Ukase 26.626. of 1817 concerning the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.
Source: Polnoe Sobranie Zakonov Volume 34 page 29 - The British Library Ref: SN142 (1817)
Free Translation

Decision of the Committee of his IMPERIAL MAJESTY the EMPEROR of all the RUSSIAS as to the wearing of a Decoration of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem issued by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta - 20th January (OS) 1st February (NS) 1817.

Reading was made of the report presented by General of Artillery Count Araktcheeff to the Chief of Staff of His Imperial Majesty, and coming from the Commandant of the special Corps of Internal Defence, General Aide-de-Camp Count Komarovsky, relating to permission for his own aide-de-camp', Cornet Lazareff, to wear the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.
The aide-de-camp to Count Komarovsky, Cornet Lazareff, of the Regiment of Hussars of the Imperial Guard, having been awarded the diploma on his nomination as Knight of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem through the mediation of the Minister, the Duke of Serracapriola, requests Imperial license to wear this Order, license which has already been granted to his two brothers, officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who were invested with the same Order.
Aide-de Camp, General Count Komarovsky, referring the matter to the Chief of Staff, requests that Imperial license be obtained for Lazareff to wear the said Order.
When Lazareff was asked through what deed of gift he had been awarded the diploma of this Order, he replied that such award had been made on proof being produced of the ancient nobility of his family, and in accordance with the Regulations of the Russian Priory.
The Committee has decided that, although Cornet Lazareff explained that he had received the said Order according to the Regulations of the Russian Priory, nevertheless, since the latter does not exist in Russia, Lazareff, as all those who may now receive the Order, shall be forbidden to wear it.

Various arguments have been forwarded about the deliberation. The two main theses are (a) The Order in Russia no longer existed, and (b) the Roman Catholic Order by then a separate Order was not recognised in Russia.

The weight of historical evidence cannot support the former interpretation. The decorations under discussion that could not be worn, were being awarded by the Roman Catholic Order, not by the (non-Catholic) Russian Grand Priory.
The background to this decision is that in 1817, the Roman Catholic Order of Malta began awarding its decorations through the Duke of Serracapriola. One of these was awarded to an Ensign Lazarev, who following standing procedure, requested authorization from the government to wear it. The Council of Ministers, set up a committee to examine it. The committee recommended that Lazarev's request be denied, which was done in a Ministerial Decision issued on 20 January 1817. Those being awarded the decoration via the Duke of Serracapriola were being made members of the Roman Catholic Order, no longer recognised in Russian (unlike the domestic Russian Grand Priory). What it was that had ceased to exist in Russia, was the "stated Order," that is the Sovereign Order of Malta, rather than the Order understood as the Russian Grand Priories.

Count Aleksyei Andreevitch Araktcheev had a full understanding of the Russian Grand Priory, and in fact he was a Knight Commander of the Order. On the 8th January 1799, he was presented to a Commandery of the Order by Paul I - see Almanach de la Cour pour l'Annie 1811, À St Petersbourg de l'Imprierie de l'Acadèmie Imp: des Sciences, page 453. He would have been more than aware of the differences between the Roman Order, and the domestic Russian Grand Priory.

The one time Professor of Law at St Petersburg University, and Adviser to the Foreign Office of Nicholas II, Baron Michel de Taube wrote concerning this episode; "The Emperor interdicted the reception of insignia from Italy of the Order and their wear in Russia without a previous authorisation of Tsar. This measure was taken by the Cabinet of ministers and sanctioned by the Emperor on the request of military chiefs of three junior officers Lazareff, who had received one after another, directly from Italy, crosses of Malta and were suspected to have obtained them thanks to sizable amounts being poured into the treasury of the Grand Magistracy" - Free translation, L'Empereur Paul I de Russie, Grand Maître de l'Ordre de Malte, et son Grand Prieuré Russe, Paris 1955, page 42.

The fact remains that no decree for the extinction of the Russian Grand Priory has ever been issued. In 1810/11, Ukases were passed only to the effect that the Order's temporalities be seized. There was never any edict issued that abolished the Order, or to curtail Hereditary Commanderies to the incumbents of the time. Specifically the Ukase of 1810 24.134 stated "We will do our best to let the Order continue its activities" .
In terms of the Russian Priory, the Convention of 4th-5th January 1797 between Emperor Paul I and the Grand Master of the Order Ferdinand von Hompesch which founded the Grand Priory of Russia, was an international contractual Act, and its terms were 'for ever'. Also, no Imperial Ukase was ever issued abrogating Paul I's Proclamation which created a Russian Order of St. John, which was not only promugated in his name, but "in that of our successors for ever" (See last paragraph ).

Because the Ukases of 1810 and 1811 provide no comfort for those who claim the Russian tradition of the Order was brought to an end under Alexander I, it appears superficially that the only item at which to clutch is the Deliberation of 1817.
Whilst Emperor Alexander I through his disinterest had neglected his duties as Protector, the Order in Russia was maintained by its Commanders and Knights. For example, the prohibition to Lazareff was that he could not wear his decoration because of Government policy, never-the-less, he was still a Knight of the Roman Catholic Order. Whilst the non-Catholic Russian Grand Priory certainly existed throughout Alexander's reign it was deprived of support by the establishment, and was subsumed into the State machinery and under the control of the Government. The lack of moral support seems to have shifted, either in Alexander's reign with a softening of attitude, or more certainly in the reign of succeeding Emperors.

Certainly the Deliberation of 1817, is not an Act of Suppression, it is a deliberation not to allow a member of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta to wear his decoration. The reason given is that his Priory no longer existed in Russia.

Updated 22nd January 1999

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