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Section: Russia and the S.M.O.M.

The Russian Title of the Prince Grand Master of the S.M.O.M.

Author: Michael Medvedev / Publication date: 2006-11-23

The Russian Title of the Prince Grand Master of the S.M.O.M.The traditional titles of the Head of the S.M.O.M. are interpreted in the modern Russian literature and practice in several different ways. The diplomats, in necessary caution, were forced so far, by the matters of common sense, to use different translations. Apart of this political applied aspect (in which the problem will be, no doubt, successfully solved by the Ambassador in Russia, P. von Canisius), the terminological collision is reflected in literature and may arise questions among the historians of the Order, so it deserves some comments.

The title of Grand Master was used, both officially and daily speech, in two Russian fully synonymic forms: properly Russian “VELIKIY MAGISTR” and the Germanized one, “GROSSMEISTER”. The latter form is commonly understood now as a chess title, so the former one is much preferable. By the way: the Emperor of Russia was (and the Head of the House is), legally, the "Grossmeister or the Supreme Superior" of all the Russian Imperial Orders.

As regards to the style of The Most Eminent Highness, the situation is rather complicated.

The only official Russian version, which was used mostly temp. Paul I and Alexander I, was "Preimushchestvenneishaya Svetlost' " (The Most Eminent Highness). SVETLOST is the equivalent of the German DURCHLAUCHT and of the English/French HIGHNESS/ALTESSE (if the latter is used without such predicates as "Royal" or "Imperial").

This was applied to the Gd Masters before and after the “Pauline period”. Paul himself, in his disputed but effective Magistral capacity, was accordingly styled in the ceremonies and inner documents of the Order as "Preimushchestvenneishee Velichestvo" (The Most Eminent Majesty).

It is difficult to say now who was the first to use another translation which now became well-known but remains essentially incorrect: "Preosvyashchennoe Vysochestvo".

"Preosvyashchennoe" ("Preosvyashchenneishee", "Preosvyashchenstvo") is the Russian title attributed to bishops. Its literal meaning is "Supremely sacerdotal" or "Sacerdotal and even more", and it implies necessarily that the person so styled is ordained as a bishop. The Archbishops and Metropolitans of the Russian Orthodox Church are "Vysokopreosvyashchenstvo" (i.e. "Highly supremely sacerdotal"). It is hardly possible, stylistically and even linguistically, to apply such Russian titles ("Vysokopreosvyashchenstvo", "Preosvyashchenstvo") to the Gd Master who is a laic religious. I would dare to insist that it sounds as aberrant as "Her Something" applied to a man within a “sexist” context, or "Herr Oberst" addressed to a Monsignor of no military degree.

"Eminentissimus/Most Eminent" is a Cardinal's title. No constant equivalent was ever established in Russian. The sublime ecclesiastical position of Cardinals has no Orthodox equivalent. Normally, the Cardinals were titled in Russian merely as "Cardinals", or according to their ordination degree: as archbishops or bishops, priests, or deacons.

Some verbal laxity may be found in some historical texts. Although in the times of Paul the Cardinals could be neither bishops nor even priests, the Russians used sometimes the episcopal and archepiscopal formulas for all the categories of the Cardinals. At least all of them were in the Holy Orders of certain degree.

The most known Cardinal in Russia is Richelieu (because of Dumas' the Three Musketeers) and he is invariably mentioned as "Ego Preosvyashchenstvo" (="His Highly supreme sacerdocy"), which is pretty correct for himself, but is erroneously believed now by many to be a Cardinal's title. One may argue that this style is at least commonly familiar, and that the long-forgotten "Preimushchestvenneishiy" sounds slightly bizarre for a modern Russian ear. It certainly does, as do all the "Gd Priors" and "Bailiffs" and "Donats", and in my opinion there is nothing at all to be afraid of, or concerned about. It is the integral part of the Order's image in the modern Russia.

Consequentially, the Russian titles "Vysokopreosvyashchenstvo" and "Preosvyashchenstvo" should not be applied to the Gd Master. The historically, legally (based on precedents) and linguistically correct alternative is the old "Preimushchestvenneishiy".

On the second component: the word "Svetlost' " (Altesse/Durchlaucht) is fully justified too, but nowadays the practical needs of the Order make its use somehow problematic, the term being sometimes mentioned as too modest (?!) for the modern diplomatic practice and for the modern representation of Sovereignty. However "Altesse/Durchlaucht" is not the same as "Altesse/Hocheit" and the Gd Masters of St John were traditionally honoured with the former version, so in my own modest opinion this should be continued. If the diplomatic practice of recent and present days in Germany and Austria, or in Switzerland and Lichtenstein, does effectively attribute the German title "Hocheit" to the Head of the S.M.O.M., this may be used as a precedent and in Russian the correspondent "Preimushchestvenneishee Vysochestvo" may be introduced ex novo. Otherwise "Preimushchestvenneishaya Svetlost' " remains, in my opinion, the only correct version.

© 2006 The.Heraldry.Ru / M. Medvedev