by Chevalier Steve E. Pehrson
The following article is not meant to present the opinions of any person or organization other than those of the author. Many points of history are debatable and with regard to the subject at hand, are likely to remain so. Thus, every attempt has been made to present the reader with the philosophy and basic tenants of Templarism as presently practiced within the organization known as the Sovereign Military Order of The Temple of Jerusalem (SMOTJ) and as specific to that of the Grand Priory of the USA (GPUSA) as perceived and practiced by the author.
It needs to be stated up front that the SMOTJ is not affiliated with the Masonic Knights Templar. While there is certainly a significant cross membership in many parts of the USA, no formal association exists between the two entities, although I feel safe in saying that a mutual acknowledgment and respect does.
The Order is ecumenically Christian in nature, accepting into full membership both men and women. The GPUSA is established as a legal not for profit corporation (presently a 501 c-10 corporation) in the United States.
It also needs to be stated that the Order is not a secret Order. It functions and ceremonies are open to the public. Thus there really is no proprietary information existent other than that which would be considered proprietary by any other business or organization. The information contained herein describes the practice of Templarism as well as the structure and nature of the Order as administered by the SMOTJ and the Grand Priory of the USA.
The Grand Priory of the USA (GPUSA) maintains a web site at www.smotj.org The fundamental tenets of the organization can be found there. The reader is also referred to the international web site at www.osmth.org for additional information regarding the Order.
Generally Accepted History of the Modern Order:
Genuine documents regarding the possible continuance of the Order after 1314 are all but non-existent in any undisputed context. The official position of the GPUSA is that the SMOTJ does not claim undisputed direct descent from the original Order. There are European branches of the SMOTJ that do imply such direct descent. We neither agree nor necessarily disagree but rather say that direct descent cannot be proven or discounted at present.
Despite this official (albeit an uncommitted) position, many within the Order, and for whatever reason, believe that the Order survived probably in a greatly fragmented form. Many in the Order believe that Freemasonry is directly descendant from the original Order. And by coincidence or design, there are no few similarities between the tenets and practices of the Masonic Knights Templar and the SMOTJ.
What is generally agreed upon is that this branch of the Order became visible in the early 19th century in France. Whether this appearance represents a re-birth or the surfacing of an actual remnant is a subject of ongoing debate. The official position of the GPUSA is that from that point in time, a documented history of the Order can be traced to the modern order known today as the SMOTJ.
A more detailed historical account as promoted by the Order in the USA can be found on the OSMTH web site (www.osmth.org).
Purpose of the Modern Order:
An official statement of purpose can be found on the web site. Basically, the Order considers itself to be a vanguard of Christianity. We believe that this was the purpose of the ancient Order and thus we believe that such is the tradition which should be maintained. Of course, in the world today, direct military action on the part of such an organization would be ludicrous. Rather, the Order uses it resources and influence in more contemporary applications. The Order contributes yearly to the Franciscan Order for the express purpose of helping to maintain the Holy Sites in and around Jerusalem. The Order is very concerned and increasingly active in the arena of Christians at risk, civil rights, and conflict resolution. The Order maintains a strong interest in helping achieve Christian tolerance between denominations and between Christians and non-Christians. The Order is active in a multitude of humanitarian activities and supports several established charities such as Doctors Without Borders.
Charitable activities are conducted at all levels of the Order. Thus, individual Priories and Commanderies have projects that they support at the local, regional , national, or international levels, and the Grand Priories have programs that they support through the resources made available to the Order nationally.
Most members feel that it is inherently part of their knightly responsibilities to become active in some ongoing philanthropic endeavor. The “Silent Knight” Program is a perfect example of the type of individual philanthropic initiatives promoted by the Order (see www.osmth.org). Insofar as possible, most Priories work to involve the membership in charitable projects that appeal to the membership at large. These projects are not dictated by the Grand Priory but left to the discretion of the individual Priories.
Templars from the GPUSA can be found engaged in direct charitable service in Russia, Romania, Kosova, the Middle East, Mexico, and Africa.
They can be found working through a host of humanitarian organizations, governments, and the United Nations. All members work within their respective circles of society and interests to try and make the world a little better place to live, especially for those who have little of the better things of life.
The international or magisterial level of the SMOTJ is termed the Ordo Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymatani (OSMTH). This entity is comprised of the various national Grand Priories who have come together in combined purpose and direction. The Magisterial Council presides as the international authority of the Order. This council is comprised of the Grand Priors of each member country. The council elects and appoints executive officers to provide the administration of the Order. These appointments are three year terms. The Grand Magistry is established as a legal entity through Switzerland.
The Grand Magistry represents a very concerted effort to bring together the various Templar organizations. The Order has suffered several large schisms over the years that had resulted in organizational isolationism. Since the formalization of the OSMTH in the mid 1990’s, enormous strides in consolidation and unity have been achieved. Most persons knowledgeable of the modern order would agree that the Order is stronger now than it has been since the suppression in 1307.
The Grand Priories that participate in the international council are unified by some very basic tenets of the Order but remain autonomous insofar as their specific administrations, policies, and operations are concerned.
Organizational Structure of the Order in the USA:
The Grand Priory of the United States of America incorporates a central administration comprised of the Grand Officers and the Grand Council. Grand Officers are nominated and elected by the Grand Council and serve two year terms changing on even years. The Executive Committee of the Grand Priory is comprised of the Grand Prior, Grand Chancellor, Grand Inspector, Grand Secretary, and Grand Treasurer. The Executive Committee is supported by a host of Grand Officers that provide technical and administrative expertise and service to the ongoing work of the Grand Priory. Basically, officers are either administrative or ceremonial as concerning their specific responsibilities. The Order is established along military lines and as such, the Grand Prior is vested with all authorized prerogatives of command.
The Grand Council is comprised of all Grand Officers, all serving Priors and Commandery Commanders, and all members holding the rank of Grand Cross. The Grand Council meets formally twice a year, usually in the spring and fall, to conduct the business of the Grand Priory.
Regional commands of the Order are called Priories. By organizational definition, a Priory consists of 25 or more active members of the Order. Typically the Priories are headquartered in metropolitan areas. A comprehensive list of present priories and Commanderies within the USA can be found at the GPUSA website. Priories can have wide variances in actually membership and geographical size. Newer Priories are unlikely to have much more than the requisite minimum of 25 active members were the older established Priories have many more. Some of the older Priories in the USA have 200 plus members. There is no defined upper size limitation. Priory organization is patterned after that of the Grand Priory. Thus, the principal officers in a Priory are the Prior, Chancellor, Inspector, Secretary, Treasurer, and a handful of other officers who either have supportive administrative duties, or hold ceremonial positions.
Local commands of the Order are called Commanderies. A Commandery is typically comprised of ten to twenty five members. A Commander, Chancellor, Inspector, Secretary, and Treasurer provide the leadership and administrative duties required. As the Commandery grows, other officers are usually appointed. It is expected that a Commandery will grow and evolve into a Priory within two years.
Officers of Priories and Commanderies are elected by their membership to serve two year terms which cycles on odd years.
There are presently some 2000 members of the Order in the USA. At the time of this writing there are 24 recognized Priories and 13 Commanderies established within the boundaries of the United States. By way of comparison, in 1998 there were 13 Priories and 7 Commanderies.
Presently, the Order is experiencing quite rapid growth both within the USA and internationally. The reason for this is most likely an increasing public awareness of the Order and an increasing positive public image brought about by the visible efforts of the Order at all levels.
Ranks, Uniforms, Badges, and Regalia:
The Order recognizes four membership ranks. In keeping with the origins of the Order, these ranks are often pronounced in French. Entry level rank is that of Knight or Dame. This rank is signified by a gold cross of the Order enameled in red and suspended from a neck ribband of red and black. For the Dames of the Order, the insignia is a smaller version of the cross suspended from a ribband tied in a bow and worn above the left breast. Members of this rank utilize the postnomial designation of KTJ or DTJ respectively.
The next rank is that of Knight or Dame Commandeur. Knight Commandeur insignia consists of a trophy placed upon the neck ribband from which the cross of the Order is suspended. A Dame Commandeur wears a black ribband in a bow displaying a smaller version of the commander trophy. The postnomials for this rank is KCTJ or DCTJ respectively.
The third rank is that of Grand Officier. Members of this rank rank wear the previous insignia plus a silver breast star carrying the cross of the Order in the center. The postnomial designation is GOTJ or DGOTJ respectively.
The fourth and highest rank of the Order is that of Grand Croix. Members who receive this rank wear the breast star plus a gold cross patee’ enameled red and suspended from the neck ribband of red and black. In White tie or Dress Mess uniform, a cordon is worn with the bow over the left hip and the cross of the order suspended from the bow. Post nominal designations for the Grand Croix is GCTJ or DGCTJ. Those of the rank of Grand Croix or lower ranks serving as a Prior, can incorporate the modified patriarchal cross of the Order into their personal signature. The Grand Prior incorporates a three barred cross into his signature.
Members are officially titled as a Chevalier if a Knight or a Chevaleresse if a Dame, regardless of rank. Those holding the rank of Grand Croix are addressed as Excellencies (His or Her Excellency). This conforms to the accepted practice of chivalry as recognized throughout the world chivalric community.
Often, members of the Order will follow their signature with “NND,NN” or “NND,NN, SNTDG”, or some similar design. This is the abbreviation for “Non Nobis Domine, Non Nobis, Sed Nomine Tuo Da Glorum” (“not unto us oh Lord, not unto us …”) extracted from the ancient motto of the Order. It serves to remind us that the Templar mind-set should be single to the glory of God.
Promotion is based upon service and tenure. Typically, a minimum tenure of two years active service is required between promotions. However, promotions are not automatic. Members gaining promotion to the rank of Grand Officier, and especially to that of Grand Croix are heavily scrutinized by the Grand Prior and the Executive Committee before these promotions are granted. The participation of the individual and the contribution (non-monetary) that the member has made during the tenure of his or her membership is the fundamental criteria for promotions.
A goodly percentage of the membership is current or prior military. Therefore it is very common to see members in dress uniform of the branch of service from which they come. For members not having a military background, black tie or white tie is the accepted “uniform” at the formal events of the Order. Kilts with Scottish formal dress is also very popular with the Knights of the Order.
The Grand Priory of the USA also awards, on a very selective basis the Order of Merit. This represents a second order of knighthood within the general Order of the Temple. It is bestowed only a few times a year, and typically for exceptionally meritorious service to the Order and specifically for support of the Order’s efforts in the Holy Land. This too is awarded in four ranks. Although the highest rank is very rarely awarded. I know of only three times in the history of the GPUSA that the Order of Merit has been awarded at the highest rank of Grand Cordon. The Order of Merit can be bestowed upon non-Christians thus facilitating a participation pathway for non-Christians interested in the work of the Order. In addition to being awarded within the general membership for exceptional service to the Order, the Order of Merit is used to honor both non-Christians and non- members who have supported in some grand fashion the work of the Order.
The Order also has six commendations that have only recently been approved. These are bestowed in recognition of tenure within the Order, and for various degrees of noteworthy or meritorious service. The Pilgrims medal is awarded to individuals that have visited recognized sites of Templar history or to specific sites in the Holy Land.
The ceremonial regalia of the Order consists of the white mantle lined in red bearing the large red cross of the order on the left shoulder.
Ceremonies of the Order:
The general assembly and business meeting of the Order is called a Convent. Convents are open to the public but are not generally advertised. The convent is typically conducted in a church or cathedral setting. It incorporates ceremonial activities believed to be reminiscent of the ancient Order. Most often, a convent will incorporate non-denominational Christian worship, the induction of new members, promotions and awards, and any general business of the specific Priory or that of the Grand Priory if it is a Grand Convent. The convent is a rather glorious event that typically displays both the grandiose ceremonies of chivalry and the solemnity of sacred worship. Typically, the convent begins with a formal procession often accompanied by music. In the case of my home Priory, this is a Scottish march performed by a full Pipe and Drum Corp. The clergy of the Order bearing the symbolic cross of the Order leads the procession, followed by the Sword Bearer and the banners of the Order and those of the specific priory. The membership follows according to rank and position within the Priory or the Order. Once all the members are in position, the formal convent is called to order. Unless a representative of the Grand Priory is present, the local Prior presides and typically conducts the agenda of the convent.
The induction of new members is particularly reminiscent of the ancient traditions of knighthood. Those to be inducted into the Order are presented before the assembly and sustained by the membership present. They then receive the oath of knighthood of the Order usually administered by an officer known as the Chief of Protocol. One at a time, they are brought into the sanctuary of the church. Kneeling before the altar, the presiding officer pronounces the accolade of knighthood with the traditional taps of the sword upon each shoulder and the bowed head of the postulant. The postulant is made a Knight or Dame of the Order in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The accolade can be pronounced in English but is often done in French or Latin as per ancient custom. While yet kneeling, knights place spurs upon heels of the Postulant. He is then raised up to standing by the presiding officer. The insignia of the Order is placed around his neck and he is draped in the mantle of the Order. He or she then takes their place among the knights and dames of the order present in the convent. This process is repeated until all the postulants have been invested into the Order.
Our Priory incorporates the old knightly traditions of heraldry and encourages each member to become armigerous. The heraldic shield of each member is prominently displayed if they are present at the convent. This has seemed to greatly add to the general ambience of the meetings of the Priory and further serves to emphasize the ancient traditions from which the Order came. Certainly the chivalric pageantry of the Order is justly maintained with such ceremonial detail.
While not specifically incorporated into the policies of the Order, many Priories conduct a traditional knightly vigil the evening prior to a convent. This is highly variable between individual Priories and so I can only speak from the reference of the home Priory through which I practice. In this instance, a solemn vigil is incorporated into the requirements of postulancy. The vigil begins at 5 PM and goes to midnight the evening before a scheduled convent. The Vigil provides the opportunity for the postulant to become completely oriented to the workings and directions of the Order. It provides ample time for individual prayer and meditation. It instructs the postulant in the history and etiquette of the Order. It includes activities that instill into the postulants mind the seriousness and solemnity of the knightly vow and the lifelong commitment it entails. This vigil is conducted in a very monastic fashion and leans towards the spiritual aspects of the Order and the day to day practice of Templarism. It includes instruction in spiritual exercises that increase Christian faith and charity. It serves to bind the postulant to the existing membership in a unity of purpose within the Order.
An Order of Chivalry:
The Order is patterned in similar style to the other functional or working orders of chivalry. The Order considers itself to be an order of chivalry and therefore conforms to the general pattern of such Orders. This single point probably does more to differentiate the SMOTJ from all the other claimants to the title of Knights Templar than other comparisons that might be drawn. Even when comparing the SMOTJ to the Masonic Order of Knights Templar, one striking difference is the ambience portrayed by the SMOTJ as being a traditional Order of Chivalry. In this regard, greater parallels can be found comparing the SMOTJ to the modern orders of St. Lazarus, the Hospitallers of St. John, and other such orders of chivalry.
This is considered by the members of the Order to be a very significant point. The concepts of chivalry are generally considered to be fairly established and exhibited through the established knightly orders of the world. Knighthood has traditionally been considered the pinnacle of the gentry class of society. Certainly the concept of social strata as existing in times past is no longer politically correct in the Western mind, nor does it exist in the same context of times past, especially in the USA. Nevertheless, the ideals of chivalry are still considered to be the finer qualities associated with a traditional gentleman. It is those very ideals that are embraced by those who embrace traditional knighthood, whether through the SMOTJ, the Venerable Order of St. John, the Order of St. Lazarus, or any of the other orders of chivalry still present in the world.
Discussions along this line can and do comprise volumes. However the point of traditional chivalry being housed within established orders of chivalry is not likely to receive much criticism from the Chivalrists of the world. It is a point that is usually absent from the various Templar entities out there. Yet it simply must be considered in any comprehensive discussion of ancient or contemporary knighthood. For a person calling himself a knight, there are and always have been certain specific criteria attached to the title, if he is to be taken seriously within the chivalric and noble community.
This is not to say the SMOTJ has not been challenged in this regard, nor to say that it will not continue to be challenged. The opinion along these lines within the Order is mixed as well. There are many who feel the SMOTJ meets all the criteria of a recognizable order of chivalry while there are those that contend that such is not the case and would make the comparison between the SMOTJ and organizations such as the Lions Club. This again represents a debate that has been present for 200 years or longer and will likely continue.
A person can practice chivalry without a knightly title and those with the title may not be chivalrous. But, just because you are chivalrous does not entitle you to the title. The bottom line fact of the issue is, that if you do not receive the title from a recognized order of chivalry or some person possessing a recognized “fons honorum”, you do not hold a valid title. That is not my opinion, but rather a simple statement of fact. Does the SMOTJ bestow a “valid” knighthood ? In some circles yes and in some circles no.
Personal Reflections on the Order:
I’m an idealist. I believe wholeheartedly in the specific brand of Christianity that I practice. Templarism has proven, in my case, to greatly enrich that aspect of my life. I do not believe that my personal example is unique. I have attempted to incorporate the ideals of Templarism into the daily scheme of my life. It has been a most interesting experience and one of continual stimulation. My experiences within the Order have placed me into association with people and times and places that I never dreamed of when I entered the Order, which was not all that long ago. I can say without any mental reservation, that my brothers and sisters of the order are the finest collection of men and women with whom I have ever been associated. The membership includes an impressive assortment of military officers, many of which are flag level officers (generals and admirals), senators, congressmen, diplomats, business executives, physicians, dentists, professors, judges, attorneys, Justices, accountants, and senior religious leaders from nearly every Christian denomination. Of course one does not have to be a doctor or lawyer to be a member, and indeed many of the members do not hold terminal degrees or high titles of military rank or civil position. What is readily apparent when viewing the cross section of membership is that the vast majority are very practiced and successful Christians. The Order is strikingly devoid of outward labels. Within the Order a Knight is a Knight is a Knight. In this regard it is a very equalizing organization with regard to the membership.
Although certainly Christian in every regard, I have never seen contentions over specific Christian dogma or debates over denominational doctrine occur within the confines of the Order. I have found this to be very unique and profoundly refreshing. It is made to understand up front, that such behavior is counterproductive and ultimately results in nothing more than an animosity or personal offense, things that the oath strictly forbids should occur between members of the Order. The Order believes, and puts into practice the concept of exercised faith. We engage in acts of charity at the expense of personal time and money because we believe it is the right thing to do and because we believe that such activity is most consistent with the knightly vows we have taken. I have found the practice of Templarism in this regard to be completely compatible with my own specific religious philosophy. My participation with the Order has magnified and expanded my own faith. It has provided a very tangible vehicle through which my faith can be exercised with very perceptible results for myself and those who may benefit from my meager efforts and from the much more potent efforts of the Order in general.
Traditional Templarism is not for everybody. If practiced in its intended form, it requires personal sacrifice of time and money and self to bring some direct benefit to others. It requires the personal incorporation of the best of chivalric ideals, and if practiced consistently will improve and purify ones self through the simple tried and venerated principles of faith and action. A Templar is penitent, humble, and self sacrificing. These are not the easiest of personality traits to assimilate, nor are they popularized in many of the more popular cultural trends of the day. Yet these are exactly the virtues the ancient order stressed. So I use the term Traditional Templarism to differentiate this style of active practice from the other forms of “Templarism” becoming increasingly prevalent throughout the world. The incorporation of traditional Christianity combined with traditional chivalry put into selfless practice for the benefit and service of mankind. To my mind, this is what being a Knight Templar was, and is, and hopefully always will be.
About the Author: Dr. Pehrson holds the rank of Grand Croix within the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem. His assignments within the Order have included Commandery Commander, Prior, and Asst. Grand Chirurgeon. He is presently serving as the Grand Preceptor of the Sanctuary Grand Preceptory of La Rochelle of the OSMTH. He has been active in humanitarian service under the Templar banner in Ethiopia and works closely with the Imperial family of Ethiopia regarding Templar and humanitarian efforts in western Africa. His work in Ethiopia has been recognized with two Ethiopian Knighthoods and a Baronetcy. He is active in the LDS religion and served a two year proselyting mission from 1975 – 1977. He served twelve years in the U.S. Army as first a Special Forces Medic and then a physician (Battalion Surgeon) with the U.S. Army Special Forces. He is a practicing physician with the Indian Health Service providing Family Medicine to the Ute Indian Tribe of Northern Utah as well as Emergency Medicine to his home community. He lives in rural Northern Utah with his wife of 22 years (also a member of the SMOTJ) and their three children.