Youth Ministries Alert

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Mennonite Prayer Beads

Posted by susanb99 on July 16, 2008

From Roll Over Menno:

This July, children in the workshops during the Mennonite Church Canada Summit 2008 were taught how to make and use prayer beads.

Here is a brief history of prayer beads:

Prayer Beads

Roman Catholic: European catholics began using prayer beads in the 7th century AD. Gertrude of Nivelles, 626-659 AD; her body was found with a fragment of a rosary in a tomb in Belgium. Twelfth century AD, beads were found in the graves of Norbert in France and Rosalia of Palermo, Sicily. The infamous Lady Godiva, died in 1040 AD at Coventry, England

Orthodox Christian:Prayer Rope used by Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and other Orthodox Christian groups. A series of 33, 50 or 100 knots in a wool or cotton rope, anchored by a cross at one end. Wooden beads or beads of another material often are used as guide markers on the rope.
In the 11th century, church bureaucracy decided rosaries were better used for counting devotions than as superstitious pagan talismans.

Those who were unschooled in the original biblical languages Greek, Chalde, Hebrew, Aramaic; or Latin like the Romans; or were illiterate, unable to read were assigned prayers to memorize and repeat on rosaries.

Rosaries and prayer beads were intended by the Catholic Church hierarchy, cardinals, bishops and priests, for use by the ignorant.

Repeating the prayer is meant to help a person focus on the presence of God and what God is trying to say to him.


Here is what Mennonite children were taught about prayer beads at the Summit this July (you can go to the PDF’s to read it for yourself):

About the 33 beads:

Counting Prayer Beads

Each prayer bead bracelet contains 33 beads – one for each year that Jesus lived on earth. Within these 33 beads are beads of different sizes and grouped in different numbers which symbolize other aspects of our faith…

During the Children’s Assembly, kids will make bracelet-sized prayer beads…In Deuteronomy 6:6-8, Israelites are reminded to keep God’s commandments in their hearts, to “bind them as a sign on your hand.” Prayer beads, an old prayer practice tool, can serve as reminders of God’s faithfulness – and it’s all in the numbers of beads. Stay tuned to fin out how counting beads can remind you to count on God.

and here:

About the 4 beads:

Four groups of seven beads are divided into sections by larger beads. These four beads are positioned at the top, bottom, left and right of the bracelet, reminding us of the four points of the cross.


About how two pray with the beads…

After circling the bracelet of beads, prayer ends on the cross directly below the “invitations to praise” bead. The cross reminds us of the prayer that Jesus taught us.


These symbolic prayer beads sound very similar to this:

Here is some more enlightening information regarding the 33 beads, the 4 beads and the cross which the children were taught about at the Mennonite Summit:

Prayer beads an ancient devotion – Spirituality

Prayer beads originally were devised to help people to keep track of repetitive devotions. They enabled one to pray while doing routine jobs and between activities. In the very earliest times, prayers were marked by dropping little pebbles one by one on the ground.

About 500 years before Christ, people tied knots in strings. Primitive forms of prayer beads were made of fruit pits, dried berries, pieces of bone, and hardened clay. The wealthy used precious stones and jewels.

St. Dominic is a latecomer to the scene. The Western Church picked up on the idea in 1213 when parts of Europe were devastated by the crusade against the Albigensian heresy. According to tradition, Dominic sought the help of Mary, who instructed him in a dream to preach the rosary, as an antidote to sin. The word, rosary, comes from the Latin word rosarium, which means wreath or chaplet of roses.

By Dominic’s time, other spiritual traditions were already well grounded in their own prayer bead practices. The Hindu religion has had prayer beads for a long time. Its rosary consists of 109 beads–108 to mark the 108 names of God and one to mark the beginning of the prayer cycle, “Dancing Shiva, who shows grace, peace and creative power, and destroys and treads on the evil dwarf.”

Sakyamuni, the East Indian who was the founder of Buddhism, was well grounded in prayer beads. On one occasion, he gave a distraught king a spiritual practice based on his Hindu heritage. He directed Vaidunya to thread 108 seeds of the Bodhi tree on a string, and while passing them through his fingers to repeat, “Hail to the Buddha, the darhma (teaching) and the sangha (community).

Another interpretation of this Sanskrit prayer is translated as “Hail to the jewel in the heart of the lotus (compassion).” Repeating the mantra on each of the mala’s 108 beads serves to drive away evil “filling you and all other beings with peace and bliss.”

Islam also has its prayer beads, called tasbih or subhah. The 33-bead strand, repeated three times, honors the 99 “beautiful names of Allah” (the One Unity or God). Some of these names, or Wazifas, include Mercy, Compassion, Opener of the Way, Lover and Beloved.

The Anglican Church created its own rosary in the 1980s. It also has 33 beads, remembering the years Christ lived. The rosary is grouped in sevens and is based on Incarnational theology, starting with the cross. Four sets of beads represent the seven days of creation, seven days in a week, and seven seasons of the church year. They are divided by four large cruciform beads representing the centrality of the cross.


How unfortunate that instead of teaching Bible stories to the children, Mennonite Church Canada is introducing them to this ancient repetitive practice of praying the rosary, which has been such a big part of the religious system that Menno Simons renounced.


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