The Prayer Rope
By: The Reverend Mother Barbara Martzall
100 Knot Prayer Rope
Within our Community it is not uncommon to see laity, clergy, and/or monastics use a Prayer Rope. What is a Prayer Rope? What is the purpose of a Prayer Rope? I will try to give a simple explanation of what a Prayer Rope is and how to use one.
The Prayer Rope is really an ancient prayer aid that is credited to St. Pachomius of the 4th century. St. Pachomius used it as an aid for the illiterate monks to help them with their prayer life.
The Prayer Rope is usually made from wool -- frequently dyed black. The wool reminds us that we are the sheep of Jesus Christ. The black color reminds us to be sober and serious in our lives. When you look at the Prayer Rope you see simplicity. There is a tassel, a cross, beads (depending of the number of knots) and knots. Usually the Prayer Rope has 100 knots, but often you will see laity with Prayers Ropes of 33 knots. The greater the number of knots, the longer the Prayer Rope is.
Basically there are two ways of using the Prayer Rope:
- Throughout the day when you have free time, where you can be quiet and alone, hold the rope in either hand and move from knot to knot with the thumb while meditating on the prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me" or "Most Holy Theotokos save us".
- When we are following a rule of prayer given us by our spiritual father, hold the rope in your left hand between the thumb and index finger moving from knot to know. In this instant, you do two things with each knot -- make the sign of the cross over ourselves and meditate on the prayer "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me". Some monastics will also add in bowing or prostration with each knot. All this depends on the rule of prayer given you by your spiritual father.
Also, you can pray other prayers with the Prayer Rope. Examples of these prayers are:
- prayer of the publican ("God be merciful to me a sinner")
- prayer to the Mother of God ("Most Holy Theotokos save us")
- prayer to the Guardian angel ("Holy Guardian Angel pray to God for me")
- prayer to your patron saint ("Saint [name of saint] pray to God for me").
It is good to set aside at least 15 minutes in the evening to say your prayers. But it is also very good to throughout the day, when you have a moment, to also pray. St. Paul taught us that we should pray without ceasing (I Thes. 5:17) and also in Matthew we learn that we should fill our day with the treasures of prayer which you thus have laid up for you in heaven (Mat. 6:20). With the Prayer Rope, you have a "tool" that helps you not only count how many times you have said the prayer, but a "tool" that helps you meditate on the prayer. In time as you are able to concentrate more and more, you will not "remember" that you have said the prayer. Other times you may find it difficult to concentrate on praying. The Prayer Rope helps you in this. Never put yourself into a "rushing mode" when praying. That is why having the knots are helpful as you can rhythmically move the knots between your fingers. Have you ever noticed that when you pray that your mind wanders a little. Well, using the Prayer Rope will help you to better concentrate.
Let us take a more in depth look at the Prayer Rope. The picture is of a 100 knot Prayer Rope. Notice the tassel. It is used to brush away the tears that occur frequently when praying. If no tears, the tassel reminds us that tears of joy will occur in time with our prayers. The tassel is also a decoration that has been used on sacred vestments (and the Prayer Rope is a sacred vestment) to remind us of the sacred tradition that we are participating in. The cross reminds us of what Jesus Christ did for us - sacrificed his life that we might have life ever lasting. The beads are markers that separate the knots into groups of 10, 15, 25, 50 depending on who made the Prayer Rope and how many knots on the Rope. And then there are the knots which are our prayers!
For the laity, the small 33 knot Prayer Ropes are easy to use since they can be tucked into a pocket or purse and pulled out when you have a moment for prayer. Monastics wear it wrapped around their right wrists as a reminder that they should be praying constantly as they go about their daily business within their hermitage or monastery.
A wonderful writing concerning the Prayer Rope can be found in the booklet Comboschini (The Prayer Rope): Meditations of a Monk of the Holy Mountain Athos (St. Anthony's Monastery, Florence, AZ)