Rejoice, O Virgin!

Rejoice, O Virgin Mother of God,
Mary full of grace,
the Lord is with thee!
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
for thou hast born the Savior of our souls.

Θεοτόκε Παρθένε,
χαίρε κεχαριτωμένη Μαρία,
ο Κύριος μετά σου.
Ευλογημένη συ εν γυναιξί,
και ευλογημένος ο καρπός της κοιλίας σου,
ότι Σωτήρα έτεκες των ψυχών ημών

This is a standard English translation and the original Greek of the Eastern Orthodox equivalent to the Roman Catholic Hail, Mary. Though it’s understood that the Greek χαίρε, like the Latin Ave, is a greeting, and so perhaps may not have been actually heard by an ancient Greek speaker as Rejoice is heard today in English, etymologically the meaning stands, and the translation is enhanced by it. The prayer is common, appearing in many different services, as well as in personal devotions, of course.

One of those personal devotions will be very familiar to Roman Catholics familiar with the rosary. St Seraphim of Sarov taught various of his disciples The Rule of the Mother of God, which is quite the equivalent of the rosary. He believed the practice to be an ancient one, orginating among the monks of Egypt, originally established to replace recitation of the 150 psalms. One hundred and fifty Rejoice, O Virgin prayers are arranged in fifteen decades, each of which includes a meditation theme expressed through a short prayer before and after the decade. The pre- and post-decade prayers are separated by an Our Father… and the following prayer, also common in Eastern Orthodoxy:

Open unto us the door of thy loving-kindness, O most blessed Mother of God. As we set our hope in thee, let us not be confounded, but through thee may we be delivered from all adversities. For thou art the salvation of the Christian race.

These prayers are preceded by the Trisagion prayers (a whole set of prayers that typically open various services and personal prayer) and the Symbol of the Faith (a.k.a. the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed). So, it’s alot of praying. From what I’ve read, Eastern Orthodox monks actually will pray 150 Rejoice, O Virgin prayers with a prostration after each, and then 150 Our Father prayers with the same, using a 300 knot komvoschini/prayer rope with one bead separating the two sets of 150. I don’t think they alternate the prayers with any others, though.

These are the meditations for the fifteen decades in St Seraphim’s rule, which are quite different from the mysteries associated with the rosary that I’m familiar with, most of which are represented by a feast day in both the Eastern and Western calendars:
First decade: the Birth of the Mother of God
Second decade: the Presentation of the Virgin
Third decade: the Annunciation
Fourth decade: the Meeting of the Virgin Mother of God and Holy Elizabeth
Fifth decade: the Nativity of our Lord and Savior
Sixth decade: the Presentation of our Lord
Seventh decade: the Flight into Egypt
Eighth decade: the Finding of our Lord in the Temple
Ninth decade: the miracle at the wedding in Cana
Tenth decade: the Crucifixion of our Lord
Eleventh decade: the Resurrection of our Lord
Twelfth decade: the Ascension of our Lord
Thirteenth decade: the Pentecost in the Upper Room
Fourteenth decade: the Dormition of the Mother of God
Fifteenth decade: the Glorification of the Mother of God

From several sources, I’ve put together a “cheat sheet” here for those who might like to read all those prayers, or perhaps give it a spin around the prayer rope, or rosary, or, like St Seraphim, on a lestovka or vervitsa (which is a folded/notched leather strip used for counting such prayers). If this is too intimidating, St Seraphim also recommended three Our Father prayers, three Rejoice, O Virgin prayers, and the Creed, saying that the Holy Spirit will lead the person praying into a deeper prayer life eventually. I think he knows what he was talking about….

9 Replies to “Rejoice, O Virgin!”

  1. Very beautiful.

    I note that in a review by Lash recently cited in a comment to John Hobbins’ blog, Lash criticized those who use “Mary”. (I found a number of flaws in Lash’s review.)

    I notice while she is called Θεοτόκε in the first line, she is simply Μαρία in the second. Yet the prayer, even in the Greek, carries a type of elegance which speaks for itself, causing me to wonder about Lash’s many rules. (Arguably Lash’s most outrageous rule was that it took centuries to acquire Orthodoxy.)

  2. Thanks, Iyov, it’s certainly a beautiful prayer. The Greeks have a distinctly good ear for euphony, and this prayer, the majority of which is directly from the New Testament (the Annunciation and Visitation stories, to be precise), shows their rearrangement of words in the Scriptural phrases for greater effect.

    The criticism of Archimandrite Ephraim Lash is that of using “Mary” alone in such an Orthodox context, which the prayer above certainly doesn’t. It’s far more common to refer to her as Theotokos, and usually simply appears thus in English as a loanword from Greek. It’s often translated “Mother of God” but is more properly “Birthgiver of God.” “Mother of God” more properly represents, of course, μητηρ θεου, the abbreviation of which invariably appears in icons of the Theotokos as ΜΡ ΘΥ.

    Anyhow, his critique is of the Orthodox Study Bible itself, from the standpoint of an Orthodox liturgically active life. The problems he mentions with the OSB are all there, and his critiques are all valid. I don’t find the book that useful myself, and I’m reserving judgment on (which may be read “don’t expect much of”) the upcoming full OSB, which will include a full translation of the Septuagint. I’m much more looking forward to the NETS translation of the Septuagint, to be honest.

    I don’t see where you get from his article that “it took centuries to acquire Orthodoxy” though. He describes some liturgical practices that certainly developed over time, but that’s nothing that the Orthodox deny. The growth and elaboration of the Divine Liturgy from an original core is well-known, as is the shortening of the Liturgy by abbreviating various of the kontakia and so on (singing only the first oikos or stanza of lengthy hymns, for example). But we would never say, as we certainly don’t think, that Orthodoxy appeared only after centuries.

    When John posted the OSB in his list, I charitably kept my fingers away from the keyboard. Archimandrite Ephraim says it all quite well, if sharply, but we share the same critiques.

  3. Very interesting; thank you for this. I had heard before of St Seraphim’s “Rule of the Mother of God,” but had never seen its particulars. Is there a Russian or Slavonic (or English?) text of this online, or else where may I find it in printed form?

    For me personally, the “Cell Rule of Five Hundred” from the Optina Monastery has been of particular benefit since it was given to me some time ago. (And surely you will be delighted to find that it incorporates a New Testament reading plan for the kellia, alternative to the one printed in the Slavonic books!)

  4. You’re welcome, Esteban! Some of the pages I read mentioned the Optina rule as another that was recommended by St Seraphim, as well.

    This page has the Slavonic of some of the prayers, but is a Byzantine Catholic site, so the rule is presented differently. I haven’t yet found anything in print. I think it’s very likely that all such is in Russian materials, with Slavonic prayers, so it’ll be tricky to find. I don’t have enough Russian to do much more than read and catch the gist (if I’m lucky!), so you’ll probably have more luck finding out more than I will!

  5. Hey. I pray the Rejoice O Virgin on a prayer rope that is divided into five decades. I got it from St. Paisios Monastery in Arizona. It is made with wooden beads and there is a cross dividing the decades. I love the prayer! It is beautiful. It is a great help.

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