Orthodoxy and Knighthood

Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, has blessed the establishment of the chivalric-philanthropic Holy Order of St. George the Great Martyr, and recently named the Order’s first Grand Knight: Konstantin Pandolfi, a faithful Orthodox Christian in Connecticut, whose family descends from Byzantine aristocracy. Those interested in coming to the aid of Orthodox Christians who are experiencing persecution or who are in need worldwide, please consider joining the Pan-Orthodox order as a Knight or Dame, and feel free to be in touch for information. It is a blessing to be involved as President of the Order’s Communications Council. More information can be found here. Below is a short explanation of knighthood in the Orthodox Christian Tradition, which I wrote for the Order’s new website.

Victor Vasnetsov, Bogatyrs, 1898


 “Through all the great discord of our days, amidst catastrophe, tragedy and loss, in disputes and temptations, we must remember one thing and live by it: the maintenance and propagation of a spirit of knightly service. First and foremost within ourselves, and then within our children, our friends and the like-minded: We should protect this spirit as something sacred; we must strengthen it in those who trust us, those who confide in us, and those who seek our direction.”

So wrote the Orthodox Christian philosopher Ivan Ilyin from exile a century ago, in the 1920s following the start of the Red Terror in Russia with its persecution of the Church, and the genocidal attacks on many Orthodox Christians in the former Ottoman Empire. The Communist concentration-camp system also became a model for Nazi terror, which in turn viewed predominantly Orthodox Slavic peoples as racial inferiors ultimately to be erased.

“Everywhere that the spirit of chivalry weakens or disappears, disaster awaits us,” Ilyin warned. “So it stands now, and so shall it be henceforth. At whatever post [of duty] a man may stand, this duty (if only the cause is not in itself shameful) has its idea giving meaning to his cause, consecrating it not as an occupation, but as service, service to God’s Unified Cause on earth.”

Ilyin, forced to leave Bolshevik Russia with his family, warned against the “rot” of the “lukewarmedness” of self-interest, careerism, and apostasy. That warning is just as true, if not more so, today, a century later, in the 2020s, for all Orthodox Christians around the world, in increasingly troubled times. 

Another Russian Orthodox philosopher in exile, S.L. Frank, wrote of the need for “the spirit of religiously-enlightened activity, the spirit of true knighthood [rytsarstvo].” He associated this idea of Orthodox knighthood with “groundedness” or pochvennost’ articulated by Dostoevsky, in a culture of service, involving “humble service defined by faith,” in “the duty of each to generally guard the legacy of one’s ancestors [spiritual if not familial], to enrich it and then transfer it to those who follow.”

Today, many of our brothers and sisters in Christ face persecutions around the world. Many Orthodox communities are in need. Many regimes, societies, ideologies, and systems attempt to overthrow the traditional Christianity of the Orthodox Church. This is why we invite you to join us in the Orthodox Holy Order of St. George the Great Martyr–to renew the time-honored tradition of Orthodox knightly service in the 21st century.

Stand with us, the unworthy, with our fathers in the Church before us, in a legacy inspired by Saint George the Great Martyr, by countless other Orthodox Christian saints, by Scripture, and by the teachings and examples of the Church fathers engaged in spiritual warfare across centuries.

With those witnesses before us, we remember the Varangian Guard who defended the Christian emperor at Constantinople–a multinational band of brothers in the faith, worshipping at the Orthodox chapel to St. Olaf of Norway in the imperial city of the Byzantine-Roman Empire. We remember the legendary bogatyri or Christian knights of old Kievan Rus’ in the days of St. Vladimir the Great. We remember members of the old Russian imperial military orders of St. George, St. Alexander Nevsky, and St. Vladimir, as defenders of Orthodox faith in the world.

With God’s grace, we need that spirit of Orthodox knighthood today more than ever: Not for physical warfare, but for service in spiritual warfare, and for unity of action in supporting our brothers and sisters in Christ: The Orthodox Christians persecuted throughout the world violently for their faith; those brethren in the faith in need of material help and sustenance; the vulnerable and children; the Orthodox Churches and communities in need of material help–so that they all may have the opportunity on earth with us to enter the faith fully, to help spread the Gospel, and to repent in preparation for the Kingdom of Heaven.

As Ilyin concluded, the spirit of Orthodox chivalry goes beyond any self-interest, careerism, and political partisanship, to “first and foremost the voluntary and willed acceptance of hardship and danger in the name of God’s Cause on earth… a cadre of men firm in such spirit and capable of such service.”

He reminds us:

In distinction from the subject himself, having his own personal interests, sympathies and desires, God’s cause has its Transcendent paths of necessity and exaction. And so man’s personal interests and the Transcendent interest of his Cause at any moment can part and place him before the temptation of self-interest. At any moment, a man can find himself in the position of a mercenary, not knowing upon what course to decide, or the position of a traitor who prefers his interest to the Transcendent. The spirit of chivalry is comprised of steadfast loyalty to the Transcendent path.

Today, the Holy Order of St. George the Great Martyr is dedicated to such service on behalf of Orthodox Christians in need. The Order welcomes men and women as members who are Orthodox Christians willing to take up that knightly spirit. We have no affiliation of any kind with Masonic or other heterodox or occult or conspiratorial orders, nor are we a Roman Catholic chivalric group. We are an Orthodox Christian order of knighthood standing for our Orthodox tradition and heritage across the globe.  Under the spiritual blessing and direction of Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, we are open to those joining us in that spirit from all Orthodox jurisdictions, regardless of background.

Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters: Rally with us to the standard of St. George, in service to our Emperor of Emperors, our Lord Jesus Christ, and His Church!


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