Prayer Ropes

Amongst the devotional objects traditionally used by Orthodox Hermits, and sometimes made as handicrafts for sale, is the Prayer Rope.
prayer rope 1
“A prayer rope (Greek: κομποσκοίνι, komboskini; Russian: чётки, chotki; Romanian: metanii / metanier; Macedonian and Serbian: бројаница, broyanitsa; Bulgarian: броеница, broyenitsa) is a loop made up of complex knots, usually out of wool or silk.
The prayer rope is part of the habit of Eastern Orthodox monks and nuns and is employed by monastics (and sometimes by others) to count the number of times one has prayed the Jesus Prayer or, occasionally, other prayers.
Historically, the prayer rope would typically have 100 knots, although prayer ropes with 50 or 33 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….
prayer rope 2
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….
prayer rope 3
The history of the prayer rope goes back to the origins of Christian monasticism itself. When monks began going into the deserts of Egypt, it was their custom to pray the entire 150 Psalms every day. However, because some of the monks were unable to read, they would either have to memorize the psalms or perform other prayers and prostrations in their stead. Thus the tradition of saying 150 (or more) Jesus Prayers every day began…
The invention of the prayer rope is attributed to Saint Pachomius 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 Saint Paul’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, Saint 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.”
prayer rope 6
The prayer rope, known in Greek as a κομποσκίνι (komboskini),has long been a powerful
weapon for the Orthodox Christian. It has a very simple design, but is filled with meaning:
it is traditionally made with black wool; the color symbolizes mourning for sins, sorrow for our offence against God, and reminds us to be serious and sober in our life.
The material symbolizes Christ as the sacrificial Lamb, as the one who gave His life for us. It also reminds us that Christ is the Good Shepherd and we are his flock. At the bottom is small cross, a reminder of what Christ did for us, but also a symbol of hope; a device of torture and execution has become for us the gateway into eternal life. At the bottom of the cross is a tassel, which is there for both a symbolic reason and a practical one: it is used to wipe away the tears which are shed while praying.
The rope typically comes in one of three lengths, 33 knots, 50 knots, or 100 knots, though there are some in use which are as long as 500 knots. The 33 knots of the shorter rope symbolize the 33 years Christ spent on earth.
The invention of this particular prayer rope is attributed to St. Pachomius in the fourth century, who created it as an aid for himself and his fellow monks so that they could each
fulfill their individual prayer rule and accomplish a consistent number of prayers and prostrations. Since then it has become a tool to help monks and laymen and women to fulfill St. Paul’s command to “pray without ceasing”
(1 Thess. 5:17)
prayer rope bishop
A Bishop’s Prayer Rope
See also
prayer rope making
On how to tie (make) a Prayer Rope:

For a range of Prayer Ropes for sale:

The Russian Orthodox Old Believers (Old Ritualists) use a particular form of Prayer Rope: the Lestovka.
lestovka 2
“Lestovka (Russian: лѣстовка) or vervitsa (Russian: вервица) is a special type of prayer rope made of leather, once in general use in old Russia, and is still used by Russian Old Believers today, such as the Russian Orthodox Old Ritualist Church.
The lestovka is traditionally constructed of leather, with “steps” made by looping leather around small twig sections. It has a total of 109 “steps” – small loops or knots, unevenly grouped. Lestovkas produced today are often made of vinyl or PVC, and the twig sections are today often replaced with rolls of paper, rubber or even plastic. Most lestovkas are joined to form a large loop, but the older variant, which is a simple rope unjoined at the ends, may still occasionally be found. At the bottom of the lestovka hang four lapostki, which are flaps, usually triangular, but such variations as bell or oak-leaf shapes are not uncommon. These represent the four Gospels, and sometimes have icons, crosses, religious symbols or scripture verses printed or stitched on them, the stitching around these leaves symbolising the teaching of the Gospels. Simpler lestovkas will have the lapostki covered with silk brocade or velvet, and this is a traditional way of reusing church fabrics, either of vestments that have become too worn out for clergy to wear, or of altar-coverings and similar fabrics.
Between these lapostki are seven small movable pieces, usually tucked in securely and not visible unless the stitching between the lapostki is undone. These seven pieces represent the seven Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church, their location between the leaves of the lapostki indicating their origin in and central relation to the Gospels.
lestovka 1
Next, the main loop will have three large steps on either side where it joins the lapostki (in lestovkas that are joined together), and on the Lestovka itself are three more large steps, giving a total of nine, representing the nine months in which Christ was in the womb of the Theotokos (Blessed Virgin Mary), and also for the nine choirs of angels.
After the three large steps on either side is a space, representing the heavens and the earth.
Coming to the main set of counters, one finds twelve small babochki (rungs, steps), signifying the Twelve Apostles. Then are thirty-eight small counters, representing the thirty-six weeks and two days during which the Theotokos carried Christ in her womb. Next, thirty-three small counters for the number of years Christ lived on earth, followed by seventeen small counters for the seventeen Old Testament prophets plus St John the Baptist who prophesied about the coming of Christ.
lestovka 3
The lestovka is rare outside of the communities that adhere to the liturgical practices of the Old Believers, but Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians who are knowledgeable about Slavic traditions of the Byzantine rite will sometimes possess and use them.”
lestovka 4
See also

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