Sunday, April 29, 2012

Do Not React, Do Not Resent, Keep Inner Stillness

Since it's Sunday I thought perhaps it would be a good day to post some sort of talk or sermon on the Eastern Christian spiritual life. This talk, given by Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America, has quickly become my favorite lecture on the spiritual life. I know it's long, but it's worth listening to and taking notes. Actually, this version of the talk is the shortened version. Usually the talk is twice as long.

The main premise of the talk is that the entire spiritual life as presented by the Fathers of the Philokalia can be boiled down to one key phrase, "Do not react; Do not resent; Keep inner stillness." Please take the time to listen to the whole thing. You won't regret it!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Forms of the Jesus Prayer

I've often heard folks ask either what the Jesus Prayer is, or what formula is repeated. The most common formula for the Jesus Prayer is "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." But is that the only formula? Is that the Jesus Prayer? The answer is a resounding "no!"

There are actually three formulas today which are most common. The shortest is "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." The one used on Mt. Athos is "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me." This latter is also the oldest "official" form of the Jesus Prayer. The words "a/the sinner" were later added on to this formula through Russian piety. St. Ignatius Brianchaninov considered the addition of those words to be the crowning perfection of the already perfect Jesus Prayer (check out his book On the Prayer of Jesus).

But historically the Jesus Prayer simply referred to the invocation of the name of Jesus. Fr. Lev Gillet (aka "A Monk of the Eastern Chruch") in his marvelous little book The Jesus Prayer emphasizes that historically the Jesus Pray had an almost innumerable amount of forms, ranging anywhere from a simple and devout repetition of the name "Jesus" to the longer, more elaborate formulas. In his Byzantine Daily Worship Archbishop Joseph Raya provides the formula "Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner," but in another of his works (Christmas: Birth of Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ) he suggests "Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner."

Archbishop Raya and other scholars suggests that the Jesus Prayer grew out of the short "ejaculatory" prayers that monks used to pray in order to focus their minds on God's presence (see, for example, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware's The Inner Kingdom). Prayers such as "God, come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me," are frequently suggested for use in times of temptation by the fathers of the Philokalia. And monks, according to Raya, used to pray "Sweetest Jesus, glory of monks, save me, your servant," and "Sweetest Jesus, Philanthropos, have mercy on me."

This devotion was not limited to the East, but spread in many different forms in the West as well. Such prayers as "Jesus meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine" can, in fact, be considered Western forms of the Jesus Prayer. I remember one particular priest-friend of mine growing up. During the elevation of the consecrated Host at Mass he always used to say, "My Jesus, mercy." Inspired by his example I used to repeat the same. This was probably my first form of the Jesus Prayer.

St. Theophan the Recluse tells us that the formula of the Jesus Prayer is not important because the formula itself derives its power from the name of Jesus. So, when praying the Jesus Prayer, don't get caught up in what is the "correct" formula. Simply find a version that best helps you to focus your mind on the presence of God in your heart, then stick with it.


One last post for the morning. This is a Roman Catholic rosary that I made at the request of a friend and customer of mine. I've had several orders for these. This one is made out of black nylon-satin and is divided in the usual way rosaries are divided. Incidentally, these rosaries can also be used as prayer ropes for the Jesus Prayer or so that one can pray 1/3 of the "Rule of the Theotokos" - St. Seraphim of Sarov, I believe, encouraged people to pray just 1/3 of the "Rule of the Theotokos" if they didn't have the time to pray an entire 15 decades.

Although I made this rosary using the same knot that is used to make prayer ropes, I'm hoping in the near future to start making knotted rosaries using the knot that is most familiar among Roman Catholics.

Prayer Rope Bracelets.

These are just a couple of 33 knot prayer rope bracelets that I made as an experiment. I gave them as a gift to a friend and customer of mine. The blue one is made of rayon, and the gold one is made of nylon-satin.

Theotokos Rope

This prayer rope was made specifically for the purpose of praying the "Prayer Rule of the Theotokos" as popularized by St. Seraphim of Sarov. The Prayer Rule itself dates back at least to the 8th Century, but I believe I've read somewhere that it actually dates back as far as the 4th Century. A form of the "Prayer Rule of the Theotokos" has been in daily use on Mt. Athos from time immemorial.

The "Theotokos Rope" is simply a prayer rope with 150 knots divided into decades, much like a Roman Catholic rosary. It can be used to pray the Jesus Prayer as well as the "Rule of the Theotokos."

This particular prayer rope is made out of black nylon-satin. The divider beads have fancy little ends on them. That was just an experiment with some excess beads that I have. I think it turned out rather nicely. I didn't add a tassel on this rope because I'm personally not a big fan of the tassels, and I wanted this rope to be more in the Greek style.

Incidentally, this rope is now in the possession of Bishop Nicholas Samra, the eparch for the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy of Newton here in the United States. Prior to giving it to him, however, this was my rope that I used daily for both the Jesus Prayer and the "Rule of the Theotokos."

Russian Style Ropes

The above two photos are prayer ropes made in a Russian style. I specify that this is a Russian style and not the Russian style because research has shown me that there are actually several styles of prayer rope in Russia and the Slavic lands.

The first prayer rope is a 150 knot rope divided every 10 knots. It is set up so that one can pray the "Prayer Rule of the Theotokos" as well as the Jesus Prayer. I made this one out of rayon cord instead of my usual nylon-satin. This was actually an accident. I ran out of material one month and ended up ordering rayon by mistake. Although it was a little more expensive than the nylon-satin, the resulting prayer ropes were amazing. The knots were slightly larger, and the final product was more flexible. Unfortunately, however, rayon is not as sturdy as nylon-satin. I can't tell you how much material I wasted because I literally pulled the cord apart as I was tightening knots. It took quite a bit of getting used to.

The second rope is a 33 knot Russian style rope. This rope has a divider at the half-way point (where the 17th knot would usually be). Other 33 knot Russian style ropes would have a bead every 11 knots instead. This rope is made out of my usual nylon-satin.

One distinguishing feature on a Russian style rope is the tassel. The Greek and Romanian style prayer ropes didn't used to have tassels, although most prayer ropes in general today are made with tassels.

The Photos Cometh

This is the beginning of the photos that I'll be posting of my work. This prayer rope is a Greek-style rope made out of black nylon-satin. It is divided with a bead every 24th knot. Some Greek-style ropes are divided with a bead every 25th knot. This is really a matter of personal preference. When the bead occurs where the 25th knot would usually take place, then it is counted as a knot and the Jesus Prayer is said on it. If there is a bead after each 25 knots, then it is not counted as a knot and some other prayer is typically substituted for the Jesus Prayer. Most commonly one would pray "Most Holy Theotokos, save us" on the bead.

I like making my prayer ropes out of nylon-satin cord (aka "rattail") because it is both sturdy and ascetically pleasing. To me it also feels better in the hands and fingers than does wool.

Some folks may argue that wool ought to be used because it is the "traditional" material. From everything that I've read, however, folks traditionally used whatever material they had available to them. Stones, leather, wood beads, wool, and whatever else was within arm's reach have been used to make prayer ropes. Although certain materials and colors have been given a sort of allegorical symbolism, the most important thing to remember about the prayer ropes is that they are tools for prayer.

My Prayer Rope Making Story (The Short Version)

Hello All,

I've created this blog primarily in response to my prayer rope customers who have been clamoring for an online place to learn more about the work I do making Eastern Christian prayer ropes, as well as Roman Catholic rosaries and Coptic/Ethiopian Christian mequtarias.

I actually started making rosaries when I was a kid. My mother was very devoted to Our Lady and prayed the rosary every night. She was also a crafter, and at one point made jewelry. The two passions combined led her into rosary-making. We mostly made rosaries with beads and wire, the way most rosaries are done, but we also made some "mission" rosaries out of plastic beads and cord.

When I went off to college I had to stop making rosaries and focus on my studies (I majored in theology). After graduating, however, I purchased an Eastern Orthodox prayer rope (chotki/komboskini/whatever you prefer) for use while praying the Jesus Prayer. Looking at the simple construction it wasn't long before I wondered if I could make one myself. A quick search on the internet revealed a video and a written set of instructions. At the time there was only the one video on YouTube; now there are many.

I spent hours and hours sitting in front of the computer, watching and re-watching the video, reading and re-reading the instructions, practicing, making every mistake I possibly could, until finally I had the entire process memorized and could successfully tie my first knot. After making two or three small prayer ropes I was able to produce one that I thought was up to snuff. I took it to work with me - I was working in a Catholic bookstore at the time - and showed it to some friends of mine.

I really never had any intention of selling prayer ropes, or even of making them for others as gifts, I simply wanted to see if I could make a one for myself that I felt was comfortable in my fingers and lent itself better to prayer. It wasn't long, however, before friends starting asking if I could make one for them and offering to pay me for my work.

Shortly after that I also started talking about the Jesus Prayer and prayer ropes on online forums. There again it wasn't long before folks online started asking me to make ropes for them. My first couple of customers were collectors. They had been collecting prayer ropes and rosaries for many years, and, I suppose, simply wanted to add mine to their collections. After purchasing them, however, they were stunned by the beauty and quality of the ropes I was making. My ropes became their primary "prayer tool" and they continued to order more from me both for their own use, and as gifts.

I don't say any of this by way of pride. I've honestly been quite humbled by all the kind things that folks have said about my prayer ropes over the years. But in humility I must acknowledge this gift that God has given me. Nearly all of my customers have told me that I have a gift, and that this gift is my ministry. Praise God, because the gift is from Him.

I'll post some pictures of some of the prayer ropes and rosaries I've made. I'm always experimenting and learning of new designs and new ways to divide the prayer rope. God willing I'll regularly be posting new images of my work. If you're ever interested in ordering a rope from me, just send me an e-mail.


Friday, April 27, 2012


Welcome to "The Master Beadsman." This is a blog dedicated to spreading and elucidating the Christian tradition of the invocation of the Holy Name of Jesus, particularly as that tradition has developed in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches. It is also my hope that it would serve as an outlet for me to show the work that I do creating prayer ropes/chotkis/komboskinis, as well as Roman Catholic rosaries and other chaplets. Finally I'm hoping that this blog can be an educational resource for folks hoping to learn more about the Catholic and Orthodox Eastern/Oriental traditions. Stayed tuned for more to come.