“Now then, to start mastering noetic prayer you must constantly force yourself to say the prayer without ceasing. In the beginning quickly: the nous must not have time to form any distracting thoughts. Pay attention only to the words: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” When the prayer is said orally for a long period of time, the nous becomes accustomed to it and eventually takes up saying it. Then it becomes sweet to you as if you had honey in your mouth, and want to keep saying it all the time. If you stop it, you will feel greatly distressed.” — Monastic Wisdom, Elder Joseph the Hesychast
The Orthodox prayer rope was developed in the 4th century by St. Pochomius, one of the desert holy fathers and founders of monasticism. Tying basic knots to a rope would help aid monks to focus on prayer and to achieve the instruction of St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
– 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18
Originally, monks would concentrate on their prayers by tossing pebbles into a bowl while in their room. But this became difficult when traveling throughout the monastery. The prayer rope was easy for them to carry with them throughout the day. The prayer method used with the rope is The Prayer of the Heart, or the more familiar term the Jesus Prayer. The monastics pray “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” and moves from one knot to the next with their thumb each time the prayer is said. The purpose of this practice is not to merely say a prayer over and over but the action on calling on the holy name of God himself Who became man for our benefit out of love.
“Prayer, it was said, is a “laying aside of thoughts,” a return from multiplicity to unity. Now when we first make a serious effort to pray inwardly, standing before God with the mind in the heart, immediately we become conscious of our inward disintegration — of our powerlessness to concentrate ourselves in the present moment, in the kairos. Thoughts move restlessly through our head, like the buzzing of flies or the capricious leaping of monkeys from branch to branch. This lack of concentration, this inability to be here and now with the whole of our being, is one of the most tragic consequences of the Fall … the Jesus Prayer is precisely a way — the supreme way — whereby we turn to the Lord for help.” – The Inner Kingdom, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware
The complex unique knot of the rope began with another desert father, St. Anthony the Great. St. Anthony was making his prayer rope with the simple knots taught by St. Pochomius, and demons came and untied the knots, throwing off his concentration and stopping him from completing the prayer rope. St. Anthony later had a vision of the Theotokos, the Mother of God, and she revealed to him the complex knot that has 7 interlocked crosses within each knot. The knot was so complicated and had so many crosses within it the demons could not untie them because they are vanquished by the sign of the cross.
Monastics under an elder are required to recite so many prayers and perform so many prostrations per day, not to accomplish a milestone number, but to develop and establish a lifestyle of constant prayer throughout the day. They seek to fulfill St. Paul’s instructions to the Greeks in Thessaloniki to pray without ceasing.
Traditionally, prayer ropes are made out of sheep’s wool because Christ is the sacrificial lamb Who gave His life willingly for us. The black color represents the mourning for our sins and for our offense against God, reminding us to always remain serious in our lives.
Most common prayer ropes consist of 33 knots, representing the 33 years of Christ’s life on earth. Also, prayer ropes will usually have a cross tied at the base of the prayer rope. And finally, there is a tassel that is tied below the cross on the prayer rope. The tassel is used by the repentant sinner to wipe their tears while in prayer.
Video produced by Efstratios Papageorgiou