Growing up catholic, I was quite familiar with the rosary. Even still have the one gifted to me for my first communion.
The use of beads and ropes as a way to focus our thoughts and enter into silence has been around since long before Christianity and used by many different religious traditions. It’s generally a structure for meditation.
I’m not quite well versed with the traditions of other religions with regards to prayer beads and ropes, so I’ll stick with the three many prayer beads/ropes from Christian traditions.
The use of a prayer rope dates back to the early church fathers. Eastern Orthodox Christianity has generally preserved this early tradition where the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) is stated (silently) for each knot in the rope (100 knots on the full sized rope).
Some Eastern Orthodox Christians walk around with the prayer rope in their left hand as a reminder to pray without ceasing. Others may have a smaller bracelet version to wear upon their wrist.
When praying in private it is tradition to pray the Jesus Prayer while working through the rope in your left hand and performing the sign of the cross with your right hand.
The Komboskini (Greek Orthodox) and Chotki (Russian Orthodox) are both 100 knots long. The main difference is that the Chotki has a tassel on the end. For further reading on the Eastern Orthodox Prayer Rope check out Orthodoxprayer.org
The catholic rosary consists of one crucifix and 59 beads. The first 4 beads stand alone while the remainder are broken up into 5 decades (of 10) with one solitary bead in between each decade. The prayers associated with each bead vary based on traditions.
There is also smaller single decade rosaries and rosary rings. The intent of meditation through repeated prayer connects both the Orthodox and Catholic rosaries to Anglican rosaries.
Anglican Rosary/Prayer beads
The Anglican Rosary might be my favorite. With only 33 beads (one for each year of Jesus’ life on Earth), it’s on the smaller side.
This set of beads is the youngest of the three as it is attributed to Rev. Lynn Bauman (an Episcopal priest) in the 1980s.
The Anglican Rosary begins with the cross, then the invitation bead (directly above the cross), followed by 3 laps around the loop and then conclude with the invitation and cross [ a total of 100 prayers just like the Orthodox Prayer Rope]. The loop consists of 4 sets of 7 beads (the weeks) separated by 4 larger beads (the cruciform). You typically have a prayer assigned for the the cross, the invitation, one for the cruciforms and one for the weeks. Since there is no assigned set of prayers for the Anglican Rosary, you can find plenty of different sets of prayers. There is an interesting digital walkthrough of one set here. And another author wrote a handout that includes space for you to write your own.
My favorite during the UMC GC2019 was written by Sister Brigit-Carol, S.D.:
In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
O God make speed to save me (us),
O Lord make haste to help me (us),
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
God of your goodness, give me yourself,
For you are enough to me.
And I can ask for nothing less that is to your glory.
And if I ask for anything less, I shall still be in want, for only in you have I all.
All shall be well, and all shall be well,
And all manner of things shall be well.
In His love He has done His works, and in His love He has made all things beneficial to us.
Some final Reflections
The end goal for each of these should be a quite mind that meets the Ground of Being/the Divine/God in the midst of silence. So, don’t rush yourself and leave room for silence.
You can adapt all of these to meet your needs because prayer is about doing what brings you closer to God.
You can also use any of these as a way to pray as a group. Though it is my understanding that the Eastern Orthodox Prayer Rope is not intended for group prayer.
If praying short prayers is too much for you, you can start with shorter prayers or just prayer words like, “Come, Lord Jesus”, Maranatha, or just “Jesus”.