I have been asked to teach my altar servers how to tie prayer ropes at their retreat this weekend so I have been busy prepping the material and brushing up my knotting skills. We are going to use parachute cord I picked up at the Army Surplus store as it is popular these days to make survivor bracelets out of this material. What better use to employ this material for our spiritual survival?
The boys are ages 10 to 16, eager yet inattentive struggling to stay focused for the services and generally missing nearly every cue for their next task. The are well meaning and this retreat will give me and Fr. Alex a chance to define certain aspects of the service and how he needs them to behave, where to stand and other generalities of altar service. There is no sitting down up there and it can be a bit tedious for them. There is lots of stuff to get them in trouble and things to fuss with including charcoal and smokey incense as well as open flame. The temptation and potential for distraction is great so someone has to keep them in line. Traditionally, fathers would serve and guide the boys but a lot of the converts lack the experience so the role falls to me. A poorly prepared and behaved crew up there makes for a distracting service for all.
So the first order of business will be to teach the prayer used with the ropes. Not nearly as complicated as the rosary in the Western church, the simple Jesus prayer is repeated throughout the process if tying the knots and then using the rope. It goes thus: "O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
The ropes are a complicated process of finger knitting that produces a round knot of crosses pretty much impossible to untie. Legend has it that an angel taught a monk the knot to confound the Devil who would untie the monk's knots which he used to track his prayer rule. This knot made it impossible for the Devil to undo.
I am hoping the boys won't find this too lame as teenagers are wont to do.
OK, I wrote this before the retreat. We met on Saturday for what must have been a long time for the boys, about 5 hours. We discovered somethings about them and about us. Father has the patience of Job, I do not. The prayer rope exercise was a disaster and they could not make it through the first few steps and pretty much could have cared less.
We discovered the areas the need to be brought up to speed including the basic terminology of altar objects, that they have no clue as to what the priest is doing pretty much at any given time. It's going to be a while before they come up to speed. I have two new guys, one of them post college who helped me chant the vesper service so he will be a big help. The boys were pretty excited about reading/ chanting the Epistle but none of them tried it on Sunday. Keep your fingers crossed.