While most of us think that, the Orthodox have not had a history of chivalry or knighthood as in the west that we never had it. The truth is that Orthodox Christians have had chivalry and that it has been a part of our church as much as it has been a part of the Roman Catholics. The difference between the eastern ideals of chivalry is that of the west is that in the east it was focused on the internal growth of the knight and helping the community around them. While in the west, we see the ideal of romantic chivalry take shape and perpetuated through the romantic ideals given to the success of the knight.
When the name of the Templars is used, it strikes fear in its enemies and it continues to do so, even now 900 years after the order was established. While there are various groups that associate with the name “Templar” there are some that are focused on the historical and religious context of the order and help to bring back the ideals of chivalry. They strive to do this by returning to the original context for which the order was established (religious and militaristic monasticism). While these two concepts seem to be at odds against one another, they make sense in the time that the order was established. With some belief that the need for the return to the same values as then is needed now more than ever.
Conflict with Islam
The one feature that has shaped both forms of chivalry in both the east and west has been the impact of fighting against or dealing with the impact of Islam. This has led to the militaristic context for which chivalry and knighthoods were created. They were initially created to fill the ranks of the military with honorable and respectable men that would lead others into battle against the unbeliever. For both Orthodox and Roman Catholics this has been a struggle since both churches have had to deal with the influx and growth of Islam in different ways.
While the Romans battled the warriors of Islam on the battlefield, the Orthodox had to live with them as neighbors and conquerors. This is a different aspect in which to view the same people and faith. Even today, there are places in Europe that have this same mix of faiths due to the invasion of the Ottoman Turks and the introduction of Islam. This interaction has caused scars in many countries and continues to divide nations and create religious and ethnic conflict.
Orthodox chivalry is focused on protecting one’s community and against the degradation of society and traditional values. This has led to orders protecting the faith from unbelievers and who seek to help their communities. In addition, support of traditional values and culture are areas that eastern chivalry differs from the western ideals. Where the west has been associated with romanticism, the east has not. In the east, there is more of a militancy of knightly orders, which lends itself to the protection of the community. There is also a religious aspect as well that creates as sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself and doing it for the God’s sake. This aspect can be lost in the west as they are focused on the individual and not so much on the community. This has been changing though.
Virtues of Knighthood
The most common link that chivalry has between both east and west are the striving to better oneself through the attainment or strengthening of ones virtues. Here are some common virtues:
All of these virtues lend themselves to encouraging the knight to be better than they are, and encourage the ideals that would allow them to inherit the kingdom of heaven.
Knighthood is not just about being a member of an order, but it is also doing better as a Christian. Having the Christian faith is what holds the orders together as they strive to do those things that would benefit Christ and His church. The virtues help the knight to know what he needs to strive for when a member of an order. There are many avenues that individuals might participate in these orders, but being a knight is more than going through some ceremony. It is actually the changing of ones heart into something better than what he was before and the striving for God’s Kingdom.
Orthodoxy was greatly impacted by the Crusades, and more specifically that of the 4th Crusade in 1204 that watched the sacking of Constantinople and the looting of the city. This is one of the reasons that chivalry or knighthood has not been a huge part of society of the east as it has been in the west. For those of us who have come from the west (ancestors from Western Europe) it has been difficult to put into perspective the experiences of our new or adopted faith and the impact that centuries of history have had on our church.
As members of this Brotherhood Project we should strive to live up to the chivalric ideals that make us better Christians and help to improve the communities around us. After all this is the calling, that Christ gives us by loving our neighbors. Currently we are finding that the traditional society around us is crumbling and that we are standing on the crumbled walls of what was once a great society. As members of this Brotherhood Project, I would urge all of us to strive for the chivalric ideals as they help to center our lives on Christ.
I am a current member of the Knights Templar (OSMJT) with the rank of Sargent at Arms.
I am also a member of the Sovereign Military Order of the Dragon with the rank of Infantryman.