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I once saw an Orthodox man using a prayer thing made of leather with notches on it for each prayer. What is that called and what would the prayers be? Is it like a rosary?
What you saw was a prayer rope which more often is mistaken for a rosary of the Roman Catholic faith. In the Eastern Orthodox faith, this prayer rope is called in Greek a comboskini (κομποσκοίνι ), a braided string of knots tied in a loop usually made of wool but sometimes of other materials.
As one grasps the first knot of the prayer rope, they recite a prayer in full. One continues advancing from knot to knot repeating the same prayer in full at each knot until one comes full circle to the starting point of the prayer rope. By not having to keep track of the count mentally, the mind is free to focus on the intent and meaning of the prayer.
The number of knots in a prayer rope can vary from an approximate range of 12 to 300. The number of knots may have some significant symbolism like 12 for the number of the Apostles; 17 for the number of prophets; 33 years of Christ’s life on earth, etc.
One of the true aims of an Orthodox Christian is to have the consciousness of God throughout the day in any event or situation no matter how mundane or insignificant the experience may seem to be. The rationale for this focus is the world is full of distractions which create thoughts. The mind is like a crowded rag market of thoughts where we often find ourselves entertaining them and our thoughts determine our lives as to whether we act on those thoughts or not. .
The prayer practiced and associated with this prayer rope is the Jesus Prayer (the prayer of the heart). The Jesus Prayer began in very early centuries of Christianity and is a staple prayer among Eastern Orthodox Christians.
The Jesus Prayer is, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, [a sinner].” The words of the Jesus Prayer can vary slightly with the addition or omission of the words “a sinner” at the end. The Jesus Prayer mystically aids us in refocusing our attention and desire for God. The ultimate goal is to “internalize” the prayer within the heart (nous) becoming Christ centered and thereby achieving Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians.
1Thessalonians 5:17 “pray without ceasing.”
Ephesians 6:18 “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance.”
Romans 12:12 “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.”
The Prayer of Jesus and the Prayer Rope on YouTube.
Further reading on the Jesus Prayer and it’s practice
- “The Jesus Prayer: the ancient desert prayer that turns the heart of God“, by Frederica Mathewes-Green.
- “The Way of a Pilgrim: and The Pilgrim Continues His Way,” by R.M. French
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