In maintaining a consistent number of prayers as part of such a daily rule, a prayer rope can be quite helpful. With the prayer rope, you can offer a set number of prayers and concentrate on the words of the prayer as you offer them. After collecting your thoughts, take the prayer rope in your left hand, holding it lightly between the thumb and the index finger. Then, making the sign of the cross over yourself quietly, whisper the Jesus Prayer. As your thoughts become more concentrated, you may not need to continue crossing yourself or saying the prayer audibly. Other times, when concentration is difficult, use the sign of the cross and whispering as means to help keep your mind on prayer.
It is good to stand, with head bowed, in a humble position; some people like to raise their hands from time to time in their petitions for mercy. But others find it more helpful to sit or kneel, with head bowed, in order to concentrate. A lot depends on the individual and also on his health and upbringing. The important thing is to be able to keep still and concentrate on the words of the prayer as you repeat it. Of course, a person has to fight off the temptation to rush. For this reason, some people use a clock instead of a prayer rope in order to count the duration of their prayer. By using an alarm clock, a person can devote a set amount of time to prayer, although he may not keep track of the exact number of prayers he says.
The prayer rope is also a convenient way to keep track of the number of bows and prostrations a person makes during his prayer rule. Making the sign of the cross over oneself and then bowing from the waist and touching the ground with one’s fingertips, or bowing down on one’s knees and touching the forehead to the ground are very ancient ways of offering prayers to God and His Saints. One can combine these bows or prostrations with the Jesus Prayer or any of the short prayers we have mentioned above.
The physical action of bowing or kneeling can contribute to the fervour of the prayer and give expression to our supplications, as we humble ourselves before God. This is one way in which we can carry out the apostolic command to praise God both “with our souls and our bodies” [Corinth 6.20 “You must praise God with your bodies and your souls, which belong to God”]. Many people use the prayer rope when they lie down to sleep. After signing their bed with the cross, they take their prayer rope, bless themselves with the sign of the cross as they lie in bed, and quietly pray with the prayer rope until they fall asleep.
And waking up with the prayer rope still in your fingers or next to you on the pillow helps begin the new day with prayer. But ending the previous day with quiet prayer is an even better way to prepare for a prayerful beginning of the new day, not to mention preparing for the Eternal Day, should we fall asleep that night in death. And others take their prayer rope in hand during idle moments, such as while commuting or travelling. At any time of the day, whenever you remember to do so, you can take a little prayer rope in your fingers, and the association of that action with the prayer you offer at other times will help you concentrate and offer some prayers during the course of the day, wherever you may be, whatever you may be doing. And this is an important step towards fulfilling the commandment to pray without ceasing.
The holy bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov mentions that the lengthy services held in the Orthodox Church are also a good opportunity for praying with the prayer rope. Often there are times when it is difficult to concentrate on the words being read or chanted in the Holy Temple, and it is easier to concentrate quietly on one’s own private prayers, be they extemporaneous prayers for some special need, repeating prayers or psalms that we know by heart, or repeating some short prayer, especially the Jesus Prayer, with the assistance of the prayer rope. In fact, this often helps a person concentrate better on the service itself, something mentioned by St. Seraphim of Sarov. Of course, when we are praying at the services, our prayer is joined to that of the entire Church.
We are constantly occupied by all kinds of thoughts that appear in our heads, and it seems we no sooner start to pray than we catch ourselves thinking about something else. Here again, the physical presence of the prayer rope in our fingers can help us catch ourselves and return to our task of prayer more quickly. Or, meeting up with one of the markers or with the cross on the prayer rope as we move it through our fingers reminds us that we have been robbed of the prayers we intended to offer. And immediately we can offer our prayers anew without getting further entangled in our thoughts about how easily we get distracted from prayer to God.
Here we have touched on the great science of prayer, what the Holy Fathers have named the “art of the arts”. There is a great and rich literature written by the great men of prayer from all ages that can help guide us in learning, with God’s help, this greatest and most beneficial of all sciences. Regular reading of the Holy Gospel, of the lives of the saints and other devotional and spiritual literature can be of great assistance. Such works as The Philokalia contain important and inspiring instruction and direction in learning to pray as a Christian, which is an essential aspect of being a Christian. Above all, however, one needs the grace of God in the Church, especially in participating in the Holy Mysteries of Repentance and Communion.
These are just a few introductory thoughts on how we can make good uses of a prayer rope. But the important thing is to start to pray. The prayer rope does not pray by itself, although some of them are so magnificent they may give that impression. Here is an important, traditional aid in offering prayers, and especially for a daily rule of prayer. But the important thing is to concentrate on the words of the prayer, to offer heart-felt prayers to Jesus Christ, our Lord and God.
If this little prayer rope helps you to say a prayer or reminds you to pray or helps you in some way to become more prayerful, it will have fulfilled its purpose, it will have tied you more closely and more intimately with Christ our God, and also brought you closer to the Kingdom of God, for “the Kingdom of God is within you”[Luke 17.21].
Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.
As an epilogue we have to note, once more, regarding any prayer rule about praying with the prayer rope orany 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 taught us.
Reprinted text published in
“Agioritiki Martiria”a magazine issued by the Hiropotamos Monastery of the Holy Mountain Athos
Comboschini The Prayer Rope PART 2