Did the early Christians pray to Mary?
Hello everyone.

I am having a discussion about the above-named subject with a friend.

A little background: my friend is an atheist former Protestant, some sect in South Africa I am not aware of.  We have a mutual friend whom was for a long time considering Christianity,  I had managed to get him to the brink of choosing between Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox (I was pushing him towards the Eastern Catholic Rites because I was aware of his distaste for the Latin West).  Anyway, sadly he found himself spiritually in a bad place and he considers himself Agnostic or I think he may have slid into Nihilism by now.  His reasons being something or another about evolution and death being apart of existance.  I may get into this in another thread.

So, we and my atheist friend were talking and I mentioned how I should have told our agnostic friend to pray to Mary as she would of course lead him to Christ.  The atheist says that if I had done that then our agnostic friend would not be a Christian as Christians do not pray to Mary.  I mentioned that Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox and several other denominations all have a high regard for the Blessed Virgin and have prayers and devotions to her.  The atheist replies that this is true, however these denominations have strayed away from early Christianity and that the Apostles, early Christians etc., did not pray to Mary.

So here I am now asking for any evidence and sources as to whether or not the early Christians had prayers and devotions to the Blessed Virgin?

Christ's blessings, Mary's prayers,
Northern Papist
Hi, N. Papist. My understanding is that the first part of the Hail Mary is straight from the Bible and the second part is a resolution of a crisis (I think the Arian?) which denied Christ's divinity.

But the first part being Biblical is not in doubt. The second part implores Mary for her prayers...but does not say: we pray to Mary. (Holy Mary, Mother God, PRAY for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, amen.)

I think I understand you but your confusion come from the fact that you assume Catholics pray to Mary. This isn't quite correct. We only ask that Mary pray for us, along with all of the saints. The communiom of saints has been a teaching of the Church since the beginning from what I understand.

I think it is natural for some to have a special bond with the Queen of Saints because of what she did so it wouldn't surprise me if Christians had a special devotion to Mary from the beginning. 
Yes, they did.

"Under your mercy we take refuge, O Mother of God. Do not reject our supplications in necessity, but deliver us from danger,[O you] alone pure and alone blessed." Sub Tuum Praesidium, From Rylands Papyrus, Egypt (3rd century).

"Recalling these and other circumstances and imploring the Virgin Mary to bring assistance, since she, too, was a virgin and had been in danger, she entrusted herself to the remedy of fasting and sleeping on the ground." Gregory of Nazianzen, Oration 24:11 (A.D. 379).


A proper understanding of the saints is necessary to understand this though. "Praying to" is vague. Mary has no power of her own. She magnifies the Lord; she isn't the Lord.
While browsing artwork of the Christian catacombs some time back I saw a mural showing Mary being coronated Queen of Heaven, probably from the 3rd century A.D.

Rosarium Wrote:"Under your mercy we take refuge, O Mother of God. Do not reject our supplications in necessity, but deliver us from danger,[O you] alone pure and alone blessed." Sub Tuum Praesidium, From Rylands Papyrus, Egypt (3rd century).

FYI: The above prayer is found in the Latin edition of the Liturgia Horarum as an optional closing antiphon following Compline. It's one of the better editions which the creators of the LOTH came up with.
In addition to early sources, be very clear about what "prayer" really is. As someone else already said, it's just talking to another or asking another for something. Would this person ask a neighbor to pray for them? Then they are praying their neighbor pray for them. That's it. It's just an unfortunate usage that has taken on a different meaning--I suppose most people think it is tied to worship or adoration. It is not.
Define "early".  One can find prayers to Mary in 4th-6th Century coptic texts.  The atheist is regurgitating Protestant rhetoric.
This may not help much, but a priest during a homily, many years ago told me that one of the bishops (I guess) that was ordained by one of the apostles, (his name is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles) went to visit the Virgin Mary and had written after the encounter that had he not known of Our Lord he would have fell to the ground and worshiped Mary as God, or something to that effect.

The Priest mentioned the writting, but honestly I can't recall it, but at the time I did look and find his name in the Acts of the Apostles.

Sorry I can't be more specific, maybe someone else here knows what I am talking about --- this homily was given in 1986 or so.
Just to add, I think the first recorded Marian apparition was to St. Gregory Thaumaturgus. She and St. John helped him understand the Trinity better.

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