The Prayer Rope
The prayer rope used by all Orthodox monastics and many laity is usually made out of wool and woven into knots. The number of knots can vary from very small, worn on the finger, to very large. The most common are 33 knots (bracelet type) representing the years of Christ, the standard 100 knots, but they can also come in 50 knots, and other lengths with 300 knots quite common for Great-Schema monastics.
According to tradition, St. Pachomius founded the first monastery in 320 AD in the Thebaid of Egypt, with the help of St. Anthony. He sought ways to help the monks in concentrating during prayer and counting the prayers out. According to tradition, the Archangel Gabriel visited St. Pachomius in his sleep and showed how to make a tool that would serve the needs of prayer. This tool was the prayer rope.
When praying with a prayer rope, which helps concentrate the mind (nous), a precise technical method is followed.
As each knot passes through the fingers of the person praying he or she says the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, a sinner” or “All Holy Mother of God save us” or “Saints of God, pray for us”. One can just say the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me (a sinner)”. The prayer rope is a tool designed for prayer, and is not meant to be used simply as a wrist bracelet for decoration.
Each part of the prayer-rope symbolises something:
- It is mainly woven from wool to remind members of the Church that are the rational sheep of Jesus Christ (John 10:11).
- It is black in colour, which symbolises mourning for sins. “no -one is without sin” (cf. III Kings 8:46, Job 4:17, Rom. 3:9-12, etc.).
- The prayer-rope bears a cross to remind us sinners that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8)
- Usually the prayer-rope ends with a tassel whose purpose is to wipe away tears (“but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head). Luke 7:44).
- As mentioned above, the number of knots can vary. 33 knots symbolise the years of Jesus Christ, the 99 knots is 33 multiplied by the number of the three Persons of the Trinity.
- Each knot is composed of nine braided crosses, symbolizing the nine orders of angels. The tenth fallen order to be replaced by the monastic order.