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A prayer rope (Greek: κομποσκοίνι – komboskini; Russian: чётки – chotki (most common term) or вервица – vervitsa (literal translation); Arabic: مسبحة, romanized: misbaḥa; Romanian: metanii / metanier; Serbian: бројаница / brojanica – broyanitsa; Bulgarian: броеница – broyenitsa; Coptic: ⲙⲉⲕⲩⲧⲁⲣⲓⲁ – mequetaria / mequtaria; Geʽez: መቁጠሪያ/መቍጠርያ – mequteria / mequeteria) is a loop made up of complex woven knots formed in a cross pattern, usually out of wool or silk. Prayer ropes are part of the practice of Eastern-Catholic and of Eastern Orthodox monks and nuns and are employed by monastics (and sometimes by others) to count the number of times one has prayed the Jesus Prayer or, occasionally, other prayers. The typical prayer rope has thirty three knots, representing the thirty three years of Christ’s life. Among the Oriental Orthodoxy, it is used in the Coptic, Ethiopian, and Eritrean Orthodox Churches, where it is known by its Coptic or Ge’ez name.
Description · Prayer Rope
Historically, the prayer rope would typically have 100 knots, although prayer ropes with 150, 60, 50, 33, 64 or 41 knots can also be found in use today. There are even small, 10-knot prayer ropes intended to be worn on the finger. Hermits in their cells may have prayer ropes with as many as 300 or 500 knots in them.
There is typically a knotted cross where the prayer rope is joined together to form a loop, and a few beads at certain intervals between the knots (usually every 10 or 25 knots) for ease in counting. Longer prayer ropes frequently have a tassel at the end of the cross; its purpose is to dry the tears shed due to heartfelt compunction for one’s sins. The tassel can also be said to represent the glory of the Heavenly Kingdom, which one can only enter through the Cross. Additionally, the tassel represents an inherited tradition of prayer. The symbol of tassels as tradition coming from Old Testament commandments to Jews to wear tassels on their garments to keep in mind the received laws.
The prayer rope is commonly made out of wool, symbolizing the flock of Christ; though in modern times other materials are used also. The traditional color of the rope is black (symbolizing mourning for one’s sins), with either black or colored beads. The beads (if they are colored) and at least a portion of the tassel are traditionally red, symbolizing the blood of Christ and the blood of the martyrs. In recent times, however, prayer ropes have been made in a wide variety of colors.
Though prayer ropes are often tied by monastics, non-monastics are permitted to tie them also. In proper practice, the person tying a prayer rope should be of true faith and pious life and should be praying the Jesus Prayer the whole time.
In (Orthodox) Serbian practice, the 33 knotted prayer rope is worn on the left hand, and when praying, held with the thumb and forefinger of the right hand. The 33 knots symbolize the age of Jesus Christ when he was crucified.
Among the Oriental Orthodox, the prayer rope is composed of 41, 64, or 100 beads and is primarily used to recite the Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy) prayer as well as others such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Magnificat. In regards to the first two numbers, the first number represents the number lashes inflicted on Jesus (39 according to Jewish custom) alongside the lance wound and crown of thorns, while the latter represents Mary’s age upon her Assumption respectively.
Prayer Rope – How to use!
When praying, the user normally holds the prayer rope in the left hand, leaving the right hand free to make the Sign of the Cross. When not in use, the prayer rope is traditionally wrapped around the left wrist so that it continues to remind one to pray without ceasing. If this is impractical, it may be placed in the (left) pocket, but should not be hung around the neck or suspended from the belt. The reason for this is humility: one should not be ostentatious or conspicuous in displaying the prayer rope for others to see.
Accept, O brother (sister) (name), the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17) in the everlasting Jesus prayer by which you should have the name of the Lord in your soul, your thoughts, and your heart, saying always: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Among some Orthodox monastics (and occasionally other faithful), the canonical hours and preparation for Holy Communion may be replaced by praying the Jesus Prayer a specified number of times dependent on the service being replaced. In this way prayers can still be said even if the service books are for some reason unavailable or the person is not literate or otherwise unable to recite the service; the prayer rope becomes a very practical tool in such cases, simply for keeping count of the prayers said. However, among some monastics, e.g. hesychasts, this replacement is the norm.
- Instead of the entire Psalter: 6000 Jesus Prayers
- One kathisma of the Psalter: 300 prayers (100 for each stasis)
- Midnight Office: 600
- Matins: 1500
- The Hours without the Inter-Hours: 1000;
- The Hours with the Inter-Hours: 1500
- Vespers: 600
- Great Compline: 700
- Small Compline: 400
- A Canon or Akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos (Mother of God): 500
Over the centuries, various cell rules have developed to help the individual in the daily use of the prayer rope. However, there is no single, standardized method in use universally throughout the Church. There may be prostrations after each prayer or after a certain number of prayers, depending upon the particular rule being followed.
Not only is the Jesus Prayer used, but Eastern Christians also have many “breath prayers“. Contrary to thought, they are not to be said using spiritual breathing, as that can only be determined by a spiritual father. Breath prayers continuously repeated on the prayer rope may include: Lord Have Mercy, Come Lord Jesus, Lord I Believe…Help My Unbelief, Lord Save Me, etc.
Among the Orthodox believers of Balkan countries, small 33 knot prayer ropes are frequently worn around the wrist. It is also common, though somewhat less so, to wear the larger 100 knot around the neck.
The history of the prayer rope goes back to the origins of Christian monasticism itself. The invention of the prayer rope is attributed to Pachomius the Great in the fourth century as an aid for illiterate monks to accomplish a consistent number of prayers and prostrations in their cells. Previously, monks would count their prayers by casting pebbles into a bowl, but this was cumbersome, and could not be easily carried about when outside the cell. The use of the rope made it possible to pray the Jesus Prayer unceasingly, whether inside the cell or out, in accordance with Paul the Apostle‘s injunction to “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).
It is said that the method of tying the prayer rope had its origins from the father of Orthodox monasticism, Anthony the Great. He started by tying a leather rope with a simple knot for every time he prayed Kyrie Eleison (“Lord have Mercy”), but the Devil would come and untie the knots to throw off his count. He then devised a way—inspired by a vision he had of the Theotokos—of tying the knots so that the knots themselves would constantly make the sign of the cross. This is why prayer ropes today are still tied using knots that each contain seven little crosses being tied over and over. The Devil could not untie it because the Devil is vanquished by the Sign of the Cross.
Using a Prayer Rope
The prayer rope is not some kind of amulet with magic or exorcising powers. On the contrary, it is a purely Orthodox holy object used only for praying and nothing else.
There are two ways we can pray using the prayer rope:
1. At any time of the day when we have free time, without being seen by anyone, secretly, we hold the prayer rope with our left or right hand and move from knot to knot with our thumb whispering simultaneously or meditating upon the prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me” or “Most Holy Theotokos save us”.
2. At the time of our regular prayer, when we pray following the rule of prayer that our spiritual father has told us to follow, we hold the prayer rope with our left hand between the thumb and the index finger and move from knot to knot. At each knot we simultaneously do two things: i) with our right hand we make the sign of the cross over ourselves and ii) we say the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”. When we finish with all the knots of the prayer rope, we continue following the same procedure, for as many times as our spiritual father has advised.
Prayer ropes are made in keeping with a tradition whose origin is lost in antiquity. Perhaps one of the earliest forms was simply gathering small pebbles or seeds and moving them from one spot or container to another as one said his prayer rule or did his rule of bows or prostrations. The story is told of a monk who decided to make knots in a rope, which he could use in carrying out his daily rule of prayer. But the devil kept untying the knots he made in the rope, frustrating the poor monk’s efforts. Then an angel appeared and taught the monk a special kind of knot that consists of ties of interlocked crosses, and these knots the devil was unable to unravel.
Prayer Ropes come in a great variety of forms and sizes. Most prayer ropes have a cross woven into them or attached to mark the “end”, and also have some kind of marker after each 10, 25, or 50 knots or beads. There are many forms of prayer ropes, some knotted of wool or silk, or other more elegant or simpler materials. Others are made of beads or the dried flower of a plant called “Tears of the Mother of God”. They most often are made of black wool or silky lace (soutache). The black colour symbolises repentance.
“When mind and heart are united in prayer and the soul is wholly concentrated in a single desire for God, then the heart grows warm and the light of Christ begins to shine and fills the inward man with peace and joy. We should thank the Lord for everything and give ourselves up to His will; we should also offer Him all our thoughts and words, and strive to make everything serve only His good pleasure.”
St. Seraphim of Sarov
Prayer Rope – 100 Knots & Embedded Cross – 14.00€
Prayer Rope with embedded cross is a special monastic handicraft. It differs from other ropes as its cross is contained between its knots. It has 100 knots.
Net Weight: 24gr
Worry beads with «tears of Virgin Mary» – Mount Athos · 12.00€ – 17.00€
These worry beads are a unique and extremely beautiful handicraft from Mount Athos. It is made with the seeds of a plant called «tears of Virgin Mary» which is cultivated at Mount Athos by monks. These seeds have a pleasant feeling in the hand.
Monastic Prayer Rope – 50 Knots & Embedded Cross · 9.00€
Prayer Rope with embedded cross is a special monastic handicraft. It differs from other ropes as its cross is contained between its knots. It has 50 knots. It is available in five colors: black, blue, green, maroon and white.
Net Weight: 8gr
Thin waxed Prayer rope · Variery of Colors | Mount Athos · 3.00€
The Athonite prayer ropes are woven according to a tradition that is lost in the mists of time. This specific prayer rope is waxed, with thin knots and is available in the following colors: light blue, light green, red and blue.