Komboschini (The Prayer Rope):
Meditations of a Monk of the Holy Mountain Athos
is the complete text of the booklet Komboschini (The Prayer
Rope): Meditations of a Monk of the Holy Mountain Athos,
published with the blessing of Abbot Paisios,
Saint Anthony's Monastery, Florence, AZ.
A few years
ago, with the blessings of the very reverend Father Joseph, Abbot
of the Xiropotamos Monastery of the Holy Mountain Athos, we
reprinted, in a booklet, the most didactic article about the
prayer rope, which had been published in "Agioritiki
Martiria," a magazine issued by the Xiropotamos Monastery.
Due to the
fact that the booklet proved very helpful and because of the
pastoral needs of all the English speaking Orthodox brothers
around the world, it was suggested that we should proceed and
publish this booklet in English.
We have to
thank the very reverend Father Joseph, Abbot of the Xeropotamos
Monastery, for his offer and his love.
rope is not intended to be used only by monks, but it can also be
used by laymen and, generally, by anyone who wants to pray to God.
The prayer rope is not some kind of amulet with magic or
exorcising powers, like those given to simple-minded people by
magicians or mediums, worn on the wrist or round the neck. On the
contrary, it is a purely Orthodox holy object used only for
praying and nothing else. We use the prayer rope in order to pray
point we have to note something very important: there are many
books that refer to the prayer. However, before we start following
any rule or prayer, we must necessarily ask for the advice, the
blessing and the spiritual guidance of our spiritual father, i.e.
the Priest to whom we confess our sins. That is what the Holy
Fathers have taught us for centuries, in order to avoid delusion
and, thus, not to lose the right Orthodox path.
two ways we can pray using the prayer rope:
any time of the day when we have free time, without being seen
by anyone, secretly, we hold the prayer rope with our left or
right hand and move from knot to knot with our thumb
whispering simultaneously or meditating upon the prayer: "Lord
Jesus Christ have mercy on me" or "Most Holy Theotokos save
the time of our regular prayer, when we pray following the
rule of prayer that our spiritual father has told us to
follow, we hold the prayer rope with our left hand between the
thumb and the index finger and move from knot to knot. At each
knot we simultaneously do two things: i) with our right hand
we make the sign of the cross over ourselves and ii) we say
the prayer "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me." When we
finish with all the knots of the prayer rope, we continue
following the same procedure, for as many times as our
spiritual father has told us to.
that all our brothers and sisters in Christ will be helped by this
little book, which is the result of the experience of an anonymous
Monk of the Holy Mountain Athos. We also hope that everyone will
use the prayer rope in the way our Holy Fathers have taught us,
even if one lives in a society and not in a monastery.
Thessaloniki, Greece Archimandrite Joseph
The Komboschini (Prayer Rope)
pause for a moment just to look at a little prayer rope, like this
one made of black wool on Mountain Athos. It is a blessing from a
holy place. Like so much that we have in the Church, it is a
blessing prepared and given to us by a brother or father in
Christ, a living witness to living tradition. It is black, the
color of mourning and sorrow, and this reminds us to be sober and
serious in our lives. We are taught that repentant prayer,
especially the Jesus Prayer, can bring us what the Holy Fathers
call joy-creating sorrowin Greek "Harmolipi". We
are sorry for our sins and our weakness and failings before God,
our fellow men and ourselves; but in Christ, Who pours out His
mercy and forgiveness on all who call upon His Name, this sorrow
becomes a source of joy and comfort. This prayer rope is knotted
from wool, that is, it has been sheared from a sheep, a reminder
that we are rational sheep of the Good Shepherd, Christ the Lord,
and also a reminder of the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of
the world (see: John 1:29). And the cross likewise speaks to us of
the sacrifice and victory of life over death, of humility over
pride, of self-sacrifice over selfishness, of light over darkness.
And the tassel? Well, you can use it to wipe the tears away from
your eyes, or, if you have no tears, to remind you to weep because
you cannot weep.
from the Old Testament times, little tassels have been a
decoration for sacred vestments, a reminder of the sacred
tradition in which we participate when we use the prayer rope.
ropes are made in keeping with a tradition whose origin is lost in
antiquity. Perhaps one of the earliest forms was simply gathering
small pebbles or seeds and moving them from one spot or container
to another as one said his prayer rule or did his rule of bows or
prostrations. The story is told of a monk who decided to make
knots in a rope, which he could use in carrying out his daily rule
of prayer. But the devil kept untying the knots he made in the
rope, frustrating the poor monk's efforts. Then an angel appeared
and taught the monk a special kind of knot that consists of ties
of interlocked crosses, and these knots the devil was unable to
ropes come in a great variety of forms and sizes. Most prayer
ropes have a cross woven into them or attached to mark the "end",
and also have some kind of marker after each 10, 25, or 50 knots
or beads. There are many forms of prayer ropes, some knotted of
wool or silk, or other more elegant or simpler materials. Others
are made of beads or the dried flower of a plant called "Tears of
the Mother of God."
rope is one of the items given to an Orthodox Christian monk at
the time of tonsure: it is given to him as his spiritual sword
with which he, as a soldier of Christ, must make war against our
spiritual enemy, the devil. This sword is wielded by calling on
the name of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ in a plea for
mercy on me a sinner. This prayer can be said in a shorter form,
such as: "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me"; or in a longer
form, as: "By the prayers of the Most Holy Theotokos and all the
Saints, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me."
prayers: the prayer of the publican: "God be merciful to me a
sinner" (see: Luke 18:13), the prayer to the Mother of God: "Most
Holy Theotokos save us", or other short prayers to the Guardian
Angel, to individual saints or to all the saints can also be
offered with the assistance of the prayer rope. A common form of
such a prayer is: Holy Guardian Angelor Saint
(name)pray to God for me. By changing the words of these
short prayers and saying: "have mercy on us", or "pray for us", or
by including the name or names of persons we want to pray for, we
can also use the prayer rope for intercessory prayers. This also
applies to those already departed this life: "Give rest O Lord to
the soul of Thy servant."
carry the prayer rope in their hands, it serves as a reminder of
their obligation to pray unceasingly. In keeping with the
commandment of the Holy Apostle Paul to "pray without ceasing."
Anyone can keep a prayer rope in a pocket or some other discreet
place where it can be easily used unnoticed when in situations
where it is better to pray or remember prayer in secret, without
attracting the attention of others. The prayer rope can also be
placed over the head of our bed, in an automobile, with a small
cross or icon, or in other appropriate places as a reminder of
prayer and a kind of blessing and a holy and godly presence in our
A Rule of Prayer
let us discuss briefly the primary use for which this prayer rope
was made. The whole purpose of the prayer rope is to assist us in
offering our prayers before God and His Saints. In addition to
serving as an external reminder and a blessing present with us,
how can this little rope help us to pray? We can pray without a
prayer rope, of course, and there are times when using the prayer
rope may become a distraction for us in our attempts to
concentrate in prayer. With that in mind, let us consider some
ways in which the prayer rope can be of assistance.
times when our prayer is fervent and it is easy for us to pray.
There are times when our thoughts are so distracted that we find
it virtually impossible to concentrate on prayer. This is
especially true when we try to keep a rule of prayer each day.
Some days it goes very well, but other timesif not most of
the time?our efforts seem almost to be in vain. But because
we are "creatures of habit", as the saying goes, it is very
profitable for us to set apart a special and regular time (or
times) during the day for prayer. The time in the evening before
going to bed is a good time, as it is important to end the day
with prayer. The morning, upon awakening from sleep, is also good,
so as to begin the new day with prayer. Or a person may find other
times during the day when he is able to be quiet and concentrate.
trying to establish a rule of prayer in our lives, not an
exception, so we want to find a time when each day we can find
some quiet in order to concentrate and turn the eyes of our soul
We may want
to read some prayers form a prayer book as part of this rule, or
offer prayers and find quiet for our souls in other ways, such as
reading religious literature, reflecting over the events of the
past day "Anaskopisis" and so on. But
one of the most effective ways to find benefit from a rule of
prayer is to say a set number of the Jesus Prayer regularly each
day. This does not have to be a large number, and it may take only
fifteen minutes or so, but that will be the portion of our day
that belongs to God, the little grains of salt that will add savor
to our Christian life. This practice is now
recommended by many physicians (click on link and see end
of article: "Science Studies the Jesus Prayer")for the sake
of a person's physical health, especially in overcoming stress.
Better still, find such little pocket of time at various points
throughout the day and regularly fill them with the precious
treasures of prayer, a treasure no one can steal from you, that is
laid up for you in heaven (see: Mat. 6:20).
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 cross on 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.
a person has to fight off the temptation to "rush." For this
reason, some people use a clock instead of a prayer rope as an
external measure for their prayer rule. By using a clock, a person
can devote a set amount of time to prayer, although he may not
keep track of the exact number of prayer he says. But, then again,
clocks with electronic beeps are quite a recent development, and
keeping a loudly ticking clock that jangles the nerves with a loud
alarm bell seldom proves to be a great boon to prayer. So much for
traditional use of digital alarm clocks!
rope is also a convenient way to keep track of the number of bows
or 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 fervor of the prayer and
give expression to our supplication, as we humble ourselves before
God. This is one way in, which we can carry out the apostolic
command to praise God both in our souls and in our bodies. 
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.
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 traveling. 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 whenever you may be, whatever
you may be doing. And this is an important step towards fulfilling
the commandment to pray without ceasing.
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, 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 Saint Seraphim of
Sarov. Of course, when we are praying at the services, our prayer
is joined to that of the entire Church.
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 remind 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.
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 the Holy Gospel,
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
communing the Holy Mysteries.
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 words
of the prayer, to offer heart-felt prayers to Jesus Christ, our
Lord and God.
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."
(See: Luke 17:21)
We have to
note, once more, that regarding any prayer rule about praying with
the prayer rope or any 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.
Some quotes from our Holy Fathers
on the Prayer "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me"
First Epistle to the Thessalonians the Apostle Paul says: "Pray
Chrysostom in his speech about sobriety and prayer, says the
following: "Brothers, be always occupied with the intellectual
prayer and do not move far away from God until you receive God's
mercy and pity. Never ask for anything but for His infinite mercy
and this is enough for your salvation. When asking for His mercy,
cry aloud in entreaty with humble and contrite heart form morning
to night and, if possible, during the whole night, saying
unceasingly: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us."
Climacus says the following: "Win the enemies in jour mind with
the name of God. You will not find any other weapon more effective
than this! Similarly you will manage both to appease your passions
inside yourself and to efface them with the aid of the prayer."
Seraphim of Sarov says: "When mind and heart are united in prayer
and the soul is wholly concentrated in a single desire for God,
then the heart grows warm and the light of Christ begins to shine
and fills the inward man with peace and joy. We should thank the
Lord for everything and give ourselves up to His will; we should
also offer Him all our thoughts and words, and strive to make
everything serve only His good pleasure."
Isichios writes about the prayer: "Through the constant
remembrance and invocation to Jesus Christ, a holy condition is
created in our mind. This happens, if we appeal to Jesus Christ
with fervor, crying aloud towards Him in entreaty day and night,
so that repetition leads to habit and habit becomes second
Hieromartyr Cosmas Aetolos (+1779) says: "I advise you to make a
Komboschini, all of you, young and old, and hold it in
your left hand and cross yourselves with your right hand and say:
'Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me'." ... "I advise all
Christians to make Crosses and Komboschinis and I pray to
God to bless them, so they can keep them as amulets."
 Anaskopisis: in the Fatherly sense of examination, of
checking up on ourselves, in order to feel remorse for our sins
and become better but also recognize the beneficence of God.
 I Corinth. 6:20: you must praise God with your bodies and your
souls, which belong to God.
In all things:
Glory to God