Chotkis or Prayer Ropes are made in keeping with a tradition whose origin is lost in antiquity. Perhaps one of the earliest forms was simply gathering small pebbles or seeds and moving them from one spot or container to another as one said his prayer rule or did his rule of bows or prostrations. The story is told of a monk who decided to make knots in a rope which he could use in carrying out his daily rule of prayer. But the devil kept untying the knots he made in the rope, frustrating the poor monks efforts. Then an angel appeared and taught the monk a special kind of knot that consists of a series of interlocked crosses, and these knots the devil was unable to unravel.
Prayer ropes come in a great variety of forms and sizes. Most prayer ropes have a cross woven into them or attached to mark the “end”, and also have some kind of marker after each 10, 33, 50, 100 or 300 knots or beads. There are many forms of prayer ropes, some knotted of wool or silk, or other more elegant or simpler materials. Others are made of beads or the dried flower of a plant called “Tears of the Mother of God”.
The prayer rope is one of the items given to an Orthodox Christian monk at the time of tonsure: it is given to him as his spiritual sword with which he, as a soldier of Christ, must make war against our spiritual enemy, the devil. This sword is wielded by calling on the name of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ in a plea for mercy on me a sinner. This prayer can be said in a shorter form, such as: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”; or in a longer form, as: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” or “By the prayers of the Most Holy Theotokos and all the Saints, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”.
Other short prayers: “God be merciful to me a sinner” – the prayer of the publican: a prayer to the Mother of God: “Most Holy Theotokos save us”, or other short prayers to the Guardian Angel, to individual saints or to all the saints can also be offered with the assistance of the prayer rope. A common form of such a prayer is: “Holy Guardian Angel – or Saint (name) – pray to God for me”. By changing the words of these short prayers and saying: “have mercy on us”, or “pray for us”, or by including the name or names of persons we want to pray for, we can also use the prayer rope for intercessory prayers. This also applies to those already departed this life: “Give rest O Lord to the soul of Thy servant (name)”.