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Prayer beads are used by members of various religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and the Bahá'í Faith to count the repetitions of prayers, chants or devotions, such as the rosary of Virgin Mary in Christianity, and dhikr (remembrance of God) in Islam.

Origins and etymology

Beads are among the earliest human ornaments and ostrich shell beads in Africa date to 10,000 BC.[1] Over the centuries various cultures have made beads from a variety of materials from stone and shells to clay.[1]

The English word bead derives from the Old English noun bede which means a prayer.[2][3][4][5] The exact origins of prayer beads remain uncertain, but their earliest use probably traces to Hindu prayers in India.[1][3][6] Buddhism probably borrowed the concept from Hinduism.[1][3] The statue of a holy Hindu man with beads dates to the 3rd century BC.[3][6]

Although the use of prayer beads grew within those religions, it did not enter Judaism, perhaps because of its association with other religions, and to date Judaism does not use prayer beads.[3] Although not used as counting device, many Jews touch the knots on the tzitzits attached to their tallit (prayer shawl) at specific points in their prayers.[3]

Structure

The number of beads varies by religion or use. Islamic prayer beads, called "Misbaha" or "Tasbih", usually have 99 or 33 beads. Buddhists and Hindus use the Japa Mala which usually has 108 beads, or 27 which are counted four times. Baha'i prayer beads consist of either 95 beads or 19 beads strung with the addition of five beads below. The Sikh Mala also has 108 beads. The secular Greek "komboloi" has an odd number of beads—usually one more than a multiple of four, e.g. (4x4)+1, (5x4)+1. Roman Catholics use the "Rosary" (Latin "rosarium", meaning "rose garden") with 54 with an additional five beads whereas Eastern Orthodox Christians use a knotted "Rosary" with 100 knots, although "prayer ropes" with 50 or 33 knots can also be used. Although Anglo-Catholics have used the Dominican rosary since the 19th century, in the 1980s Rev. Lynn Bauman from the Episcopal church in the United States introduced a Rosary for Anglicans with 33 beads.[7]

Use

Since the beads are fingered in an automatic manner, they allow the user to keep track of how many prayers have been said with a minimal amount of conscious effort, which in turn allows greater attention to be paid to the prayers themselves.

Christianity

The Desert Fathers of the 3rd to 5th centuries, used knotted ropes to count prayers, typically the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner"). The invention is attributed to Anthony the Great or his associate Pachomius the Great in the 4th century.

In the Catholic Church and Anglicanism, the Holy Rosary is used with 54 plus an additional five beads as prayer beads. The term rosary comes from the Latin rosarium "rose garden" and is an important and traditional devotion of the Catholic Church, combining prayer and meditation in sequences (called "decades") of the Lord's Prayer, 10 Hail Marys, and a Gloria Patri as well as a number of other prayers (such as the Apostles' Creed and the Salve Regina) at the beginning and end. The prayers are accompanied by meditation on the Mysteries, events in the life and ministry of Jesus. This traditional Catholic form of the rosary is attributed to Saint Dominic.[8]

Catholics also use prayer beads to pray chaplets. Their rosary beads are composed of crucifix and center which can be made of sterling silver and/or gold; beads are usually made of glass, amethyst, rose quartz stone, crystal, black onyx, lavender glass or pearl.[9]

The Eastern Orthodox Church uses prayer ropes with 33, 50 or 100 knots. The loops of knotted wool (or occasionally of beads), called chotki or komboskini to pray the Jesus Prayer. Although among the Orthodox, their use is mainly restricted to monks and bishops, being less common among laity or secular clergy. Among Russian Old Believers, a prayer rope made of leather, called 'lestovka', is more common, although this type is no longer commonly used now by the Russian Orthodox Church. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "The rosary is conferred upon the Greek Orthodox monk as a part of his investiture with the mandyas or full monastic habit, as the second step in monastic life, and is called his 'spiritual sword'." [10] Ethiopian prayer rope (called mequteria) employ numbers such as 41 and 64 as their length.

In the mid-1980s, Anglican prayer beads or "Christian prayer beads" was developed in the Episcopal Church of the United States by Episcopalians participating in a study group dealing with methods of prayer.[7] The set consists of 33 beads (representing the 33 years of the life of Christ) arranged in four groupings of symbolic significance. These "Anglican Rosaries" continue to be promoted via internet websites but it is not known whether they have been adopted by any Protestant group in any formal sense. Many Anglo-Catholics use the Catholic rosary and may also be using Anglican prayer beads.

The contemporary Wreath of Christ,[11] invented by Martin Lönnebo, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Linköping of the Swedish Lutheran Church, is a set of 18 beads, some round and some elongated, arranged in an irregular pattern. Each one has its own significance as a stimulus and reminder for meditation, although they can also be used for repetitive prayer.[citation needed]

While there are liturgical churches using prayer beads in prayer, non-liturgical Christian churches do not use them.