Comboschini The Prayer Rope PART 1
“Comboschini” is a Greek word for a string of knots used for praying. In Russian it is called “chotki”
Meditations of a Monk of the Holy Mountain Athos
(Kyrie Iisou Hriste eleison me)
Most Holy Theotokos save us
( Iperagia Theotoke soson imas)
A few years ago, with the blessings of the very reverend Father Joseph, Abbot of the Xiropotamos Monastery of the Holy Mountain Athos, we reprinted, in a booklet, the most didactic article about the Prayer Rope, which had been published in “Agioritiki Martiria”, a magazine issued by the Xiropotamos Monastery. Due to the fact that the booklet proved very helpful and because of the pastoral needs of all the English speaking Orthodox brothers around the world, it was suggested that we should proceed and publish this booklet in English; the text used in this edition was taken from the English original “The Prayer Rope – Meditations of a Monk of the Holy Mountain” – New Sarov Press, which was made available to us by the Xiropotamos Monastery. We, therefore, have to thank the very reverend Father Joseph, Abbot of the Xiropotamos Monastery, for his offer and his love.
The prayer rope is not intended to be used only by monks, but it can also be used by laymen and, generally, by anyone who wants to pray to God.
The prayer rope is not some kind of amulet with magic or exorcising powers, like those given to simple-minded people by magicians or mediums, worn on wrist or around the neck. On the contrary, it is a purely Orthodox holy object used only for praying and nothing else. We use prayer rope in order to pray secretly.
At this point we have to note something very important: there are many books that refer to prayer. However, before we start following any rule of prayer, we must necessarily ask for the advice, the blessing and the spiritual guidance of our spiritual father, i.e. the Priest to whom we confess our sins. That is what the Holy Fathers have taught us for centuries, in order to avoid delusion and, thus, not to lose the right Orthodox path. There are two ways we can pray using the prayer rope:
-1- At any time of the day when we have free time, without being seen by anyone, secretly, we hold the prayer rope with our left or right hand and move from knot to knot with our thumb whispering simultaneously or meditating upon the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me” or “Most Holy Theotokos save us”
-2- At the time of our regular prayer, when we pray following the rule of prayer that our spiritual father told us to follow, we hold the prayer rope with our left hand between the thumb and the index finger and move from knot to knot. At each knot we simultaneously do two things: i) with out right hand we make the sign of the cross over ourselves and ii) we say the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”. When we finish with all the knots of the prayer rope, we continue following the same procedure, for as many times as our spiritual father has told us to.
We hope that all our brothers and sisters in Christ will be helped by this little book, which is the result of the experience of an anonymous Monk of the Holy Mountain Athos. We also hope that everyone will use the prayer rope in the way our Holy Fathers have taught us, even if one lives in a society and not in a monastery.
Meditations of a Monk
of the Holy Mountain Athos
Let us pause for a moment just to look at a little prayer rope, like this one made of black wool on Mountain Athos. It is a blessing from a holy place. Like so much that we have in the Church,it is a blessing prepared and given to us by a brother or father in Christ, a living witness to livinn tradition. It is black, the colour of mourning and sorrow,and this reminds us to be sober and serious in our lives. We are taught that repentant prayer, especially the Jesus Prayer, can bring us what the Holy Fathers call joy-creating sorrow -in Greek “Harmolipi”. We are sorry for our sins and our weakness and failings before God, our fellow men and ourselves; but in Christ, Who pours out His mercy and forgiveness on all who call upon His Name, this sorrow becomes a source of joy and comfort. This prayer rope is knotted from wool, that is, it has been sheared from a sheep, a reminder that we are rational sheep of the Good Shepherd, Christ the Lord, and also a reminder of the Lamb of God “Who takes away the sins of the world” [John 1.29]. And the cross likewise speaks to us of the sacrifice and victory of life over death, of humility over pride, of self-sacrifice over selfishness, of light over darkness. And the tassel? Well, you can use it to wipe the tears away from your eyes, or, if you have no tears, to remind you to weep because you cannot weep.
Besides, from the Old Testament times, little tassels have been a decoration for sacred vestments, a reminder of the sacred tradition in which we participate when we use the prayer rope.
Prayer ropes are made in keeping with a tradition whose origin is lost in antiquity. Perhaps one of the earliest forms of an object aimed to help people praying was simply gathering small peebles or seeds and moving them from one spot or container to another as one said his prayer rule or did his rule of bows or prostrations. Moreover the story is told of a monk who decided to make simple knots in a rope, which he could use in carrying out his daily rule of prayer. But the devil kept untying the knots he made in the rope,frustrating the poor monk’s efforts. Then an angel appeared and taught the monk a special kind of knot, like the prayer rope that we use today, that consists of a series of interlocked crosses, and these knots the devil was unable to unravel.
Prayer ropes come in a great variety of forms and sizes. Most prayer ropes have a cross woven into them or attached to mark the ‘end’, and also have some kind of marker after each 10, 25 or 50 knots or beads. There are many forms of prayer ropes, some knotted of wool or silk, or other more elegant or simpler materials. Others are made of beads or the dried flower of a plant called “Tears of the Mother of God”
The prayer rope is one of the items given to an Orthodox Christian monk at the time of tonsure; it is given to him as his spiritual sword with which he, as a soldier of Christ, must make war against our spiritual enemy, the devil. This sword is wielded by calling on the name of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ in a plea for mercy on me a sinner. This prayer can be said in a shorter form, such as “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”, or in a longer form, as “By the prayers of the Most Holy Theotokos and all the Saints, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”.
Other short prayers: the prayer of the publican: “God be merciful to me a sinner”, the prayer to the Mother of God: “Most Holy Theotokos save us”, or other short prayers to the Guardian Angel, to individual saints or to all the saints can also be offered with the assistance of the prayer rope. A common form of such a prayer is: “Holy Guardian Angel – or Saint [name] – pray to God for me”. By changing the words of these short prayers and saying “have mercy on us” or “pray for us”, or by including also the name or names of persons we want to pray for, we can also use the prayer rope for intercessory prayers. This also applies to those already departed this life: “Give rest O Lord to the soul of Thy servant”.
When monks and laymen carry the prayer rope in their hands, it serves as a reminder of their obligation to pray unceasingly, so that to keep with the commandment of the Holy Apostle Paul to “pray without ceasing” [Thess 5.17]. Anyone can keep a prayer rope in a pocket or some other discreet place where it can be easily used unnoticed when in situations where it is better to pray or remember prayer in secret, without attracting the attention of others. The prayer rope can also be placed over the head of our bed, in an automobile, with a small cross or icon, or in other appropriate places as a reminder of prayer and a kind of blessing and a holy and godly presence in our lives.
But now, let us discuss briefly the primary use for which this prayer rope was made. The whole purpose of the prayer rope is to assist us in offering our prayers before God and His Saints. In addition to serving as an external reminder and a blessing present, how can this little rope help us to pray? We can pray without a prayer rope, of course, and there are times when using the prayer rope may become a distraction for us in our attempts to concentrate on prayer. With that in mind, let us consider some ways in which the prayer rope can be of assistance.
There are times when our prayer is fervent and it is easy for us to pray. There are times when our thoughts are so distracted that we find it virtually impossible to concentrate on prayer. This is especially true when we try to keep a rule of prayer each day. Some days it goes well, but other times – if not most of the time – our efforts seem almost to be in vain. But because we are “creatures of habit”, as the saying goes, it is very profitable for us to set apart a special and regular time (or times) during the day for prayer
The time in the evening before going to bed (not too late) is a good time, as it is important to end the day with prayer.
The morning, upon awakening from sleep, is also good, so as to begin the new day with prayer. Or a person may also find other times during the day when he is able to be quiet and concentrate.
We are trying to establish a rule of prayer in or lives, not an exception, so we want to find a time when each day we can find some quiet in order to concentrate and turn the eyes of the soul towards God. We may want to read some prayers from a prayer book as part of this rule, or offer prayers and find quiet for our souls in other ways, such as
reading religious literature, reflecting over the events of the past day – “Anaskopisis” [in the Fatherly sense of examination, of checking up on ourselves, in order to feel remorse for our sins and become better but also recognize the beneficence of God]- and so on. But one of the most effective ways to find benefit from a rule of prayer is to say a set number of the Jesus Prayer regularly each day. This does not have to be a large number, and it may take only fifteen minutes or so, but that will be the portion of our day that belongs to God, the little grains of salt that will add savour to our Christian life. This practice is now recommended by many physicians for the sake of a person’s physical health, especially in overcoming stress. Better still, find such a little pocket of time at various points throughout the day and regularly fill them with the precious treasures of prayer, a treasure no one can steal from you, “that is laid up for you in heaven”[Mat 6.20; also S. Cyrill Hier. “Catecheses”, 15.23: “every prayer that you make is written down in Heaven”]
Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me
We have to note, once more, regarding any prayer rule about praying with the prayer rope or any other rule (fasting, etc.), the first and the last word has to be said by our spiritual father, in order to avoid delusion, as the Holy Fathers have
Reprinted text published in “Agioritiki Martiria” by the Hiropotamos Monastery of the Holy Mountain Athos.
Issue no 12-13, page 155-1991
First prototype edition in English: “The Prayer Rope ΄ Meditations of a Monk of the Holy Mountain”
New Sarov Press, Blanco, Texas, 78606 – 1049 USA
Printed with the Blessing of His Grace, Bishop Hilarion,
Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
New Edition by the Church of Panagia Ahiropeetos Thessaloniki
The booklet is distributed by The Holy Monastery of Transfiguration of Christ Saviour Sohos Lagadas, Thessaloniki – Greece, 0030 23950 22562