The Orthodox Prayer Rope

"I like your prayer rope. Are you Orthodox?"

Over the last year I've written a few times about my use of Anglican prayer beads. Many of you have written me about how, because of those posts, you've begun to use prayer beads and that they have been a great help to you and your prayer life. To receive notes like those is extremely touching.

In some of those posts about prayer beads a few of you, my Orthodox readers, have pointed me to the use of prayer ropes in the Orthodox tradition. Following your lead, and curious as always, I began investigating Orthodox prayers ropes.

Basically, prayer ropes work like prayer beads with knots working like the beads. For the Orthodox the knots on a rope are generally used to count the number of Jesus Prayers: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."

The most common lengths of Orthodox prayer ropes are 100-knot or 150-knot ropes, though you can get ropes of 33 or 50 knots up to 300 or 500 knots. Similar to how the smaller week beads are separated by larger Cruciform beads on a string of Anglican prayer beads, the knots on a prayer rope are also separated by beads at regular intervals (usually at 25-knot intervals in the longer ropes).

The ends of an Orthodox prayer rope can differ. The Greek style ends with a knotted cross. The Russian style ends with a cross and tassel.

The traditional material and look of an Orthodox prayer rope is black wool, though ropes can be made from other materials and in other colors.

Finally, the knots of an Orthodox prayer rope are complicated, with many crossings and very symbolic. For an online tutorial in tying the knots see here.

Prayer ropes are carried in your pocket, but they can also be worn on the wrist.

Intrigued by the suggestions of Orthodox readers, last year I ordered a 100-knot, black wool, Greek-style prayer rope from St. Paisius Monastery.

I began to wear the rope on my wrist as a prayer reminder and as a prayer aid (taking it off and using it to pray 100 Jesus Prayers). But just to make sure that this would be okay (I didn't want to be offensive to the Orthodox, a non-Orthodox wearing an Orthodox prayer rope) I emailed our local Orthodox priest, Fr. LeMasters. He gave me the green light stating that, from his perspective, anything that promotes prayerfulness is very much encouraged.

As so I wear an Orthodox prayer rope on my wrist. Most people just think it's a bracelet of sorts. No one knows (well, until now) that it's a prayer rope. There aren't many Orthodox in West Texas.

But when I travel out of state I've had an Orthodox person notice, every one in awhile, the prayer rope. Last time I was buying something at a store and the young man who was the cashier remarked, "I like your prayer rope. Are you Orthodox?" I explained, as I do, that I'm not, but that I owe a great deal to Orthodox theology and the prayer ropes of the Orthodox have been a great blessing to me spiritually.

And maybe, now, for you as well.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

13 thoughts on “The Orthodox Prayer Rope”

  1. On the topic of Orthodox (and related) piety: I have an intriguing string of prayer beads from Egypt, which I assume is Coptic. It has a cross with a tassel on the bottom, and a string of 36 interesting number. I haven't been able to find any information explaining why the Copts (or some other group of Christians around Egypt) would make this, or how it is traditionally used. If anyone knows, I'd love to hear :)

  2. I appreciate so much your helps and suggestions in how to make one's prayer life more alive. The old rule among evangelicals that prayer had to be off the cuff and without aids actually made it feel more like work than being the home of the soul that it supposed be. I do the sign of the cross in my private prayers, and these are prayer that I composed myself using scripture, poetry and jewels from the writings of others. I certainly add to and edit them as concerns and needs arise. But having composed prayers already in my mind keeps me in a prayerful state.

  3. I am sure this is no relation, but Jewish tradition has it that there are, at any given time, 36 righteous men on the earth that forestall God's Judgement - the Lamed-Vav Tzadikim. It could be the relation of 3 x 12?

  4. My spiritual life has benefited from the Catholic rosary--though Catholics would probably be scandalized to know how I've blasphemed it by de-Marianizing it. I was looking for something to help me focus and structure prayer and meditation, and rosaries are pretty easy to find in this part of Texas. I also take some liberty with the Mysteries. Ok, so maybe I haven't benefited from the Catholic rosary. At this point no Catholic would acknowledge that I pray the rosary. But the beads have been a great blessing.

  5. Roy, you might try Anglican prayer beads:


  6. If you ever get a chance, I would highly recommend a pilgrimmage to St. Paisius Monastery (Convent). I worked on buildings there for over a year.

  7. I've been greatly blessed by this blog. But it's interesting that here in the middle of taking evangelicals to task for their views on the role of men and women in church, we find a little shout out to Orthodox spirituality. Orthodoxy, which does not require men to be celibate to be priests. Orthodoxy, which is radically conservative on most social issues. If Orthodoxy were an American phenomenon, I'm sure this blog and others would be slamming constantly for its views on gender, marriage, hell, etc. But instead it's a cool foreign thing. It's like Roman Catholicism without the stuff you don't like!

    I'm reading too much into this, and it's not fair to you, Dr. Beck. I meant it when I said I've been blessed by this blog. But even if my comments don't specifically apply to you or your thoughts regarding Orthodoxy, I think they apply to others. I just have a deep problem with going from tradition to tradition and cherry-picking the things you like. It removes spiritual practices from their grounding within a community and a history. People want to pray with a rosary but they don't want to say the Hail Mary. People want to visit a monastery and participate in its life but they still want to use birth control. People want to say the Jesus Prayer but they don't want to give up their own tradition for the Orthodox one.

    My gut feeling is that if someone's tradition was so impoverished that they have to clothe themselves in the practices of other traditions in order to have a substantial spiritual life, then maybe they ought to leave that tradition. That's a scary thing to do, though. Cherry-picking offers a greater sense of control. You can get the benefits of Catholic practice without any Catholic obedience.

  8. Or Islamic's Misbaha, it all look pretty much the same. Funny thing is similarity between sufi prayer of the heart and orthodox hesychastic practice, both using beads, breathing, concentration on the heart and wants to trigger constant prayer, constant remembrance about God.

  9. Roman Catholic reply: our mother Mary will love what you are doing with the Rosary. She only ever points us to her Son.

  10. There's also the Franciscan crown. These are prayer beads similar to a Rosary but with seven decades. Can usually be bought from Franciscan monasterys. Pax et Bonum

Leave a Reply