There are many quasi-orders and other self-styled Orders who use “Orthodox” in their name and claim to be under the protection of some Orthodox bishop or archbishop. Some claim to continue the Orthodox branch of some ancient Order. While others even go so far as to claim recognition by the Holy See in Rome! Perhaps the most notorious of all these Orders are those that claim some kind of descent from the famous Orders of the Crusades and in their names use such terms as “Templar” or “Hospitaller” or both.
The Order being presented today is none of the above. It is a very much bonafide Order but, its current status is questionable.
Before continuing, I would like to clarify that I tried contacting the government of the Republic of Cyprus through the country’s embassy in the United States, the Press Office of the government and the Office of the President of the Republic. Unfortunately, I never even received a form email saying that my message was received.
What is especially interesting about the Order of the Orthodox Hospitallers is that it has a purely Orthodox Order with an unquestionable fons honorum, something that has not always been the case with Orthodox Orders.
The Order was established in December of 1972 by His Beatitude Archbishop Makarios III of Cyprus. The Archbishop was the head of the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Cyprus which is in full communion with the other Orthodox Churches of the world. However, Archbishop Makarios was also the President of the Republic of Cyprus and as such, combined in his person both the highest spiritual and temporal power of the sovereign nation. This combination is not found anywhere else, with the best comparison being His Holiness the Pope.
It must be noted that the Order was not created as an Order of Chivalry and it does not confer nobility, in any way, to any of its members. Simply put, the Orthodox Church does not have a tradition of nobiliary corporation and the granting nation is a presidential republic.
The governance of the Order was established with the Grand Master being the Archbishop of Cyprus and the Temporal Protector the President of the Republic. The headquarters were set to be in the monastery of St. Barnabas, Famagusta (Αμμόχωστος). It should be noted that after the 1974 invasion of Cyprus by Turkey, Famagusta (and thus the monastery) ended up on the Turkish occupied side of the now divided island. It is not clear what the status of the monastery and the headquarters of the Order is today. However, in Peter Bander van Duren’s “The Cross and the Sword” it is mentioned that the Turkish authorities have allowed the Order to retain the seat there. Personally, I find that to be highly implausible; especially knowing how the Turkish authorities have treated anything Greek or Orthodox in the north of the island.
The Order is a purely Orthodox one and has obtained the recognition of all the other heads of Orthodox Churches in communion with the Church of Cyprus. Furthermore, these Archbishops and Patriarchs are considered as the Spiritual Protectors of the Order within their territories. Membership in the Order is restricted strictly to those members of the Orthodox Church however, non-Orthodox may be recognized as Companions of the Order. Members and Companions have the Badge of Honor conferred upon them. The symbol of the Badge is simply a gold trimmed white enameld cross botonny. The higher levels have the text “FOR THE GLORY OF GOD AND THE GOOD OF MANKIND” encircling the cross.
Companionships exist in three classes: Companion, Companion First Class and Companion with Star. It should be made clear that a companionship does not equate membership in the Order.
When Archbishop and President Makarios instituted the Order, he decreed that certain non-Orthodox personages receive the Companionship with Star automatically, these are: the Apostolic Pro-Nuncios to Cyprus and the UK, the Aglican Bishop of Cyprus and the Vicar General of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem in Cyprus. He also believed strongly that the Order can be used to strengthen inter-faith and interdenominational relationships and suggested that perhaps the religious leaders of territories hosting large Orthodox communities should be honored.
Unfortunately, it is unclear what has happened to the Order since His Beatitude died in 1977 and a number of organizations have popped up claiming to be the continuation of it. However, none of them are headed by the Archbishop of Cyprus nor by the President of Cyprus and don’t include an explanation as to how this radical change occured. Peter Bander van Duren includes a picture of President Spyros Kyprianou, who succeeded His Beatitude, wearing the insignia of the Order and thus, one can infer that it was still in existence for at least a few years after Archbishop and President Makarios’ death.
As mentioned earlier, none of my attempts to get official information about the current status of the Order met with success. Hopefully, I will uncover some information in the near future.