Prayers to Mary

Today in the Orthodox Church we celebrate the Protection of the Theotokos. She is the “protectress of Christians who cannot be put to shame.”

Christians have been calling upon our holy Lady for many centuries. But when I first began exploring the Orthodox Faith, I was certain that prayers to the Mother of God (and the saints) were some kind of medieval invention of a Christianity that had lost its focus on Christ. However, catacombs in and around Rome contain the oldest paintings of our Lady, showing some form of devotion. These catacombs were used by Christians starting 1900 years ago, and some of the images are close to 1800 years old.

But more than images, we have ancient prayers. The oldest prayer that we have to the Theotokos is at least 1,800 years old. It is called Sub Tuum Praesidium in Latin, or Beneath Thy Protection in English. How old is it exactly? It is hard to pinpoint an exact date, but we have an ancient piece of papyrus on which it is written dating back to the 200s. Most likely, it’s not the author’s papyrus, meaning the prayerful hymn was being commonly used 1800 years ago! That means it could date as far back as a generation or two after the Apostles.

It contains words that Christians sang in the catacombs, asking for protection from the cruel Roman authorities who sought to crush the new religion that was forming. Its words are still sung today in Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism:

Beneath thy compassion,
We take refuge, O Theotokos,
Do not despise our petitions in time of trouble,
But rescue us from dangers,
Only pure, only blessed one.

Calling out to the Mother of God for help and protection is not some medieval invention, it goes back to the first centuries of Christianity! And it does not remove our focus on Christ, but leads us to our Lord. She is called Theotokos, literally meaning “God-bearer.” It is the call of each Christian to bear God within us just like her, and we believe that she intercedes for us to God.

In today’s feast of the Protection, we remember a time over 1,000 years ago, when the Mother of God spread her protective veil over the city of Constantinople while it was being attacked by enemies. Today, she still prays for us and protects us, her children. When our Lord, from the Cross, gave the Theotokos to the Apostle John, saying “Here is your mother,” God gave her to all of us as our Mother. She is the Mother of every Christian, looking out for us, interceding for us, with a heart filled with compassion.

When we pray to her, she hears us. She wants nothing more than to draw each one of us closer to her Son, Jesus Christ. She desires – and prays for – the salvation of every person who walks this earth.

The ancient Church, under persecution from the Roman government, called upon her for protection; the Church in Constantinople called upon her for help from attacking enemies; and as her children, we can call upon her for help from spiritual attack and for strength to withstand the darkness of this world, which is ever slipping into fear and turmoil.

Below is a recording of some of us at St. Tikhon’s singing the above hymn during a Lenten service. It is directed by Benedict Sheehan, who is releasing a breathtakingly beautiful liturgy that he composed. The blu-ray audio can be preordered here.

The featured image come from an 12th century German manuscript.

2 thoughts on “Prayers to Mary

  1. Helen Thanopoulous June 30, 2021 — 1:07 am

    I love your messages. You are blessed by the Holy Spirit- I find them so uplifting

  2. Thank you for this message

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