PALM BEACH, Florida, December 21 2012 - On December 15, 17 new knights were initiated to Knights Hospitallers of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem Knights of Malta, the Ecumenical Order, at The Breakers in Palm Beach, 13 men, 4 women.
The event was hosted and organized for the first time ever in Florida under the leadership of Florida’s Grand Prior Chevalier Mark P. Karydis GCSJ.
This order, St. John of Jerusalem, the Knights Hospitallers formed in Jerusalem in the 11th Century to provide hospital care and protection to Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land.
Knights live by the motto, Pro Fide, Pro Ultimate Hominum, “For the Faith and in the Service of Humanity.” The obligations of Knights and Dames are captured in the symbolism of the 8 point Maltese Cross. The four arms represent the four cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance, and the 8 points are signs of what are called “the Right Beatitudes,” spiritual joy, live without malice, weep over my sins, humble myself to those who injure me, love justice, be merciful, be sincere and pure of heart, and suffer persecution.
The investiture process concludes in an elaborate ceremony said to be over 900 years old.
The ritual of investiture is elegant, slow, steady, and possessed of enormous sincerity and sobriety. Each knight binds him or herself to symbols of Christian life idealized by the order, water for purification – a bowl held before the postulants to place and ritually wash their hands, light for the grace of Christ – a candle held before the postulants on which they place their hands at this vow, the sword, touched by each postulant to defend faith and the servants of Christ, and several other symbols from the life of the early members of the order.
An outsider gazing into the room might well miss the depth of devotion and commitment being celebrated and transferred among those gathered. But with clarity and explanation, even a devoted skeptic would be hard pressed to mount mockery for the honorable virtues unfolding in such thick concentration. Contemporary culture, so awash in transient, self-absorption can only stand to benefit from citizens who quietly live their lives bound in such rigorous ways to the welfare of others.
The investiture ceremony is the highlight of the weekend, but the whole process is near three days. On the first evening, postulants – those to become Knights, are carefully taught each detail of what they will affirm and live through the next day. They are presented plainly the seriousness of the vows they are soon to take. Each vow, each virtue, each commitment is presented clearly and unadorned.
Becoming a Knight is a commitment. Several times during the investiture rehearsal the Prince Grand Master Nicholas Papnicolaou told all gathered to be sure they are ready for these steps, that they agree with the values and virtues. “Please see me or any of the leaders this evening if you have any questions at all.” It was at once stern, and compassionate and familial.
Receptions and events for guests and family gave the weekend something of the feel of a university graduation. Friends and family watched the somber, ancient ceremony with pride, many struggling to capture on camera the special moment for their own loved one being honored.
Spending the weekend in this community reinforced my genuine wonder at the unceasing flow of good done in the name of religion and by religious believers. I am struck with the strong feeling that unless a person is active religiously, this particular abundance of good in the world either simply is not known, or it is taken for granted.
Members of the Knights, as with sincere believers the world over seek to live out and embody this good.
While with the Knights, I met Brother Pat Selvey, whose project Hydrating Humanity recently completed the digging its 185th fresh water well in Africa. This inspiration from just three people working together, saves 1000’s of lives from death and illness from the effects of drinking polluted water. Giving clean water to communities not only saves lives, but provides the very basis for all other social good to unfold in these villages.
I met founder of Mom’s Against Hunger Gayla Holley, whose work provides nutritional meals, clothing and medical aid to needy families around the world, food for Africa, or clothing for South America, and even the shipping of essential water filtration pumps to help fight cholera for Haiti’s earthquake victims. Where has her work taken her in the last weeks, personally distributing 1000’s of meals? Staten Island, New York
Eleni Papanicolaou GCSJ, along with her husband Mark P. Karydis GCSJ, Grand Prior of Florida and Secretary General of the Order, upon discovering that hospitals pay high costs to remove or destroy perfectly good and effective medical supplies and equipment, began to organize the rescue and distribution of these precious supplies world-wide. In just a short time, Eleni and Mark have overseen the loading, shipping, and distribution of 7 containers of medical supplies and equipment to impoverished nations.
This weekend, once again, I found myself among religious people in which the amount of service, sacrifice, compassion and good per capita is near overwhelming. Perhaps religious people doing good is in its odd way, not news.
It is fine to report when the government does good, when dogs do good, or even when business leaders do good, but somehow polite society does not permit too much talk of social welfare and positive transformation when its wellspring is any of the great religions. It is probably true that pushy believers helped this prohibition along, resulting in the tragic evacuation of the sacred from the public square. As society declines into consumer-driven self-absorption, excitement over religiously motivated care, has come to be seen as “bad form.”
The Knights remind us however, that religiously backed good continues.
What to some might look like a most peculiar ceremony with candles, capes, crosses, and swords is in fact a public declaration among a collection of people, a tiny few, from whom 100s of 1000s of lives are continually benefited in enduring ways, from mere survival to educated and prosperous lives.
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