Patriarch Kirill and Forbes France magazine: 5 questions and 5 answers

Primate of the ROC Kirill spoke about the Church's attitude to business and economy. Photo: UOJ

The head of the ROC told one of the leading Western media what the Church rarely talks about, but what interests many – money, business, and the economy as a whole.

On November 20, 2021, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Church turned 75 years old. Shortly before the anniversary, the French agency Forbes magazine published an interview with the Primate of the ROC, in which he spoke about the Church's attitude to the "outside world": economy, oligarchs, digital technology and more. We offer an analysis of the questions asked by the correspondent of the well-known business publication and the answers of the Holy Patriarch.

Screenshot of the online version of Forbes France magazine

We will not quote the text of the questions and answers verbatim, but will try to understand their meaning in the context of today's situation that prevails in the sphere of communication between the Church and secularized society. The Russian translation of the interview can be found on the official website of the ROC.

Forbes Magazine, a short background

Forbes Magazine was founded by Bertie Forbes in 1917 in the United States. Today it is one of the most authoritative economic and financial publications in the world with a circulation of more than 650,000 copies and a total audience of 6.3 million people. This is one of the mouthpieces of capitalism as a global ideology. The magazine's motto is "The Capitalist Tool".

Forbes France correspondent Basile Marin’s conversation with His Holiness the Patriarch was a dialogue between a man thinking in the paradigm of capitalism and a bearer of a different, religious consciousness.

Question 1: The Church is invited to come up with an economic model

In his first question, Basile Marin basically suggested that Patriarch Kirill formulate a new economic model different from both the capitalist one and the one he called "revolutionary Marxism". In turn, the Forbes France correspondent called the ecclesiastical teaching in the socio-economic sphere as "altruistic benevolence". The question itself sounds as follows:

“Economic science postulates natural egoism of man, which seeks only to maximize individual pleasure, often through sin. How can altruistic benevolence offer a third way between hypermaterialist capitalism and revolutionary Marxism?”

It’s noteworthy that the Primate of the Local Church is offered to answer the question that is not at all within the scope of church activity in our earthly world. The Church unites people with Christ, She shows man the way to the Kingdom of Heaven, and She is not at all tasked to offer the world a third, fourth or tenth way of economic development. The salvation of man and his life according to the gospel commandments are possible in any economic model and any form of government. With his question, the correspondent imposes a dialogue on the Patriarch in his own coordinate system. But the Holy Patriarch is trying to explain to him and the readers of the magazine in Basile’s conceptual language that the worldview of the Church is completely different. He says, "Is not the moral degradation of a godless society, which gives rise to an unbridled desire to possess material goods, to enrich themselves by any means, including deception, corruption, crime, and unjust distribution of surplus profits a source of crisis?"

Consequently, the causes of the economic crisis in which today's world is increasingly plunged are the refusal of mankind to believe in God and, as a result, moral degradation, which in turn leads to the negative social phenomena listed by Patriarch Kirill. The Church cannot offer society a "third way" but, according to the Holy Patriarch, it is the duty of the Church to call upon those holding the levers of economic power to realize their responsibility to God, His creatures and men, and to witness this through real concern for the welfare of workers.” The Church cannot say within what economic model this should be done, but can offer the basis on which it is possible to build both an effective economic model and a cohesive society.

There is only one effective way to overcome the modern social and economic impasse – to be guided by the word of God wherever man has a choice.

Patriarch Kirill

“The Church addresses a person, be he an entrepreneur, a banker, a worker or a peasant, based on the Gospel rather than one or another political and economic platform. There is only one effective way to overcome the modern social and economic impasse – to be guided by the word of God wherever a person has a choice or where he must defend it," said Patriarch Kirill.

Question 2: usury and greed of oligarchs

Basile Marin seems to have realized that the Church is not the institution to be required to formulate economic theories, so he precedes his second question with the remark that "Christian leaders are not professional economists," but then asks Patriarch Kirill to express his opinion on the catastrophe in the economy in the 90s and its subsequent recovery. The question was: "Would you say that the economic and social chaos in Russia in the 1990s was caused by the excessive greed of Russian oligarchs (who robbed the Russian state) and Western bankers (who led it to bankruptcy)?"

Amazingly accurate definition of what happened!

The very wording of the question indicates that the correspondent has already linked the economic situation with the moral qualities of the people on whom this situation depended. But His Holiness the Patriarch takes Basile Marin even further and shows him that it is necessary to look not so much at the economic catastrophe in the 1990s as at the reasons for correcting the situation, which lie again in the spiritual plane. "The Russian state has succeeded in many ways in overcoming the effects of the economic and social collapse of the 1990s, and I believe that this would not have been possible without God's mercy on our people who have gone through times of persecution for their faith. After all, the destruction of the way of life formed in the Soviet years <…> was simultaneous with the burgeoning church life, a return to spiritual traditions. I am convinced that the processes of spiritual revival of our people, which ripened in the 90s, laid the groundwork for positive phenomena in the economy and social life in the 2000s."

Patriarch Kirill agreed that “true, the 1990s were a time of rampant passions in Russia, including unbridled greed. Enrichment was considered the only value for which any means were good." But at the same time, it was in the 1990s that thousands of churches and hundreds of monasteries were restored, and a huge number of people converted to the Orthodox faith, and precisely this, not anything else, was the actual reason that the economic situation began to improve.

As for the collection of bank interest, the Patriarch drew attention only to the fact that a lot of people are wronged by the activities of microfinance organizations that lend money for a short time and at a huge interest rate, but did not say anything about the principle of usury. The Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament answer this question as follows: “Do not charge a fellow Israelite interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a fellow Israelite, so that the Lord your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess” (Deut. 23: 19-20). How this instruction can be applied today is a separate and very controversial issue, far beyond the scope of this interview. However, it should be noted that Muslim bankers still manage to comply with this order in practice.

Question 3: Is a "virtual church" and Orthodox entrepreneurship possible?

Basile Marin’s question: “A lot of priests during the lockdown in France began to hold virtual masses, which Protestant TV preachers have been doing for many years. Do you encourage these initiatives in the Orthodox Church, which is known to be quite conservative in matters of liturgy? What is needed to create a truly Orthodox business? Can we reconcile tradition and innovation?”

Several questions were asked at once, and Patriarch Kirill answered them all. He said one innovation is different from another. Some of them can be added to the Church's arsenal, while others are rejected point-blank. "The Church has always been positive to employ new technologies in the field of printing or architecture, and today uses electronic technologies to preach the word of God; the community of blogger-priests is vigorously evolving, and mobile missionary applications are being created," said the ROC Primate.

However, as for the "virtual church", the situation is different. "For us, the 'virtual church' is a surrogate that cannot accommodate the fullness of human and divine communion," said Patriarch Kirill. It is impossible to perform the Sacraments in cyberspace; even a full-fledged prayer is, by and large, impossible, although, in the opinion of the Holy Patriarch, watching the Internet or telecast worship is still better than nothing.

For us, the "virtual church" is a surrogate that cannot accommodate the fullness of human and divine communication.

Patriarch Kirill

Orthodox entrepreneurship is possible, like any other work, if it is compatible with the teachings of the Gospel. Patriarch Kirill told the correspondent that there is a "Union of Orthodox Entrepreneurs" in Russia, and that the "Code of Ethics for Orthodox Entrepreneurs" has been adopted within this organization. It would be interesting to know how this code is practically put in place, but it is also beyond the scope of the interview.

Question 4: Asceticism and limitation of needs

Basile Marin's question: "What asceticism or discipline would you recommend to a Russian Orthodox businessman who is ready to serve society?"

Answering this question, Patriarch Kirill gave an interesting definition of asceticism: "Christian asceticism is the art of combining high internal tension, owing to the desire to fulfill the commandments of Christ, with the realities of modern life."

There is something to think about here. A great deal of believers, who have become acquainted with the works of the great Christian ascetics – Anthony, Macarius, Pimen, whom the Church called "Great", as well as other fathers, came to the perplexing question: how can their teachings be applied in modern life? The words of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill help to find the answer to this question. First, he says that asceticism is an art, not a blind copy. Secondly, it is an inner spiritual tension, a state of the soul, when it is not relaxed and calmed by the current state of affairs, but on the contrary, strives for something, wants to achieve something and is ready to make certain efforts to do so. Third, what the soul should strive for is the fulfillment of Christ's commandments, as a manifestation of love for God. "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15), the Lord said. And fourth, specific forms of asceticism depend on the realities of modern life. They are, of course, different from those of the holy fathers and so are the forms of modern asceticism, but the fulfillment of Christ's commandment to love God and your neighbor remain unchanged.

Since the question was asked in the context of entrepreneurship, His Holiness the Patriarch gives practical tips on how a business person can embark on this ascetic practice: “Any path begins with the first step. Let this first step for an entrepreneur be conscious help to the nearest church, orphanage, almshouse, help center for young mothers and other people who are in a far from normal life situation."

What was probably most surprising to a Forbes France correspondent was that His Holiness pointed out that asceticism in itself has no value: “We must remember that asceticism is only a means of educating love of neighbor in man. If there is austerity, but there is no love and desire to help one's neighbor, then self-restraint is meaningless." Moreover, asceticism without love can be a path to destruction: "There are also those whose personal austerity becomes an end in itself, an expression of pride."

Could it be possible to unfold this thought with the words of the Reverend Seraphim of Sarov: “Prayer, fasting, vigil, and all other Christian deeds, no matter how inherently good they might be, are not the only purpose of our Christian life, although they are the necessary means to achieve it. The true purpose of our Christian life is to receive the Holy Spirit of God.” The patriarch did not say so, since it would have probably been too sublime for a business correspondent.

We must remember that asceticism is only a means of cultivating love for one's neighbor. If there is asceticism, but there is no love and desire to help one's neighbor, then self-restraints are meaningless.

Patriarch Kirill

Question 5: Capitalism and the family

The question was asked in such an interesting way that it makes sense to quote it in full.

Basile Marin: “Whereas Western capitalism produced products for family consumption, such as family movies, family apartments, and board games for families until the 1970s, consumerism and more individualized consumption patterns have emerged over the past forty years. Apartments are smaller, dating sites cater to fickle singles, while the smart phone, a symbol of the last decade, is the most important personal item. This trend has been even rougher in a post-communist Russia, with all evolution taking place in just the last twenty years. Is this development inevitable? How to reconcile capitalism and the family?”

His Holiness the Patriarch agreed with this statement of the question, noting that in the family a person must take into account the opinion of his/her near ones, yielding to something, compromising some of his/her desires and priorities. However, individual consumption means he/she can fully satisfy his/her desires and whims with no regard to the needs of others. Such parasitism of business on the sense of selfishness brings the maximum profit today, but in the long run it is a dead end. The Holy Patriarch explained it in lay terms: “But there is a ‘small’ problem for capitalism: egoists do not reproduce. They have no need for that. The number of consumers is steadily declining, because even with the highest quality of life a person is mortal. Thus, capitalism, which does not know how to ‘produce people’ by promoting family values, has to import new consumers from outside, from those regions where other patterns of behavior operate – at least to collect revenue from them. This is a downward spiral that will inevitably end up with a crash."

The conclusion is hence as follows: the only way out for both business and society as a whole is “awareness that the family is a basic value, not a product or service. One should invest in resources, material, moral, protect and support it. More and more people in the West are coming to this conclusion, realizing that without a traditional family, the future of humanity is impossible." So far, there are not many such people in the West and in our countries so that they can make the institution of the family and other traditional values dominant in society. On the contrary, we see the institution of the family being systematically destroyed, replaced by all sorts of surrogates and perversions, but I would like to believe that in the foreseeable future the words of Patriarch Kirill will be prophetic and humanity will return to its traditional way of life and its true values.

Without a traditional family, the future of humanity is impossible.

Patriarch Kirill

Some general conclusions

Firstly, by the questions that were asked to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, we can see that Western society is interested in Orthodoxy. From the leader of the largest Local Orthodox Church, the audience of one of the leading economic magazines wants to know how the Church treats fundamental economic phenomena: usury, consumption, profitability, and so on. They even want to hear the Patriarch say what economic model humanity should adopt.

Secondly, representatives of modern secular society and people with a religious worldview speak different languages, in the sense that they have different values, different ideas about the laws of existence and different points of view on the goals of human existence. On the one hand, it is an obstacle to communication, but on the other – the possibility of preaching Christianity.

Thirdly, it is possible and necessary to talk to representatives of Western society and the bearers of the Western liberal mentality, viz. to interpret to them the fundamental principles of Christianity, reveal to them the truths of the Gospel, but at the same time to avoid what the Gospel refers to as "casting pearls before swine." Certainly, this calls for a certain art, but missionary work has never been an easy task.

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