From The Blog

Mission Monthly – April 2008

“It was through victories in small things that the fathers won their great battles.”

St. Peter of Damascus

Kh. Vanessa and I were speaking about this important subject at the beginning of this Lenten season. We needed to come to a common mind over a matter of child rearing that affirmed our mutual hope of raising our child in virtue and holiness. The question that was being discussed was how scrupulous we as parents should be in affirming or correcting specific behaviors in our children. My initial thoughts were less confined to any minutia for fear of becoming too exacting of every little detail of a God's behavior. Kh. Vanessa's thoughts leaned more towards the unwavering commitment to consistency in “training up our child in the way he should go” in the everyday, little things, in the very spirit of what St. Peter of Damascus is telling us.

The more I think about it the more it makes sense, and it applies to most all of one's disciplines. One does not start off being great at anything: music, sports, science, art, etc.. It requires often painstaking effort to make progress in any discipline (most often by being shown what we did wrong in order to learn how to do it right!).

I had originally intended to write this meditation on the will of man and man's need to renounce his will should he ever hope to fulfill God's will in his life. I am seeing how lofty a goal this may have been and am now seeing this as a more practical topic. The disciplines of music, sports, science, art, etc. are important individual talents and interests in our lives, but of far greater importance is the struggle-intensive development of virtue and godly character. It is the things we most often confess that concern me—the failures we all experience when facing provocations and temptations to sin. And it is the development of serious and sober strategies that we Orthodox Christians in modern society can and must implement to affect progress towards winning the “great battles” of our individual lives, and even those of our generation.

I believe one of the greatest of the small battles we face, like my own inclination above, is how closely to evaluate, and ultimately classify, the minutia of our lives. I have heard that in some monasteries novice monastics make daily confession of not only their behaviors but also of their thoughts. In discovering this I had a strong sense that what many people might consider to be “minutia” is absolutely NOT trivial in the pursuit of spiritual discipline and of repentance. Generally speaking it sounds like we must start getting more specific if we ever hope to truly confront and ultimately defeat the adversaries of virtue and righteousness.

The continued challenge will be that while it is important to be specific in examining the small things we do not want to dwell on them obsessively. In our day to day movements we must be ready to act sincerely, to be aware of the outcomes of our actions, and to never forget that the very reason Jesus came was to forgive us and to reconcile us to Himself. We can never allow forgetfulness of this to prevent us from attending to simple strategies and obedience in the small things. Beloved, I believe with all my heart that victory in great battles is never far from anyone. It's as close as Christ is to all of us. The question is, how or whether we are committed to this closeness in return, as St. John Chrysostom said, “to contribute our fair share” in cooperating with God in the work of our salvation!