Chivalric and Monastic
Orders
 
 

The Chivalric Orders
The Sovereign Order of the Holy Sepulchre

From the beginnings of the early Christian church, there was an extraordinary devotion by Christians to the Holy Sepulchre. This devotion promoted the foundation of numerous Orders to protect the Holy City of Jerusalem and to defend the Holy Sepulchre.

Devotion to the sacred tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ dates back to the time when the Christian Church was first established. The tomb of Christ was from the very beginning regarded as the holiest of all the holy places. Saint James the Lesser, one of the Twelve Apostles and the First Bishop of Jerusalem, is said, by Holy Tradition, to have organised guards for the Holy Sepulchre.

The very first organisation of a militia or Order of the Holy Sepulchre was the Emperor Constantine the Great, after his mother Saint Helena discovered the Holy Cross on which our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was crucified upon.

(In the Roman Catholic tradition, the founder of their branch of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre was Saint Godfrey de Bouillon and later Charlemagne).

Near the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, Empress Helena built a hospital which existed until 1725 A.D. that was named in her memory. The Emperor organised a militia to guard the Holy Shrines and to care for Christians in need. These corps of men were the original known as the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. The insignia that was adopted for the Order of Knights was created by the Empress Helena: a Red cross potent, with four smaller crosses between the limbs. This represented the four corners of the world from which Christians were arriving in Jerusalem to reunite themselves in the land of Christ.. The same insignia in gold became the emblem of the city. Later, in history, the five crosses also came to symbolise the five wounds of Christ.

In 451, the Council of Caledonia named the Bishop of Jerusalem the Patriarch. This dignity still exists today and he is known as the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem to distinguish the latter development of the Roman Catholic “Latin Rite” Patriarch of Jerusalem. In 636 A.D., Jerusalem was occupied by Caliph Omar, yet the custody of the Holy Sepulchre was respected by the Moslems and a small group of 150 knights maintained control over the site under the Patriarch of Jerusalem. With the Great Schism of 1054 A.D., the French attempted to throughout the Orthodox control over the Holy Sepulchre. However, the Patriarch of Alexandria intervened and the Holy Sepulchre was saved from Roman control as it is even today.

In 1099 A.D., Godfrey de Bouillon conquered Jerusalem and organised his own “Knights of the Holy Sepulchre to imitate the original Patriarchal Knights. Many of the Orthodox knights were forced to flee and were welcomed into the Eastern Catholic Church (the Church of the East) in the Person Empire. Hence, the establishment of the Eastern Catholic Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Eastern Catholic Order, similar to the Orthodox Order, is the second oldest Order in the history of the Church. It is similar to the Orthodox and Latin Order in that it is governed by a Prince Grand Mater (The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem is automatically the head of the Orthodox Knights of the Holy Sepulchre) who bestows the ranks of the Knight Grand Collar, the Knight Grand Cross, the Knight Grand Officer, the Knight Commander, and the Knight as well as the ranks of Dame Grand Collar, the Dame Grand Cross, the Dame Commander, and Dame of the Order and the status of “Justice”, “Honour and Devotion”, is designated for members of noble birth. The term “of Grace” is for those admitted to the order from non-noble families. However, by becoming a Knight or Dame of the Order, the candidate becomes an untitled noble. Besides for the laity, priests are admitted to the Order in the capacity of Chaplains and Prelates of the Order.

There are many other latter day existing Order of the Holy Sepulchre awarded by various Christian churches. While their insignia are different, their admirable purposes are the same ideal to honour the Holy Sepulchre of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The Sovereign Hospitaller Order of Saint John (Knights of Malta)

In order to assisted the professed members of the Order of Saint John, whether in the care and running of the Hospices of the terminally ill or in the Saint Thomas Homes for the discarded A.I.D.S. new born infants and toddles, the Order of Saint John is supported by the lay knights and dames as well as the auxiliary groups.

The Order was originally founded during the Crusades in order to provide way stations to pilgrims on their pilgrimage to the Holy Land to visit the shrines in Jerusalem. It became a Sovereign Order by decree of the Papacy. The Order was composed of Langues (chapters based upon each country/language) in Europe. It remained sovereign the fall of Malta by Napoleon, when the Knights had to flee; they fled to Russia where they reorganised themselves. Hence, the Langues became prevalent once again. Various branches emerged as a result of the Protestant Reformation which still exit to this day. Other branches existed in exile due to the Communist take over of many of the Eastern Counties.

The Eastern Catholic (Germany Grand Priory in Exile) Order of Saint John was authorised to re-constitute itself by the Sovereign Hospitaller Order of Saint John (Polish-Lithuanian), the Bohemian Grand Priory in Exile and from other Eastern European countries now residing in Western Europe to re-establish the Old Grand Priory with the original goals of the ancient Order. The priory lists among its Patrons members of the Imperial and Royal Houses of Europe.

While the lay knights and dames of the Order are open to all practising Christians, the professed members of the Order must be Eastern Catholic. The Order is hierarchical structured.

Entrance into the ranks of Knighthood (and admission as a Dame of the Order): Knight Grand Collar, Knight Grand Cross, Knight Commander, or Knight is earned by service not donated (purchased) as in the other historical and sacramental churches.

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Monastic Orders

In the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, there have only been two Monastic Orders or Rules of Life. The first monastic communities formed around Saint Anthony of the Desert in Egypt who is referred to as the Father of Monasticism. Many of the early monks and nuns lived alone in caves and some on pillars, fasting and praying continually. The Rule of Saint Anthony began the tradition of the monks coming together to prayer together and to celebrate the Holy and Divine Liturgy together. It was the beginning of the coenobite monastic life. Later, Saint Basil the Great is attributed with reforming the Rule of St. Anthony into its modern form and format into priories, monasteries, and abbeys. The most famous examples of the Rule of St. Basil are the Monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai and the famous monasteries of the various Orthodox Church on top of Mt. Athos. Both monks and nuns follow either one or the other of these two Rules. In the Eastern Tradition, because of the numerous persecutions throughout the centuries, the monk is taught that the monastery lies within him; he is a monk because of the discipline of his live, not because of the walls of the monastery. He carries his monastery within his heart. Monastic vows are referred to as receiving the Little Habit and the Great Habit, after completing the canonical novitiate.

However, the Western Church development of the monastic life came from St. Benedict who is referred to as the Father of Western Monasticism. He reformed the Rule of St. Anthony and adjusted into the Western culture, mentality, and spirituality. Today, instead of just two Monastic Orders, there are literally hundreds of monastic and religious orders both of men and women: Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, Trappists, Carmelites, Augustinians, etc. each with their unique apostolate and unique rule. A monk is a monk because he has taken his vows and lives within a formal monastery or Abbey.

The Eastern Catholic Metropolia: The Order of Saint Anthony

The Eastern Catholic Metropolia follows the Order of Saint Anthony for both monastic men and women. The Archimandrite governs the Order for the monks and an Abbess for the nuns. As in the other Eastern Orthodox Churches, there are far more monks and monk-priests in any priory or monastery.

The Eastern Catholic Metropolia: The Order of Saint John

In the Eastern Catholic Metropolia, because of our close association in the European traditions and nobility, the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem (Knights of Malta) which is the Oldest Medical and Nursing Order in the Church, both east and west, has become affiliated with our jurisdiction. Hence, some of our clergy have taken their monastic vows within this Order instead of the Order of Saint Anthony (also referred to as the Little and Great Habit).

Professed members of the Order of Saint John are usually physicians, psychologists, or registered nurses as well as members of the old aristocracy. Upon application, until about 8 years ago, a candidate had to prove their title of nobility on all sides of the family for at least five generations. The classifications of membership were: professed knight of justice, professed dame of justice, professed knight of honour and grace, professed dame of honour and grace, professed knight of magisterial grace, and professed dame of magisterial grace. (which depended upon their rank and title of nobility). Now, however, non-titled individuals are admitted to the Order of Saint John. Upon completion of their novitiate, the male candidates, upon receiving the Little Habit, receive the Accolade of Knighthood and become untitled Nobles.

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All rights are reserved. Last modified March 2010.