Monday, July 27, 2015

The Komboskini and Me

A couple of years ago while vacationing in Treasure Island, Florida we took a day-trip.  My daughter loved princesses and nearby Weeki Wachee springs had a show of The Little Mermaid featuring live mermaids.  Okay, so they aren't born as mermaids, but they are women wearing elaborate mermaid tails swimming in a crystal clear natural spring.  Even to me it was amazing, and I was already in my late-20s.  Since Weeki Wachee is close to Tarpon Springs, a place full of childhood vacation memories, we decided to stop by and eat authentic Greek food (Mykonos).  Of course you can't go to Tarpon Springs without at least walking through some of the shops - sponges, handmade soaps, clothes, and trinkets abound.  The last shop we went in before the thunderstorm hit was Greek Town Imports.  At the checkout counter was a display of bracelets, which appeared to be intricately woven.  The graphic on the sign proclaimed they were prayer bracelets handmade by monks in Greece.  I nearly bought one, but since I'm a fairly crafty person I also suspected I could make my own, save $10, and learn something new in the process.  I was wrong...

I researched Orthodox prayer bracelets, found a tutorial, assembled my materials, and proceeded to tie knots...just not the kind I was attempting.  I tied and untied, untangled, and retied the same two strings many times before giving up.  I gave up on the bracelet, but I couldn't get it out of my head.  I revisited the instructional website many times, but I never made any more sense out of it or tried to tie another knot.

Flash forward to July 21, 2015

My brother, sister-in-law, husband, mom, and kids had planned to canoe the Weeki Wachee River with Paddling Adventures (located in the parking lot of the park) and then eat at Tarpon Springs.  When we called the day before to make our reservations, we were told that their canoes and kayaks were booked for the entire week.  In fact they informed us that in order to guarantee a spot you need to reserve 3-5 weeks in advance of when you want to paddle...or bring your own watercraft!  I suggested that we (all 10 of us who were vacationing) go ahead and drive the hour-and-a-half from Treasure Island to Weeki Wachee and at least ride the riverboat, see a mermaid show, and maybe also watch an animal show.  All of that is included in the price of admission.  Unfortunately there was an equipment malfunction in the mermaid diving area, so the only thing we were able to do was ride the riverboat.  However, the park was generous enough to refund the money of all guests (who requested it) who had arrived prior to the first mermaid show and were leaving because the shows were cancelled.  We had arrived less than 30 minutes before the first show, so this applied to us.

Refund in hand we drove back to Tarpon Springs.  If you've never been to Tarpon Springs, I highly recommend that you get there early in the day, find a place to park ($3/day), and very slowly take it all in.  This is a small waterfront town, crowded with people, shops, and boats.  If you have time ride the sponge-diving boat and watch them harvest sponges.  At the very least sit by the water and watch the boats for a while.  We chose to eat at Dimitri's on the Water, and it was A-mazing!  The staff was friendly, we were seated promptly, the service was wonderful, the food was generously piled on plates, and we were able to eat on the covered patio by the water...and watch the boats.  After eating there were a few shops we wanted to check out.  My mamaw and mom went in search of dried sponges, the rest of us headed toward Taste of Greece for dessert.  I love dessert, but I was so stuffed after eating part of a Roasted Lamb Wrap and Spread Sampler at Dimitri's that I couldn't even look at the cases of delectable desserts.  Instead my foursome started walking back toward the entrance to Dodecanese Boulevard in search of the little yellow shop where I saw the bracelet.

We found the little yellow shop, but it had a sign in the window saying it had moved to the corner by Antonia's.  We found Antonia's but it was the corner we walked around the corner.  There were doors for the shop, but they said to use the other door...and there was no other door.  We went inside Antonia's to ask how to get to the other shop and saw that the shops were adjoining.  After walking to the back, instructing my kids to keep their hands off all the breakable pretties, we found the little yellow shop - Greek Town Imports.  I asked if they were open, because the shelves weren't stocked, and boxes were piled everywhere.  Handymen were still hanging fixtures, and several employees were unpacking boxes.  The elderly gentleman said they were open and then, "I told you we were moving."  I said, "It wasn't me, I haven't been here in about two or three years."  He replied, "Yeah, that's when I start telling people we're moving, three years ago."  A younger man asked how he could help me, so I told him - the last time I was in your store you had prayer bracelets, do you still have them?

The man took me to the back and started showing me the different bracelets - thick ones in red and black, or thin ones in black with plastic crosses or blue beads.  I chose a thin black one with blue beads, which he said was the traditional style.  The cord is waxed and lasts longer, so that was also a selling point.  The only problem was that the bracelet was so tiny that I was positive it wouldn't even fit my 4 year-old's wrist.  I asked, "How do you adjust it?"  There was no clasp, or knot and loop, no way to open the bracelet to put it on.  He said, "Basically you point your fingers like this and roll it on.  It will get bigger.  I've had mine on for four years now."  The woman behind him said, "I've had mine on for nine years!  If it gets too big, when you're in the shower, just pinch the knots together like this to tighten it back up."  I thanked them, still skeptical that the bracelet would ever fit me even though I have thin wrists.  I paid, and the woman who rang me up said, "Oh!  You're Greek!?"  I explained about seeing the bracelets before, and trying to learn to make the knot.  She said, "I'm Greek, and I don't know how to make the knot.  These are made by the monks in the Athos region of northern Greece."

Again I thanked them, and we were on our way.  I made my fingers and hand look like the man had shown me, and I started trying to roll the bracelet across my knuckles and onto my wrist.  I tried my right hand...uh uh, not going to work.  I tried my left hand...oops, not going to fit there either.  I contemplated putting it on my key-ring or giving it to one of my kids, but I bought it for a purpose and wanted to wear it.  I kept trying to make my hand smaller and smaller, rolling the bracelet, getting it across two knuckles just to have it roll back up toward my fingertips.  It was frustrating...and painful if I'm being perfectly honest.  Finally!  I managed to get it on my left wrist, which works better for me since I'm right-handed.

The komboskini is used by Orthodox Christians to guide prayer and prostrations.  There are different lengths of prayer rope - short ones with 33 knots to symbolize the years of Christ's life, or longer ones with 50, 100, 300, even 500 knots!  Some use the spaces between knots, larger knots, or beads to guide prostrations.  According to the research I've done, there is one prayer that is said with each knot - Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  As the monks tie each knot into the rope, they pray.  So not only is the prayer rope used to guide prayer and meditation, it is created while in prayer.  Each knot, called The Angelic Knot, is actually 7 interlocking crosses.  The legend passed down states that a monk wanting to make a prayer rope kept having his knots untied by a demon until an angel of God appeared and taught the monk to tie the special 7 cross knot which was so difficult and full of crosses that the demon could no longer untie the rope.

I am not Greek Orthodox.  I am Baptist.  I do not pray short, repetitive prayers.  I do not bow or make prostrations after each prayer.  That just isn't how I was taught.  So why did I buy this prayer bracelet that is used by a different denomination of Christianity to guide prayers that are vastly different than mine?  To remind me...that I should pray without ceasing, that God is always with me encircling me with His love, that I need to focus my mind when I pray, and that as children of God we are all interconnected.

If you would like to learn more and possibly learn to make the prayer knot, click HERE.
There are numerous YouTube video tutorials as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment