The earliest known prayer to the Theotokos*

Theotokos Prayer 2

The earliest known prayer to the Theotokos (Greek, Θεοτόκος, meaning “Bearer of God”) is a prayer found on a fragment of papyrus dating back to approximately AD 250. In 1917, the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England, acquired a large panel of Egyptian papyrus. The prayer is located on the fragment recorded as reference number Greek Papyrus 470. The prayer appears to be from a Coptic Christmas liturgy or vespers written in Koine Greek although the fragment in question may be a private copy of the prayer. The prayer is still chanted in the Orthodox Church to this day at the end of nearly every Vespers service during Lent. It is also found in the worship services of the Roman Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Churches.

The early date of this prayer is important for a number of reasons, one of which is that it supports our understanding that the term Theotokos was not just a theological concept defended at the Third Ecumenical Council in AD 431, but was already in popular use and well-known several centuries before the Nestorian heresy. As St. Gregory of Nazianzus stated in AD 379, “If someone does not uphold that the holy Mary is Theotokos, he is separated from divinity.” (Letter 101, PG 37, 177C).

Early Christians recognized the Theotokos as a powerful intercessor for those who are suffering and in need of protection. Christians have been seeking her intercessions from the time of the ancient Church and well over a thousand years up to this very day.

“Beneath thy compassion,
 We take refuge, O Mother of God:
 do not despise our petitions in time of trouble,
 but rescue us from dangers,
 only pure one, only blessed one.”

*Originally posted by Trisagion Films on Sep 9, 2014

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