Does the Rosary predate Saint Dominic?

What we call the Rosary may predate Saint Dominic. There is a tradition that the Rosary was revealed to the Church at least three times:

  1. First, there is tradition that the fourth century monks of the Egyptian Thebaid were praying one hundred fifty Angelic Salutations (Hail Mary’s) grouped into fifteen decades following the pattern of the one hundred and fifty Psalms.
  2. Second there is a tradition that the Rule of the Theotokos (150 Hail Mary’s with 15 corresponding mysteries) was revealed by the Blessed Virgin Mary in the eighth century and that “at one time all Christians fulfilled it.”
  3. It was forgotten and then revealed a third time by the Blessed Virgin to Saint Dominic in the thirteenth century.
Saint Seraphim of Sarov

St Seraphim of Sarov
Eastern Practitioner of the ‘Rule of the Theotokos’
the Eastern Rosary

The evidence for the first two revelations of the Rosary (fourth century and then the eighth century) derive from an Eastern Orthodox priest Father Zosima who is the spiritual son of the great Saint Seraphim of Sarov who said:

…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 Saint Seraphim has reminded me of this Rule. In my hands I have a hand-written book from the cell of Saint 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.

Saint Seraphim of Sarov gave one of his spiritual children the task of copying a plan in which he included his prayer to the Ever Virgin Mary. Here are the mysteries as preserved in Russia at the beginning of the 19th century:

  • First decade: Let us remember the birth of the Mother of God. Let us pray for mothers, fathers, and children.
  • Second decade: Let us 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.
  • Third decade: 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.
  • Fourth decade: Let us remember the Visitation 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.
  • Fifth decade: Let us remember the Birth of Christ. Let us pray for the rebirth of souls, for new life in Christ.
  • Sixth decade: Let us remember the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, and the words uttered by St. Simeon: Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also (Luke 2:35). Let us pray that the Mother of God will meet our souls at the hour of our death, and will contrive that we receive the Holy Sacrament with our last breath, and will lead our souls through the terrible torments.
  • Seventh decade: Let us remember the flight of the Mother of God with the God-Child into Egypt. Let us pray that the Mother of God will help us avoid temptation in this life and deliver us from misfortunes.
  • Eighth decade: Let us remember the disappearance of the twelve-year old boy Jesus in Jerusalem and the sorrow of the Mother of God on this account. Let us pray, begging the Mother of God for the constant repetition of the Jesus Prayer.
  • Ninth decade: Let us remember-the miracle performed in Cana of Galilee, when the Lord turned water into wine at the words of the Mother of God: They have no wine (John 2:3). Let us ask the Mother of God for help in our affairs and deliverance from need.
  • Tenth decade: Let us remember the Mother of God standing at the Cross of the Lord, when grief pierced through her heart like a sword. Let us pray to the Mother of God for the strengthening of our Souls and the banishment of despondency.
  • Eleventh decade: Let us remember the Resurrection of Christ and ask the Mother of God in prayer to resurrect our souls and give us a new courage for spiritual feats.
  • Twelfth decade: Let us remember the Ascension of Christ, at which the Mother of God was present. Let us pray and ask the Queen of Heaven to raise up our souls from earthly and worldly amusements and direct them to striving for higher things.
  • Thirteenth decade: Let us remember the Upper Room and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and the Mother of God. Let us pray: Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me (Psalm 51).
  • Fourteenth decade: Let us remember the Assumption of the Blessed Mother of God, and ask for a peaceful and serene end.
  • Fifteenth decade: Let us remember the glory of the Mother of God, with which the Lord crowned her after her removal from earth to heaven. Let us pray to the Queen of Heaven not to abandon the faithful who are on earth but to defend them from every evil, covering them with her honoring and protecting veil.

Notice that the last five mystery correspond exactly to the Glorious Mysteries in the Dominican tradition.

The Rosary, then, is truly a universal devotion. It seems that Our Lady, over and over, leads her children to rediscover the riches of the Rosary. When we pray the Hail Mary and reflect on the mysteries of life of Christ, we ask Our Lady to help us grow closer to Christ.

Question: Were you aware of this Eastern tradition for the “Rosary”? What do you think of the fifteen mystery cycle in the “Rule of the Theotokos” as compared to the cycle revealed to Saint Dominic? Why are there differences? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

* The full text of the prayer is: Open unto us the door of thy loving-kindness, O blessed Mother of God, in that we set our hope on thee, may we not go astray; but through thee may we be delivered from all adversities, fix thou art the salvation of all Christian people.

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