Something cool I came across: Saint Nikolai Velimirovich, the Serbian Saint, in his Prologue from Ohrid, writes that the prayer “Θεοτόκε παρθένε” is attributed to Saint Cyril, the Patriarch of Alexandria in Egypt. This prayer is chanted when the priest is censing during the popular Artoklasia when bread, wine, and oil are blessed.
Saint Cyril is an awesome Saint who was present at the Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus in the year 431. The Third Ecumenical Council (η Τρίτη Οικουμενική Σύνοδος) of the Church was a gathering of the entire Church that dealt with the heresy of Nestorianism. Saint Cyril was the great defender of the Church against this heresy, this distortion of the truth, which is what a heresy is. Nestorius, who was actually the patriarch of Constantinople, was teaching that the Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, and the Son of the Virgin Mary were two different persons. This was contrary to what Christ and the Apostles revealed to us and taught. Nestorius insisted then, to the great disrespect of the Virgin Mary, that she not be called Theotokos (Mother of God) because she did not give birth to God but only to the human Jesus, one of the two different Persons.
The Church, in Her wisdom, met in Ephesus, which was a city associated with the Panagia. She had visited there with the Apostle John at one point in her life. The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit and with the assistance of Saint Cyril, declared here what was always the Apostolic teaching: that the Son of God and the Son of Mary are one Person. The divine Son of God was always there and existing from the very beginning, before time, before the creation of the world, and this same Son of God later took on human flesh, becoming a true human being. Because the man that the Virgin Mary gave birth to is also God, it is only appropriate and proper to call Mary the Theotokos. The Virgin Mary is not responsible for Christ’s divine origin. He was born before all time from Father, but she gave birth to this Divine Person with real human flesh 2000 years ago. When Christ took on human flesh, He did not stop being God. He continued to be fully God while being fully man.
Here is the text of Saint Cyril’s prayer, which means this is nearly 1600 years old:
Θεοτόκε παρθένε, χαῖρε κεχαριτωμένη Μαρία, ὁ Κύριος μετὰ σοῦ. Εὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξὶ καὶ εὐλογημένος ὁ καρπὸς τῆς κοιλίας σου, ὅτι Σωτῆρα ἔτεκες, τῶν ψυχῶν ἡμῶν.
Theotokos virgin, hail most blessed Mary, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, for you have given birth to the Saviour of our souls.
-The text of the prayer is from Daily Prayers For Orthodox Christians: The Synekdemos, Edited by N. Michael Vaporis, Holy Cross Orthodox Press: Brookline, MA 1986