This prayer charms all who read it. Though not well-known among Orthodox Christians, it appears in some Protestant hymnals, and in my Episcopalian days I heard it sung at ordinations and on St. Patrick’s feast day (March 17).
This is the earliest image of the “Madonna and Child,” the Virgin Mary holding her son. It’s found in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome, and dates to the early 200’s. At the time this image would have been so new that people might have wondered what it was, so the artist depicted a prophet standing beside her, pointing to a star. Perhaps this is the seer Balaam, who said “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17-19). As familiar as the mother-and-child image is now, I was thinking how rare it would have been before Christ came. There’s usually no reason to depict a mother and nursing child. It’s not a heroic image, not particularly glorious or amazing; it’s as everyday as a mother kneading bread or hanging out the wash. And yet we put it in our worship
In the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete (written about 725 AD) there’s a break after the 6th canticle, and then there’s something labeled “Kontakion.” It’s memorable to anyone who’s attended the Great Canon (Orthodox sing it during Lent), because this verse breaks in and seems so different, like it comes from a different source. “O my soul, O my soul, arise; why are you sleeping? The end is drawing near and you will be confounded. Awake and watch that Christ God may spare you, Who is everywhere present and fills all things.”