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The Rule of the Theotokos

There was a discussion online in a group of Catholic Homeschool mothers about praying the rosary and some Byzantine moms commented about it, debating about whether or not we Byzantines could pray it too. Now, if you are like me, you probably live in two spiritual worlds at once.  I am an Eastern/Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic from birth.  However,  I was raised by a mother who changed her rite from Roman to Byzantine when she married my father.  She wanted us all to be uniform in our ritual of prayer, and did her best to research and learn all the spiritual and cultural information that she could regarding the Byzantine Church.  That being said, she could not help but convey her Roman way of thinking to us children as she taught us our catechism.  I consider myself articulate in both rites, yet I am most certainly eastern in my spirituality.

When I taught school I would often tell my students that the various Churches within Catholicism were reflective of the culture of the Christian, like the language one uses to pour his heart out to God in prayer.  There are many who are bi-lingual, but very few who don't prefer one language over another, find that they dream in one language and not the other, or who don't consider one their comfortable, native tongue.  The Eastern rite of the Church is my native tongue.  This became truly apparent to me when I began to befriend Catholics of other Churches, specifically the more prominent Roman Church, who would often ask me to join them in prayer.  I often find myself standing respectfully aside as others recite joyfully, prayers I do not know.  I stand silent, smiling shyly when they all sing hymns that are foreign to my ears.  I attend the Holy Mass from time to time, but I must confess, I can't participate with all my heart, simply because when I read the words and pray the prayers,  I go through all the motions just fine, but my soul feels stiff.  I try too hard. My heart is not free to get lost in the melody and allow my soul to fly to the throne of God as it is when my mind is not so occupied with the newness and particularity of the words.  Familiarity is wonderfully, comfortably, spiritually freeing. 

As I am a servant of the Theotokos, and one of my greatest desires is to reflect her, the Rosary is one of my favorite devotions. The Rosary, you may ask?  Isn't that a Roman devotion?  You may be interested to know that the Rosary actually has its roots in the Eastern Church!  It is said that St. Pachomius, an eastern monk of the fourth century, was the first to orchestrate a "Rule" of prayer which is said using a prayer rope.  The rope, made of knotted woolen cord, was given to the saint by none other than the Angel Gabriel, with knots that the angel taught the monk to make.  It seems that Pachomius used knots to count the prayers he prayed, and the enemy, knowing the value of those precious prayers, desired to discredit them and untied the knots as soon as the prayers were prayed and the knots were made.  These angelic knots, however, were made by making seven crosses in the wool.  Seeing the sign of Jesus, the enemy would leave these knots alone, and the Saint could complete his prayers.  

Later on, in the eighth century, it is said that the Theotokos, herself, taught an Egyptian monk of the Eastern Coptic Church to pray the "Hail Mother of God" prayer 150 times, referencing the 150 psalms.  These were said in groups of ten, each group commemorating an event in the life of Our Lady.  This prayer rule fell into disuse after some time, and was revived in the seventeenth century by St. Serafim of Sarov, an Orthodox monk.  These things, I did not know, but was so very happy to find out.  Not only is the rosary our prayer rule, but it can be said in our very own spiritual language!

Thinking of the meticulously-crafted genealogy of the Christ, Who came to us through Mary, and how her birth heralded the possibility of our redemption, causes me to consider my own thread in the tapestry which is mankind.  Who I am is due greatly to those who came before me, my parents, grandparents and the long line of my ancestors before them.  Who I am will also be proven by the legacy I leave through the raising of my children, who will raise their own children according to the lessons I have taught to them, be it for better or for worse, and thus impacting the course of history forever.  We mothers, like Our Heavenly Mother before us, are intended to lovingly and carefully prepare the next generation of believers to achieve all that the Father has created them to do.  It is so very important that we never lose sight of the importance our mission.

The original Prayer Rule, as it was taught by St. Seraphim of Sarov who was responsible for promoting and reviving its use, can be seen HERE and, as you can see, it's a dynamic prayer, with each decade of prayers to be offered for a specific intention.

I learned to make these seven-cross knots by watching a video on youtube which was put up by the nuns at Christ the Bridegroom Monastery. Mother Gabriella is an excellent teacher and if you'd like to attempt to learn, she's the one to show you!

The photo above shows some of my finished products. I wear one like this always, so as to be ready to say a decade or two throughout the day at whatever intervals the Lord allows. Moms can sometimes find it difficult to say all 150 "Hail Mother of Gods" at one sitting, so I usually do what I can when I can and it almost always works out by the end of the day. It can be a great comfort to wear this always so that, at a moments notice, I have my rope with me, especially during the night when disrupting thoughts and dreams can rob me of my peace of mind.

So next time someone tells you that the rosary is a Roman thing, you can let them know that Our Lady deserves to be praised by all her children and that we can do so too, but in our own, eastern, way.

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Your post reminded me of this: I'm keeping my eye on this because I love the additional mysteries that celebrated of the Theotokos in the East :>).


The Rule of the Theotokos of St. Seraphim of Sarov is a fine and good prayer, but I strongly suspect that it is simply a Byzantinization of the Dominican Rosary, which is indeed a Latin devotion. I can find no historical documentation of the claim, becoming popular among us Byzantine Catholics, that the Rosary is older than Dominic and was once prayed in the East. It seems that the claim can be traced to a peculiar little book called An Early Soviet Saint: The Life of Fr. Zechariah (1976). If you have any other sources for this claim, I'd love to see them. I think it is true that prayer on knotted cords is ancient, as you describe, or als…


Loretta Winn
Loretta Winn
Oct 11, 2019

Lynne, I am learning so much through your posts and I am sharing with my friends too. Blessings, Loretta


I love this so much! Thank you for your lovely and thoughtful post, and for the links. God Bless You!

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