26 July 2013
During a World Youth Day Mass this week, Pope Francis gestures and shows his chotki,
or prayer rope. (photo: AP via News.va.)
Some Roman Catholics may have wondered what Pope Francis was wearing around his wrist during his visit to Rio de Janeiro this week. But the faithful in the Eastern churches — Catholic and Orthodox — no doubt recognized it: it’s a chotki, or prayer rope. It’s not uncommon to see patriarchs wearing one. It’s almost unheard of, though, to see one in the hands of the bishop of Rome.
The rope is usually used with the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Historically it typically had 100 knots, although prayer ropes with 300, 50, or 33 knots or, less commonly, 250 or 12 can also be found in use today. There is typically a knotted cross at one end, and a few beads at certain intervals between the knots. “The purpose is to help us concentrate, not necessarily to count.”
Its invention is attributed to St. Pachomius in the fourth century as an aid for illiterate monks to accomplish a consistent number of prayers and prostrations. Monks were often expected to carry a prayer rope with them, to remind them to pray constantly in accordance with St. Paul’s injunction in I Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”
Pope Francis, of course, has a close connection to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Shortly after the pope’s election, Patriarch Sviatoslav wrote:
The newly elected Pope Francis was mentored by one of our priests, Stepan Chmil who is now buried in the basilica of St. Sophia in Rome. Today’s Pope, during his time as a student of the Salesian school, awoke many hours before his classmates to concelebrate at our Divine Liturgy with Fr. Stepan. He knows our Tradition very well, as well as our Liturgy.
The last time I had an opportunity to see him was as I was preparing to leave Argentina for Ukraine. I asked him to bear witness to the process of beatifying Fr. Stepan Chmil, to which, he gladly agreed. The Holy Father very well knows not only of our Church, but also our liturgy, our rites, and our spirituality.
Apart from this, Pope Francis, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, was assigned as ordinary for Eastern Catholics, specifically those who at the time did not have members of their own hierarchy. Our Eparchy in Argentina is, let’s say, suffragan to the Archbishop’s seat of Buenos Aires. In this way, Cardinal Bergoglio, always took care of our Church in Argentina; and as a young bishop, I took my first steps in episcopal ministry under his watchful eyes and help. Because of this, I am positive that the Holy Father will be a great help to our Church, and I expect that great things await our Church with this Pope.