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Praying on Prayer Ropes and Prayer Beads

The life of a Christian — is toil and prayer. "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thes. 5:17) — the apostle exhorts, and with him the saints of our Church, by experience recognizing the power and benefit of continual prayer. The most well-known of these became what is known as the Jesus prayer:

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner".

If all the works concerning the Jesus prayer that have been written by the holy fathers were gathered together, a vast library would result. The brevity and simplicity of it permits any Christian to include it in his daily prayer rule (of course, with the blessing of the spiritual guide), repeating it a specific number of times — 50, 100, 200… during the day. But how to pray and keep count at the same time? Prayer ropes assist in this.

Modern prayer ropes — is an enclosed string, consisting of small knots, divided into groups of ten or twent five by somewhat larger beads. The usual number of knots is 50 or 100. Small prayer ropes have 33 knots and have no beads.

Prayer ropes help keep count (the Russian word, chotki, is derived from the root chot, or count) of the number of prayers or prostrations. The person praying runs the fingers of the left hand over the knots concurrently with the beginning of the new prayer being read. When coming to a larger bead they usually stop and read "Our Father" or "Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos Mary", and then continue the Jesus prayer. When the prescribed number is achieved, "It is meet…" is usually read. Any other prayer can also be read using the beads.

In ancient Rus the ropes had a different form — of an enclosed ladder, consisting of wooden bars, sewn into leather or material. They were called "lestvitsa" or "lestovka" (ladder) and spiritually symbolized the ladder of salvation, rising to heaven. The enclosing of the beads and ladder symbolizes the unceasing, eternal prayer. Prayer ropes are part of the monk’s apparel, laymen can pray with them, receiving the blessing of his spiritual guide. Prayer ropes help to pray at work, in public places — one need only to put their hand in their pocket and start counting the knots.

The difficult-to-understand fashion of wearing the prayer ropes around the neck, tying them around the wrist, twisting them on the finger — are clearly not of pious roots. As with any holy item (and prayer ropes are necessarily blessed), one must handle them piously and not be demonstrative about them.

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OFFSITE: Beginning Orthodoxy, Part 2 - Original article.
OFFSITE: Photography of Alexander Shurlakov