The early Christians unanimously testify to the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption. They also prayed to her.
The oldest surviving image of Mary dating back to the 2nd century
Is there evidence the early Christians prayed to Mary?
“Beneath your compassion we take refuge, Theotokos [Mother of God]. Our petitions do not despise in time of trouble, but from dangers ransom us, Only Holy, Only Blessed” (Letter found in Egypt, Circa 250 AD)
“Under thy compassion we take refuge, O Mother of God. Do not despise our petitions in the time of trouble, but from dangers ransom us, singularly holy, singularly blessed.” (Rylands Papyrus P470, Egypt, circa 250 AD)
“Hail to you for ever, Virgin Mother of God, our unceasing joy, for to you do I turn again. You are the beginning of our feast; you are its middle and end; the pearl of great price that belongs to the kingdom; the fat of every victim, the living altar of the bread of life [Jesus]. Hail, you treasure of the love of God. Hail, you fount of the Son’s love for man. . . . You gleamed, sweet gift-bestowing Mother, with the light of the sun; you gleamed with the insupportable fires of a most fervent charity, bringing forth in the end that which was conceived of you . . . making manifest the mystery hidden and unspeakable, the invisible Son of the Father — the Prince of Peace, who in a marvelous manner showed himself as less than all littleness.
“Therefore, we pray [ask] you, the most excellent among women, who glories in the confidence of your maternal honors, that you would unceasingly keep us in remembrance. O holy Mother of God, remember us, I say, who make our boast in you, and who in august hymns celebrate the memory, which will ever live, and never fade away.
And you also, O honored and venerable Simeon, you earliest host of our holy religion, and teacher of the resurrection of the faithful, do be our patron and advocate with that Savior God, whom you were deemed worthy to receive into your arms. We, together with you, sing our praises to Christ, who has the power of life and death, saying, “You are the true Light, proceeding from the true light; the true God, begotten of the true God” (ibid.). (Methodius of Olympus, Oration on Simeon and Anna 14, 305 AD)
“Under the holy place of M[ary?] I wrote there the [names] The image I adored Of her…” (An inscription written sometime between 60–200s AD in a early church, The Grotto of the Annunciation in Jerusalem)
Early Christians on the Immaculate Conception:
Since Mary was immaculately conceived by God’s great grace for her, she didn’t receive original sin, which in a woman brings along pain in childbirth, a consequence passed to all women by Eve (Genesis 3:16: ‘Unto the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children…’). Thus, her conception was perfect — immaculate — as the following early Christians testify.
“Mary was not infected by the venomous breath of the serpent.” — Origen, of the 100s.
“Nor did justice endure that the vessel of election should be open to common injuries; for being far exalted above others, she partook of their nature, not of their sin.’” — Cyprian, of the 200s.
“Mary was immaculate, and remote from all stain of sin.” — Ephraim the Syrian, of the 300s.
“So the Virgin became a mother with great mercies. And she labored and bore the Son, but without pain, because it did not occur without purpose. ” (Odes of Solomon, 19–80 AD)
“The report concerning the child was noised abroad in Bethlehem. Some said, ‘The Virgin Mary has given birth before she was married two months.’ And many said, ‘She has not given birth; the midwife has not gone up to her, and we heard no cries of pain’” (Ascension of Isaiah, 11–70 AD)
[Eve, a virgin] having become disobedient, was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race; so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless still a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race. . . . Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith” -Irenaeus, 189 AD
Early Christians on the Perpetual Virginity of Mary:
“The Book [the Protoevangelium] of James records that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary. Now those who say so wish to preserve the honor of Mary in virginity to the end, so that body of hers which was appointed to minister to the Word . . . might not know intercourse with a man after the Holy Spirit came into her and the power from on high overshadowed her. And I think it in harmony with reason that Jesus was the firstfruit among men of the purity which consists in [perpetual] chastity, and Mary was among women. For it were not pious to ascribe to any other than to her the firstfruit of virginity” (Origen, Commentary on Matthew 2:17 [A.D. 248]).
The Protoevangelium of James, 120 AD:
And the priest said to Joseph, ‘You have been chosen by lot to take into your keeping the Virgin of the Lord.’ But Joseph refused, saying, ‘I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl’” (ibid., 8–9). “And Annas the scribe came to him [Joseph] . . . and saw that Mary was with child. And he ran away to the priest and said to him, ‘Joseph, whom you did vouch for, has committed a grievous crime.’ And the priest said, ‘How so?’ And he said, ‘He has defiled the virgin whom he received out of the temple of the Lord and has married her by stealth’” (ibid., 15). “And the priest said, ‘Mary, why have you done this? And why have you brought your soul low and forgotten the Lord your God?’ . . . And she wept bitterly saying, ‘As the Lord my God lives, I am pure before him, and know not man’” (ibid.).
“But the pious confession of the believer is that . . . the Creator of all things incorporated with Himself a rational soul and a sensible body from the all-holy Mary, ever-virgin, by an undefiled conception, without conversion, and was made man in nature, but separate from wickedness. . . ” (Hippolytus, 210AD)
And she was perplexed by this word; for she was inexperienced in all the addresses of men, and welcomed quiet, as the mother of prudence and purity; being a pure, and immaculate, and stainless image herself, she shrank not in terror from the angelic apparition, like most of the prophets, as indeed true virginity has a kind of affinity and equality with the angels. (Gregory Thaumaturgus, 2nd homily, 213–275AD)
Early Christians on The Assumption of Mary into Heaven:
Mary, not having original sin, also didn’t have the curse of sin, which is death. Therefore, she didn’t die. She was not the first person to be assumed into heaven. The OT prophet Enoch was the first to be assumed into heaven (Gen 5:24). If it was possible for Enoch, why wouldn’t Jesus do it for His own mother? After Christ’s death, it is said that Mary was assumed so soon into Heaven because He couldn’t bear to watch his own mother weep for Him. Jesus Himself holds Mary in high regard. She is His own mother.
“If therefore it might come to pass by the power of your grace, it has appeared right to us your servants that, as you, having overcome death, do reign in glory, so you should raise up the body of your Mother and take her with you, rejoicing, into heaven. Then said the Savior [Jesus]: ‘Be it done according to your will’” (Pseudo-Melito, The Passing of the Virgin, 16:2–17, 300 AD)
“…and for three days the voices of invisible angels were heard glorifying Christ our God, who had been born of her. And when the third day was ended, the voices were no longer heard; and from that time forth all knew that her spotless and precious body had been transferred to paradise. We apostles, therefore, having beheld the sudden precious translation of her holy body, glorified God, who had shown us His wonders at the departure of the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose prayers and good offices may we all be deemed worthy to receive. (Assumption of Mary, 400 AD)