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Orthodoxy is vital in modernising Russia on a traditional basis

In the following interview with Interfax, Andrei Poklonsky, the Chairman of the Russian Federation of Orthodox Business Sponsors, speaks of the many problems to be overcome in contemporary Russia, in order to recatechise the Russian masses and restore Orthodoxy after the Communist and post-Communist catastrophes.


What do you see as the main aim of the Russian Federation of Orthodox Business Sponsors?

Andrei Poklonsky

The mission of our Federation lies in “good works” by Orthodox-oriented businesses which are devoted to decreasing tensions and stress in our Russian society. This is a large task, some would say it is immense, but it can be accomplished with a combination of joint efforts and well-co-ordinated management. However, one of our most important aims is ordering our lives in accordance with the tenets and practises of our faith and beliefs. By doing this, we cease to be “Sunday Christians”. What is the meaning of all this? It means that we build our professional life, in our case, in the business world, on the basis of the ethics of Orthodox Christianity. I know… this does sound very otherworldly… but, if we do not aim at a high standard, we will not be able to solve even the simplest problems.


What specific objectives do you have in mind?

Andrei Poklonsky

Firstly, we must discuss the embodiment of the idea of “Christian economy”, its “incarnation”, if you will. This is not only possible, it is vital. We should not be discussing some abstract “Orthodox economy”, economic laws are objective, and there is no alternative to the market economy. What model of the market economy will we implement in Russia? Will we centre it on industries focusing on cutting-edge technology or will we base it on the extraction of raw materials? Or on both? Whatever we choose, Orthodox ethics can and must be a factor in the market economy. Religious motivation must be the specific stimulus for social justice. For example, in the Orthodox catechism we read that to withhold the rightful pay of a worker for honest labour is a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance. Our religious beliefs should govern our care of our natural resources and they should inform our mutual obligations to one another and our country (i.e. “Do not murder”, “Do not steal”).

Russia has abundant God-given natural resources, but we can lose them if we misuse them. Our Church now has freedom; it would be a sin not to use it. The most urgent task facing us, after we resolve our petty differences and roll up our sleeves, is to be “missionaries” in society. We must work to improve the spiritual education of our people, in all spheres of their lives. From those who understand… God demands much… but, we can do it! It is in this spirit that we Orthodox businessmen joined together to serve our Church and our motherland. It is our duty to insert Orthodox moral values into the market economy and to foster the emergence of an economic class grounded in Orthodoxy. Do you remember how some tried to tell us that only the “Protestant work ethic” would allow the Russian economy to rise up from its knees, and that Orthodoxy was allegedly a neo-feudal and regressive belief? The reality is entirely different! We have our answer to the notions of Max Weber. Orthodox ethics are the foundation of capitalism. Orthodoxy is vital in modernising Russia on a traditional basis.

It is no less important to use Orthodox Christian methods to promote peace. We should use the means of strong and responsible people, who do their best not to live a lie. We must proclaim the fact that an Orthodox Christian can and must excel in all areas of life. By being strong, free and morally responsible people, Orthodox Christians can make positive contributions to all aspects of economic, cultural and public life. This is all the more necessary in the face of anti-Church propaganda that puts forward the idea that Orthodoxy is infantile and voluntarily flees to the margins of reality. They claim that the Church so hates and fears the contemporary world that it flees to a self-imposed ghetto and that Christians refuse to take responsibility for themselves, their family and their country. This is the view they attempt to spread concerning Orthodoxy.

Russia was “spiritually disarmed” during the decade of the ‘90s. We all know the results. Nevertheless, the accusation that we Orthodox fled to a self-imposed ghetto or wished to emulate the self-immolation of the Old Believers is false.


Are there examples from Russian history illustrating the attempt to implement the Orthodox world view in the economic sphere?

Andrei Poklonsky

We saw striking examples of this in the twentieth century. For instance, Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky, the great Russian theologian, founded a Bank in the Pochaev Monastery that made loans to Little Russian peasants that took many of them out of dependence on usurious moneylenders. This increased both prosperity and political stability in Volhynia. Without the support of the monastery fathers, no candidate standing for election to the State Duma could win office. In Volhynia, there were no left-wing or right-wing extremists, since the work of the monastery fathers in the economy took the ground from under their feet. In addition, the fathers worked hard to increase the level of education. The print run of “Pochaev Pages” exceeded two million!

Another example was St Seraphim of Vyritsa, who was a prosperous fur merchant before he became a starets or elder. He transacted business entirely without legal papers and extended credit in full confidence, not demanding security. He cared for his workers and he paid them well. In addition, he showed much charity to the poor of St Petersburg.

Orthodox economic theories also found their place in the intellectual life of White Russian émigrés. In 1922, under the direction of Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky, a congress focusing on Russian economic revival took place in the German city of Baden-Reichenhall. In its programme, the term “national capitalism” appears. In its declarations the congress embodied the ideas of Metropolitan Antony concerning Orthodox ethics in the market economy. It spoke of the spiritual responsibility of owners of capital and of the peace that should exist between capital and labour.

We must reclaim this heritage now. Some of the political and economic élite now understand that without Orthodox ethics, the “law of the jungle” will apply and this will devour them. If they can put this understanding into practice by bringing healthy ideas into our economic life, as did St Seraphim of Vyritsa, they will steer society to the thought and experience of these great elders who excelled in the business world. This will give us a chance to create a strong and flourishing economy with moral and religious foundations.


What projects has your Federation implemented to date?

Andrei Poklonsky

Our Federation has been in existence since 2003. We are not theorists; we tend to stick to concrete matters. For instance, we help orphanages. One such establishment was for children whose fathers were killed in action protecting our Russian motherland. We do not simply give them an Orthodox education and a chance to grow spiritually, we also put them on their feet, helping them to grow up as independent and confident Orthodox citizens of Russia.

We also help one of our more active members, the famous composer Georgi Gladkov, in his search for talented children. His goal is unique and urgent. He goes to schools after classes are finished, in order to seek out musically-gifted children and help them develop their talent, especially if they come from poor families who are unable to afford private lessons. To my mind, we must extend such activities to the Church, to the business world and to the political world. We must seek out the talented, nurture them and help them fulfil their potential. It is people who solve problems! Since we Orthodox Christian businessmen bear a responsibility for the future of the nation, we must create paths of social mobility to ensure a prosperous future for our Church and country. Now we base our activities on Christian ethics. For example our chapter in the Kemerovo Province pays 150,000 roubles (£3,000) for every child born into a working family.

One of our most interesting projects is “The Measured Icon”. This is an icon painted after the birth of a child that is the same height as the baby. Several things are accomplished by this. A sacred object appears in the life of the child from its very beginning. It reminds the child and its family of its heavenly patron. On a more mundane level, it provides work for hundreds of iconographers. This helps us to revive our ancient Orthodox tradition of iconography, a “theology in colours” that raises the soul and spirit of the Christian to the contemplation of holy things. However, in our contemporary age, we need to explain the sense of the “teaching of the image” in Orthodoxy. Therefore, there is a catechetical aspect to the “Measured Icon” project. We have published a little booklet in simple and accessible language. To explain the “teaching of the image” is impossible without a link to the Orthodox Church and the sacraments it offers.

We must understand that the triumph of Orthodoxy in Russia will NOT come automatically, on the basis of our old traditions. We must learn how to explain Orthodoxy to people in an intelligible fashion that is accessible to our neighbours, colleagues and business associates. However, we must never do so in a hypocritical fashion, for we know that “whoever must do it, the Lord Himself will give the gifts necessary for the task”. Thus, this led us to another project, publishing the book Theology for Beginners. It is intended for an audience of ordinary people who are not associated with the Church at present and it explains in simple language why all the things in the Church are necessary, such as God, faith, the Church itself, and even such seemingly minor details as why clergy wear beards and why the church services are in Slavonic rather than modern Russian. Now, as never before, we need such an elementary apologetic for ordinary people, otherwise, we shall end up preaching only to ourselves. That would be a total disaster.

Another pressing project is the mass construction of prefabricated church buildings. These can be erected quickly, quite often in days. The main missionary territory is our own large cities. In Moscow and St Petersburg, the majority of the churches are in the city centre, which is practically uninhabited. In many residential districts of Moscow there are no parish churches. For example in Greece there are 10 million people and 20,000 parishes to serve them. We should expect one parish per 1,000 people to have a normal church life. We must solve this problem. As a solution, we have come up with the idea of prefabricated church buildings. The design has already been finalised and it is ready for mass production. The first such building will be erected in Kemerovo, and others will follow soon after in seven other regions. Finally, we will establish such churches in the “Three Capitals of Holy Rus”, Moscow, Minsk and Kiev, as a sign of the unity of our peoples and the inseparability of our Russian Orthodox Church. We have the blessing of the ruling bishops to create new communities in the neighbourhoods, so that these new parish churches can become the centres of community life there.

As you can see, the aims of our Federation have increased with time. Firstly, there are now more members, we now have 12 regional divisions throughout Russia and some 35 more regional and foreign divisions are in the planning stages. One of the most important things in our philosophy is that we believe in independence of action for the local bodies in our Federation. We wish to act in co-operation with both the political authorities and the leading elements of society. Our members are not geriatric oligarchs who enriched themselves by plundering the ex-Soviet state economy. Rather, we are young self-made people who achieved success through applying our own talents and labour.

We have created a Board of Trustees for our Federation and many prominent people have become part of it. They include the theologian Deacon Andrei Kuraev, Deputy of the State Duma Sergei Baburin, the composer Grigori Gladkov, the well-known Orthodox journalist Kirill Frolov, and many others. We have the task of bringing our contemporaries to the faith, telling them of our values and showing the world that independent and successful people cannot help but be Orthodox Christians.

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