We fly to thy protection,
O holy Mother of God;
despise not our petitions
in our necessities,
but deliver us always
from all dangers,
O glorious and blessed Virgin.
The Sub Tuum Praesidium is the oldest known prayer to Mary. It dates to A.D. 250. It may be older.
I have been praying the Sub Tuum more and more of late. I like the prayer. I pray it as I reach the beads on my Orthodox prayer rope when praying the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner).
At the moment, I prefer this kind of meditative prayer to the Rosary. Not because I like it better than the Rosary, but because it is simpler. The Rosary is a gorgeous meditation on the mysteries of Christ's life. But it does require a chunk of time (it usually takes me 20-30 minutes to pray through it. When I pray the Jesus prayer, however, it allows me to immediately begin praying, and I feel a greater freedom to tackle interruptions as they arise during it (stay-at-home dad, remember?).
Here's how I am praying it at the moment: (1) I cross myself. (2) I pray the Our Father. (3) I begin praying the Jesus Prayer as I move from knot to knot on my prayer rope. (4) My prayer rope is separated into decades so that I can also pray the Rosary on it. So after each decade of Jesus Prayers, I pray the Sub Tuum on each bead. (5) When I reach the end of the rope (return to the beginning?), I say the Sub Tuum followed again by the Our Father.
As I'm meditating on these words, I bring my intentions, or requests, before God.
I also try to pray the Liturgy of the Hours as much as possible, though children make such regularity difficult. And the Rosary also, though I would love to make it more of a regular habit, perhaps after the children go to bed. These formal prayers do not take away from my spontaneity in prayer. I still cry out to God in need or in thanks. But the formal prayers provide something that the spontaneous prayers cannot for me. First, they allow me to pray along with the Church. Especially praying the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) and the Rosary. Second, it allows me to pray what I need to pray, when I simply can't find the words. Third, which goes hand in hand with the second point, these formal prayers, specifically the Jesus Prayer, helps me to combat temptation in a way that spontaneous prayer simply never provided for me. In spontaneous prayer, I would become easily distracted by the temptation. In the formal prayer - in the recitation of the prayer - my focus is driven to the prayer. It's been a wonderful help for me in dealing with my many weaknesses.
But the meditation this week was the Sub Tuum, and I'm getting off track. It is a prayer to Mary. For those who read my blog regularly, I hope by now you know what that does and doesn't mean. Prayer does not equal worship for a Catholic or an Orthodox Christian. It is rather a request for intercession, for help, as I would request my wife to intercede, to mediate, for me before Christ. It does not mean I do not pray to Christ. Of course I do and must. But it is comforting to know that His mother and the saints also pray for me. Theirs is a powerful intercession.
And this idea of the communion of saints is a beautiful reality. Not only do I share in communion with those on earth who also believe, but also those throughout the centuries who are glorious alive, holy and righteous, in the presence of our Lord. In the communion of saints I have acquired brothers and sisters and a mother who teach me and pray for me.
This communion is a foreign idea to evangelical Protestants. But it is so rich and beautiful. And it becomes richer and more beautiful the further in I go. I hope that more of my friends and family begin to understand and explore and find comfort in these great riches made available to them by our blessed Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
And with such a prayer on my tongue, I want to briefly reiterate that this prayer has been found on a papyrus that dates to roughly A.D. 250. In other words, it may have been, and probably was, prayed much earlier. Such an ancient practice of Marian devotion is compelling to me. This practice was taking place nearly 150 years before the canon of the Scriptures was defined by the Church. It was being prayed 100 years before the Nicene Creed was written and the definition of such doctrines as the Trinity and the Incarnation. It is not a post-Constantinian "aberration," nor is it some strange medieval practice, but it is a prayer prayed even while the Church was being hunted and devoured within the Roman empire.
It is older than Augustine and Athanasius, older than Anthony of Egypt. Never once have such Marian prayers been condemned or criticized within the Church. Not until after the Reformation. The Church is ancient and, though people within her have acted intolerably and immorally, she has been and is and will be the Body of Christ. And the gates of hell have not and shall not prevail against her. So says our Lord.
And so we pray.