Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

Russian Orthodox Church and Economic Ethics at the Turn of the Millennium

Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin

  • Print this page
  • Email this page
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Bookmark and Share

3. The Code of Moral Principles and Rules in Economic Activity

The 7th World Russian People's Council, a public forum chaired by His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II and uniting clergy, politicians, leaders of public organizations, representatives of the scientific community and world of arts, took place in December 2002 in Moscow. This time the Council was devoted to the theme "Faith and Labour: Religious and Cultural Traditions and Russia's Economic Future". In his message to the participants of the Council, Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote in particular, "I am convinced that without strengthening the spiritual principles of our life and its moral foundations it is impossible to ensure a progressive development of Russian society, to form an effective and socially oriented economy and responsible attitude to labour and to improve the well-being of the citizens" (http://www.russian-orthodox-church.org.ru/nr212172.htm).

Among the speakers at the Council were representatives of various political forces and adherents to various views of the ways in which Russian economy should develop. Among them were also representatives of the economic committees of the Russian Federal Assembly and leaders of major trade unions and business associations.

The Council's Word, the final document of the forum, stated in particular, "Today the governmental authorities, scientists, businessmen, public organizations are seeking for ways to overcome the negative developments in the economy. This search cannot be limited only to the field of figures and market laws. National economic problems cannot be solved without taking notice of the moral and spiritual state of society. Indeed, many reasons for the present difficulties are concealed in the human hearts and minds. Scientific recipes and governmental decisions will not make people happy unless the moral foundation of human activity is restored and the rules of behaviour for the businessman, worker, public servant and any other participant in economic processes are established and really observed.

"We have to learn to resolutely reject criminal amorality in economy and refuse to cooperate with dishonest and unscrupulous people. Those who do not pay wages in good time, humiliate the worker and stifle business through red tape deserve persistent and staunch public condemnation. Economy should be not only effective, but also equitable and merciful, addressed to the human being, not only money and goods. We should realize that the goal of economic activity is first of all the welfare of people, young and old, strong and weak, those living now and those who will come to replace them.

"The determination of the fate of national economy however should not become an "appanage" of officials, businessmen and economists. We all, the people, state, Church, trade unions, business associations, scientific community and civil society should see in Russia's economy a field for our care and creative efforts. The country needs an open and comprehensive dialogue on economic and social problems that will influence important decision-making" (http://www.russian-orthodox-church.org.ru/nr212173.htm; English version: http://www.russian-orthodox-church.org.ru/ne212173.htm).

The Council decided to develop a code of economic activity. Soon a working group was formed to draft it. It included representatives of diametrically opposite camps in the Russian socio-economic discussion, such as Sergey Glazyev, State Duma deputy, once a minister in Gaidar's government and now a scathing critic of the liberal reforms; Vladimir Mau, rector of the Academy of Nation Economy, one of the architects of the early 1990s reforms, who remained committed to his convictions, Ms. Yelena Katayeva, deputy chairperson of the Federal Commission for Equity Market. Pavel Shashkin of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations together with the author of this article assumed the functions of the secretariat and technical drafting.

The working group considered several approaches to the code, including a detailed analysis of specific economic realities and developments. It was ultimately agreed however not to duplicate the already existing detailed codes of corporate ethics adopted by business associations or the norms of public law. The document, which was entitled "A Code of Moral Principles and Rules in Economic Activity (http://www.mospat.ru/text/news/id/6353.html; English version: http://www.mospat.ru/text/e_messages/id/6682.html) was formulated on the basis of the ten commandments of the Mosaic Law (the structure of the Code represents a kind of the Decalogue) and the experience of their assimilation by Christianity and other religion traditionally confessed in Russia.

The document deals with a diversity of aspects of economic and social life. It states, in particular, the following concerning the religious ideal and material needs: "In the history of Russia, there have been various approaches to the issue of what takes the priority - the material over the spiritual, or private over public interests. Many a time the spiritual ideal has been sacrificed to utilitarian interests and vice versa. In some periods, things public were preferred to things private, while in other periods, the private to the public. Historically the Russian spiritual and moral tradition has been inclined predominantly to give priority to the spiritual over the material, the ideal of personal selflessness for the sake of the good of the people. However, the extremes of this option would lead to terrible tragedies. Remembering this, we should establish such an economic order as to help realize in a harmonious way both spiritual aspirations and the material interests of both the indiidual and society (Code, I)

The Code declares: "Wealth is not an aim in itself. It should serve the building of a worthy life for the person and the people. The worship of wealth and morality are incompatible in the human being. The accumulation of wealth for the sake of wealth will lead the individual and his business and the national economy to an impasse. Wealth in itself is neither a blessing nor a punishment. It is first of all is a test. The greater one's property is the more powerful one is over others. Therefore, the use of property in economy should not be of narrow egoistic nature and should not contradict the common interest. Honest economic activity excludes any enrichment at the expense of society. The welfare of conscientious businessmen and workers should correspond to their working contribution and result from their diligence in creating, utilizing and augmenting universally beneficial goods. It is a duty of a wealthy person to do good to people without expecting public recognition" (Code, II). This iew of wealth is consonant with the traditional Orthodox perception of wealth as something spiritually dangerous but justified only if a well-off person uses his property to serve people. At the same time, the Code, also along the line of the Orthodox tradition, gives this warning against dangers generated by poverty: "One's poverty or richness in themselves do not speak of one's morality or immorality. A poor person who wastes his abilities or uses them only for selfish purposes is no less immoral than a rich one who refuses to donate some of his income to public needs. Poverty just as richness is a test. A poor person is obliged to behave in a dignified way, to seek to make his work effective, to raise his professional skills so that he may come out of his misery. State, society and business should help him in this endeavour" (Code, II).

The document addresses separately the culture of business relations, faithfulness to the word given and obligations assumed - commitments very relevant for Russia and other post-Soviet countries today. It states in particular, "Observance of verbal and written agreements is a foundation of harmonious relations in economy, whereas the failure to meet one's engagements will undermine the authority of both the business community and that of the country as a whole. Such conduct should be put to public censure. The forms of this censure are manifold, including denial of personal contacts, public boycott, expulsion from professional communities, etc" (Code, III). The document declares it inadmissible to indulge at one's working place and in business relations in such vices as foul language, obscenity towards other sex, assault and battery, drinking and familiarity. It condemns attempts to use the good name of one's firm for one's private purposes, deriving personal benefit at the expense of thecommon cause. The documents states: "Commercial fraud and service fraud lead to the loss of confidence and often to bankruptcy. Bourishness, laziness, negligence, untidiness of a worker dealing with a customer - all this antagonizes him and does damage to the business. Moral participation in economic activity is expressed, among other things, in politeness and propriety, self-control in critical situations, respect for other's opinion even if it is considered wrong. It was not accidental that the principal motto of the Russian merchants was this: 'Profit is above all, but honour is above profit'. One's fair business reputation is one's long-term asset. It takes a long time to build up, but it is easy to lose. (Code, III)

The Code Section IV speaks of the need to give the worker a time for rest and intellectual, spiritual and physical development, as well as an opportunity for changing the sphere and forms of work. Section V is devoted to social aid to be given to workers and the disabled. It is stated in this section that "state, society and business should be together concerned for a dignified life for workers, especially those who cannot earn their living. Economic activity is a socially responsible type of work" (Code, III). While social aid is believed to be a concern for the whole society, the Code places on the state a special responsibility "for the protection of the life, health and human dignity of old people, the disabled and destitute children. It should not only support the disabled, but also create conditions for developing works of charity undertaken by enterprises, religious and public organizations and individuals. The degree of society's welfare depends directly on its attitude to the disbled and the old. Allocation of a part of income for the support of the old and the sick, the disabled, and deprived children should become a norm for any profitable enterprise as well as any well-off working person, including an employee. An enterprise is called to give special attention to the retired and the disabled who contributed their own labour to its welfare. An employer who acknowledges the past and present working services of his or her employees reconciles the past and the future and increases the strength of his or her business" (Code, V). Section VI states that "work should not kill or cripple a person". The point in question here is not only safe working conditions, but also the problem of crime. We read in the document: "Enterprisers should reject the unlawful methods of doing business with the use of force or threat of force. A desire of success by all means and disregard for the life and health of others is a crime and vice" (Code, VI).

The section occupying in the "economic decalogue" the place of the commandment "Do not commit adultery" is devoted to relationships between business and politics and to the problem of corruption. The document insists on the need to divide the political and economic power. The Code states: "The participation of business in politics and its impact on public opinion should be open and transparent. The entire financial support given by business to political parties, public organizations and the mass media should be made public and verifiable. Any secret support is to be condemned publicly as immoral. Private mass media should made open the sources, amounts and use of their funds. Production and entrepreneurial structures, which belong to the state fully or partly, should not show any political preferences" (Code, VII). "Zero tolerance" towards criminal and immoral practice is suggested: "Individuals and structures guilty of grievous crimes, especially those involved in corruption, should be uacceptable as business partners or participants in the business community. A morally responsible business cannot have anything in common with such things as traffic in people, prostitution, pornography, medical and spiritual charlatanism, illegitimate trade in arms and drugs, and political and religious extremism" (Code VII).

The commandment "do not steal" is expounded in a number of prescriptions. Thus, the document urges the state, businessman, worker and any citizen to cherish common and any other property. It condemns misappropriation of property belonging to one's business partners, deprivation of their negotiated share of income, unfair distribution of the fruits of work among partners and workers, depreciation of salaries and paybacks, failure to pay taxes, concealment of incomes, illegal withdrawal of the capital to other countries, as well as pollution which robs not only the present but also the future generations. At the same time, the Code urges the government to pursue a reasonable and constructive tax policy, stating, "The state existing on public funds should assess its share in the common wealth proportionally. Not burdensome taxes is one of the foundations of effective and moral economic activity in which citizens can cover public expenses without unreasonable burdens" (Code, VIII).

Very relevant for the post-Soviet economy are the problems of the competition and advertising ethics. It is not accidental that the Code states the following: "In competitive struggle, morally abject methods must not be used. Thus, a businessman should not hurl public insults at his competitors or spread wittingly any false or unverified information about his business partners. Advertisements containing blunt deception, exploiting the sexual instinct, encouraging people to drinking and smoking, using the spiritual immaturity of children and teenagers should be viewed as immoral and should not be supported by the business community. Advertising must not insult people's religious and ethnic sentiments" (Code, IX).

The document gives a separate treatment to the issues of property, declaring respect for this most important economic institute, condemning unlawful confiscation of property, while responding to some negative results of the post-Soviet privitization, stating, "The institution of ownership and the right to own and dispose of property must be respected. It is immoral to envy the welfare of a neighbour and to encroach on his property. Ungrounded requisition of property undermines economic stability and ruins people's faith in justice. The nationalization of private property is morally justified only if the way it is used obviously contradicts the security and life of people. In any case, property may be requisited strictly by law and with an appropriate compensation. This equally applies to the alienation of state and public property. Its usurpation is almost always accompanied with the destruction of national economy and suffering of millions of people. Privatization is not an aim in itself Legal transfer of public property to private hands is morally justified. This should result in a real improvement of goods and services, lower prices, stronger economy and the building of a dynamic and harmoniously developing society with justice" (Code, X).

The Code of Moral Principles and Rules of Economic Activity, discussed by several conferences with representatives of business, trade unions and public associations and then adopted by the 8th World Russian People's Council on February 4, 2004, was published immediately. It was offered "for voluntary reception by leaders of enterprises and commercial structures, businessmen and their communities, workers, trade unions and all other participants in the economic processes including state bodies and public associations involved in economic activity" (Code, Preamble). The mass media were the first to give their response. In general, the responses were positive; critical voices spoke mostly about a "too general" nature of the document and challenged the very right of the Church to initiate a process of applying moral norms to economy. It should be observed that the Code was not actually designed as a specific list of technical rules regulating economy (these are sealed in public law and corporte codes which are already many in Russia). The role of this document is not to set forth any detailed regulation of the economic process, but to bring to its participants a moral message of the biblical tradition as it has been experienced by the Orthodox Church and other traditional religious communities. But the attempt to deprive the Church of the right to speak on economic and social issues is unacceptable in principle. Such attempts are dictated to a considerable extent by the inertia of the Soviet thinking, which finds support today also among some liberal intellectuals who see any public role of religion as dangerous.

Responses to the Code came from many public and political leaders including Russian federal ministers, the Federation Council members and State Duma deputies. The Minister for Healthcare and Social Development, Mr. Mikhail Zurabov, for instance, wrote that "the Russian Federation Ministry for Healthcare and Social Development, having familiarized itself with the document thoroughly., gives a profound support to the ways it outlined for forming ethical relations among people in any sphere of work, in economic activity, in healthcare and others. (Archives of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations). The first deputy minister for economic development and trade, Mr. Andrey Sharonov, stated in his response, "in the Ministry's opinion, the implementation of most of the provisions of this document may have a positive impact on the development of business ethics, causing a change of methods in conducting business and in competition policy. It will also serve as a guidelin in forming ethical standards in the professional work of self-regulated organizations" (DECR archives). According to the chairman of the State Duma Ecology Committee, Mr. Vladimir Grachev, "In solving economic problems, economic interests often prevail over ecological and ethical ones. Therefore, the solution of conservation problems and the protection of constitutional rights to the favourable environment directly depend on the spiritual and moral state of the whole society and on the principles on which Russian legislation is based. In this connection, the moral principles and rules set forth in the Code should become a basis for the development and improvement of Russian legislation and should be considered by all the committees and factions of the State Duma" (DECR archives). The response from the chairman of the Federation Council Committee for Social Policy, Ms. Valentina Petrenko, states that "the present study, in our view, is profound and structurally meaningful. The rules are intended for a wide ange¼é of readers including all kinds of commercial structures, businessmen and their communities, workers and trade unions. The goal is set and to achieve it all sides involved in economic activity should strive for good faith and dignified life not only today but also in the future. As a whole, this document is interesting to read and comprehensible, while being profoundly professional and unique in its own way" (DECR archives). The chairman of the Federation Council Committee for Industrial Policy, Mr. Valentin Zavadnikov, expressed their following idea: "The process of secularization as departure of behavioural manifestations from their religious basis is going on intensively in Russian society, and the farther society departs from the source of moral knowledge, the more it gives oneself over to regulations and prescriptions having their source in human rather than divine knowledge. God's commandments are comprehensive and universal; they have always been and will be above all human prescriptions and the od

Responses to the Code also came from executives of many major companies, often stating that businessmen are guided in their work by similar principles and rules, which are also echoed in the corporate codes of these enterprises. Thus, the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Systema joint-stock financial corporation, Mr. Valdimir Yevtushenkov, says in this letter that the Code, "which defines the moral and ethical norms of business and relationships between partners and workers, reflects fully the Systema's attitude to this matter. Based on the Ten Commandments given by God and on the age-old spiritual traditions, the Code of Moral Rules will become one of the documents which will guide the Systema Corporation in its work. Besides, in the nearest future the Working Group for Social Responsibility will work out and submit to the Systema Board of Directors an internal document based on the Code of Moral Rules and defining the criteria of socio-responsible behaviour in business to be bserved ¼é by Corporation" (DECR archives).

On May 28, 2004, a regional economic forum in Tver, held on the theme "Towards the Economic and Social Development of the Tver Region Through Spiritual and Moral Revival", adopted a statement that stated in particular that "participants in the Tver Economic Forum declare their willingness to follow the Code of Orthodox Principles and Rules in Economic Activity and call upon all businessmen in Tver to join this code of honour so that once interrupted tradition of Russian enterprise may be revived in the Tver land (http://www.mospat.ru/text/news/id/7016.html).

Some journalists, speaking about the Code, presented it as an internal church document intended exclusively for "Orthodox businessmen". At the same time, it was intended for the broadest possible audience including representatives of various religions and non-believers. It is for this reason that there are no quotations from the Bible or Christian theological arguments in the document. It is not accidental that in his response to the Code, the chairman of the State Duma Committee for War Veterans, Mr. Nikolay Kovalev, writes that "this Code, which expresses essentially the voluntary moral obligations of personal behaviour, will be appreciated, in my view, by all the confessions existing in the Russian Federation" (DECR archives). Moreover, on December 9, 2004, the Code was supported by the Interreligious Council in Russia made up of high-ranking representatives of the Orthodox, Islamic, Jewish and Buddhist communities in Russia. Speaking at a press-conference devoted to the Code, the chaiman of the DECR, Metropolitan Kirill, said that the Code "is based on the ten Biblical commandments, which are part of the doctrine for the Orthodox Christians, the Muslims and the Jews. Buddhists' attitude to this document was also positive, since the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai express in full measure what is described in non-religious ethics as common human morality. Due to this, the document adopted by the Interreligious Council in Russia is equally significant for all traditional religions in Russia" (http://www.mospat.ru/text/news/id/8204.html). Also in December of that year, the document was supported by the Advisory Council of the Protestant Churches in Russia, which incorporates leaders of the Evangelical Christians-Baptists, the Pentecostals and the Seventh-Day Adventists.

4. Prospects for Orthodox moral influence on economic ethics

It can be hoped that the economic thought only begins developing in the Russian Orthodox Church and will soon experience a flourish unprecedented in the history of our Church even in the pre-revolutionary time, particularly, during "the Solver Age" of Russian religious philosophy in the late 19th - early 20th centuries. This development is expected to go in several directions.

Firstly, the voice of the church hierarchy will continue to be heard both on the level of the Church's profound documents reflecting her world outlook and on the level of responses to various developments in economic and social life. Thus, quite recently the actions in protest against replacing social benefits with monetary payments have prompted His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II to make the following statement: "The Church does not intend to point out to the state what economic mechanisms it should use in pursuing its social policy. What is important for us is that this policy should be fair and effective and understandable to the people. The recent developments have shown that these principles have not been realized in proper measure. Changes by no means should deprive people of a real opportunity to use transportation and communication, to keep their housing, to have access to medical aid and medicines. Otherwise a tragedy will become inevitable for millions of our fellow-citizens - thos who worked for the good of the Motherland all their lives and today need care and protection" (http://www.mospat.ru/text/news/id/8397.html).

This statement was widely covered in the mass media, arousing largely a positive reaction, though some politicians and journalists hastened to appeal against the participation of the Church in the discussion on urgent economic and social problems. The most conspicuous statement was made by Vladimir Zhirinovsky's fellow-fighter, State Duma deputy Alexey Mitrofanov, who said that "the Church's interference in real politics is a dangerous process" (http://www.religare.ru/news13579.htm). This attitude was challenged not only by representatives of the Church and some journalists, but also Mr. Mitrofanov's colleagues in the Russian Parliament. The State Duma Vice-Speaker Sergey Baburin stated during the same session: "I would like only to welcome the fact that church ministers identify with their parishioners, with the people, and it is immoral and anti-state to prohibit them from stating their own point of view" (http://www.religare.ru/news13579.htm).

Secondly, various church research centres and Orthodox lay public organizations will continue producing scientific works and public statements concerning socio-economic issues. New studies, papers, analytical reviews and proposals devoted to the Orthodox economic ethics and analysis of economic problems from the Orthodox perspective are expected to appear. Orthodox public lay organizations will apparently give special attention to the economic globalization and international economic relations in general. Already now these themes are actively discussed at religious public conferences, their participants calling for a greater justice in the world economic order and protest against the growing control of the "gold billion" countries and their financial elites over the global market and the economic order in other countries. Criticism levelled against international economic organizations will certainly have an effect on the attitude of Orthodox public organizations towards the economic polic pursued by the governments in Russia and other post-Soviet countries. This criticism has not always been and will not always be competent and professional. It has been dominated by protective emotions. However, it cannot be disregarded either by the church hierarchy or the state.

The thinking on economic subjects will develop in other religious communities as well. Thus, the leaders of Protestant Churches, the Old Believers and the Jews have expressed their views on economy. Moreover, in case of the Protestants and Muslims, conceptual documents are being discussed now to be addressed to public at large.

Thirdly and finally, the state of the economy will be influenced by the gradual growth in faith of a considerable number of businessmen and workers. If in the early 1990s the outburst of religion as a fashion was still accompanied with crying religious ignorance and old women made up an overwhelming majority in churches of all religions and confessions, at the turn of the century the situation has radically changed. Most parishioners now, at least in cities, are families with children and people of middle-age. Many of them are well versed in doctrine, take an active part in church life and observe religious rites practically forgotten in the Soviet period even by many believers. Thus, various sociological polls showed that about 20% of the Russians observed Lent in the early 2000s (according to ROMIR Monitoring, they made up 22% in 2004; see the Blagovest-Info report of March 11).

A fasting menu has become a habitual diet in the canteens of state institutions and large corporations. There are more and more icons in offices of businessmen and at working places of ordinary workers. Finally, many companies give considerable aid to the Church, declaring Christian morality as motivation for their charity. There is a considerable number of enterprises whose entire corporate culture is based on Orthodoxy. One of such firms is described, without giving its name, by the Raschet (Account) economic magazine. According to the company's chief accountant, Ms. Irina Kryuchkova, "our culture implies common responsibility, confidence in other people, full trust in them. Working in this firm, I am sure that I will not be set up or swindled or cheated. I can fully rely on these people. And the most important thing is that I am very calm and comfortable here. Perhaps, it is also the Orthodox culture that tells, the humanity of the leadership and the happy choice of the staff" (http://www.berator.ru/raschet/article/2380). It should be noted that there are also companies in Russia who observe the Protestant and Muslim ethics.

In short, the influence of Orthodoxy and religion in general on the economic life of post-Soviet countries is growing contrary to all the allegations of Communists and liberals about "a near end of the religious renaissance". The author of this article hopes that this tendency will continue, helping his compatriots still experiencing a moral crisis to fulfil themselves and build a free, fair and effective economy which will be aimed at people's welfare and will be unthinkable therefore without a solid moral foundation.

Read this article on the Representation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions website (new window will open).

Posted: 28 Jun, 05

Copyright © 2001-2018 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. Follow copyright link for details.
Copyright © 2001-2018 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. See OrthodoxyToday.org for details.

Article link: