Marian devotion is quite ancient — one of the oldest frescos in the Catacombs is of the Virgin Mary and dates back to about the second century. The oldest known prayer to Mary, the Sub Tuum Praesidium, dates back to the third or early fourth century. By the fifth century, Christians described special Marian “graces.” One such Christian was the historian Sozomen, who described the apparently miraculous events that occurred in the famous Anastasia Chapel in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul).
Sozomen described a divine power that seemed to manifest itself in this church. This power helped cure illnesses and brought relief from afflictions to members of this community. Sozomen wrote, “The power was attributed to Mary, the Mother of God, the Holy Virgin, for she does manifest herself in this way.”
Sozomen's statement suggests that the events that occurred at this church were not entirely unique but were related to a broader phenomenon that he may have already been familiar with. His statement seems to parallel the reports of healings and transformed lives that are associated with apparition sites.
Saint Gregory of Nazianzus
It seems appropriate that the events described by Sozomen would occur at the Anastasia Chapel in Constantinople, because Saint Gregory of Nazianzus preached in this chapel.
Was Saint Gregory open about his Marian devotion?
Yes. Saint Gregory was quite bold in his devotion to the Virgin Mary. In A.D. 379, he said, “If anyone does not accept the holy Mary as Theotokos, he is without the Godhead.”
Saint Gregory was devoted to the Virgin Mary, and he did not shy away from mentioning her in his sermons, even early on in his career. During Saint Gregory's first year preaching in Constantinople in A.D. 379, he publicly called the Virgin Mary Theotokos, long before the Council at Ephesus had officially used this title to describe her. Saint Gregory also believed fervently that Mary responded to prayers and that healings could be attributed to her.
The conviction that Mary continually prays for those who seek her intercessions has been passed on from century to century, crossing ethnic and cultural lines, and finding different expressions within a variety of communities around the world.