The life of the Mount Athos monks is governed by a precise schedule, which differs considerably from the mundane way of life that we are accustomed to. It's no surprise, as the main goal of the inhabitants of the Holy Mountain is to get away from worldly affairs and to be in communion with God.
The meaning of prayer ropes in monastic life
The day of the Athonite monks begins in the same way: waking up before dawn, morning prayer, the church service and the reading of the Scripture form an integral part of the morning routine of the brethren. Each monk then proceeds to his own obedience, that is, to the work of his choice or assignment. One of such works is prayer ropes weaving.
For a monk, prayer rope is an indispensable attribute of daily life. Going through the knots, accompanied by the continuous repetition of the Jesus Prayer, helps one to concentrate and maintain concentration. Apart, knots help to count the number of prayers said.
On Mount Athos, prayer ropes weaving is the main and one of the most widespread forms of monastic handicrafts. As a rule, prayer ropes consist of either knots (komboskini) or beads. In the first case, the monks follow a special weaving technique: each knot consists of nine crossings of cord, corresponding to the number of angelic ranks.
For weaving prayer beads on Athos, the grains of the Tears of the Mother of God plant are often used. Monks grow and harvest them by hand, after which the grains are dried and used to make prayer beads and bracelets.
Tears of the Mother of God: Athonite tradition
The Tears of the Mother of God plant can be called unique in its kind, as it grows only on Mount Athos. There's an interesting legend in regards to with its appearance on the Holy Mountain.
Once upon a time a monk of the of St. Anne skete decided to master the art of weaving prayer ropes. But no matter how hard he tried, no matter what efforts he made, he couldn't master this art. Because of this, the monk fell into despondency. In the moment of his deepest despair, the Blessed Mother of God appeared to him and asked why he was so sad. The monk told Her about his unsuccessful attempts to learn the art of prayer ropes weaving.
Then the Mother of God, in Her infinite love, offered the monk Her tears, which She shed for the monks. She commanded them to be planted in the ground; the monk followed Her command, and out of them grew a plant with large grains, which was called the Tears of the Mother of God.
The grains of the plant could be simply strung on a rope, and therefore the weaving of such prayer beads was very easy. Since that time and to this day, the Athonite monks have been cultivating the Tears of the Mother of God and making handmade prayer ropes and bracelets, accompanying the process of weaving with incessant prayer.
A little botany
Tears of the Mother of God is a variety of the Coix lacryma-jobi. The endemic plant of Mount Athos with hard grains belongs to one of its two subspecies and does not occur anywhere else in the world.