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History of Prayer with Beads/Rope #55410
04/05/02 01:06 AM
04/05/02 01:06 AM
Joined: Nov 2001
Posts: 22
Alexandria, VA
D
David Offline OP
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David  Offline OP
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Joined: Nov 2001
Posts: 22
Alexandria, VA
Salaam Alekum!

I was speaking with a Muslim friend this evening who asked me about the origins of beads/prayer ropes/rosaries in Christian praxis. He was wondering about their relationship to Islamic prayer beads as well.

By what period in history did Christians have prayer beads in use? In what areas of the world? Did they develop parallel or separate? Is there a relationship in the history of Christian and Muslim prayer for beads?

I could only offer speculation that it grew and developed through ascetic and individual practice during the rise of eastern monasticism in the fourth century, and that Christian beads probably influenced Islamic practice. I hope I do not presume too much and I implore you to add your wisdom for the history of Christian prayer.

David


Glory to Jesus Christ!
Re: History of Prayer with Beads/Rope #55411
04/05/02 05:06 AM
04/05/02 05:06 AM
Joined: Nov 2001
Posts: 6,565
Glasgow, Scotland
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Our Lady's slave Offline
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Our Lady's slave  Offline
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Joined: Nov 2001
Posts: 6,565
Glasgow, Scotland
David

What a wonderful thread you have started ! After all we have Catholics [ Eastern and Western smile ] Orthodox, Orientals and yes students of Islam here [ hope I have not missed anyone out !]. I hope this will draw us all together in our desire for knowledge wink .

I look forward to reading the responses - it will be nice to see them all in one place and not scattered through many differing threads throughout the Fora.

Let the education continue biggrin

Angela

[ 04-05-2002: Message edited by: Our Lady's slave of love ]

Re: History of Prayer with Beads/Rope #55412
04/05/02 08:47 AM
04/05/02 08:47 AM
Joined: Nov 2001
Posts: 780
Texas
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Father Deacon Ed Offline

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Father Deacon Ed  Offline

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Joined: Nov 2001
Posts: 780
Texas
Al Masiah Qaam! Haqqan Qaam!

Prayer ropes seem to find their origins in the unwritten history of Christianity. That is, they seem to go all the way back to the origin of the Church! There is some indication that the Jews had a form of prayer beads in the knots on the prayer shawl.

However, we have to be careful not to confuse prayer ropes/beads with worry beads. While they may look the same, they have different origins. Worry beads actually find their origin in the Orient, probably China.

Islamic use of prayer beads, like their traditional posture for prayer, are adaptions of Christian usage. Mohammed did not invent a whole new structure, but did what all other religions have done (including Christianity) and that is to adopt what seemed useful.

Edward, deacon and sinner

[ 04-05-2002: Message edited by: FrDeaconEd ]

Re: History of Prayer with Beads/Rope #55413
04/05/02 10:09 AM
04/05/02 10:09 AM
Joined: Nov 2001
Posts: 26,111
Canada
Orthodox Catholic Offline
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Orthodox Catholic  Offline
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Joined: Nov 2001
Posts: 26,111
Canada
Dear Friends,

I wrote an article on the history of prayer beads in both the Christian East and the West and discuss the issue of the Muslim practice in this regard.

Reader Sergius has kindly allowed my article to appear on his website at: www.oldworldrus.com

Prayer beads were in use among pagan religions for thousands of years. Hinduism and Buddhism have them where different colours and numbers of beads have special significance.

Christians doubtless borrowed the use of prayer beads in this way for meditative prayer from the earliest beginnings and Fr. Deacon Ed's point on the use of beads in Judaism by Jewish mystics is well put.

In Judaism, strings of knots with tassels were carried as part of one's religious dress (tzitzith for example).

Christ Himself wore a fringed garment and tassels, as observant Jews did. The woman with the issue of blood who reached for the 'edge of His garment' was actually going for the most religiously significant part of our Lord's garments, the fringed parts.

The blue and white fringes signified the outpouring of God's Grace and protection on our lives, resembling the pouring of streams of olive oil, the symbol of Grace. Priests and Bishops still have fringes and tassels on their vestments and the prayer rope ends in a tassel.

Tassels and knots were believed to have been charged with special spiritual blessing and even good luck!

The knot was considered a mystical symbol even by pagans, thus Alexander the Great (venerated as a prophet in Islam and in Ethiopia smile ) cut the Gordian Knot.

The tied knot was seen by Judaism and others as a symbol of life's problems and sins, something that only God could "untie" or undo.

Knotted ropes with tassels ornamented staffs, as we read in the story about Isaac.

Jewish Christians related elements of their Judaic heritage to their Christian faith.

A tradition has it that St Peter would cut strings from his prayer shawl to tie around the necks of people he baptized - so many were baptized that he didn't want to baptize anyone twice etc.

This blue or white cord came to signify the "yoke of the Lord" and crosses were soon attached to them.

In Georgia, Crosses are still worn on white silk cords. In Ethiopia, the "Matab" or blue or black cord signifies one is a Christian. If you aren't wearing one, you are deemed to be a Muslim!

It was natural then for people to have knotted cords on which repeated prayers were said, such as the repetition of a Psalmic verse, the Name of Jesus, the Our Father and later the Hail Mary.

There are images of Our Lady holding a knotted white cord with tassels and this is the earliest form of the "Rosary."

The use of beads was also in vogue. St Paul of Thebes walked with two bags on either side of him. In one bag he had 300 pebbles. As he said his daily round of Our Fathers, he placed a pebble into the other bag each time he said a prayer and so didn't lose count in his prayer rule.

Also, St Clare of Assisi prayed in this exact same manner.

The Orthodox Church has kept the most ancient form of the prayer rope, approved by St Basil the Great, as a knotted cord ending in a tassel.

The Old Believers have the "Ladder" or "vervitsa" which is a leather device with folds ending in two leather triangular forms, resembling a Roman stole.

This is also a very ancient Christian devotional device.

"Prayer wheels" were also in vogue in the early centuries of the Church, but not in terms of the Buddhist prayer wheels.

These were small round objects with knotches that one turned in one's hand as one said the Jesus Prayer, and some have likened the prayer rope to a prayer wheel. The "Rosary ring" of today is actually a small version of this ancient Christian prayer wheel device!

One of the earliest divisions of beads or knots was based on the Holy Trinity and the years that Christ lived. There were beads or knotted cords with 33 beads, as was popular in Ireland. In the Middle East, there were three times this amount or 99 beads, considered a sacred number. Others reflected the number of Psalms, 50 - 150.

It is almost a certainty that Muslims borrowed the beads from both Christians and pagans. There are Muslim sects that do not use beads at all, such as the Wahnabi sect, that prays on its fingers. They say that the Prophet Muhammad refused to use beads and prayed on his fingers, since the beads were a practice used by Christians!

When I worked in a government department, I wrote an article about the different faith traditions in our province. In writing about Islam, I made passing mention of the "dhikr" or Islamic prayer beads.

Well, I received some angry calls from irate Muslims who told me that prayer beads was something other faiths did, not them, and where did I get my facts? (People keep asking me that here as well smile ).

So the use of prayer beads among Muslims is not universal, and probably serves as further evidence that it is a practice that was borrowed from the Christians.

Alex

[ 04-05-2002: Message edited by: Orthodox Catholic ]

Re: History of Prayer with Beads/Rope #55414
04/05/02 04:45 PM
04/05/02 04:45 PM
Joined: Apr 2002
Posts: 209
U.S.A.
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Lazareno Offline
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U.S.A.
Christos Voskrese!

David,

There is an article in the old Catholic Encyclopedia on the use of beads in prayer. It can be found online: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02361c.htm

Christ is Risen!

Re: History of Prayer with Beads/Rope #55415
04/09/02 12:03 PM
04/09/02 12:03 PM
Joined: Mar 2002
Posts: 448
Haddonfield, NJ
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Mike C. Offline
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Haddonfield, NJ
If you search for the "Rosary" on the Catholic Encyclopia you will find the history of prayer ropes.

Re: History of Prayer with Beads/Rope #55416
04/10/02 08:39 AM
04/10/02 08:39 AM
Joined: Nov 2001
Posts: 26,111
Canada
Orthodox Catholic Offline
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Orthodox Catholic  Offline
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Joined: Nov 2001
Posts: 26,111
Canada
Dear Friends,

Yes, but the only problem I have found with western commentaries on prayer beads is that they often give less and erroneous information on the Eastern prayer ropes and tradition in this respect.

I wrote a letter to the author of one such book in Washington together with footnotes and other information.

He admitted that he had done less research on Eastern prayer ropes than he had on Hindu and Buddhist beads! But he said he will rectify the situation in future.

Alex


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