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The oldest known Marian prayer is from Egypt

A private copy of a prayer addressed to the Virgin Mary. Written in brown ink. Verso blank. Lines 4-9: "Mother of God (hear) my supplications: suffer us not (to be) in adversity, but deliver us from danger. Thou alone.... Aquired in 1917.
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The "Sub tuum praesidium" was originally used in an ancient Coptic liturgy

As we pray for the success of Pope Francis’ trip to Egypt this weekend, a perfect prayer to use is the oldest known Marian prayer, which in fact, traces back to the pope’s host country.

The oldest known Marian prayer is found on an ancient Egyptian papyrus dating from around the year 250. Today known in the Church as the Sub tuum praesidium, the prayer is believed to have been part of the Coptic Vespers liturgy during the Christmas season.

 

Courtesy of the John Rylands Library

 

The original prayer was written in Greek and according to Roseanne Sullivan, “The prayer is addressed to Our Lady using the Greek word Θεοτόκος, which is an adjectival form of Θεοφόρος (Theotokos, or God-bearer) and is more properly translated as ‘she whose offspring is God.'” This helps to prove that the early Christians were already familiar with the word “Theotokos” well before the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus ratified its usage.

Below can be found the original Greek text from the papyrus, along with an English translation as listed on the New Liturgical Movement website:

 

On the papyrus, we can read:
.ΠΟ
ΕΥCΠΑ
ΚΑΤΑΦΕ
ΘΕΟΤΟΚΕΤ
ΙΚΕCΙΑCΜΗΠΑ
ΕΙΔΗCΕΜΠΕΡΙCTAC
AΛΛΕΚΚΙΝΔΥΝΟΥ
…ΡΥCΑΙΗΜΑC
MONH
…HEΥΛΟΓ
And an English translation could be:
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.

 

More commonly the prayer is translated:

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

Several centuries later a Latin prayer was developed and is more widely known in the Roman Catholic Church:

Latin Text 
Sub tuum praesidium
confugimus,
Sancta Dei Genetrix.
Nostras deprecationes ne despicias
in necessitatibus nostris,
sed a periculis cunctis
libera nos semper,
Virgo gloriosa et benedicta
English Text
We fly to Thy protection,
O Holy Mother of God;
Do not despise our petitions
in our necessities,
but deliver us always
from all dangers,
O Glorious and Blessed Virgin. Amen.

 

The prayer is currently part of the Byzantine, Roman and Ambrosian rites in the Catholic Church and is used specifically as a Marian antiphon after the conclusion of Compline outside of Lent (in the older form of the Roman breviary). It is also a common prayer that has stood the test of time and is a favorite of many Christians, and is the root of the popular devotional prayer, the Memorare.

 

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