Beneath Thy Compassion

Earliest Known Prayer to the Virgin MaryAs far as we know, the earliest known prayer to the Virgin Mary is known as “Beneath thy compassion” (Greek: Ὑπὸ τὴν σὴν εὐσπλαγχνίαν). The earliest text of this hymn was found in a Christmas liturgy of the third century. It is written in Greek and dates to approximately 250 A.D.

In 1917, the John Rylands Library in Manchester acquired a large panel of Egyptian papyrus including the 18 cm by 9.4 cm fragment shown at left, containing the text of this prayer in Greek.C.H. Roberts published this document in 1938. His colleague E. Lobel, with whom he collaborated in editing the Oxyrhynchus papyri, basing his arguments on paleographic analysis, argued that the text could not possibly be older than the third century, and most probably was written between 250 and 280. This hymn thus precedes the “Hail Mary” in Christian prayer by several centuries.

The prayer reads: “Under your mercy we take refuge, Mother of God! Our prayers, do not despise in necessities, but from the danger deliver us, only pure, only blessed.”

The idea held by our protestant friends, that the veneration of the Holy Virgin is of late, pagan introduction, is simply not true. Christians have been invoking the prayers of the Mother of God from the time of the Ancient Church, and continue to this day. Yet more proof that we get into doctrinal and liturgical trouble when we think we can interpret the Bible on our own. The Holy Spirit is not the author of confusion, and the Church has survived 2,000 years because she is conciliar in nature, teaching only that which has always been taught, everywhere and at all times.

The Church even worships in the same manner, with her divine services having roots in the worship that took place in the Temple in Jerusalem and born out of the synagogues and hidden places of the earliest Christian worship of the first century.

In an age when we don’t even remember our own American past, is it any wonder so many do not know the history, the worship, and the dogma, of the Ancient Christian Faith? When we live in an age where the attention span is hardly past a ten minute lecture, is it any wonder so many of our neighborhood churches are constantly reinventing their form of worship, in a desperate attempt at remaining relevant?

Not a day goes by that I do not give thanks to God for having revealed His Church to me. I am grateful that I am growing old in a Church that is actually older than I, and whose traditions, teachings, and way of live, will live far beyond myself.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

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