God or Mammon – a choice for businessmen?

by Roger Holdsworth


I first met Vladyko Anthony in 2000, when my future wife Marina took me to liturgy at the Russian church in Ennismore Gardens in London. I was immediately struck by Vladyko’s persona and obvious nearness to God. It was the first time that I, an ex-Anglican, ex-Catholic, and after that for some time an ex-churchgoer altogether, had experienced the Orthodox liturgy. I found it both beautiful and very moving. The Feast was that of All Russian Saints, and Vladyko’s sermon was about the visit of Prince Vladimir’s emissaries to Hagia Sophia. I was impressed by the content, and of course charmed by Vladyko’s exquisite English, delivered in his unique, more French than Russian accent.

Before his final illness, Vladyko Anthony used to come out of the sanctuary after liturgy to bless those parishioners who came up to him. The first time that I came to him, he blessed me in Russian, and I said, just to start the conversation, “Actually, I’m English”. “Ah!” he replied, “I couldn’t tell, because it isn’t actually written on you!” He retained his delicious sense of humour until the very end of his life.

A few months later he agreed to see me privately, and I told him more or less the story of my life, almost a general confession, although of course I was not then Orthodox. Vladyko gave me very useful advice about my life in general. He blessed my union with Marina, so that we were able to be married despite our differences in age and background. This time Vladyko blessed me in English. He said “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you and Marina, now and for ever”. I knelt for the blessing, and will never forget the feeling of grace which descended on me.

I became Orthodox in January 2001, on Christmas Eve, and Marina and I were married in a Russian church in Paris later that year. For some time we had a home in London and we were regular worshippers at the Russian cathedral of the Dormition and All Saints in London. We were privileged to have several personal and intimate encounters with Metropolitan Anthony, and on one occasion he said to Marina “Let’s be friends”. I always think of us as having been close to him, but then I think many people who met him felt close to him, because he had this ability to give himself to whoever he was with, and he made everybody he came into contact with feel special.

Today I want to share with you some thoughts about the relationship between work and religious belief, with particular emphasis on the choices made by people who consider themselves to be businessmen. I never managed to discuss these thoughts explicitly with Vladyko Anthony, but I like to think that they were very much inspired by him.

Who or what is a businessman? I deliberately chose the title of my talk to be provocative. The term ‘businessmen’ has a negative connotation for many people, particularly in Russia, perhaps. But I define ‘business’ and ‘businessmen’ so broadly that really anyone is in some business or other, and of course in Russian ‘businessmen’ includes women as well. The word ‘business’ really means whatever it is that you are ‘busy’ with. So priests, monks and nuns are definitely in business. So also is anyone who is employed by any company, or any charitable organisation, or even the State. In other words, all occupations entail business of some sort. The unemployed may be considered to be in the business of seeking employment, and pensioners could regard whatever they choose to spend their time on as their ‘business’.

Choosing our occupation

First I will talk about occupational choice, and then about the choices or decisions we make every day in carrying out our occupations. How many of us have really chosen our occupation or business? Did the early cavemen and women make occupational choices? Is the notion of career choice a very recent one, perhaps only relevant to an elitist sector of the well-educated populations of countries with an advanced economy and a high level of democritisation? Have you followed a career path? What do you see as your career prospects? And how do you see all of this, in relation to yourself and your choices, as being connected with your religious beliefs?

I was baptised into the Anglican Church, not surprisingly for an Englishman. My mother was a keen churchgoer, my father was not. At the age of seven, I was sent to a boarding school. The Headmaster and owner of the school was a priest of the Anglican Church. He was very ‘Anglo-Catholic’, but fiercely anti-Rome. He celebrated mass every day in the school’s small chapel, usually with only his wife and an altar-boy in attendance. He had a very profound influence on me, and I was one of his most regular altar-boys. By the age of eleven I had decided to become a priest in the Anglican Church, and perhaps become Headmaster of a private school.

Instead, I graduated in psychology at Cambridge University, and after a short period working in clinical psychology, I became a business or occupational psychologist. Business psychology has now been my occupation for nearly fifty years. I am very pleased with it, and I think it suits me. But I could probably equally well have been an accountant or a lawyer, maybe a doctor, or perhaps I should have become a priest. I realise that I am fortunate in having had the opportunities that I was given and the choices I could have pursued.

My job is really about other people’s jobs, about what they are suited to, about who should be selected for a particular job, or what career choice a particular person should make. That is why I presume to stand here today and speak about this subject. Fifty years should have been enough to make me an expert, and I think I could have been an expert if I had studied harder, but I have to confess that I am a lazy student.

Instead I have to admit that I have been a successful businessman. After twenty years working for various institutes and then as an independent operator, I started a real business in the area of psychometric testing, the measurement or assessment of people’s abilities, personality and values, and relating these to the requirements of jobs. Together with a very able business partner and a large team of people, we built the largest psychological assessment business in the world, with more than a thousand employees working in thirty countries. We had many of the world’s largest companies as our clients, and these clients covered every sector of industry, commerce and government. Although I retired from that company five years ago, I still do this kind of work and recently started a much smaller company in the same field.

When I had my ‘audience’ with Vladyko Anthony, of course I told him about my work. He was delighted to hear about it, and said that he thought psychometric testing should be applied to candidates for the priesthood. Unfortunately we never managed to take this idea further, but I leave it to some of you here to think about. It fits very well into my theme that any science, or any legitimate profession, can be used to the glory of God, and made to fit His purpose.

One of my personal achievements has been to set up businesses, often through ‘Joint Ventures’, in many different countries, and in 1993 we started a company in Russia. Through this I met Marina, now my wife, and this is therefore the indirect reason for me becoming a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. Of course I was not ‘converted’ by Vladyko Anthony, because he never converted people. But he and Marina were the main influences on that decision, although I could mention several other fine Russian priests who have helped me too. I would like to mention in particular Father Dmitri Akinfiev, the head of our parish in Moscow and I am very pleased that he is here with us today.

While I have been telling you a bit about my career, I hope you have been thinking about yours. And about the ‘career decisions’ you have made, or that have been made for you. Vladyko Anthony would certainly have agreed with me that you don’t have to be a priest, a monk or a nun to be a good Christian. Obviously, some occupations, and some activities are intrinsically ‘better’ than others. But many, apparently ‘less good’ occupations are necessary to the survival of other people. Which automatically makes them capable of being good occupations or activities. I often remember from my childhood the words of an English hymn (from the 19th century): “Who sweeps a room as for the Lord, makes that and the action fine”. It was once put to me that smoking while praying is probably wrong, but praying while having a smoke is all right. If you pray while doing anything, well anything that is at least not very sinful, you may offer it up to the glory of God, ‘making that and the action fine’. I have to admit to being fond of good cooking, and good wine, and I seriously believe that good cooking and good wine can not only be produced to the glory of God, but also enjoyed for His glory. Not to excess, of course, and sometimes I no doubt do go to excess. Vladyko Anthony used to say that God’s love can and often does take the shape of food and drink.

But back to our real work, not just eating and drinking. Whatever our job is, provided that it isn’t in itself evil, we can and should offer it up to God very deliberately, and we should give this at least a moment’s thought every day when we start and finish our work. Not like the typical Englishman, who is said to believe in God on Sundays, and in the Stock Exchange for the rest of the week! I am very pleased that Marina crosses herself whenever she leaves our home or starts the car, and at many other times, and she has told me how she got into trouble at her Soviet school for crossing herself at the beginning of a lesson, particularly if it was gymnastics, which she didn’t like! It also pleases me a great deal when I see footballers or other sportsman crossing themselves at the beginning of a match. Of course I realize that this could in some cases mean very little, but just making the sign, or offering up a little prayer, even if one doesn’t have the ability to concentrate enough to make it a very good prayer, is something, and something that God will accept. And of course it’s better if we can follow this up by thinking of Our Lord during our work, and letting Him guide us through it. Work is part of our life, and cannot be separated from our religious life.

We can also consider our career choices in the light of the parable of the Talents. Aren’t most of us rather like the man who was given one talent and buried it? I always feel very sorry for this man when I hear that gospel, and I know that I have only used to a small degree the talents that I was given. My new company is actually called ‘Talent Q’, and my whole career has focused on maximizing the use of other people’s talents. On helping companies to select the ‘right person for the right job’, and on training people to use their talents.

Values in business

Having talked about making career decisions, and generally about what we think about our work, I would now like to focus more on business, and on the values which guide businessmen, or at least should guide them. I have developed a structure of 8 value dimensions which apply in business. This structure is based on the general literature in my field, with no relation to any religious belief. But what I want to put to you is that these 8 values all do actually relate to Christianity. Probably most of the people who have written about corporate or business values didn’t think of religion when they wrote. Like in many areas of psychology, or in any scientific field, quite a lot of them probably didn’t have any religious belief, or were downright atheists. But we all use electricity and the telephone, and most of us drive cars, without being put off by whether the inventor was a member of the Orthodox Church. If anything in my thesis is new, it is the linking of these common business values to religion. I think Metropolitan Anthony would have approved of that.

The two obvious texts to guide us here are the one that starts “Render to Caesar”, and the one about God and Mammon. Jesus said (Mat 6:24) “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” Living, as most of you do, in post-Soviet Russia, you must often feel that you are experiencing an era of intense Mammon-worship. The so-called free economy may have brought good things with it: availability of products, freedom of choice, a better quality of life for the more fortunate. But it has also made many people a good deal worse off, and it has no doubt encouraged a lot of greed and corruption.

Throughout Western Europe, the most beautiful examples of architectural style of the Middle Ages are the cathedrals. Men built these monuments to the glory of God, and the church was the main patron of the arts. A few years ago, I was on a business trip to Lisbon, and went for a meeting in the newly constructed head-office of a major Portuguese bank. It struck me then that the West has now entered an age of exaggerated Mammon-worship. It is now the banks and other major money-making, or money-laundering, corporations who are the patrons of architecture and other arts. Look at the Manhattan sky-line, look at Monaco, look at London, – yes, look at some areas of Moscow too.

When we apply science to the selection of people for jobs, we look at many different facets. Success in a job can depend on skill with words or with numbers, with the way the person relates to other people; how they approach tasks and projects; and how they cope with their drives and emotions. When Vladyko Anthony said we should use my science in selecting people for the priesthood, or perhaps more for giving them different ‘jobs’ as priests, he would probably have been thinking about all of these factors.

Jobs in the priesthood, or roles in a monastic community, are no doubt special cases, but the normal principles of differential psychology do also apply. It is very obvious that the best mechanic will not necessarily be a good foreman, that an excellent book-keeper will not necessarily be a good finance director, and that the best salesman will not necessarily be a good sales manager. So also, the most pious monk will not necessarily make a good abbot, or the best deacon make a good priest. Of course I am not trying to make a hard pitch for an assignment to carry out psychological assessments of candidates for the priesthood, or for promotion to bishop, still less to assist in the election of abbots. Although, why not, actually? Surely, these things matter, and we should use the best means available. Vladyko Anthony obviously thought so.

Saint Paul teaches us (1 Cor 12:8-11 – parts only) “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom, to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another divers kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will”. Saint Paul stresses that each person has his or her own profile of aptitudes and personality traits, and that all these talents originate from the Holy Spirit. As Psalm 100 says, “It is He that hath made us and not we ourselves, we are His people and the sheep of His pasture”.

In addition to reasoning ability and personality, we psychologists are also interested in the assessment of values. Corporations or companies have values, but so do individuals, and it is individual values that I will focus on here. In my company, we assess eight dimensions of work-related values, and I’ll tell you more about them. But first, let’s go back to scripture and Christ’s admonishment (Mk 12:17) to ‘render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’.

Our system of eight value dimensions considers various so-called ‘stake-holders’, to each of which we need to render what is due to them, and then some other value-categories, such as ‘innovation and change’ and ‘personal freedom’. Christ’s life focused so much on change, and we are often called on to accept change, or even to instigate it ourselves, instead of wallowing in a static contentedness. Of course we should not seek ‘change for the sake of change’, and we should respect traditions that are worthy of respect, but we should probably opt for change more often than we do. I invite you to think about your attitude to change in your work.

Then, personal freedom to make decisions, another vital value dimension. Surely, Christ was in favour of granting freedom to people, as exemplified by all his healing miracles, freeing people from leprosy or blindness, ridding them of their internal demons. Do we as managers seek to free people, or to bind them? How much freedom to act do we give to other people? In the West, we jokingly call all employees ‘wage-slaves’, in contrast to entrepreneurs, although slavery and serfdom are now things of the past, which they weren’t of course in the Roman Empire. I think it is fundamental, and Christian, to give people a lot of freedom to make important choices themselves, as individuals or in a team. And not to bind them with bureaucracy or an authoritarian leadership. Christ was clearly an opponent of bureaucracy, as exemplified by Pharisaic restrictions. Obedience is undoubtedly a virtue, but it can also be an excuse for not taking responsibility. It takes courage to free ourselves, and to free other people. I believe that we are all called to behave in a ‘free’ way ourselves. Do you have the courage to be free in your work?

Now I will turn to values related to ‘stakeholders’, and consider what we should ‘render’ to them. First, I will list them: Shareholders, Customers, Employees, the Community, the Law, and the Mission of the enterprise. I will take each of them in turn. They can all take the place of Caesar.

Whoever you work for is a prime ‘stakeholder’ for you, someone to whom you owe a duty, whether this is an impersonal relationship with a company, the State or the Church; or a more personal one with an owner, a boss, or even the Patriarch. Earlier I mentioned the Stock Exchange, and I have personal experience of working indirectly for funds which had invested in my company. Are these funds representatives of Mammon, or are they a Caesar to whom we owe a duty? They should be a Caesar, but unfortunately they can behave in a very greedy and Mammon-like way, as Caesar must also have seemed to the Jews in Our Lord’s time. Jesus said however that we must render to them what is their due, and this is clearly the case, whatever we think about their merits.

The next group of stakeholders are our customers. You don’t have to be a salesman to have customers. The word customer is being used more and more widely nowadays. Anyone in any kind of business has customers. Think of it this way that anyone you serve is your customer. So, most certainly priests also have customers, their parishioners or anyone who comes to them for help of any kind. It is said that the Pope’s favourite title is ‘servus servorum Domini’, the servant of the servants of the Lord. The same applies to doctors, teachers, policemen, soldiers and others. Officers in the Roman Army had to serve the population of the country they were occupying as well as Caesar. We should all define our customers as anyone to whom we owe any debt of service. And this is a very honourable and Christian thing to do.

The third stakeholder group is employees. You can look at this from the point of view of a corporation, or a government department, or any employer. All of these have duties to their employees. But also, every boss has duties towards his subordinates. As well as serving our subordinates, we have a duty of care towards them. They are our flock and we have to tend them like a good shepherd. Or like a parent.

How easy or difficult is it to serve shareholders, customers and employees, all at the same time? So long as everything is going fine, this may seem possible. But there are potential conflicts between any pair of these groups. In a Utopian situation, paying perfect attention to the needs of your customers should be the most profitable strategy, at least in the long-term. But often, customers require immediate advantages and these may conflict sharply with the short-term interest of your company, and the demands of your boss.

Similarly, there can be conflicts between the interests of employees and customers, or of employees and shareholders or those providing finance. Most Western nations have enacted rafts of legislation over recent decades to protect the rights of employees, even when these conflict with the interests of owners. It is very common to say ‘people are our greatest asset’, but employers would be happy to get rid of their employees, even on dishonourable terms, if this was in the interest of shareholders. So the State has had to step in to protect wage-earners. In France and Italy, for instance, it is practically impossible to fire employees. France has therefore become the number one nation in employing people as ‘temporary staff’ in order to get round these rules. Is that honourable, or Christian?

Businessmen therefore have a very difficult job in trying to balance the interests of owners, customers and employees for the maximum benefit of all three groups. In a way, they have to serve at least three masters! I have referred to this as different aspects of rendering to Caesar what is his due, but it is really much deeper than that. By serving all of these groups we can ‘make that and the action fine’, because we can use our best endeavours not just as any pagan might do, but we can offer our service to God and seek to ‘hallow His name’, to ‘do His will’ and as far as possible to make ‘His kingdom come’, ‘on earth as in Heaven’. My theme is therefore that we should be good businessmen, good managers or stewards, and good servants or shepherds of our employers, not just because that seems a sensible and profitable thing to do, but because it is what we are called to do.

And suppose you work for an organisation with a disagreeable management, or with a mission or ethos which you find oppressive. What then? Maybe you should try to change this. It could be difficult for you to change the management, or the mission or the ethos. But perhaps you could choose a more congenial employer. On the other hand, perhaps your management is a ‘cross’ that you are called on to bear.

All businessmen exist in a community, in fact in many different communities. This can be a geographical community, a professional community, and ultimately in the community of all citizens of the planet which God has given us to live in. On the whole, we are not doing a very good job at looking after our environment. This is not only against our own interests, and against the interests of our children and grandchildren, it is a profound sign of disrespect towards Him who created the world. Perhaps we feel we are making some effort to protect the environment, but as soon as this is in conflict with the interests of customers, shareholders or employees, it tends to take a very low place in our hierarchy of values.

All businessmen also have to obey the law. I will pass over the problem of what to do if one sincerely believes a law to be unjust. In that case, maybe it is right to put legitimacy low in one’s hierarchy of values. As Christ did, perhaps ultimately. Often, businessmen see themselves as being in a position of conflict when strict adherence to the law seems to go against the interests of their company, their customers or employees. There have been several serious instances in the West recently, with the complete collapse of large public corporations whose accounts were deliberately falsified, by managers who I suppose thought they were doing what was best for the shareholders and employees.

My final category of values I call ‘authenticity’. This means valuing the thing that your company, unit or government department was set up to do. How authentic are you in your job? What is the mission or vision you are seeking to achieve by your work? And how do you think this relates to why God put you here?

So businessmen have an enormous challenge, to look after the interests of their company owners, or the State; of customers however broadly we define them; and of employees or colleagues; also the environment and the community we live in – all as rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s. And, of course making sure they keep the law at the same time. I believe that we can do all of these things, even when they are apparently in conflict with each other. Then add veing true to their mission; giving freedom to others to develop, and daring to seize freedom ourselves, to maintain our own line in all things. And also constantly striving to change, or in Saint Francis’s words, ‘to change that which can be changed and to accept that which cannot be changed’. And, above all to be authentic, to seek God’s will. Then only can we be good and Christian businessmen.

Some of the best people I know, the best managers, even the best businessmen, are not in fact believers at all. One of the colleagues I respect the most is actually writing a book about why man through the ages has found it necessary to ‘invent’ God. Another is much better than me at following the precepts I have spoken about, but does not believe in the immortality of the soul, let alone in the resurrection of the dead. This is a puzzle, isn’t it?

Vladyko Anthony, as I have said, did not seek to convert people to orthodoxy. He wanted to help them to become better people, by removing the layers of dirt that obscured the image of God in them. Obviously, like C S Lewis, he believed that the best way to be good is to follow Christ, and Bishop Anthony was clearly unswerving in his commitment to orthodoxy.

Surely the conclusion is that we should seek goodness through Christ and through out belief in Orthodox Christianity. But then it should also show. Vladyko used to ask whether people would recognize from our lives that we are Orthodox Christians. Well, would they?

And perhaps the ultimate question to those of us gathered to remember Vladyko Anthony’s heritage is whether people would recognize that we see ourselves as his heirs. Not just at this conference, but when we are back at our desks.

A talk given by Roger Holdsworth at the I conference dedicated to Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh legacy, Moscow 2007

Metropolitan Anthony Library

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