On Wednesday January 6, Papas Martin Zammit, from the Parish of the Greek Catholic Church of Our Lady of Damascus in Valletta, and myself, prayed together the Rule of the Theotokos, written by the Russian saint St Seraphim of Sarov, at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. This holy initiative is in complete concordance with the spirituality of St Leopold Mandic, the Capuchin patron saint of cancer patients, who gave his life for the unity between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Churches separated from Rome.
The Rule of the Theotokos is part of the Easter Orthodox spiritual heritage. It is entirely based on the praying of the Angelic salutation for 150 times. When one looks closely to this Byzantine Rosary one clearly observes who this prayer does resemble our western Rosary in the West. It was the Mother of God who showed this rule to the people to pray it in the 8th century. As time went by it was forgotten. However, it was discovered again for Orthodox Christians thanks to St Seraphim of Sarov (1754-1833).
There is an interesting letter written by Father Alexander Gumanovsky, who was a spiritual son of Father Zosima, who, in turn, was himself a spiritual son of St Seraphim of Sarov, which shows the power of this Rule or Rosary to the Theotokos. Fr Alexander starts his letter with a direct quote from Fr Zosima:
…I forgot to give you a piece of advice vital for salvation. Say the O Hail, Mother of God and Virgin one hundred and fifty times, and this prayer will lead you on the way to salvation. This rule was given by the Mother of God herself in about the eighth century, and at one time all Christians fulfilled it. We Orthodox have forgotten about it, and St Seraphim has reminded me of this Rule. In my hands I have a hand-written book from the cell of St. Seraphim, containing a description of the many miracles which took place through praying to the Mother of God and especially through saying one hundred and fifty times the O Hail, Mother of God and Virgin. If, being unaccustomed to it, it is difficult to master one hundred and fifty repetitions daily, say it fifty times at first. After every ten repetitions say the Our Father once and Open unto us the doors of thy loving kindness whomever he spoke to about this miracle-working Rule remained grateful to him…
As we can detect from this extract the Rule of the Theotokos is made up of 150 Angelic salutations, which are then divided into 15 decades. Every decade contemplates on some relevant event in the life of the Mother of God. According to the holy hieromartyr and Bishop Seraphim (Zvezdinsky) (1883-1937) gives the subsequent structure to the Rule: (1) Birth of the Theolokos; (2) Presentation of the Theotokos; (3) Annunciation; (4) Visitation to Elizabeth; (5) Birth of Christ; (6) Meeting of the Lord; (7) Flight into Egypt; (8) Loss of Jesus in Jerusalem; (9) Miracle in Cana of Galilee; (10) Theotokos standing by the Cross; (11) Resurrection of Christ; (12) Ascension of Christ; (13) Descent of the Holy Spirit; (14) Dormition of Theotokos; and (15) Glory of Theotokos.
With Papa Martin we prayed together the first five events from the life of Mary. What personally struck me was the reflection that was prayed before and after the ten angelic salutations of the decade involved. For instance, in the first decade, the Birth of the Theotokos, we prayed: Let us remember the birth of the Mother of God. Let us pray for mothers, fathers, and children. Then, after the Rejoice, O Virgin Mother of God Mary, we prayed: Our Lady, Blessed Mother of God, save and preserve your servants (names of parents, relatives, friends), increase their faith and repentance, and when they die give them rest with the saints in your eternal glory. In the second decade, the Presentation of the Theotokos, we prayed: Let us remember the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin and Mother of God. Let us pray for those who have lost their way and fallen away from the church. Then, after the Rejoice, O Virgin Mother of God Mary, we prayed: Our Lady, Blessed Mother of God, save and preserve and unite or re-unite to the Holy Orthodox Church your servants who have lost their path and fallen away (names). In the third decade, the Annunciation, we prayed: Let us remember the Annunciation of the Blessed Mother of God. Let us pray for the soothing of sorrows and the consolation of those who grieve. Then, after the Rejoice, O Virgin Mother of God Mary, we prayed: Our Lady, Blessed Mother of God, soothe our sorrows and send consolation to your servants who are grieving and ill (names). In the fourth decade, the Visitation to Elizabeth, we prayed: Let us remember the meeting of the Blessed Virgin with the righteous Elizabeth. Let us pray for the reunion of the separated, for those whose dear ones or children are living away from them or missing. Then, after the Rejoice, O Virgin Mother of God Mary, we prayed: Our Lady, Blessed Mother of God, unite your servants who are separated. Whereas in the fifth decade, the Birth of Christ, we prayed: Let us remember the Birth of Christ. Let us pray for the rebirth of souls, for new life in Christ. Then, after the Rejoice, O Virgin Mother of God Mary, we prayed: Our Lady, Blessed Mother of God, grant unto me, who has been baptized in Christ, to be clothed in Christ.
Concerning the Rule of the Theotokos, Seraphim of Sarov taught the following teaching about this rule of prayer:
Let any Christian, upon arising from sleep stand before the holy icons, and read the Lord’s Prayer “Our Father” thrice, in honor of the Most-holy Trinity, then the hymn to the Theotokos “O Theotokos and Virgin, rejoice…” three times as well, and finally, the Symbol of Our Faith once. Having completed this rule, let each one attend to the tasks to which he was appointed or to which he is called.
During work at home or while traveling somewhere, let him quietly read “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” If there are others in his vicinity while he is working, let him silently repeat “Lord have mercy,” until supper. After supper, upon completing his tasks, let him quietly read “Most Holy Theotokos, save me a sinner,” and let him repeat this until falling asleep.
Going to bed, let any Christian again read the above-mentioned morning rule. Thereafter, let him go to sleep, having protected himself with the sign of the Cross. Fr. Seraphim said: Keeping this rule, it is possible, to reach Christian perfection, for the three prayers indicated are the foundation of Christianity. The first, as the payer given [to us] by Christ Himself, is the model for all prayers. The second was brought from Heaven by the Archangel to greet the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Our Lord. The Symbol [of our faith] contains in brief all of the salvific dogmas of the Christian Faith.
For those who could not fulfill this Rule St Seraphim said that it can be read in any circumstance, be it during lessons, while walking, and also in bed. He founded his advice on the Biblical words, precisely in the Letter of St Paul to the Romans: Every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom 10:13).
The Rule of the Theotokos simply reminds and leads to the messages Our Lady gives us about the importance of the Rosary. For instance, Dear children! All the prayers which you recite in the evening in your homes, dedicate them to the conversion of sinners because the world is immersed in a great moral decay. Recite the rosary each evening (October 8 1984). I urge you to ask everyone to pray the rosary. With the rosary you will overcome all the troubles which Satan is trying to inflict on the Catholic Church. Let all priests pray the rosary. Give time to the rosary (June 25 1985). Pray and let the rosary always be in your hands as a sign to Satan that you belong to me (February 25, 1988). Take your Rosary and get your children, your families with you. This is the way to come to salvation. Give your good example to your children: give a good example to those who do not believe. You will not have happiness on this earth, neither will you come to Heaven if you are not with pure and humble hearts, and do not fulfill the law of God. I am asking for your help to join me to pray for those who do not believe. You are helping me very little. You have little charity or love for your neighbor and God gave you the love and showed you how you should forgive and love others. For that reason, reconcile and purify your soul. TAKE YOUR ROSARY AND PRAY IT. All your sufferings take patiently. You should remember that Jesus was patiently suffering for you (February 2 1990).
Those interested in praying the Rule of the Theotokos, or the Byzantine Rosary, can follow the following link:
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap