Frequently Asked Questions

The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) below answers many of the common questions that are asked. Questions related to the history of the Sovereign Order are deliberately left out as they do not lend themselves to short responses. Please see the History sections of this website or reference books for information regarding historical queries.

The FAQ are divided into four groups:

  1. Who we are
  2. How we do things
  3. Size
  4. Religion, Rites and Robes

Who We Are

  • What does the Sovereign Order do?
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    We help the Lord’s sick and the poor in keeping with our mission statement. We continue the Sovereign Order’s 900 year history with our Christian commitment, chivalric structure and traditional ceremonies. The result is an organisation that serves others while enjoying remarkable camaraderie amongst ourselves. Sample accomplishments include:

    • Funding, designing and building a 14 bed hospice (Vancouver, Canada).
    • Creating, financing and managing three centres for youth at risk, homeless adults and the developmentally challenged (Brittany, France).
    • Funding affordable housing for developmentally disabled adults (St Joseph’s, San Jose, USA).
    • Building and providing books for an inner city school library (Cleveland, USA).
    • Funding furniture for homeless housing project (Victoria, Canada).
    • Supporting an Alzheimer respite centre for low income families (St Joseph, San Jose, USA).
    • Supporting Middle Eastern Christians at serious risk of physical displacement and/or death for adherents from local wars and intolerance. (Brittany, France; Monaco; Germany).

    And many others. See the Helping the Sick and the Poor section.  These are but a few examples from a list that would require many pages.

  • Tradition – what use is 900 years of tradition?
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    Through shared experience, tradition helps bind people together and develop an emotional commitment to the organisation. There is always a strong base in tradition in ancient organisations that have survived to this day like the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches or the merely old such as the British Royal Navy or the US Marine Corps. Tradition helps maintain organisations in bad times through the commitment of individuals and grow them in good times by instilling the values and culture in newcomers.

    Of course, successful organisations adapt operational policies to the events of the day else they fail. But tradition and our Christian values provide the values that give context to the operational changes.

    Finally, for those with an interest in tradition, it is a source of pride.

  • There’s too much formality!
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    Tradition thrives on formality although in more limited doses as society has evolved over the last 50 years. Formality for the Sovereign Order is limited to the few formal events, particularly Investitures and it is otherwise on a first name basis. “No sir” or “Yes sir” are not heard within the Sovereign Order. Nevertheless, the formality gives structure to the tradition especially at official events.

  • What is the difference between the Sovereign Order and service clubs?
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    Both types of groups can do great work in their chosen areas. The difference lies in governance and tradition.

    The Sovereign Order is run through a structure derived from military organisation with hierarchy, ranks, chivalric traditions and the like which comes directly from our history. In practice, as a volunteer organisation, the governance bears only a formal resemblance to military hierarchy. Nevertheless, it is more hierarchical than service clubs and does maintain Christian commitment, ranks, medals and formal dress characteristics. The Sovereign Order also has 900 years of tradition. Less distinctive differences include:

    • The Sovereign Order has a very formal and moving Investiture Service.
    • The Sovereign Order is Christian and cannot be otherwise given its 900 years of history.
    • The Sovereign Order concentrates on each individual’s integrity, success and commitment to helping the “sick and the poor”.
    • The Sovereign Order is growing; most service clubs are struggling.
  • I can’t give large donations. Is there room for me?
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    Yes. Membership is about people of accomplishment and integrity. This does not necessarily mean great wealth. Clergy, social entrepreneurs and staff from the non-profit sector may not be able to donate money but still may make great contributions to “helping the sick and the poor” through their experience, contacts and efforts. The Sovereign Order is made up of people willing to contribute time, talent and treasure. Not many can do all three.

  • Why so many Ranks and Titles?
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    Part of the traditions includes ranks and titles stemming back to the time when the Sovereign Order was made up of Knights militant and thus have been preserved although modified by time and evolving language.

    In ascending order, the Sovereign Order has three ranks, Knight or Dame of Honour, Grace and Justice with the last two having senior sub ranks such as “Dame Commander of Grace”. Aspirants are invested at the rank of Honour. All promotions are based on effort in contributing to the Sovereign Order’s activities. There are also minimum time requirements to be met. A minimum of three years must pass from becoming a Dame or Knight of Honour before becoming “of Grace” and at least two years for each promotion to higher rank or Commander title. The later promotions require increasing contributions of time, talent or treasure within the Sovereign Order. Few are promoted on each of the minimum anniversary dates.  There are additional titles for those in the senior positions.

    The “Commander” designation can be confusing as it is used both as a position for the person in charge of a Commandery and as a sub rank as noted above. Traditions are not always administratively elegant.

  • How is the Sovereign Order different from other Orders of St John?
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    Nearly all have the same history as the Sovereign Order up to the 1798 exile from Malta. In fact, five of them and the Sovereign Order formally recognize each other.

    Subsequent histories vary considerably.

    • The Sovereign Order has a strong claim to being the original organisation, both through the name and the post diaspora possession of the relics.
    • We have a Grant of Arms by Letters Patent issued to us by the Governor General of Canada by virtue of the authority vested with him from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of Canada.
    • Our King Peter II Constitution was granted by Royalty, a requirement for chivalric Orders.
    • We are ecumenical and have been, in practical terms, since our arrival in Russia.
    • We are not related to any specific church.
    • We put great emphasis on helping “the sick and the poor” of all religions as has been the tradition and practice of the Sovereign Order from times prior to its formal recognition by the Pope in 1113.

    We have been working to bring together as many of the Orders that share our history as possible. The Reunification of the Sovereign Order of the Hospital Order of St John of Jerusalem (Continental Europe) with the Sovereign Order of St John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller (Americas and UK) in 2010 is a good example. At any given time there are on-going discussions with other groups.

  • What is the Sovereign Order's relationship with the other Orders of Saint John?
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    The Orders of St. John in existence today are branches of the original Order founded in Jerusalem in the 11th Century that separated under the pressure of major historical forces during our nearly 1,000 year history. Some of today’s Orders became independent during the Protestant Reformation and others in the aftermath of the loss of Malta to Napoleon in 1798.

    Our branch, the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller, descends from the ecumenical Order that was established by Russian Tsar Paul I, who became Sovereign Protector and Grand Master with the approval of the Pope in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Malta. The holy relics of the Order were sent to Tsar Paul in St. Petersburg to formalize the recognition of his role, and subsequent Tsars continued to serve as Sovereign Protectors.

    After the fall of the House of Romanov during the Russian Revolution, the role of Sovereign Protector of our Order transferred to the Royal Yugoslavian House of Karageorgevich, and the relics of the Order were transferred to them in recognition. King Peter II as Sovereign Protector issued the Royal Charter in 1963 and then the 1964 Constitution of the Sovereign Order, which serves as our governing document to this day.

    Each Order of St. John today has had a time of trouble during our long and storied collective history, but all seek to fulfill our common mission to express our own Christian faith by serving the poor of all origins and faiths. We salute them in their work as we fulfill this mission in our own work.

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How We Do Things

  • What am I committing to?
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    Membership is in a Christian, chivalric, ecumenical and international community. Activities include those that are unusual such as the Marshal who is responsible for ceremonies or the Conservator for preserving traditions and history. We also have roles that are more common in a non-profit organisation such as fund raising, volunteer activities, events, finance and so forth. We do expect members to participate in at least one area but the scope of one’s contribution(s) is up to each member.

  • How long is my membership?
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    Membership is for life, short of problems such as fraud, personal bankruptcy etc.  Failure to pay annual oblations (dues) results in members being “not in good standing” which has the effect of losing all rights of membership.

  • What is the money spent on?
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    Aspirants’ oblations cover the cost of robes, medals and the like as well as the first year of annual oblations. Other than that, all money is spent on charity except part time clerical administration where volumes require, communications such as Newsletters and the usual minor office expenses.  In January 2015, there are only three offices, the International Office, the European and UK office and the office of the largest Commandery. No member of the Sovereign Order anywhere receives compensation for his/her services. Expenses for travel on Order business are reimbursed in a very limited way.

  • What language is used?
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    English is the international working language of the Sovereign Order and is used by all Commanderies where English is the official language of the area. Other Commanderies use their own language for everything except issues affecting other language groups or international.

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Size

  • Why aren’t there more members?
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    First, remember membership in the Sovereign Order is a rather exclusive honour. The Sovereign Order almost disappeared after the collapse of the Tsarist regime in 1917. The European priories were, to a large extent, orphaned while North America had not been a significant contributor, although both kept going and provided themselves with a workable “King Peter” Constitution in 1964 as approved by the King of Yugoslavia. Individual Commanderies grow by inviting prospective members who meet the high standards and are known personally by existing members. This tends to be a slow process but leads to a strong organisation The Sovereign Order expects growth to accelerate over the next few years from three sources:

    • Organic growth of existing Commanderies. The best examples are the St Henrik Priory in Finland has grown to 92 members from 60 in four years (as at 2015) and Germany which is currently showing a similar growth rate.
    • New Commanderies in both North America and Europe. Monaco and the Okanagan in Canada are the newest.
    • Mergers with other Orders to help restore unity.
  • Why haven’t I heard of The Order?
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    We are not large in any one area nor is it our intention to be so. The largest Commandery has 150 members. The “invitation only” nature, quality orientation and personal nature of the Sovereign Order work against its being large in any one area. Notwithstanding that, individual Commanderies can have a real impact. One funded, designed and built a 14 bed hospice for $5.3 million. Others make material contributions to a wide variety of projects that are usually local but include African, Central America and Middle East projects.

  • Does the Sovereign Order have any barriers to women or different ethnic groups?
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    Constitutional barriers that put women at a disadvantage for promotion were completely eliminated in 1998 with the result that women have filled many of the top positions in the Sovereign Order including Commander, Prior, Bailiff and the Petit Conseil. There are no constitutional barriers to anyone since that day except the requirement to be Christian.

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Religion, Rites and Robes

  • The Order is too Christian for me!
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    The Order does not demand adherence to any particular faith provided the prospective Aspirant commits to being Christian. We are ecumenical within that. However, we have 900 years of history as a Christian Order, 780 of which were as a militant Order co-existing with the section of the Sovereign Order that built and ran hospices. The commitment to Christianity is not going to go away, any more than the B’nai B’rith is likely to be indifferent to religion. Only the formal Investiture is a church service and that is traditional.

    Note that helping the Lord’s sick and the poor is for all people regardless of their religious beliefs.

  • Is the Sovereign Order an extension of any particular church?
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    No. We are not related to any particular church.

  • Is there an expectation of engaged church activity by members?
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    No. The Sovereign Order tends to its business and our members tend to theirs.

  • Are there any secret rites, handshakes, language and so on?
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    No.

  • Robes
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    Our striking robes are worn for the Investiture Service and directly related events. They are sometimes used at other church based events like funerals but otherwise are rarely required. Robes are traditional in design, wholly modern in their simplicity and stunning in their impact. They maintain the appearance of the robes worn by the Order during its time in Jerusalem in the 12th century. In fact, up to the 19th Century, our Knights were buried with their robe being their shroud.

  • What is involved in the Investiture?
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    It is a religious, formal and moving service that is nearly always carried out in a church. Although it is quite structured, there is always a rehearsal to prepare Aspirants for their role in it.

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