“Pro Fide, Pro Utilitate Hominum” For the Faith, For the Benefit of Mankind - The Purpose and Challenge of the Order of St. John
Have you ever heard of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta and Rhodes, or the Hospitallers? They are one and the same. This ancient Christian order of chivalry dates to the crusades—but is still very much alive and well in the 21st Century. The Orthodox Church protects one surviving branch, which is headquartered right here in America! In New York it is known as the Knights of the Orthodox Order of St. John Russian Grand Priory and in New Mexico it is known by the more traditional name of the Sovereign Orthodox Order of St John of Jerusalem. Currently, there are three prominent members of the order in New Mexico: Rev. Dr. Deacon David Mascarenas, Subdeacon Columcille (Garcia) and Subdeacon Gregory Kanes. Fr. Deacon David is an Associate Grand Chaplain and Defender of the Grand Priory in NY, Fr. Columcille is a Monastic Knight of Honor and Subdeacon Gregory is also a Serving Clerical Brother.
History of the Order
Fact and Fiction: The Sovereign Orthodox Order of Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem is dedicated to the ideals of chivalry but it has nothing to do with ‘the DaVinci Code’, which is purely fictional. Nor is it related to the “Holy Grail” legend in the famous Indiana Jones movie. It is certainly not related to any non-canonical fraternal societies such as the Freemasons, Rosicrucians, Illuminati or anything of the sort. However, it is true that Columbus sailed under the Maltese cross, the insignia of the Order.
One of the main characteristics of Christian civilization is a periodic awakening of many men and women, who devote themselves entirely to Christ. The Apostles were an early example of this, then the martyrs and later the monastics. There have been many subsequent examples, one of which is the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem.
Origin of the Order: The Order of St. John was founded in 1048 AD with the blessing of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem by a group of devout laymen from Amalfi, Italy – the same town that founded the Amalfion Monastery on Mount Athos. The Order’s initial purpose was the care of the wounds and illnesses of pilgrims to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. In fact, the first institution of the Order was the Hospital of St. John the Baptist, located near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. The founders took vows of dedication to the service of Christ. By 1098, the Brothers of the Hospital had adopted the monastic rule of Blessed Augustine and in 1113 Pope Paschal II formally recognized the Hospitallers as a religious order. Popes Innocent II and Anastasius IV also recognized the status of this religious order and extended the unique rights and privileges of the Order of St. John. Shortly thereafter, Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem, recognized and confirmed the Hospitallers of St. John as an international religious organization.
From the beginning, the Order of St. John proudly bore the title of “Guardians of the Poor of Jesus Christ”. In the 13th century the nature and scope of their service was expanded by King Richard I of England (AKA: Richard the Lion-Hearted) by recognizing the Hospitallers as a sovereign power and religious-military order. Similar recognition quickly followed by other monarchs of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Following its formal recognition, and particularly due to its charitable service to all of Christendom, the Order quickly became so loved and respected that donations and gifts of property flowed to it in great number. The history of the Sovereign Order is unique and profound as it is revered for its countless works of mercy and charity; for the establishment of the world’s first and finest hospitals and for its loyal defense of the Christian faith. In the uncertain and dangerous epoch in which they served the poor and sick, the Hospitallers were expected to be more adept with the sword than with medical science. Thus, the Knights Hospitaller of St. John became a closely-knit elite military corps whose cavalry was feared by Crusader and Saracen alike.
The Order of St. John refused to take part in the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 AD. The Order recognized this as a sacrilege and condemned the actions of renegade mercenary Crusaders as a dishonorable and barbaric act that ran completely contrary to the ideal of Christian chivalry.
To the Isles: After the disastrous forth crusade, any imminent hopes of reconciling Eastern and Western Christendom were shattered. Thus, after the retreat from the Holy Land in 1291 AD, the Order relocated from Jerusalem to Cyprus and then to Rhodes in 1311 and Malta in 1530. Now that the Knights were islanders, they quickly became equally renowned as a naval force. This proved to be providential because in 1571, the historic Battle of Lepanto was fought and won by a combined fleet from Spain, Genoa, Venice and the Papal States - led by Galleys from the Sovereign Order of St. John under the command of Prince Don Juan of the Hapsburg dynasty. Not only was a huge Turkish Moslem fleet defeated by a smaller Christian fleet, but the Sovereign Order facilitated an even greater victory for Christ – the resolution of conflict among rival Christian states in the defense of Christendom.
End of the Knights on Malta: In 1798, the avaricious French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte plundered Malta and displaced the Knights as the sovereign of the island through treachery and deceit. Loyal Knights of the Order rallied at St. Petersburg, Russia and established their new headquarters under the patronage of Emperor Paul I, who was named Protector of the Order on November 29, 1797. On October 27, 1798, the formal assembly of all Knights of the Order elected Emperor Paul head of the Sovereign Order of St. John. As Grand Master of the Order of St. John, Emperor Paul provided for the perpetuation of the Order by creating 21 Hereditary Commanders among the Russian nobility to guarantee its continuity. Other members later sought protection of the Papacy or certain European monarchs. These recognized branches still exist as the Roman Catholic Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the English Venerable Order of St. John and the Germanic Johanniter Order, respectively.
The Orthodox Order Flees Russia: At the time of the Bolshevik Revolution and the fall of Christian Russia into the hands of murderous Communists, the Knights of the Order had to abandon their headquarters in St. Petersburg, as they had abandoned Jerusalem, Cyprus, Rhodes and Malta in previous centuries. However, the Sovereign Order of St. John never died, nor was it suppressed and it has not been lost to history. In the decades since 1917, the Order has been preserved through its Hereditary Knight Commanders. In 1927, these Hereditary Commanders reunited in Paris and shortly thereafter in Manhattan and their successors remain the guardians of the Order today.
Currently, the Order consists of thousands of members worldwide and is under the royal protection of the House of Romanoff and the spiritual direction of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Order is administered by HE Countess Tatiana Bobrinskoy, who is the Grand Chancellor and widow of Count Nicholas, a direct descendant of HH Katherine the Great. In 1983, the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Orthodox Church in America granted his blessing and canonical recognition upon the Order due to various works of charity, such as providing assistance to victims of calamities, such as the following examples:
1974 – Hurricane Fifi, Honduras.
1984 – Ethiopian Famine Crisis.
1993 – Hurricane Andrew.
2001- Relief to Victims of 9/11.
2005 – Relief to Victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Countess Tatiana Bobrinskoy lives in Mt. Vernon, NY and attends the OCA Cathedral in New York City. From there she continues to offer aid to worldwide charities on behalf of the Order.
The Knights in New Mexico: On December 6, 1999, Subdeacon David Mascarenas was dubbed Serving Brother by Count Nicholas Bobrinskoy and on November 13, 2005, Deacon David was elevated to the rank of Knight Chaplain by HE Prince Ivan Obolensky and Matushka Marilyn (reposed in 2013) was received into the Order as a Serving Sister by the same noble person officiating on behalf of the Grand Prior, HE Count Nicholas Bobrinskoy. On Sunday, November 12, 2006 Paul M. Simon (Reposed in 2009) was made a Knight of Honor by HH Prince Michael Romanov, with Prince Obolensky assisting. On Sunday, November 18, 2007 at the OCA Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection in New York, Subdeacon Columcille Clebert H Garcia was dubbed a Knight of Honor by a noble member of the Grand Priory of New York officiating on behalf of HH Michael Romanoff, Price of Russia. His rank is special - Clerical Brother - because he is a Subdeacon and he is recognized as a monastic member of the Order. Due to the religious nature of the Order, monastics have a special place of honor among its members due to their total dedication to Christ. Fr. Columcille and Subdeacon Gregory is helping Deacon David restore the religious identity of the Order as they have incorporated the Sovereign Orthodox Order of St. John of Jerusalem in New Mexico as a religious non-profit organization dedicated to the daily practice of the ideals of the Order in our community.
The ceremony of investiture is very solemn and by nomination only. Orthodox Christians in good standing, and other men and women of good-will and integrity who have an interest in sharing in the good works of the Order should contact Deacon David or Fr. Columcille privately. If there is enough interest, we have the distinct possibility of starting a Commadery (seven members) or a Priory (group of commanderies) here in New Mexico that is affiliated with the Grand Priory in New York. This status would allow the Order in New Mexico to host its own investiture ceremonies with hereditary commanders visiting New Mexico in order to dub new members in our midst for all to witness openly.
The Order Today: The Order is a religious, knightly, chivalric and noble Order. The main objectives are the defense and propagation of the faith and improvement of relationship between Churches and the formation of spiritual champions that vigorously promote the dignity and worth of the human being, the ideal of peace in the observance of human rights, and the practice of works of charity.
The Order is Sovereign, but subject to international law. It is an active member of the United Nations as a Non-Governmental Organization as it is incorporated and registered as a charitable organization. True to the Commandments of God and the Beatitudes of Christ, the Knights and Dames will profess the virtues of charity, fraternity, and practice the works of mercy. That is, they are to help the sick and suffering, refugees, exiled immigrants, homeless and abandoned children, the poor and the aged, assisting them both physically and spiritually. To this end, professed members are called upon to render such physical, medical, spiritual, legal or other services when necessary. Dames and Knights should attend (to the best of their abilities) all functions and meetings of the Grand Priory and Commandery. They should participate in the charitable and humanitarian work of our Orthodox Hospitallers of St. John in a personal, professional or financial capacity. In fact, initiation fees and annual oblations are quite modest for an organization with such lofty ideals and we also hope to arrange an affordable group travel package for members and candidates from NM, so don't let personal finances prevent you from participating in the Sovereign Orthodox Order of Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem.
In closing, the Knights here in New Mexico sincerely hope that this article has explained the Order’s aims and history so that you may want to participate in this unique form of dedication to our Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Finally, please let us hear from you shortly about your interest in this Orthodox Christian Chivalric Order or ask questions of us, so that we can recommend candidates for admission from the Land of Enchantment at the next ceremony of investiture at the OCA Cathedral in New York City on the third Sunday of November. Thank you and may God bless us all, through the intercession of our heavenly patron, St. John the Baptist.
Rev. Dr. Deacon David Mascarenas, Assistant Grand Chaplain, OSJ
Fr. Columcille (Garcia), Clerical Brother, OSJ
Subdeacon Gregory Kanes, Clerical Brother, OSJ