This prayer addressed to the Virgin Mary is the oldest hymn in which her role as Mother of God is proclaimed. It appears in a Greek document from the year 250, so it is highly likely that this prayer was already being recited prior to that date. The Greek word Θεοτόκε leaves no doubt about Mary’s true motherhood.
Those were times of persecution for all Christians. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and burned by the Romans in the year 72, and all of the Lord’s disciples were scattered throughout the known world at that time.
Saint Paul preached the good news in Greece, where there were several thriving communities. He preached to the Corinthians, to whom he wrote two epistles, together with the one he wrote to the Thessalonians, around the year 60.
Before the Constantinian peace in 312 AD, everything was adverse for Christians. It was a difficult time of catacombs, martyrs, and exoduses. These early Christians were communities that had received the message directly from the apostles or from those whom the apostles had converted to Christianity, and they held the message dear.
Their proposals were rejected as scandalous by the Jews and as foolishness by the Gentiles. Nothing seemed to be in their favor, at least on the surface.
It is no wonder that in those circumstances, they turned to Mary. When everything seems to be collapsing… “Sub Tuum Praesidium”… we fly to your patronage. Seeking patronage under Mary’s mantle denotes the assurance that whatever may happen to them is a gift from their Mother; and the confidence that She is the Strong Woman of the Apocalypse who crushes the head of the dragon. The word praesidium has to do with shelter, with that atmosphere of constant struggle in which those early Christians lived.
They addressed her as Θεοτόκε, as Mother of God. Not only as their mother but as the most powerful and kind Mother in all of history, the one who wins battles and welcomes us and embraces us like a mother comforting her frightened child. “Do not be afraid,” she tells us.
The prayer continues. “Do not despise our petitions in our necessities.” This is what a child asks of its mother with the trust that it will obtain what it seeks. “Mom, water. Mom…”.
And like young children, they also ask her to deliver them from all future danger, and they ask with an endearing phrase, with a brief prayer: “Glorious and blessed Virgin!”
What a precious gift those early Christians bequeathed us as they defended the faith with their lives! “We fly to your patronage…” and what inner happiness they received from their Mother to stand firm in the faith.
By Domingo Aguilera
Ὑπὸ τὴν σὴν εὐσπλαγχνίαν,, καταφεύγομεν, Θεοτόκε.
Τὰς ἡμῶν ἱκεσίας,, μὴ παρίδῃς ἐν περιστάσει,,
ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ κινδύνων λύτρωσαι ἡμᾶς,, μόνη Ἁγνή, μόνη εὐλογημέν
Sub tuum praesidium
confugimus, Sancta Dei Genetrix;
nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus;
sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper, Virgo gloriosa et benedicta
We fly to your patronage,
O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities,
but deliver us always from all dangers, O ever glorious and blessed Virgin!7