The life of a Christian — is toil and
prayer. "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thes. ) — the apostle exhorts, and with him the saints of
our Church, by experience recognizing the power and benefit of continual
prayer. The most well-known of these became what is known as the Jesus prayer:
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have
mercy on me, a sinner."
If all the works concerning the Jesus prayer that
have been written by the holy fathers were gathered together, a vast library
would result. The brevity and simplicity of it permits any Christian to include
it in his daily prayer rule (of course, with the blessing of the spiritual
guide), repeating it a specific number of times — 50, 100, 200… during the day.
But how to pray and keep count at the same time?
Prayer beads assist in this.
Modern prayer beads — is an enclosed string,
consisting of small "seeds," divided into groups of ten by somewhat
larger "seeds." The usual number of "seeds" is 50 or 100.
Prayer beads help keep count (the Russian word, chotki,
is derived from the root chot, or count) of the number of prayers or
prostrations. The person praying runs the fingers of the left hand over the
"seeds" concurrently with the beginning of the new prayer being read.
When coming to a larger "seed" they usually stop and read "Our
Father" or "Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos Mary," and then continue
the Jesus prayer. When the prescribed number is achieved, "It is meet…" is usually read. Any other prayer can also be
read using the beads.
In ancient Rus the beads had a different form —
of an enclosed ladder, consisting of wooden bars, sewn into leather or
material. They were called "lestvitsa" or "lestovka"
(ladder) and spiritually symbolized the ladder of salvation, rising to heaven.
The enclosing of the beads and ladder symbolizes the unceasing, eternal prayer.
Prayer beads are part of the monk’s apparel, laymen can pray with them,
receiving the blessing of his spiritual guide. Prayer beads help to pray at
work, in public places — one need only to put their hand in their pocket and
start counting the "seeds."
The difficult-to-understand fashion
of wearing the beads around the neck, tying them around the wrist, twisting
them on the finger — are clearly not of pious roots. As with any holy
item (and prayer beads are necessarily blessed), one must handle them piously
and not be demonstrative about them.