The Order of Saint Lazarus was originally created by the militarisation of an order of monks, who, as followers of St Basil, had chosen to work amongst those suffering from leprosy. During the time of the crusades all knights of the great military orders found to be suffering from the dreaded disease of leprosy were forced by their own rules to leave their order. As most were warrior monks, and still quite able to fight, they usually joined their confreres under the banner of Saint Lazarus. The early Grand Masters of the Order were themselves amongst those so afflicted. These knights, who classed themselves as "living dead", while never large in number, were ferocious in battle, always choosing to die rather than face surrender.
Today the Order is still heavily involved with the relief of leprosy, working in conjunction with other official organisations to provide care for leprosy patients. The World Health Organisation currently estimates that there are fifteen million sufferers today, of whom only three and a half million are receiving any form of treatment.
In addition to this a Commandery may choose to support a local charity, such as a hospice or one benefitting children or the aged, or occasionally make a donation to an international charity with which its members may have a specific link.
Each member is asked to participate actively, according to their ability, in the Hospitaller work for the sick, the disabled, the elderly, the dying and all who are in need. This involves the provision of services, funds, medicines, equipment, clothing and other necessities. The scope of this work is wide enough to accommodate the time, talents and financial means of each and every member.
The Christian foundation of the Order requires members to pray for its work and those it supports.