrick Avatar

    Death Bredon,

    “It is the easy sliding into equating God and Satan as equivalent counterparts that worries me about God fighting Satan…”

    I thought that too, and have been freed of it since gaining a more Orthodox understanding how God does everything for us. It is we who stupidly invited the battle yet He who fights it. If I say I fight it I am dead already. To cling to Him in battle, to Him who has it won yet stays on with me til the end when my struggles too will cease — this is to know His comforts and nearness in the very place of sins fleeting spoils. Glory to God in the Highest that He does not let us go into harm alone but binds us to Christ our champion.

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    Amen. Well said.

  12. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    Father Stephen, why is this any different from your treatment of “wrath” attributed to God in scripture? Could one not also argue that God does not fight – he merely pours out his limitless self-giving love on all, and those who harbor evil in their hearts experience a “battle” because their own hearts resist his goodness?

  13. Karen Avatar

    Dear Father, bless! Thanks for reprinting this lovely and very helpful post.

    Wonders, I do think God’s wrath and God fighting for us against evil are parallel metaphors as you suggest and that what God is doing is really just being Himself in the outpouring of His love. What is different perhaps is that the modern distortions in our thinking about God’s motivation toward us are not triggered by the notion of God fighting for us against evil as they are about God pouring out His wrath upon sinners. I don’t know if this makes sense to you. Admittedly, there is a right way to understand both these things, but if our construal of them ever casts doubt in our hearts about God’s generosity and goodness and mercy toward ALL He has made (even our enemies, and even us when we sin), we are in trouble. Blessed Good Friday and Easter to you! Christ is in our midst!

  14. An Anxious Anglican Avatar
    An Anxious Anglican

    Father, you bless us day after day with your blog, but this post is profound! It is almost like a prayer to me, and there is little to add beyond “amen.”

    Will you ever collect your “best” posts in book form? Let me rephrase that: please collect and publish your best posts in book form! It would save me so much time if I could just hand my Anglican and pre-Christian friends this book (of my dreams) and say “Father Stephen says it better than I ever could.”

    Thank you for creating this online community and for being an agent of grace to so many of us.

  15. Audora Avatar

    A hearty “Amen” and “Yes, please!!” to Anxious Anglican’s urging that a “Best of” compilation be published in book form. Although daily reading experience at this blog site suggests that everything Fr. Stephen posts to the blog (including his comments in follow-up to other comments) will need to be included…

    Imagine a wonderful little book that preserves the best-of these dialogues: original post, readers’ comments, with Fr.’s follow-up posts in clarification, discussion, or further teaching…what a treasury of grace that would be in book form.

    Not to add to your burden, Fr. Stephen, either of the challenge to remain humble in the face of the many praises heaped in your direction from your reflections, or of the work you undertake in ministering to (and pastoring, actually) this blessed little online community created by your blog…but…it remains that these posts have become a primary “evangelism” tool for me in my witness to and sharing with non-Orthodox friends of the beauty in the Truth of Orthodoxy. Many are the conversations I have with a hurting Episcopalian friend that begin “Well, Fr. Stephen says…” As Anxious Anglican says, I too have said “Father Stephen says it better than I ever could.”

  16. An Anxious Anglican Avatar
    An Anxious Anglican

    There are no coincidences: last night after making my earlier post, I read the following in “Words of Life,” from Archimandrite Sophrony, translated by Sister Magdalen –

    In life there is nothing that is really insignificant, small, mundane.

  17. GS Avatar

    I just wanted to say thank you for a beautiful post. Just what I needed to hear today.

  18. […] the rest of his beautiful post here. April 9th, 2009 | Tags: prayer, repentance | Category: Church&Theology | Leave a […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

Latest Comments

  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast