Saturday, January 21, 2012
Bound by prayer
"Do you pray the Jesus prayer?" came the question from the gentleman I'd been introduced to a few minute before. "Are you Orthodox?" "No." (Well, yes, in the sense of orthodox, but I knew what he meant.) The rest of the table gave us a puzzled look, but the subject vanishes as people want to know how the start of my sabbatical is going.
I had made an appointment for sacramental shriving this week while I was up to see Patient Spiritual Director and to take a couple of days to reflect on where I might be going with this sabbatical. It was the feast of St. Anthony of Egypt and my confessor had used one of the apophthegmata of Anthony during his homily at the midday Mass (where he also noted that this St. Anthony is not the same as this St. Anthony).
After we celebrated the sacrament, I asked Lanky Jesuit for another favor - would he bless the prayer rope I wear around my wrist? The what? I handed it over and mentioned that it was apropos to bless it today as the method for tying the knots is attributed to St. Anthony of Egypt. He tied knots in a cord to keep track of his prayers, and the devil kept untying them. An angel then taught Anthony these seven-fold knots, crosses layered over crosses that the devil couldn't touch.
Prayer ropes are traditionally worn by Orthodox religious wrapped around their left wrist as a reminder to pray, but can be worn by anyone who wishes to keep to the discipline. Prayers on the knots can substitute in a pinch (and with appropriate direction from a spiritual father or superior) for one's Office. The Jesus prayer is one traditional prayer said on the rope, but others can be as well. It can be used to keep track of prostrations in prayer, if that's part of your practice. Though it's not a rosary, prayers to the Theotokos can be said on it as well. It differs from a rosary in that it's strictly for private prayer.
I've worn a chotki around my wrist for the last several years, as a reminder to "pray at all times." It's not the traditional 100 knots version with a tassel (to soak up your tears), but 33 knots tied in black wool, in groups of 11, with a simple cross of knots at the end. It's gone unnoticed, or at least unmentioned, all this time. Now twice in one day, I'm answering questions about it. I'm attributing this to St. Anthony....
Aside: The reason I asked to have my chotki blessed is because I lost the one I'd been wearing, somewhere in the potted plants at church (I was helping move stuff...) Perhaps I should have prayed to the other St. Anthony for it's return.
Second aside: Crash, who was reading this over my shoulder — we are traveling by train to Boston — tells me it's not gone unnoticed, just unmentioned.