HEAVEN ON EARTH – ORTHODOXY
An early prayer to the Theotokos,
Holy Virgin Mary Mother of God
This papyrus fragment is a prayer to the Theotokos written about 250 A.D., per papyrologists who have examined the handwriting style. (Theotokos means “God-bearer,” a term for Mary that was formally affirmed at the Third Ecumenical Council held at Ephesus in 431.) Some initially placed the papyrus in the fourth or fifth century (the John Rylands Library description below lists it as 3rd – 4th century), perhaps because they didn’t think that Christians would have been praying to the Theotokos that early. If the early dating is correct, this prayer must have already been part of the Church’s services or prayers, showing that petitions and prayers to the Theotokos and the Saints go back to the early days of the Church, perhaps to the second century.
The present form of the prayer in the Greek services and prayer books is:
Υπο την σην ευσπλαγχνιαν
τας ημων ικεσιας μη παριδης εν περιστασει,
αλλ’ εκ κινδυνων λυτρωσαι ημας,
μονη αγνη, μονη ευλογημενη
This roughly translates as (adapted from the Wikipedia entry for “Sub tuum praesidium,” the Latin version):
Beneath your compassion
we take refuge, Theotokos.
Our petitions do not despise in time of trouble,
but from dangers ransom us,
Only Holy, Only Blessed
In uncial (capital) letters this would be:
ΥΠΟ ΤΗΝ ΣΗΝ ΕΥΣΠΛΑΓΧΝΙΑΝ
ΤΑΣ ΗΜΩΝ ΙΚΕΣΙΑΣ ΜΗ ΠΑΡΙΔΗΣ ΕΝ ΠΕΡΙΣΤΑΣΕΙ,
ΑΛΛ’ ΕΚ ΚΙΝΔΥΝΩΝ ΛΥΤΡΩΣΑΙ ΗΜΑΣ,
ΜΟΝΗ ΑΓΝΗ, ΜΟΝΗ ΕΥΛΟΓΗΜΕΝΗ.