The Order is bestowed by the Greek government to Greek citizens who have excelled in the arts and literature, science, public administration, shipping, commerce, and industry. It is also awarded to foreigners who have helped raise Greece's international prestige.
The badge of the Order is a white-enameled cross, in silver for the Silver Cross class, in gold for the higher classes, with the Phoenix (symbolizing the rebirth of the Hellenic nation) at the centre. A five-pointed star is at the upper arm of the cross. The first version of the Order (1926-1935) featured the letters "E-T-T-A" in Byzantine uncial on each arm of the cross, the initials of the motto Εκ της τέφρας μου αναγεννώμαι ("From my ashes I am reborn"). During the Monarchy (1935-1974) the letters were removed and the badge was topped by a crown, while the badge's reverse side featured the monogram of the reigning monarch. The current version (since 1975) omits the crown, while the reverse features the Greek National Emblem with the words ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΗ ΔΗΜΟΚΡΑΤΙΑ ("Hellenic Republic").
The star of the Order is a silver eight-pointed star with straight rays, with the phoenix at the centre; during the Monarchy it was topped by a crown.
The ribbon of the Order is orange with black edges.
Crossed swords on the insignia indicate that the award was given in the military division of the Order.