From the blog Adventures of an Orthodox Mom, a post in a series on prayer ropes.
To quote St. John Climacus of The Ladder again,
“With the name of Jesus flog the foes, because there is no stronger weapon in heaven or on earth.”
A prayer rope is a circular rope composed of a certain number of knots, most commonly 33–the number of years Christ lived on earth, but there are also 50 knot, 100 knot, 150 knot and 300 knot, ropes. There are usually beads which serve as a marker every 10, 25 or 50 knots. Prayer ropes are used as an aid in prayer by helping us keep our mind focused on the task at hand. How many times during prayer will your mind wander? By using a prayer rope, the physical motion of moving the knots through your fingers calls your mind back and allows you to refocus on communicating with God.
While they can be found in many colors today, the prayer rope is traditionally made from black wool. This is a reminder that we are all sheep of the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Lamb of God “who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). It is also the color of mourning, to remind us of Christ’s words: “blessed are they who mourn, for they will be consoled” (Matt 5:4). The cross at the end proclaims Christ’s sacrifice, as well as His victory over death, of humility over pride, or self-sacrifice over egotism, of light over darkness...
Where did prayer ropes come from?
We know through oral tradition, that St. Pachomius was trying to keep count of his prayer rule by tying regular knots in a rope. But the devil, who despises prayer, kept untying the rope. So, St. Pachomius then took small stones and put them in a bucket, but the devil dumped the buckets over. Finally, St. Pachomius prayed to God for help. An angel appeared and taught the saint how to tie a specific knot, formed by a series of nine crosses. The devil could not untie these knots because of the power of the Cross. Because of this, the prayer rope came to be a sacred object and is still of great importance in the life of Orthodox Christians.
Today, prayer ropes are primarily made in monasteries. Though, more and more laypeople are recognizing the blessings and peace of heart that is associated with making them and seek instruction...
Complete post here.