This lestovka is a total of 109 "steps" (small leather or glass bead loops) unevenly grouped: 3/12/38/33/17/3 steps.
Made of leather, handcrafted glass beads, or fabric the Lestovka or "Ladder" is a type of prayer rope used in Russia before the arrival of the Greek knotted prayer rope in the 18th century. It is still used today by pious Orthodox Christians, and has been historically used by various saints of the Moscow Patriarchate in modern times ( St. Seraphim of Vyritsa during the Soviet Union (20th century) , St. Seraphim of Sarov (18th century), Alexandra (Melgunova), foundress of Diveyevo Convent (18th century), St. Sergius of Radonezh (14th century), St. Anna of Kashin (14th century), St. Ilya of Murom monastic of the Kyiv Caves (12th century), St. Erasmus of Kiev Caves (12th century), St. Mark the Mute of Sarov (18th century), Righteous Juliania, etc).
The ladder outwardly resembles a flexible staircase and symbolizes in the ancient Slavic Christian tradition the ladder of spiritual ascent from the earth to Heaven. It should be carried reverently in your front pocket (not in the back pocket), and can be also stored when not in use on your prayer corner.
The Lestovka has four lapostki (leaves or flaps), symbolizing the four Evangelists. The stitching around the leaves symbolizes the teaching of the Gospel. Sealed between the leaves are seven movable pieces, as tokens of the seven Great Mysteries of the Church. Where the Lestovka is joined together there are three steps at each end, and on the Lestovka itself are three more steps, for a total of nine, which stands for the nine orders of angels, and for the nine months during which the most pure Mother of God carried in her womb the Infant Who is before all ages.
The empty space after between the juncture represents the earth. Then there are twelve counters (babochki, rungs, steps, beads or loops), signifying the twelve Apostles who walked on the earth with the Lord. Then there are thirty-nine counters for the thirty-nine weeks and two days in which the Theotokos carried Christ in her womb. The next thirty-three counters represent the thirty-three years the Lord walked the earth. And the seventeen counters symbolize the seventeen prophets who prophesied concerning Christ.
Traditionally, the main colors that Lestovka's would be made from would be the following with the () describing the symbolism:
Black (Monastics and Laymen)
Blue (Mother of God)
Red (Pascha; Easter)
Green (Holy Trinity)
Like other Prayer Ropes, any repeated prayer can be said, however the one used most often is the Jesus Prayer.
Practically speaking, this lestovka can be used for the "Lord Have Mercy" parts of the Divine Office in its 12 and 40 steps. During Great Lent the 12 steps can be used to count the prostrations during the Prayer of Saint Ephrem.
The traditional (but not required) way to pray the Lestovka:
First three and Last three steps:
Alleluia Alleluia glory to thee o God x3 (prostration)
The empty space after the first three and last three steps:
Lord have mercy (bow)
Lord Jesus Christ son of God have mercy on me a sinner
1st through 3rd big steps:
Remember me; O Lord; when thou comest into thy kingdom (prostration)
At the end of the Lestovka after all other prayers have been said:
God be merciful to me a sinner (bow)
Thou hast created me, O Lord have mercy on me (bow)
The meaning of these short prayers is always the same: a person acknowledges God as Almighty, realizing his unworthiness before Him, understands his sinfulness and spiritual weakness, and asks the Most Merciful God for forgiveness of all his sins; bringing forth the worthy fruit of repentance.
At the end of the prayer rule on the lestovka, it is proper to take the flaps in ones left hand and pray: "Lord, have mercy" (three times). Then you move to the other side and praise God: "Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen."
When praying on the lestovka, one should also not forget about bodily feats – prostrations to the ground and waist. Prostrations are made on the Alleluia and large steps (9 prostrations). When performing prostrations, it is necessary if possible to use a prayer rug or do the prostration so that the lestovka does not hit the ground (by placing it into your front pocket or holding it in your closed fist).
Without a prayer rug a person can be kept most clean with his or her hands with the following method:
The left hand is clenched into a fist, and placed on the floor with the edge of the palm towards the bottom; This fist is covered with the palm of the right hand, and the outside of the right hand is touched by the forehead. When making a prostration to the ground in this way, only the edge of the palm of the left hand gets dirty. At the same time, the palm and fingers of the left hand remain clean, and with them the right hand, with which the sign of the cross is overshadowed, as well as the forehead (forehead). This method is quite acceptable in cases when the worshiper has to make a prostration without being able to prepare for it in advance.
Prayer rules are also fulfilled on the lestovka to the Most Holy Theotokos, replacing the Jesus Prayer with a prayer to the Queen of Heaven: "Most Holy Lady Theotokos, save me, Thy sinful servant." In addition, the prayer rules with the lestovka to the Guardian Angel are: "O Angel of Christ, my holy Guardian, save me, Thy sinful servant"; and to St. John the Baptist : "Holy Great John, Prophet and Forefather, Baptist of the Lord, pray to God for me, a sinner."
Here is an example of a prayer rule for praying 10 lestovka: the first seven ladders are to Jesus Christ (they can be easily counted by moving), the eighth ladder is to the Guardian Angel, the ninth ladder is to John the Baptist, and the tenth is to the Most Holy Theotokos.
In addition to the above examples, it is possible to follow the prayer rules on the ladder to the saints of God, for example, to a saint whose name you bear, or to a saint whom you revere very much, etc. Also, Christians can read other prayers on large bobs, in addition to those listed above, for example: " Our Father", "It is worthy to bless thee O Theotokos", "Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos", etc. In some cases, one's own prayers, coming from a pure heart, are allowed. but only with the permission of the spiritual father (confessor).
The prayer rule of the first type of the Theotokos lestovka traditionally is fulfilled in the following way: the beginning and the end – "Alleluia...", "Glory, and now:"; at each minor step – "Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos..."; on each major step – the Lord's Prayer.
Information on how to use the Lestovka can be found in the following article:
Edinovertsi’s Treasure: The Rule of Home Prayer / OrthoChristian.Com
The following video from Fr. Deacon Phillipexplains the Lestovka further:
(187) Old Believer Lestovka explained - YouTube
This documentary explains the symbolism and history behind the Lestovka (auto-translate can be turned on to English and the translation is understandable)
The following video shows a lestovka being made at Valaam Monastery:
(187) Учимся делать лестовку (русские четки) вместе | Валаамский монастырь - YouTube