Ordenstag Wien, April 21st 2018

"We send a message of unity out into the world"

Brightened by the morning sunshine and largely deserted, the Vienna inner district presented itself on Saturday morning. Only a few joggers and the early risers among the tourists crossed the inner courtyard of the Hofburg at 7 am, when 13 new dames and 58 postulants of the Order of St. George, as well as the traditional regiments took part. The crowd of people curiously watched by individual passers-by grew within half an hour to about 450 persons, because the ladies and knights of the order were gathering in rows of four behind the postulants. At the end of the procession, the order government lined up, headed by the Grand Master S.k.k.H. Karl of Habsburg and the Deputy Grand Master S.k.k.H. Georg of Habsburg. 

The morning silence soon gave way to the marching music of the approaching Regiment Chapel IR4, the traditional chapel of the Order of St. George. After the obligatory report to the Grand Master, the performance of the Imperial Anthem and other marches, was followed by a march in formation through the “Graben” to St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna after eight o'clock. 

"The fascination of St. George knows no bounds"

The following service in the cathedral was attended by an estimated 800 visitors. In his sermon, Military Bishop Werner Freistätter emphasized three essential aspects of the work of Saint George - the patron saint of the Order. The ecumenical dimension of the saint executed under Emperor Diocletian in 303 is remarkable. Thus the martyr was venerated very early in unusually many regions, among them the Near East, Ethiopia, Egypt, in the Merovingian Franconian Empire, Italy and soon also in the German-speaking area. "The fascination of St. George knows no bounds", Freistätter underlined. In the Roman Catholic Church today he is regarded as a saint as well as in the Orthodox Church, and even in Islam he is regarded as an important prophet. 

Christian chivalry is another essential dimension of Saint George: "The knightly ideal is characterized by helpfulness, goodness and a commitment to faith.” It also requires the "moderate use of force of arms", especially in this day and age. Those in need can obtain protection and help from the Holy One. Last but not least, Freistätter also emphasized the martyrdom of George: "He gave his own life for faith. This is an incentive to follow Christ wherever one is. In all situations it is necessary to draw courage, strength and hope from faith.  

Admission of four new honorary knights

The festive investiture followed, at the beginning of which four personalities were initially appointed honorary knights, namely the well-known Viennese cathedral priest Anton "Toni" Faber, the mayor of Graz Siegfrid Nagl, the former Bulgarian president Rossen Plewneliew and the former governor of Lower Austria Erwin Pröll. Afterwards, the postulants came before the Grand Master after calling their name and were invested. By the end of the investiture the order had grown to a total of 700 ladies and knights. 

At summerly temperatures the members of the order took a stand on St. Stephen's Square, which has become very busy in the meantime. The march finally led to Palais Coburg, where 450 guests gathered for lunch in the historic casemates. 

The revival of Central European identity

After the afternoon break, the final highlight of the day was the gala dinner in the Ceremonial Hall of the Hofburg. Archduke Karl von Habsburg spoke to 400 guests about the year of commemoration - 100 years at the end of the First World War. Since then Austria's development has been remarkable, the Grand Master emphasised: "Contrary to all predictions from all sides, Austria has not perished, but has developed fantastically, has grown together and today plays a central role in Central Europe". 

The Archduke was also highly satisfied with the development of the Order. "Today we are undoubtedly able to revive the Central European identity. You can see it in our commanderies and our growth." The knights would have to defend their values, their country and their continent. "Some of our new, newly invested knights are on the front line. That is why I would particularly like to welcome two of my friends from Ukraine who just became invested here. They are two highly decorated generals, both of whom have rendered outstanding service in defending their European country against Russia. I am glad that you are both here," said the Grand Master to roaring applause. 

"I have a dream”

Archduke Karl was equally pleased with the investiture of the former President of Bulgaria, Rossen Plewneliev. 

"Today we are experiencing several crises and conflicts," said Plewneliev in his subsequent speech. Some currently speak of two crises in Europe, others of five or seven. "I think we have eleven crises." Rossen Plewneliev mentioned among other things the conflicts with Russia and around Ukraine, the situation of Greece, the Brexite, terrorism and the new flare-up of nationalism. 

But the pessimism did not stop there. "We have come together to share our passion for what we want to leave our children. I have a dream and I want to share it with all of you now. If we resolve even one of these eleven crises in our own way, in a European way, we can then signal to everyone: We can solve all problems." 

A unique peace project

The gathering this evening, the "passion for Europe shared by all of us, sends a message of unity into the world. We know what used to go wrong in Europe and we know how to get a grip on it. We can be proud to have learned our lessons from history." Plewneliev underlined that the founding fathers of the European Union were important role models. "Today we can prove to everyone that the European dream is a unique peace project. The world is watching us. It's time to find our confidence again." 

Baron Vinzenz von Stimpfl-Abele, the Prokurator, also briefly said: "Knights are also known for being able to celebrate properly, and I think we have more than enough reasons for this after such a successful convent. The day started in the early morning hours should not end less late. The party lasted until after midnight.