23We owe special veneration (hyperdulia) to the Blessed Virgin Mary, since She gave birth to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Lk. 1 :35), and thus She became the Mother of God. The Greeks called Her Theotokos, and the Ruthenians Bohorodicja, which literally means the God-Bearer. The title of ” Theotokos” was acknowledged to Mary by the Third Ecumenical Council, held in Ephesus in 431 A.D.

1. The word “Theotokos” as such cannot be found in Holy Writ, but it finds its justification in divine revelation (Lk. 1 :31-32,35,42). The Blessed Virgin Mary was venerated as the “Mother of God” (Theotokos) since the beginning of Christianity, but the first written testimony comes to us from Bishop Alexander of Alexandria in 320 A.D. (cf. Theodoret, The History of Church I, 4). Since then this title can be found in the writings of such great Fathers of the Church as St. Athanasius (d. 373), St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386), and St. Gregory of Nyssa, just to mention a few. And St. Gregory of Nazianz (d. 389) considered it an article of faith, saying: ” He who denies that Holy Mary is Theotokos (the God-Bearer) is far from God” (cf. Epistle 101).

In 428 A.D., Archbishop Nestorius of Constantinople publicly questioned the use of the title Theotokos, traditionally given to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and persisted in calling Her Christotokos, meaning the Mother of the Christman. The reaction to such denial became so strong that in 431 A.D. the Council of Ephesus had to be convoked in order to make a solemn decision on this article of faith . The Council Fathers, under the leadership of St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444), condemned Nestorius and solemnly proclaimed the ” orthodoxy” (in its orig. meaning- a true teaching of the Chu rch: “The All-Holy Virgin Mary is indeed-THEOTOKOS (the Mother of God) inasmuch as She bore ‘the Word of God made flesh ‘ (In. 1 :14).”

Since that time, the Council of Ephesus received the name-the Council of the Theotokos.

2. The teaching of “Theotokos,” outside of the followers of Nestorius in Persia (where they founded the so-called-Nestorian Church), was enthusiastically accepted by the entire Christian world and gave great impetus to the public veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, No. 11 , 1979). It certainly contributed to the final formulation and public recitation of the ancient Marian prayer, known to the Ruthen ian people as-Bohorodice D’ivo :

Hail, Virgin Mother of God, full of grace, the Lord is with You. Blessed are You among women and blessed is the fruit of Your womb, for You have borne Christ, the Savior and Deliverer of our souls.

The nucleus of this traditional Marian prayer, also known as the Angelic Salutation, consists of the greeting words of the Archangel Gabriel addressed to Mary: ” Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with You” (Lk. 1 :28), and those of St. Elizabeth :

” Blessed are You among women and blessed is the fruit of Your womb” (Lk. 1 :42). For the ending, some words of explanation were added as to why the Blessed Virgin Mary should be so exalted : ” For You-Virgin Mother of God-have borne Christ, the Savior and Deliverer of our souls.”


Hail, Virgin Mother of God, full of grace, the Lord is with You. Blessed are You among women and blessed is the fruit of Your womb, for You have borne Christ, the Savior and Deliverer of our souls.

This Marian prayer is a result of gradual development from the fourth to the sixth century, when it was finally introduced into liturgical use. The greeting words of the Archangel and St. Elizabeth, as a single formula, can be traced to the ancient Greek Liturgy of St. James and that of St. Mark in use already in the fourth century. The pristine text of the prayer reads as follows:

Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with You. Blessed are You among women and blessed is the fruit of Your womb, for You have borne the Savior of our souls.

After the Council of Constantinople (381 A.D.), which defined Mary’s perpetual virginity, and the Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.), which solemnly proclaimed Mary’s divine motherhood, the words:

Virgin and Mother of God (Theotokos) were added to underscore Mary’s spiritual excellence and dignity. The final formula, as it was accepted by the Byzantine Church, appears for the first time in the Ritual of Severus of Antioch (d. 538 A.D.) and was recited during Baptism.

Unfortunately, the Church Fathers did not leave us any explanation about the origin, development and liturgical use of this venerable prayer. But by the 12th century it became a common daily prayer of the faithful, recited together with the Our Father and the Symbol of Faith.

3. The shorter formula of the Marian prayer, as it is known in the Liturgies of St. James and St. Mark, was introduced by Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) into the Roman Liturgy of the Annunciation and as such is preserved by the Ambrosian Rite of Milan to the present day. It was Pope Urban IV (1261-1264) who substituted the ending words of the original prayer (” for You have borne The prayer, We fly to Your Patronage, at the same time proves beyond any doubt that the Christians from the very beginning believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity and in Her divine motherhood (0 Virgin Mother of God), and that the title of ” Theotokos,” attributed to the B.V.M., was not fabricated by the Council Fathers of Ephesus (431 A.D.) but, rather, it was inspired by Christian piety at least one century before . Referring to this venerable prayer, the Council Fathers of Vatican II remind us:

“The Blessed Virgin from the ancient times has been venerated under the title of ‘Theotokos’ (the God-Bearer) . In all their perils and needs, the faithful have prayerfully fled to Her protection. Devotion of the People of God toward Mary increased, especially after the Council of Ephesus, in veneration and love, in invocation and imitation, according to Her own prophetic words: ‘All generations shall call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me’ (Lk. 1 :48) “-(cf. Const. on the Church, n. 66) .

the Savior of our souls”) with a single word, Jesus. Thus, starting with the 13th century, the Western Church was reciting the Angelic Sal utation in the following fashion:

Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with You. Blessed are You among women and blessed is the fruit of Your womb, Jesus.

In a short time the daily recitation of the Angelic Salutation became very popular also in the West, where they considered it merely as a greeting of Mary. During the 15th century, words of petition began to be added. We know that in 1427, St. Bernardine of Siena recommended adding the following petition : ” Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.” Finally, the Roman Catholic Church accepted the following additional petition: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

It was approved and introduced into the Roman Office by Pope Pius V in 1568. Since then the Angelic Salutation in the Roman Rite remained without any change.

4. In the Byzantine Rite there are many other prayers in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mostly they are troparia or hymns used in the liturgical services, such as: a) It is truly proper to glorify You . . . (” Dostojno jest’ “), b) We fly to Your Patronage . . . (” Pod Tvoju milost’ “), and many others. Here we will briefly discuss only these two.

IT IS TRULY PROPER TO GLORIFY YOU is the hymn that was introduced into the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom during the seventh century by the Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem (d. 638) in order to extol the Holy Mother of God among the Saints. The origin and precise time of its composition is unknown to us.

The second part of the prayer, More honorable . . , seems to be older and is used in various liturgical services much more often. It was already mentioned by St. Ephrem the Syrian (d. 373) , who had a great devotion to the B.V.M. and, in all probability, desired to establish a special veneration to Her. Referring to this hymn the II Vatican Council explained : “As the Most Holy Mother of God, after Her Son, She was exalted by divine grace above all men and angels. Hence the Church appropriately honors Her with special reverence” (cf. Canst. on the Church, n. 66).

The great Byzantine hymnographer, st. Cosmas of Maiuma (d. about 760) , in composing the Canon for Good Friday, adapted this second part of the prayer into the 9th Heirmos (“More honorable . . . “). For this reason even its composition was for some time attributed to him. But, as was mentioned, this popular hymn-prayer existed much earlier.

5. WE FLY TO YOUR PATRONAGE-is the oldest Marian prayer equally used in the East and in the West. Its origin, as the origin of so many ancient prayers, just disappears somewhere in antiquity. But a recently discovered fragment of papyrus with the Greek text of this prayer (found in Egypt, 1917) proves beyond any doubt that it was composed not later than in the third century. And indeed, the third century with its fierce persecutions of Christians, and their exposure to all kinds of dangers, sufferings and needs, created a proper atmosphere for such prayer. This great confidence of the faithful in Mary’s motherly protection eventually, in the tenth century, took a more solemn form in the establishment of the Feast of the Patronage of the Mother of God (” Pokrov” ), celebrated in our Rite on the first day of October.


Hail, Virgin Mother of God, full of grace, the Lord is with You. Blessed are You among women and blessed is the fruit of Your womb, for You have borne Christ, the Savior and Deliverer of our souls.


It is truly proper to glorify You, who have borne God, the Ever-Blessed and Immaculate, and the Mother of our God.

More honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim , who, a Virgin, gave birth to God the Word; You, truly the Mother of God (Theotokos), we magnify.


We fly to Your patronage, 0 Virgin Mother of God. Despise not our prayers in our needs, but deliver us from all dangers, since You alone are pure and blessed.

o most glorious Ever-Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ our God, accept our prayers and present them to Your Son and our God, that for the sake of You He enlighten and save our souls.