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Its invention is attributed to [[Saint|St.]] [[Pachomius the Great|Pachomius]] in the fourth century as an aid for illiterate [[monk]]s to accomplish a consistent number of prayers and [[prostration]]s. Monks were often expected to carry a prayer rope with them, to remind them to pray constantly in accordance with St. [[Apostle Paul|Paul]]'s injunction in [[I Thessalonians]] 5:17, "Pray without ceasing."
In some Russian Orthodox service books, certain services can be replaced at need by praying the Jesus Prayer a specified number of times, anywhere from 300 to 1,500 times depending on the service being replaced. In this way prayers can still be said even if the service books are unavailable for some reason. The use of a prayer rope is a very practical tool in such cases, simply for keeping count of the prayers said.
Another form of prayer rope was formerly in use in Russia<!-- (and beyond?) --->, and is still preserved among the [[Old Believers]]. It is called '''lestovka''' ("ladder"), and is arranged asymmetrically. Whereas the more common 100-knot prayer rope is divided into four sets of 25 knots each, separated by larger knots or beads (dividers), the lestovka consists of counters consisting of loops of cloth or leather often containing short lengths of small-diameter dowel, arranged in groups as follows: 12 (for the number of the [[Apostles]]); 39 (for the weeks of the pregnancy of the [[Theotokos]]); 33 (for the years of [[Christ]]'s life on earth), and 17 (for the number of [[prophet]]s). These sections are separated by dividers larger than the counters, and there are three further divider-sized counters at each end, for a total of nine such large counters (for the nine ranks of [[angels]]); thus there are a total of 101 counters plus nine large ones. Where the ends join, they are sewn to four triangular leaves (for the four [[Gospel]]s) sewn together two and two, the upper pair overlapping the lower. The lestovka is used with the Jesus prayer, but also for counting litany responses, which will often total 12 or 33; for this purpose it is better suited than the more familiar variety of prayer rope. <!-- [A description of the lestovka is included among the appendices to the Erie prayer book.] --->
Today one can find prayer ropes made of satin and other modern materials aside from the traditional wool. There is also its modern decendant, prayer beads strung together with a cross and tassel.
Despite its wide usage among the Orthodox Christians (e.g. the Greek and Russian Orthodox)it is unknown in many parts of the world. Even among [[Roman Catholics]] it is often mistaken for a [[rosary]]. Out of ignorance some even wear them on their necks much to the dismay of those who know what it is.