With Russia invading Ukraine, we see a lot of people playing for peace. I think we should pray for peace. I want to write briefly about praying the chotki as a way to unite ourselves with Ukrainian Catholics.
Most of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics are Roman Catholics, but Eastern rites of the Catholic Church also exist. There are 16.3 million members total, 5.5 million of which are Ukrainian Catholics. As Canada has 1.3 million Ukrainian Catholics, centralized around where I grew up in the prairies, I learned about them via osmosis. For a time, I even wore a chotki bracelet with 20 knots: I would often pray it.
What is the Chotki
Different prayers have been the focus in East and West. When we Western Catholics think of three Catholic prayers, we almost always list Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be.
In the Eastern (Byzantine or Greek) Christian tradition, one of those spots would be taken by the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Like the Hail Mary, this is a combination of Bible verses. It combines Philippians 2:11 “Lord Jesus Christ”; Luke 1:35 “the Son of God”; and the prayer of the tax collector in Luke 18:13 “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
In Eastern Christian spirituality, this prayer is often repeated like breathing. The Way of the Pilgrim shows a person saying it thousands of times a day to the point it becomes almost as automatic as breathing. To help with this, chotki or prayer cords, with set numbers of knots or beads were made to keep track.
This is a valuable prayer practice in general for Christians and if it brings you closer to Jesus repeat it as often as you like. There is no issue with this prayer in Roman Catholicism. Here’s a guide by a Roman Catholic who regularly prays the chotki.
- In my upcoming book on autistic prayer, I mention repeating the Jesus prayer as a possible form of prayer, but I don’t mention a chotki.
- These are also called komboskini or other names. I learned chotki and that seems to be the Ukrainian term.
Let’s pray a Chotki for Ukraine
The standard Chotki has 100 knots and appears a lot like a long rosary. This came to my attention when I saw various Roman Catholics posting pictures they said were Ukrainian Catholics praying the rosary. The rosary is not unheard of in Ukrainian Catholic circles, but I suspect some were chotki. The resolution of the photos left me uncertain. (An added difficulty is although 100 is most standard, a chotki with 50 beads is also common: except for the 5 beads between the crucifix and main section, looks basically identical to a rosary. Often chotki have a different bead every 10 to help with counting, which also can cause confusion.)
The news has plenty on why we need to pray for Ukraine. Recent days have had almost wall-to-wall coverage of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of this sovereign country. I don’t have enough foreign policy knowledge to suggest anything beyond prayer, but that is the most powerful weapon there is. I don’t know if any earthly military can get there in time to prevent Putin from taking over Ukraine. (I say Putin, not Russia, as 43% of Russians oppose military action to make Ukraine part of Russia, with only 36% supporting it [21% are uncertain].)
As the chotki and rosary are similar, you can use a rosary as if it were a chotki. The Hail Mary beads can count saying the Jesus Prayer 50 times.
Let’s all pray for peace. Let’s join the Ukrainian Catholics and Ukrainian Orthodox in praying for peace using a prayer common in their church.