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Section: Modern Orders and Awards

The Orders Of Merit of the Russian Orthodox Church

Author: Michael Medvedev / Publication date: 2006-11-14

The Orders Of Merit of the Russian Orthodox ChurchAlthough the very term “Order”, applied to the most exalted and solemn premial institutions, originally came from the ecclesiastic life, today the Orders of honour – that is to say, the Orders of chivalry or of merit – are understood as a temporal phenomenon. Indeed such an Order may occasionally constitute an ecclesiastical body under the canon law, or to enjoy certain ecclesiastical privileges; but this is an additional, secondary quality.

It is generally accepted in our days that an Order of chivalry or of merit may be instituted only by a temporal power and, more precisely, by a Sovereign State, represented by its Head, Parliament, or another competent body or official. The “Orders” founded privately are generally, and justly, considered as “created without proper authority”, “quasi-orders”, “soi-disant”, and even “bogus”. Thus the word “Order” appears to be a kind of a title, which cannot be just assumed.

In this aspect, the ecclesiastic Orders of the Eastern Churches (the Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Churches in union with Rome) present a problem. They constitute a firmly established phenomenon and their existence is widely accepted; yet they are neither State nor House Orders and have no appropriate temporal legal background. Some authors are trying to justify their existence by attesting them as pure cult phenomena (rather than public honours), or as exclusively inner awards of the correspondent Churches. Both arguments are wrong; moreover, both are irrelevant. Basically, these Orders either deserve this name, or they do not.

In several cases their existence may be explained as a historically justified extension of the general concept of temporal honours. Thus, the Orthodox Patriarchs under the Ottoman rule were vested with certain temporal responsibility (the ethnarchy), and continued some Imperial practices including nominations of laic dignitaries. It is this traditional worldly leadership which in 1966 was continued by HH Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in creation of an Order of St.Andrew, roughly equating the old rank of archons with that of knights. The Order of the Holy Sepulchre of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which predates that of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for at least a century, if not much more, was certainly founded as a reflection of the worldly prominent role of the Patriarchate. It is worth mentioning that this institution was recognised in the Imperial Russia as a fully genuine foreign Order, and its insignia were allowed to be worn by correspondent Imperial permissions.

Another curious example is the Order of the Holy Lamb [God’s Lamb] of the Archbishopric of Finland, which is a branch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but also one of the two official State Churches of Finland, which imported at least certain temporal component and resulted in the Order’s effective integration into the national honours system.

The majority of other Orders of the Eastern Patriarchates and independent Metropolies seem to be founded as an imitation of neighbours’ practices, following the principle of the equality of the sister Churches. As to the logic, this is maybe a liberty (the spiritual equality does not presume the identity of the temporal prerogatives belonging for historical reasons to this or that Church), but this explains why the existence of the ecclesiastical Orders en masse is seriously linked with the ecclesiological tradition, and thus may at least tolerated by specialists in the Orders-lore.

Among the Eastern Churches, the Russian Church enjoys a bizarrely elaborate system of Orders which is described below.

* * *

During the Second World War the Soviet regime was forced to appeal to the patriotic sentiments; as these were not completely alienable from the religious heritage, the immediate extinction of the Orthodox Church ceased to be an item of the officious agenda. Instead of this, the regime gradually tried to integrate the Church into the atheist society. The needs of the foreign policy also demanded certain tolerance as well as the international contacts of religious leaders, which became decisive in the case of the awards. The ecclesiastical merits were still considered not loyal enough to fit into the State premial system, yet they should be somehow rewarded. In this situation, the Church was allowed and even advised to create orders and medals of its own. Ironically, the original legal status of these awards could be defined as that of the “ecclesiastical awards under the State patronage”.

In 1957, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the restoration of the Patriarch’s rule in Russia, the “Breast Badge in honour of St. Vladimir” (in three classes) was instituted, mostly as an award for foreign church leaders of different denominations. No awards were made until 1958; among the recipients in 1959 was HIM Haile Selassie. Later it was renamed as the Order of St. Vladimir. No direct link with the Imperial order of this name was implied (neither was such link implied later, on the creation of other awards omonimous with the Imperial ones). In 1961, the ruling Patriarch Alexis I was the first Russian to receive the Order of St. Vladimir from the Bishops’ Council. In 1978, Order of St. Sergius of Radonezh (also in three classes) was created. The further development was due to the celebration of the millenium of the Russian Christianity in 1988.


1959: HIM Haile Selassie of Ethiopia receives the Breast Badge in honour of St. Vladimir from HH Patriarch Alexis I.

Today the system of the Orders of the Russian Orthodox Church is divided into three main categories: the “all-Church” Orders, the “ecclesiastical/public” Orders (i.e. demi-private Orders under the rule and patronage of the Church) and the local ecclesiastical Orders established for certain territorial branches of the Church. All these Orders are mere awards, not honourable corporations. Normally they have three classes. The institution of the Orders falls within the prerogative of the Sacred Synod (this permanent governing body of the Church was formerly styled “Holy” but this was terminated on the restoration of the dignity of Patriarch). The Patriarch awards them in accordance with the Statutes approved by the Bishops’ Council.

There are twelve “all-Church” Orders (listed in the order of precedence):

1. Order of St. Apostle Andrew the First-Called (the highest Order of the Russian Church; awarded to the Heads of the Autocephalous [i.e. independent] Orthodox Churches only). Single-class award, established in 1988.

The badge (an oval crowned medallion with an effigy of the Saint standing in front of the saltire and holding a scroll) is worn on an “ecclesiastical” grand cordon (as a breast badge, although the same riband may be, according to the synodal regulations, worn over the left shoulder as well); the star (with a Cyrillic monogram “CA” [St. Andrew] in the central medallion) is placed on the right breast. The light green colour of the riband corresponds to the distinctive colour of the Patriarchal mandyas (ceremonial cloak).

2. Order of St. Equal to Apostles Prince Vladimir (a modified version of this award is said to be distributed by the Autocephalous Ukrainian Church, which is not recognised by the universal Orthodox community). Established in 1957.

Until recently, the insignia of all three classes were worn as stars. Today the badge and star of the first class (the former being of a recent introduction and the latter being the primitive badge of the first class) are worn in the same way as those of St.Andrew. The ribbon is maroon. The badges of two other classes are worn on the right breast. Collective awards are also possible.

3. Order of the “Glory and Honour” (a quotation from the Scripture: Rom. 2.10). Established in 2004. The insignia of this single-class award, established for the heads of States and prominent public leaders (including non-Christians), are designed to seem neutral in the religious aspect: branches of olive and laurel are represented on the badge, and the dove with an olive branch appears on the star. The badge and star are worn in the same way as those of St.Andrew. The riband is blue, ended with silver fringes.

4. Order of St. Alexis, the Metropolitan of Moscow. Established in 2004 on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Patriarch Alexis II and dedicated to his patron Saint. The badge and star of the first class and the badges of the two other classes are worn in the same way as those of St. Vladimir. The ribbon is yellow, of a “golden” shade.

5. Order of St. Orthodox Prince Daniel of Moscow. Established in 1978. The badges of all three classes are worn on the left breast, which principle is applied to all other awards listed below.

6. Order of [St.] Most Reverend Sergius of Radonezh. Established in 1988. Insignia were radically revised in 1999, when the original much-disputed green saltire was turned into an ornamental upright cross.

7. Order of St. Most Reverend Seraphim of Sarov. Established in 2004.

8. Order of St. Innocent, the Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomna. Established in 1996 as an award for missionary work and ecclesiastical enlightment.

9. Order of St. Equal to Apostles Princess Olga. Established in 1988 for ladies.

10. Order of St. Makarios, the Metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia. Established in 2001 as an award for merits in the sphere of research and education.

11. Order of St. Orthodox Grand Duke Demetrius, the Donskoy. Established in 2004 as an award for spiritual merits on the military service.

12. Order of [St.] Most Reverend Andrew Rublyov. Established in 2001 as an award for the merits in icon-painting and other form of ecclesiastical art, as well as for its support.

The “ecclesiastical/public” Orders:

1. Order of St. Martyr Tryphon. Established in 1995 to reward the struggle against alcoholism, drugs etc.

2. Order of St. Demetrius, Tsar’s son, of Moscow. Established in 1997 together with the Russian Foundation for Children (a private body) as an award for charitable merits.

* * *

There are also ecclesiastical medals dedicated to the same patrons as some of the Orders listed here, yet these medals are not subordinated to the Orders and constitute separate awards.

* * *

In several States, the national Orthodox Church is canonically subordinated to the Muscovian Patriarch. To avoid the “effect of dependence”, such “non-Russian” branches of the Russian Church sometimes use its own Orders. Such Orders are awarded by the heads of the particular national branches of the Russian Orthodox Church. These Orders does not form an entire system (some being created by the Synod of the Russian Church and some by the local authorities) and thus the following list is doubtlessly incomplete. In future we hope to update the list.

1. Awards of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [within the jurisdiction of the Muscovian Patriarchate] are almost as numerous as those of the Russian Church as such, and created in the same style; we are planning to dedicate a separate page to these Ukrainian Orders.

2. An award of the Exarchate of Belorussia: the Order of the Cross of [St.] Most Reverend [Princess] Euphrosinia of Polatsk, two classes, established in 1998.

3. Awards of the Orthodox Church in Moldova: the Order in honour of the Orthodox Lord Stephen the Great and Saint (see right), the Order of [St.] Most Reverend Paisius Velichkovsky and the Order of [St.] Most Reverend Parasceva, each of them in two classes and with a medal of the same name; all founded in 2002 by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on the request of the Metropolitan of all Moldova; the statutes and insignia were also approved by the Synod.

4. An award of the Metropolitan of Riga and All Latvia: the Order of St. Reverend Martyr John, Archbishop of Riga. This Order, the youngest on our list, founded by the Metropolitan’s decree from 27 of May 2006, is awarded at his discretion and has three classes, the senior class badge being worn on a riband and the two lower class badges on a neck band; the two senior classes have also stars, slightly different in details. The ribbon is violet with a white-red-white middle stripe which follows the colouring of the Patron Saint’s mandyas.

The insignia of the two senior classes are to be made of silver and precious stones; for the third class this is optional. The ring which fastens the badge to the ribbon bears elements of a national ornament. The legends on the star and the badge’s reverse are in the Church Slavonic, Russian and Latvian. The statute specifies that the riband is to be worn over the right shoulder by the laic recipients and over the neck by the clerics.

* * *

One cannot but deplore the obvious inflation of the very idea of Order which marks this multi-levelled system. The number of the awards is inadequate, their nature is purely non-corporative, and in many cases the basic phaleristic concept of the insignia are recognisably Soviet, the Christian symbols accurately replacing the Communist ones. Too many elements of insignia are purely ornamental instead of being appropriately symbolic.

Obviously the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church and HE Clement [Kliment], the Synod, and the Metropolitan of Kaluga (the Administrator of the Patriarchate, who reported the matter to the Council) were ill-advised in 2004 when the Synod supported and Council approved the actual Regulation on the Awards of the Russian Church. For example, HE Clement mentioned that in the pre-revolutionary Russia there were 22 Orders of the State, although in reality the number of Orders awarded by a Russian monarch never exceeded nine (in 1917, there were eight of them); he also described the colour of the riband worn by the [Imperial] knights of St. Vladimir, Ist class, as plain red, rather than black-red-black, which shows that the competence of his consultants was not irreproachable.

Many of the Orders are visibly post-Soviet in fashion, but when the traditional fashion is followed, this is also made in a disputable way. With all my deep and sincere respect to the See of Riga and the Metropolitan, it was somehow aberrational for a non-autonomous hierarch to create an Order with a riband. It would be much more prudent to follow, at least, the example of the French and Spanish “ministerial” orders.

Currently there is a number of private awards (sometimes called “orders”) which are awarded in churches, including the Patriarchal Cathedral, receive benediction of hierarchs, or accepted by them. Neither is a proof of a formal recognition of such award by the ecclesiastical authority.

© 2006 The.Heraldry.Ru / D.Ivanov, M. Medvedev