On the Legitimacy of the Order and its place in Chivalry
The Holy Orthodox Order of Saint George the Great Martyr was established and incorporated as a legal entity in 2016 with the verbal blessing and support of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion, the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. On October 15th, 2019, the Order officially obtained its written ecclesiastical blessing recognizing and establishing its chivalric nature as a legitimate order of knighthood in servitude to the Church of Christ. This date is our day of anniversary as it celebrates for the first time in the recorded history of the canonical Orthodox Church the inception of a lay, Orthodox, order of chivalry which serves not the needs or interests of an earthly king, state, political party, political ideology, or class, but rather Christ and the needs and interests of His Holy Church on earth.
As with all things, the Order’s creation and existence is entirely due to God’s own divine will. Psalm 24 of the Septuagint says:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof, the world and all who dwell therein. For He has founded it upon the seas and prepared it upon the rivers. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who has innocent hands and a pure heart; he who does not lift up his soul to vanity; he who does not swear deceitfully to his neighbor. He shall receive blessing from the Lord and mercy from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
Lift up the gates, O you rulers, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors, that the King of Glory shall enter. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord powerful in battle. Lift up the gates, O you rulers, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall enter. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of Glory.”
Our God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, rules over all of Heaven and Earth: for, all things belong to God and rests under the shade of His divine canopy. Divine law supersedes human law in all things, at all times, and in all places. There is no human law which can supersede His divine ownership of all things, including our very own souls: for, “Behold, all souls are Mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is Mine: the soul that sins, it shall die” (Ezekial 18:4). The temporal authority that those wield over the earth is, therefore, derived from divine power by virtue of God’s preeminent grace, expressed today especially in His Church in the absence of any Orthodox Christian monarchy in these “latter days.”
Western orders of knighthood have their origins in the Crusades. It was in the Roman Catholic controlled Near East that these institutions developed, in which Western knights associated themselves under a strict, quasi-monastic rule of life for the sole purpose of protecting Roman Catholic pilgrims and defending Western Christian interests in the Holy Land. In contrast, the Orthodox Christian East never had such religious wars; and thus, never developed the same kind of tradition of lay military orders of knighthood as developed in the Western Church. What the Orthodox East did have was its own traditions of knights, warriors, guards, and the bogatyri who defended the Orthodox faith and faithful against incursions whether from Catholic crusaders or non-Christian adversaries threatening the vulnerable. That ethos of Orthodox Christian knighthood unavoidably continues today through the Order of Saint George the Great Martyr under the shelter and guidance of the Church.
After the loss of the Holy Land to the Muslims, European monarchs had begun creating their own chivalric orders of knighthood, modelled in part on the original Catholic crusader military orders but with the purpose of binding their nobility to themselves. These monarchical or dynastic orders of chivalry later developed, becoming orders of merit which continue to exist today. In our modern society, only a couple of orders survive from the time of the Roman Catholic crusades, namely, the Order of the Holy Sepulcher and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (officially: The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta).
The legitimacy of modern chivalric orders of knighthood is very difficult to define as there is no legal international institution which regulates who or what is or is not legitimate. In 1960, the International Commission on Orders of Chivalry (ICOC) was established to help solve this issue. This organization is a privately run independent body, privately funded, and composed of scholars on Western chivalric matters and systems of awards. As a body that is not sponsored or supported by any international institution, it lacks any legal jurisdiction to unilaterally declare who or what is legitimate. Its statements amount to nothing more than private opinion. From a secular perspective today, the only institutions which can regulate what is or is not legitimate are individual sovereign nation states.
The ICOC uses the following six principles to determine the legitimacy or validity of chivalric orders:
1. Every independent State has the right to create its own Orders or Decorations of Merit and lay down, at will, their particular rules. But it must be made clear that only the higher degrees of these modern State Orders can be deemed of knightly rank, provided they are conferred by the Crown or by the “pro tempore” ruler of some traditional State.
2. The Dynastic (or Family or House) Orders which belong jure sanguinis to a Sovereign House (that is to those ruling or ex-ruling Houses whose sovereign rank was internationally recognized at the time of the Congress of Vienna in 1814 or later) retain their full historical chivalric, nobiliary and social validity, notwithstanding all political changes. It is therefore considered ultra vires of any republican State to interfere, by legislation or administrative practice, with the Princely Dynastic Family or House Orders. That they may not be officially recognized by the new government does not affect their traditional validity or their accepted status in international heraldic, chivalric and nobiliary circles.
3. It is generally admitted by jurists that such ex-sovereigns who have not abdicated have positions different from those of pretenders and that in their lifetime they retain their full rights as “fons honorum” in respect even of those Orders of which they remain Grand Masters which would be classed, otherwise, as State and Merit Orders.
4. Although, at one time – many centuries ago – private people of high standing could and did create some independent orders of knighthood, some among which came, in due course, to gain considerable prestige and obtained formal validity from the Church and the Crown, such rights of creation of Orders have long since fallen into desuetude and, nowadays, Orders of Chivalry as we understand the term must always stem from or be – by longstanding uninterrupted tradition – under the protection of Chiefs or of Houses of recognized sovereign rank.
5. The recognition of Orders by States or supranational organizations which themselves do not have chivalric orders of their own, and in whose Constitutions no provisions are made for the recognition of knightly and nobiliary institutions, cannot be accepted as constituting validation by sovereignties, since these particular sovereignties have renounced the exercise of heraldic jurisdiction. The international “status” of an Order of Knighthood rests, in fact, on the rights of fons honorum, which, according to tradition, must belong to the Authority by which this particular Order is granted, protected or recognized.
6. The only recognized Order with the style of “Sovereign” existing nowadays is that of Saint John of Jerusalem, called of Rhodes, called of Malta, whose international headquarters were transferred to Rome in 1834, and whose international diplomatic “status” as an independent non-territorial power is recognized officially by the Holy See and by many other Governments.
While the rules above would seem reasonable, they are entirely according to Western chivalric standards as it relates to the tradition that developed in the Catholic West. The ICOC even stated in their fourth principle that: “Although, at one time – many centuries ago – private people of high standing could and did create some independent Orders of Knighthood, some among which came, in due course, to gain considerable prestige and obtained formal validity from the Church and the Crown [State]…” If something has fallen in desuetude (in disuse) why not revive such a right? Why exclude the reality that there was historical precedent to create with the support of the Church such valid orders of knighthood? After all, in the West, it was through the ecclesiastical and pontifical recognition and blessing of Pope Paschal II in 1113 (in the form of a Papal Bull) that gave the Sovereign Military Order of Malta its legitimacy as an Order of knighthood, some 65 years after its original founding in 1048. Thus, it was ecclesiastical authority, not the Crown or State, that established its licit founding.
According to rules laid out by the ICOC and those who support their position, our order would be classified as a “self-styled order of knighthood” masquerading as real, yet not having nor enjoying legitimacy as a genuine order of chivalry. Although, we do not stem from the historical time of the Catholic Crusades, nor were we established by a reigning monarch, we nevertheless have been formed in the manner outlined in principle four of the ICOC’s criteria which they cease to recognize as being legitimate. Since they apply rules that are foreign to the ethos of the Orthodox Church, they have no right to say we lack any form of validity as a chivalric order of knighthood, as our legitimacy is derived not from royal or state authority, but rather from the divine and apostolic authority of the Church established by Christ through His bishop.
In a best-case scenario, the ICOC might recognize us as “Ecclesiastical,” yet not considered to be a chivalric order. To them, as none of the Eastern Orthodox Sees possess any type of direct sovereignty, such an organization as ours would not be deemed as equivalent to those bestowed or recognized by the Roman Pontiff. The rules set forth by the ICOC are their regulations and belong to the traditions established and evolved within Western Christianity. As the Orthodox Church has its own traditions derived from the Holy Apostles and Ecumenical Councils, it is up to us to carve out our own tradition in this matter as it relates to our faith.
Where does the power and legitimacy of a king or monarch come from? Prior to the advent of Western democracy in the late 18th and early 19th century, most European monarchs gained their legitimacy to rule not from secular governmental authorities (as is in today’s parliamentary democracies), but rather from the Church hierarchy, i.e., the Pope in the Catholic West or an Orthodox hierarch in the Orthodox East. This ecclesiastical blessing and anointing granted them their legitimacy and right to rule over the people as sovereign.
In 1804, when Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to be consecrated as Emperor of the French and gain the respect of his contemporary peers (the other monarchs of Europe), he did so by seeking the blessing of Pope Pius VII for his coronation (even though at the ceremony he put the crown on his own head contrary to Catholic tradition). Napoleon knew in a Western political context that only the Roman Pope could give him the proper legitimacy to rule and call himself emperor.
Even in this Western shadow of the Orthodox tradition of Christian empire, seen first in the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium Empire) and then in Russia, it is the ecclesiastical blessing, not the person of the sovereign, that grants validity, not the other way around. The coronation ceremony of a monarch as understood in Orthodox tradition is, in fact, an investiture of a new sovereign under God by the Bishop as a representative of Christ’s Holy Church. Thus, who better than for us to gain our legitimacy as an order of knighthood than from a Bishop of Christ’s Holy Orthodox Church? For in the Orthodox Church the bishop is not just a clerical head, but rather is a successor to the Holy Apostles. He is a living, tangible icon of Christ Himself.
Saint Ignatius of Antioch links the bishop to Christ in such a way as to say that what happens to a bishop on earth is attributed and ascribed to the invisible Bishop, Christ. That is, when we see the Bishop or receive his blessing in any fashion it is Christ who sees and blesses us. Saint Ignatius says: “For the honor, therefore, of Him Who desired us, it is right that we obey (the Bishop) without any hypocrisy; for a man does not merely mislead this Bishop who is seen but seeks to deceive Him Who is invisible.” Saint Ignatius also says: “For we ought to receive everyone whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself.”
Some will claim that the Holy Orthodox Order of Saint George the Great Martyr is not legitimate as it was not established during the time of the crusades or by a current or former reigning monarch. What such people do not realize is that whether the Order was established a thousand years ago, or if it was established yesterday, in the eyes of Christ through the blessing of His bishop, what He sees as full of goodness, truth, beauty, and faithfulness, will always be to Him an eternal manifestation of His Love. The Order of Saint George the Great Martyr is not my Order as Grand Knight (as I am nothing more than a steward), nor is it the Metropolitan’s or any other bishop’s Order as a bishop of the Church, but rather it is Christ’s Order as it is His alone under His primordial ascendancy as King of Kings and Lord of Heaven and Earth.