Prayer Ropes

Handmade Prayer Ropes from Mount Athos.

Eastern Orthodox Christians and Eastern-Rite Catholics use a Prayer Rope ("Comboschini" in Greek), a loop composed of knots and typically made of wool, to keep track of how many times they have prayed the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." 

Although Prayer Ropes with 50, 100 or even 500 knots are in use today, historically they had 33 knots. At one end, there is usually a knotted cross, and there are a few beads spaced out between the knots. 

It was created in the fourth century by Saint Pachomius as a tool to help illiterate monks perform a regular amount of prayers and prostrations. As a reminder to pray continuously in accordance with Saint Paul's command in I Thessalonians 5:17, "Pray without ceasing", monks were frequently required to carry always a prayer rope with them. 

As you can watch in the video below, a well-known legend states that St. Anthony, the father of Orthodox monasticism, invented the Prayer RopeHe started by tying a leather rope for every time he prayed his Kyrie Eleisons, or Lord have Mercies, and the Devil came and would untie it to throw his count off. 

Then, after seeing the Holy Cross repeatedly in a vision from the Theotokos (Mother of God), he came up with a new method of making the knots in the form of a cross. Since the Devil is defeated by the Cross symbol, he was unable to untie the prayer rope if the knots were cross-shaped. Until today, Prayer Ropes are still tied using tiny crosses that are tied repeatedly in layers over each other. 

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