Tag Archives: Prayer beads

Prayer Ropes: The Orthodox and Eastern Catholics’ Chotki / Komboskini / Komvoschonion


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Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Prayer ropes used by Orthodox Christians to pray are known as Chotki, Komboskini or Komvoschonion. These are somewhat similar to the Rosary of the Roman Catholics.

The prayer rope is part of the habit of Eastern Orthodox monks and nuns who pray “Jesus Prayer” instead of “Hail Mary” and “Our Father.”

The Jesus Prayer is a short, formulaic prayer esteemed and advocated within the Eastern Orthodox & Oriental Orthodox churches:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.”

The prayer rope dates back to the origins of Christian monasticism itself. It was the custom of the monks to pray the entire 150 Psalms every day. However, because some of the monks were illiterate, they would have to memorize the psalms or perform other prayers and prostrations in their stead. Thus, the tradition of saying 150 or more Jesus Prayers every day began. The prayer rope becomes a very practical tool in such cases for keeping count of the prayers said.

To the Orthodox Christians prayer is heartfelt and inspired by the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is a weapon that defeats Satan and the prayer rope is the sword of the Spirit.

The Orthodox and the Eastern Catholic Churches, refer to the canonical hours as the ‘Divine Services,’ and the Book of Hours as the Horologion (Greek: ῾Ωρολόγιον).

The practice of daily prayers grew from the Jewish practice of reciting prayers at set times of the day. In the Book of Acts, Peter and John visit the Temple for the afternoon prayers: Now Peter and John were going up to the temple area for the three o’clock hour of prayer. (Acts 3:1)

In the Psalms we read: Seven times a day I praise you because your judgments are righteous. (Psalms 119:164)

Among some Orthodox monastics, the canonical hours and preparation for Holy Communion may be replaced by praying the Jesus Prayer a specified number of times.

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Chotki 100 beads
Chotki 100 beads

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Historically, the prayer rope would typically have 100 knots. However, today, Chotkis come in a variety of sizes: 33, 50, 100, 101, 103, 150, and 300 beads tied from 100% wool. Most versions come with multiple divider beads, a knotted cross or a tassel, said to be used to wipe away one’s tears. The Greek Komvoschonion is usually made of knotted wool or “rattail”, while the Byzantine Ruthenians of the Carpatho-Rusyn Mountains use strung wooden beads.

How to Pray a Chotki

Praying the Chotki can be very elaborate, with an entire liturgy written for this purpose or can be very simple using a variation of the Jesus Prayer on each bead.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, through the prayers of Your most holy mother, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

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Prayer Beads: The Anglican Rosary and Other Christian Prayer Beads


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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In the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, the Rosary is a sacramental and Marian devotion to prayer to commemorate events in the life of Jesus. Many similar prayer practices exist in various other Christian communities, each with its own set of prescribed prayers and its own form of prayer beads or prayer rope. These other devotions and their associated beads are usually called “chaplets” are sometimes used by other Christians.

An Anglican Rosary made of Olive Wood & Chiastolite
An Anglican Rosary made of Olive Wood & Chiastolite

In the mid-1980s, Episcopalians in the United States participating in a study group dealing with methods of prayer developed a particular contemplative prayer form using prayer beads. Since then, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and other Protestant groups, have adopted or adapted the design of the Episcopalian prayer beads with their own set of prescribed prayers, thus giving rise to the term “Christian prayer beads.”

The string pf Anglican prayer beads, also known as the Anglican rosary is a loop of strung beads which Anglicans, as well as Christians of other denominations, use to order their prayer. It combines the elements of the Roman Catholic Rosary and the Jesus Prayer Rope of the Eastern Orthodox.

The Anglican rosary

The Anglican Rosary is designed using a cross and 33 beads to signify the traditional number of years of earthly life of Jesus.

There is one ‘Invitatory’ bead followed by four sets of seven beads each called a ‘week.’ In the Judeo-Christian tradition the number seven is deemed to be spiritually perfect and complete.

A single bead called the ‘Cruciform’ bead is positioned between each week. When the rosary is placed on a flat surface, the four Cruciform beads form a Cross.

The small beads in the week are often separated by small spacer beads.

The Anglican prayer beads are made of a variety of materials: precious stones, wood, colored glass, or even dried and painted seeds, and adorned with a variety of crosses or, occasionally, crucifixes. The Celtic cross and the San Damiano cross are two which are often used.

While the traditional Rosary used by Roman Catholics focuses on the seminal events in the life of Christ and asks the Virgin Mary to pray for their intentions, the Anglican rosary are most often used as a tactile aid to prayer and as a counting device. There are no set prayers for the Anglican Rosary. It is the choice of the individual or of the congregation.

The rosary is prayed, unhurriedly, three times to signify the Holy Trinity. This makes for ninety-nine prayers, and in Middle Eastern traditions, 99 is the complete number of the Divine Names similar to the Islamic tradition of reciting the 99 names of Allah.

The inclusion of the cross at the beginning or the end, brings the total number of prayers said to 100, which is the total of the Orthodox Rosary and represents the fullness of creation. The saying of the rosary is then followed by a period of silence for reflection.

The Book of Common Prayer brims with many choice prayers; particularly among the morning and evening prayers, the prayers of the people, the numerous collects and even lectionary readings. Psalms and Canticles are time honored devotions, as are the Jesus Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Serenity Prayer.

The standard Anglican set consists of the following pattern, starting with the cross, followed by the Invitatory Bead, and then, the first Cruciform bead, moving to the right, through the first set week to the next Cruciform bead, continuing around the circle. The prayer may close by saying the Lord’s prayer on the invitatory bead and/or a final prayer on the cross as in the example prayers given below. The entire circle may be done thrice, to signify the Holy Trinity.

The Cross

In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Or

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Or

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen.

Or

Blessed be the one, holy and living God. Glory to God forever and ever. Amen.

The Invitatory

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.

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Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

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O God make speed to save us, O Lord make haste to help us. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, I snow and will be forever. Amen.

The Cruciforms

Oh Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.

Oh Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.

Oh Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, grant us thy peace.

Or

Guide us waking O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace.

Or

Behold now, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord. You that stand in the house of the Lord, lift up your hands in the holy place and bless the Lord.

Or

Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, Have mercy upon us.

The Weeks

Almighty and merciful Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, bless us and keep us. Amen.

Or

Jesus, lamb of God, have mercy on us.

Jesus, bearer of our sins, have mercy on us.

Jesus, redeemer of the world, give us your peace.

Or

I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come?

My help comes from the Lord, the make of heaven and earth.

Or

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner.

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Prayer Beads: The Islamic Subha / Masbaha / Tasbih


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) proclaimed: “Worship is the pillar of religion.”

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Salat, or prayer, is one of the Five Pillars, or essential rites in Islam. Recited five times a day (at dawn, noon, midafternoon, sunset and nightfall), salat intersperses the rhythms of daily life with habitual opportunities to stand before The Almighty in entranced concentration.

Islamic Prayer Beads Tesbih Subha 99 Malachite
Islamic Prayer Beads Tesbih Subha 99 Malachite

Nowadays, many Muslims pray with prayer beads as a device to keep track of the words of dhikr (remembrance of Allah) they repeat while glorifying Allah.

Muslims probably gained the concept of prayer beads from India. When this happened, however, is uncertain. However, scholars admit that the use of prayer beads originated with the Hindus in ancient India, and the Hindu or Buddhist mala is the great mother of rosaries. From India and the Himalayan kingdoms, the prayer beads traveled west to Africa and Europe, where it evolved into the Islamic Subha, the Christian Rosary, the Eastern Orthodox prayer rope, and the secular worry beads used throughout Greece and the Middle East.

In India, a strand of Islamic prayer beads is known as Subha (Arabic: سبحا) derived from the Arabic phrase Subhan’Allāh (Arabic سبحان الله) meaning “Glory to Allah.” It is also known as Masbaha (Arabic: مسبحة) or Tasbih (تسبيح).

Subha may vary in style or decorative embellishments ranging from cheap mass-produced prayer beads, to those made with expensive materials and high-quality workmanship.

Subha beads are most often made of spherical glass, wood, plastic, amber, or gemstone. The cord is usually cotton or silk.

Subha may have either 33 beads, or 99 beads separated by flat disks into three groups of 33. There is often a larger, leader bead and a tassel at one end to mark the starting point of recitations.

The believers touch one bead at a time while reciting words of dhikr which are often the 99 names of Allah (Arabic: أسماء الله الحسنى‎ ʾasmāʾ allāh al-ḥusnā),  which help the believers in their communion with Allah.

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At times the believers repeat phrases which express reverence, complete submission and gratitude to Allah. Following are the most used phrases, each repeated 33 times:

Subhan’Allāh (Arabic سبحان الله) meaning “Glory to Allah
Alhamdulillah (Arabic: الحمد لله‎) meaning “Praise be to Allah
Allāhu Akbar (Arabic: الله أكبر) meaning “Allah is Great”

At the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Muslims did not use prayer beads as a tool during personal prayer, but may have used date pits or pebbles. Caliph Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) used a Subha similar to modern ones. The widespread manufacture and use of Subha began about 600 years ago.

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Prayer Beads: The Buddhist Japa mala


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Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj .

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Digital StillCamera

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Buddhism is a way of life that got transformed into a religion. It is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs, and practices largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhārtha Gautama, also known as Gautama Buddha, Shakyamuni, or simply as the Buddha. The Buddha, meaning “the awakened one” lived and taught in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent between the 6th and 4th centuries BC.

According to Dīpavaṃsa, the oldest historical record of Sri Lanka, Buddhism was introduced into the island during the reign of Sri Lanka’s King Devanampiya Tissa (307 BC to 267 BC) by Venerable Mahinda, the son of the great Indian Emperor Ashoka.

Around 228 BC, Sohn Uttar Sthavira, one of the royal monks of Emperor Ashoka came to Suvarnabhumi (or Burma, the present day Myanmar) with few other monks carrying Buddhist sacred texts.

Buddhism was introduced into China during the reign Emperor Ming (58-75 AD).

In 372 AD, about 800 years after the death of the historical Gautama Buddha, Buddhism was introduced to Korea from Former Qin, a state of the Sixteen Kingdoms in China.

Buddhism took root in Japan during the Kofun period (250 to 538 AD).

During the reign of King Thothori Nyantsen (5th century AD), a basket of Buddhist scriptures written in Sanskrit arrived in Tibet from India which were not translated into Tibetan until the reign of king Songtsän Gampo (618-649 AD) who had married a Chinese Tang Dynasty Buddhist princess and a Nepalese Buddhist princess, named Bhrikuti.

Eventually, Buddhism became the established religion in these countries.

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Tibetan Buddhist 108 Ox Bone Skull Prayer Beads Mala
Tibetan Buddhist 108 Ox Bone Skull Prayer Beads Mala

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The Buddhists in India adopted the Hindu practice of using Japa mala for repeating mantras or counting breaths. As Buddhism spread to other eastern countries so did Japa mala for meditation. They also used the Japa mala as a divination tool.

The voices of groups of monks chanting together resonate from the Buddhist monasteries in a continual monotonous murmuring. Chanting with a string of 108 prayer beads helps the Buddhist faithful to reach an interior state of supreme reality beyond time and place.

Like the Hindu Japa mala, the Buddhist Japa mala too are usually composed of 108 beads or divisions of that number, 54 or 27. The 108 beads represent the number of worldly desires or negative emotions that must be overcome before attaining nirvana. Buddhists believe that saying a mantra for each fleshly failing will purify the supplicant.

The Buddhist Japa malas are made of sandalwood, seeds, stones, or inlaid animal bone.

Burmese Buddhist monks prefer strings of black lacquered beads.

In Tibet, Japa malas of inlaid bone originally included the skeleton parts of revered monks, to remind their users to live lives worthy of the next level of enlightenment. Today’s bone malas are made of yak bone, which is sometimes inlaid with turquoise and coral.

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Buddhist 27-bead wrist malas
Buddhist 27-beads wrist malas

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Smaller 27-bead wrist malas were created mainly to prevent the prayer beads from touching the ground during prostrations.

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Prayer Beads: The Hindu Japa mala


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj .

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The antiquity of the Japa mala, the Hindu rosary, is confirmed by its frequent inclusion in sculpture and painting along with Hindu deities such as Agni, Agastya, Ahirbudhnya, Ardhanarisvara, Bhadrakali, Bhringin, Brhaspati, Gauri, Kamantaka, Lakulisa, Manasa, Parvati, Rati, Risi(s), Shiva, Subramanya, Surya, Uma, and Vāyu, among others. Lesser spirits are believed to dwell in rosary-bead perforations.

A female Shiva sadhu (sadhvi) in Haridwar, India. (Photo: Brett Davies, 2010)
A female Shiva sadhu (sadhvi) in Haridwar, India, holding a Japa mala. (Photo: Brett Davies, 2010)

The Sanskrit term “Japa mala” for the strand of Hindu prayer beads means ‘muttering chaplet’ because of the prayer beads’ function to record the number of prayers uttered.

Japa mala is used as an aid to meditation, each bead counted is an individual prayer or mantra, that keeps the mind from wandering and make it concentrate, without distractions, on the meaning of the prayer being recited. Recitation is usually murmured, or silent. The repetition of a mantra or divine names through the devotional act known as japa yoga

This practice of praying using prayer beads to keep count while reciting, chanting, or mentally repeating a mantra or the name or names of a self-selected deity (ishtadevata) became widespread by the eighth century BC in India.

108-bead mala of  jasper with turquoise howlite and red bamboo coral marker beads.
108-beads Japa mala of jasper with turquoise howlite and red bamboo coral marker beads.

The 108 beads of the Japa mala represents the cosmos derived by multiplying the twelve astrological signs by the nine planets. Hence the Japa malas are usually made from 108 beads, though other numbers, usually divisible by nine, are also used. The total number of beads may vary among different Hindu sects. A common Vaishnavite Japa mala has 108 beads. Shaivites often use 32, or 64. There are many other variants.

27- beads Japa Mala made of Rudraksha seed
27- beads Japa Mala made of Rudraksha seeds.

When worn visibly by a Hindu, the material used for the Japa mala bead can indicate the Hindu deity or sect to whom the Japa mala and its wearer are dedicated.

According to Hindu tradition the correct way to use a mala is to hold it with the right hand, with the thumb flicking one bead to the next, and with the mala draped over the middle finger. Since the index finger represents the ego, the greatest impediment to self-realization, it is considered best to avoid using it when chanting on a mala.

A widely used Hindu Japa mala prayer is the Gāyatrī Japam also called Gāyatrī Mantra, repeated twice a day in the morning and in the evening. It is addressed to Savitr, the Sun before sunrise, the supreme generative force and ruler of the planets, to propitiate hostile planets or angry gods. The greater the number of repetitions, the greater the blessing. The favored number of repetitions are 27, 54, or 108 times, without any break. Through repetition, the reciter strives to accumulate an inner force originating from the Sun, to illuminate his mind, to gain knowledge, energy, and blessings in one’s undertakings.

Materials used in Hindu Japa malas are the most varied of those used among all religions. Most of them are of vegetable origin that include seeds, berries, fruit, nuts, drupes, dried plant stems, and wood. From mineral sources come glass, semiprecious or precious stones, and metals. Materials of animal origin such as bone, ivory, horn, coral, shells and pearls are also used. A Japa mala made of gold or gemstones is considered one hundred times more auspicious and efficacious than any other material. Glass, especially coloured ones simulating precious stones, has also been used for centuries. Today plastic beads that simulate natural minerals are universally used because of their low-cost.

The Hindus believe that each material embodies its own particular properties: Silver and gold fulfill wishes; coral brings wealth; crystal, good luck; pearls, glory; and shell helps one to achieve fame.

Many Hindus fear falling prey to evil eyes that could fall on them and their Japa Mala. To avoid this some members belonging to certain Hindu sects place the Japa mala and the hand holding it into a small cloth bag called gaumukhi, meaning “cow’s mouth” while reciting the prayers.

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Prayer Beads in Major Religions


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj .

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In many major religions and cultures, the device most used to help devotees to pray and meditate is the strand of prayer beads. Nearly two-thirds of the world’s population meditate or pray with beads.

Hindu/Buddhist 108-bead mala of  jasper with turquoise howlite and red bamboo coral marker beads.
Hindu/Buddhist 108-bead mala of jasper with turquoise howlite and red bamboo coral marker beads.

Many scholars admit that the use of prayer beads originated with the Hindus in ancient India,and the Hindu or Buddhist mala is the great mother of rosaries. From India and the Himalayan kingdoms, the prayer beads traveled east to China and Japan, and to the west to Africa and Europe, where it evolved into the Islamic Subha, the Christian rosary, the Eastern Orthodox prayer rope, and the secular worry beads used throughout Greece and the Middle East.

Catholic Rosary
Roman Catholic Rosary

Traditionally, the prayer beads have consisted of strings of similarly sized beads, seeds, knots, or even rose petals and beads made from crushed roses, from which we get the word “rosary.” In Latin the term “rosarium” means ‘crown of roses’ or ‘garland of roses.’ The Roman Catholics sometimes write the word ‘rosary’ with an initial capital as ‘Rosary.’

Since counting prayers were initially so important, each religion embracing the use of prayer beads developed its own symbolic structure to follow. In addition to helping keep one’s place in structured prayers, the prayer beads also symbolize the commitment to spiritual life. With its circular form, a string of beads represents the interconnectedness of all who pray.

Common to many strands of prayer beads is the number nine. Greatest of the single-digit numerals, nine symbolizes completion. Where the numbers do not add up to nine, they are often divisible by three, symbolic of the trinity in Hinduism (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva), the three central concepts of Buddhism (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha) and the trinity in Christianity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit).

In addition to their use in the religious rituals of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity, the prayer beads find a place in the spiritual practices of cultures as diverse as the African Masai, Native Americans, Greek and Russian Orthodoxy.

Eastern-Orthodox Prayer Rope
Eastern-Orthodox Prayer Rope

Many similar prayer practices exist in various other Christian communities, each with its own set of prescribed prayers and its own form of prayer beads or prayer rope. These other devotions and their associated beads are usually called “chaplets”. The rosary is sometimes used by other Christians, especially in Lutheranism, the Anglican Communion and the Old Catholic Church.

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