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Bold textOrthodox Christian Economic Ethics

“Six days thou shall work, and on the seventh day thou shall rest”

  (The Decalogue)

“Great men are they who see that the spiritual is stronger than any material force”


“He who needs many things is a slave of many things, even if he seems to be their master”

  (St  John Chrysostom) 

For Orthodox Christians business is not just a process of economics exchanges of money, products, and profits. It includes human interactions, is fundamental to human society, and is involved with social, political, legal, spiritual, and cultural activities. There is an explicit association between business and ethics. Briefly stated, our experience and business ethics can be summarized as an obligation to rise above the negative logic of the markets and, alternatively, to develop new models of authentic creative co-existence directed by a vibrant ethical message.

("Orthodox View") The Orthodox Christian perspective begins by understanding that, love for God, love for neighbor, and love for self are too easily misunderstood as three separate and totally unrelated functions of the human will and individual personality. These three activities need to be perceived as a united spiritual and ethical life supporting force. This essential bonding becomes clear as we review the primary principles articulated by Orthodox Christian ethics and the doctrinal responses that compose Orthodox Christian ethics. Saint Basil concentrated on the conditions we have for maintaining our obligation to scriptural affirmation that all persons work:

“You should know this, that he who works should do so, not to minister to his works but to fulfill the commandments of the Lord Who said: I was hungry and you gave me food to eat.” For to be anxious for one’s self is absolutely forbidden by the Lord, when He says: “Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on,” and added: “for after all these things do the Gentiles seek.” Each therefore should put before himself as the aim in his own work the services of those in want, not his own need. For thus he will both escape and charge of self-love and will receive the blessing bestowed on love of the brethren by the Lord – “Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even the least, ye did it unto me.”

Further, the church fathers generally warned that wealth could become a spiritual snare that easily deflects one’s attention from the truly significant values of a person’s life. Wealth entices people to stray away from life’s primary purpose. That is growth toward spiritual and bodily oneness with God. These words offer guidance to many of us residing in the industrialized, wealthy countries of the West. They not only apply to our personal lives, but how we content with third world countries.

("Past") Our history allows us the benefit too review how each of the following entities evolved, took center stage, and then slowly but surely were replaced by newer realizations by the voice of the people. We begin with the Monastery period of ruling the people. They delivered “edicts” within their cloistered buildings and people implicitly followed them never thinking that the world would be reigned by other than monastic leadership. However – the day came and the Monasteries power and influence tottered and eventually took its place regarding earthly affairs.

Next came the hierarchal rule of the Church. Heresy became the cardinal sin of the people and the arch-criminal was deemed as a heretic. Those that disbelieved or opposed the tenants of the Church were sentenced to prison and condemned to death. The edict was absolute, and no one for centuries believed that the world could be ruled except by priest proclamation. However – the day came and the Church eventually assumed its role second to the State.

The State and its monarchial power ruled with the people of the world as its subjects or slaves. Kings, Governors, and Emperors took center stage to direct worldly affairs. Their official decrees would inaugurate large public building projects and massive military campaigns. No one for generations questioned that the State’s monarchal rule as the primary source for all to be governed. However, slowly but surely the people would emerge from this form of serfdom and the State would take its position in accord to worldly affairs.

("Present") Today money is our “King”, commerce rules, and business is our God. The dominatice of nations are discussed in light of their economic perspective. The destiny of the world and the human race are purely economic. The modern capitalist and commercial executive, no different than the autocratic leaders of the Monastery, the Church, and the State see their profession in terms like a “King”. They have inherited a leadership role in which they intend to execute.

Unlimited power initially attracts attention, then progresses to the attributes of interest, then to doubt, then distrust, then to encounter many questions. The rise, mature(ing), decline, and fall of earthly institutions is part of the process. Capitalism – like each of its sisterly institutions in their respective time frames to rule humans is beginning to confront a number of factors, i.e. cracks in the system, that will expose how it is currently misjudging the overall progress of mankind.

We first want to acknowledge how well the Capitalist system has served the civilized world up to this point of time. It has been a beacon of light providing technology, employment, financial stability, and a rational approach to life. However, a number of dilemmas are beginning to arise which in time will change our attitude about the longevity of the system. First – is the premise that the Industrial Revolution altered our ethical system. Even though the world has changed in many ways from 50 to 100 years ago – we continue cherish ethics derived from an ethos that was conceived by Adam Smith more than 300 years ago. Although Smith advocates the quest of self-interest instead of personal greed, it is extremely difficult to distinguish between them. This establishes a dilemma or paradox. The well being of the majority are secured by the greed of the few. Our ethical, moral, and religious perspectives have not kept pace with our scientific, technological, and business development. The best solution to cover this ever widening gap is to create intermediate principles and practical conclusions that apprize the existing reality with authentic basic ethical principles.

A second concern is attributed to the ever growing scarcity of world wide natural resources. As more countries like India and China join in the Capitalist system of economic development the more likely we will face the depletion of existing resources. Industrialized societies will have to consciously be ready to implement trade offs given the highly competitive ploy for energy, capital, inflation, and increasing risk of environmental hazards. The value of human welfare will play a significant factor in both the thinking and evaluation process. Looking after the poor, medical attention for the sick, adequate food and shelter for individuals in need, maintaining justice, and providing education. The United Nations “Human Development Report” (2000) indicates that 20 % of the residents in high income nations tally for 86 % of private spending whereas the poorest 20% of the world’s population consumes less than 2 % of the pie. More astonishingly, two-thirds of the world population survives on fewer than two dollars a day.

("Future") We are heading back to a fundamental premise with our creator. Business are created for man and man not for business. It is in this perspective which will enable us to realize the responsibility of existence and to content with the task of transforming the world into a more perfect image of its creator. Orthodox Christians would further expand this point to support the divine eros principle. The loftiest spiritual and moral endeavors of which humans are capable of motives that lead us to take proper steps in doing his commandments, to work in his ways, and to serve his will. One of the Church fathers St John Chrysostom would appraise a similar dilemma. His assessment easily lends itself to this future economic show down we will be confronting: “HE WHO NEEDS MANY THINGS IS A SLAVE OF MANY THINGS – EVEN IF HE SEEMS TO BE THEIR MASTER”.

Two prevailing world systems – Neoclassic and Ecological economic models are dramatically different. The Neoclassic perceives human beings on the earth as a corporate or syndicate, a group of individuals gathered together to benefit its consumers by effective use of natural resources. It is based on assumptions derived from the 18Th century view of man kind that humans are motivated by self-interest. Human nature is seen as individualism and the goal is economic prosperity. The Ecological system views the earth as an organism or a community that prospers and survives by the interdependence of all its elements, human and non-human. It rest on assumptions developed by postmodern science that human beings are conscious and dependent aspect of the earth and of the planet as a organism or community internally related with one another. This economic paradigm asserts that we cannot survive until we recognize our profound dependence on all its parts and the planet earth. The well being of the people is inextricably connected with the well being of all its parts. A newer – Global village type strategy will take more of a precedence.

These two systems have implicitly been operating together as “Economic” and as “Teleological” Imperatives. The traditional Neoclassic model has stressed the Growth and Efficiency aspects whereas the newer Ecological model stresses the Legitimacy and Consistency aspects. While the economic imperatives emphasize on means, the teleological imperatives distinguish, preserve, and organize the company’s core purpose. However, under crisis conditions everything changes. We will confront more challenges in the market, shifts in technology, and fundamental shifts in social and moral comprehension. During a crisis an organization realizes that pre-existing policies and strategies no longer provide sufficient responses to the external environment. The more frequently organization experience a worldly impediment, the more we will witness the economic imperatives becoming replaced by the teleological imperatives. The ensuing catalyst will be our upcoming “Environmental – Earth Warming” crises. The new challenges presented by this dilemma will demand the necessity for a re-examination of the legitimacy imperative and consequently for the overall operating structure of the entire organization.


In Search of Universal Values, Karl-Josef Kuschel and Dietmar Mieth, London, England: SCM Press, 2004.

Subverting Greed: Religious Perspectives on the Global Economy, Paul F. Knitter and Chandra Muzaffar, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002.

The Hidden Moral Language of Organizations, Robert K. Massies Jr., Public Lecture at the University of Tulsa, 1995.

Living the Faith: The Praxis of Eastern Orthodox Ethics, Stanely S. Harakas, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Light and Life Publishing Company, 1992.

Just Business: New Introductory Essays in Business Ethics, Tom Regan, Philadelphia, Penn: Temple University Press, 1983.

Ethics in the Education of Business Managers, Charles W. Powers and David Vogel, New York: The Hastings Center, 1980.

Ethics, Free Enterprise, and Pubkic Policy: Original Essays on Moral Issues in Business, Richard T. De George and Joseph A. Pichler, New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Ethics in Business, Thomas M.Garrett, New York: Sheed and Ward, Inc., 1963.

Dollars Only, Edward W. Bok, New York & London: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1926.

Category:Orthodox Business Ethics Category:Orthodox Economic Ethics