Going global with the Cola Bear

(L to R) Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Coca-Cola Polar Bear, and Archbishop Demetrios

(L to R) Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Coca-Cola Polar Bear, and Archbishop Demetrios

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Demetrios paid a visit to Coca-Cola world headquarters last week to meet with Muhtar Kent, president and chief executive officer of the company. It is a striking image here: Two hierarchs from the ancient see of Constantinople meeting with the mascot of a company that is the symbol par excellence of economic and cultural globalization.

One of the pleasant surprises in the Patriarch’s book “Encountering the Mystery” was his assertion that “the Orthodox Church is not opposed to an economic progress that serves humanity as a whole.” This is about 180 degrees from what you usually hear from Old World hierarchs, who so often condemn globalization and its chief architect, “the West.” In truth, there’s a bit of that in Bartholomew’s views, but more balance. Unfortunately, like other Orthodox hierarchs, he continues to view economic activity as a zero sum game — whoever gains does so by taking from someone else. There’s no real understanding of how wealth is created or how the market economy, despite its uneven benefits, is the most effective means of eliminating dire poverty. (See “Socialism Kills: The Human Cost of Delayed Economic Reform in India” by Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar at the Cato Institute).

Case in point. In the year 2000, SCOBA issued the A Pastoral Letter on the Occasion of the Third Christian Millennium, a statement which acknowledged how the faithful suffered under communism but, in the next breath, said this:

We acknowledge that our capitalist system is no less predicated on purely materialist principles, which also do not engender faith in God. There is no place in the calculus of our economics to account for the “intangibles” of human existence. Reflect on how the simple accounting phrase “the bottom line” has shaped our whole culture. We use it to force the summarization of an analysis devoid of any externals or irrelevancies to the “heart of the matter.” This usually means the monetary outcome.

This is a deplorable bit of moral relativizing, on the economic plane, which trivializes the great catastrophe that afflicted Orthodox Christian churches under the communists, and is blind to the ways that the bishops’ American flock — with its glittering, air-conditioned neo-Byzantine churches dotting the landscape — has flourished in a market economy. This is not incidental to the American Orthodox experience; the vast majority of Orthodox Christians who immigrated to this country did so in pursuit of the “American dream,” another way to say “economic liberty.”

Since the founding of Byzantium, Orthodox cultures have been enthusiastic traders, merchants and producers and continue to be some of the foremost economic globalizers on the world stage. The best example of this, I think, is the dominant role that Greeks have played in commercial shipping, beginning with legendary figures like Niarchos, Onassis and Livanos. These men, operating in a spirit that combined audacity and entrepreneurial smarts, made the vast shipment of goods and raw materials in the post-war period possible. Before the current economic crisis, more than 23 percent of the world’s oil tankers belonged to Greek ship owners, as much as the combined fleets of Japan and the United States. In 2007, Greek ships carried 60 percent of China’s imports of raw materials, including oil and gas, a trade which helped many Greek ship owners become millionaires and billionaires. Today, because of these connections, it’s not uncommon to find Chinese shopkeepers in Greek islands and poor neighborhoods in Athens selling all manner of low-cost goods, especially clothing.

This enthusiastic embrace of trading for profit — to the ends of the known world — has a long history in the Orthodox Christian world. In the Dumbarton Oaks edition of the Economic History of Byzantium, editor Angeliki Laiou observed:

The merchant’s profit was perfectly acceptable in the economic thinking of the Byzantines, with all that such a position implies. Nowhere, for instance, do we find the condemnation of profits deriving from mercantile enterprise as unclean money, as sometimes was the case among theologians in western Europe. If saints’ lives of the middle period are a good guide in this respect, we can say that they do, sometimes, refer to dirty money, that the pious may not touch, but it is not the merchant’s profit that is at issue. Rather, what is unclean is the money made from exactions and from the unjust treatment of the poor …

Laiou adds that the Byzantines, in general, regarded the practice of lending money at interest as acceptable to all except ecclesiastics. Layman had a legitimate right to charge interest on loans. And the merchant’s profit was justified and legitimate. That said, there was an ambivalence about the “art” of making money, which was typical of cultures tied to ancient Greek philosophy and Christianity.

In her excellent book on Byzantium, Judith Herrin observes that Byzantium “inherited from Rome a contempt for trade as an activity not worthy of free men” and the official chroniclers rarely paid much attention to it. This was, of course, a sentiment that survived among the aristocracy in Europe for a very long time. But in actuality, Byzantine trade and merchant activity was immense. It literally provided the fuel that kept the empire going for more than a thousand years.

“Constantinople dominated the naval and land trade routes between north and south, east and west,” Herrin tells us, “and maintained control over lucrative markets frequented by many foreign merchants. In the seventh century, the wealth of the city attracted merchants from all parts of the eastern Mediterranean and even from Gaul.” There were, for example, regulations setting compensation from ship-owners for damages that merchants incurred from losses at sea. You can read accounts, too, about ship owners buying insurance for their vessels from brokers in Byzantine Egypt. Herrin adds:

The Queen of the Cities — the ruling city of Constantine — attracted numerous foreigners who came to buy and sell in its markets, which stimulated the empire’s medieval commercial revival. Its golden and silken products attracted more merchants, its schools attracted more students, its churches, relics and icons attracted more pilgrims, its imperial administration generated more jobs, and its mixed society created more opportunities than any other in the Mediterranean.

This continued throughout the empire, until it fell in 1453, and in all other Orthodox cultures throughout the medieval period and into modern times. Traian Stoianovich’s excellent survey of commerce titled, “The Conquering Balkan Orthodox Merchant,” looks at the period extending roughly from the 14th to the 18th century and the very active trade in Hungary, South Russia, and the eastern Mediterranean. Stoianovich asserts that the liberation of Orthodox lands from a crumbing Ottoman Empire, and the nation building project that followed, could not have happened without the growth of a native merchant or middle class. Who were they?

… the Greek trader of Constantinople, Salonika, and Smyrna, the Greek and Orthodox Albanian merchant, sailor, and shipper of the smaller Aegean islands, the Greek, Vlach, and Macedo-Slav muleteer and forwarding agent of Epirus, Thessaly, and Macedonia, the Serbian pig-merchant of Sumadija, the “Illyrian” muleteer and forwarding agent of Herzegovina and Dalmatia, who set up business in Ragusa (Dubrovnik) or Trieste, the “Rascian” of Pannonia, and the Greek or Bulgarian of the eastern Rhodope. The Balkan Orthodox merchants were Ottoman, Habsburg, and Russian subjects, but their principal business was to bring goods into or out of the Ottoman Empire.


  1. What is often forgotten is that the capitalist system (which also is the only system that assures liberty) is the only system consistent with a fundamental gift from God, i.e. free will. Every other system eventually leads to statism and the suppression of free will. It is not coincidental that socialism and/or communism inevitably leads to secularization and/or hostility towards God.

    • Exactly. I think it has been noted elsewhere – and Fr. Gregory has done quite a bit on this – but the Free Market is the only system that allows each of us the freedom needed to follow the unique vocation that God has for each of us.

      And, given the degree to which the Sermon on the Mount has been twisted beyond recognition so that it is no longer a call to faithful discipleship but merely an argument for statist programs, it amazes me how these same people ignore I Samuel 8 which makes this point – and many others – explicitly:

      When they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” Samuel considered their demand sinful, so he prayed to the LORD. But the LORD told him, “Listen to the people and everything they say to you. They have rejected you; they have rejected Me as their king. They are doing the same thing to you that they have done to Me, since the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, abandoning Me and worshiping other gods. Listen to them, but you must solemnly warn them and tell them about the rights of the king who will rule over them.”
      Samuel told all the LORD’s words to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These are the rights of the king who will rule over you: He can take your sons and put them to his use in his chariots, on his horses, or running in front of his chariots. He can appoint them for his use as commanders of thousands or commanders of fifties, to plow his ground or reap his harvest, or to make his weapons of war or the equipment for his chariots. He can take your daughters to become perfumers, cooks, and bakers. He can take your best fields, vineyards, and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He can take a tenth of your grain and your vineyards and give them to his officials and servants. He can take your male servants, your female servants, your best young men, and your donkeys and use them for his work. He can take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves can become his servants. When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you’ve chosen for yourselves, but the LORD won’t answer you on that day.”

      So far as the hearts of men are concerned, there is nothing new under the sun.

  2. I was thinking last night what will be the picture that defines this visit of the EP to the USA. I think we found it.

  3. Geo Michalopulos :

    Andrew, it is truly a distillation of the unseriousness of this entire enterprise. Probably I fear as well of the upcoming Episcopal Assembly.

  4. One might also ask how the human condition is improved by investments by the patriarchates in mega structures with caches of gold and other precious gems.

  5. I must admit that I found the picture rather charming. Maybe it’s just me. I don’t take much from it other than a smile . . . and a coke. It did strike me, for a moment, as an unintended parody of St. Seraphim and the bear; but it really is just a charming moment that any photographer would want to capture.
    One of the things I appreciate about Orthodoxy is the way that it embraces all of life, unlike much of my experience in Evangelical and Pentecostal circles. Moreover, I was delighted to discover in John’s article that the tradition has a well-established appreciation for honest profit. That, too, is necessary for a healthy society. Humor from the Soviet Union (another bear that tragically would not submit to the saint – and the result was hell) captured this notion well: Q: What would happen if Communism were introduced to Saudi Arabia? A: There would be a shortage of sand. (Ben Lewis, Hammer & Tickle, 2009)

  6. While I am not unwilling (obviously!) to criticize fuzzy thinking–I have to agree with Chrys (#5), the picture if delightful.

    My experience with bishops (at least in the US) is that universally they are very sweet and loving pastors–if, and this is a big if–you can separate them from the self-appointed ecclesiastical courtiers (clergy and laity) who always seem to be buzzing around.

    I have seen this most clearly when I have watched a bishop, any bishop, interact informally with children or high school students and college young adults. When I was college chaplain in Pittsburgh, to offer only one example, I would serve a weekly 7.00am Divine Liturgy for OCF at St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. One week His Eminence Metropolitan MAXIMOS attended and went out to breakfast with the students at a local coffee shop.

    His Eminence sat surrounded by the students who asked very good questions and listened attentively. From my perspective, it gave His Eminence a great deal of joy to simply be a priest for people who wanted to be with a priest.

    And you see, there we have it. So infrequently do we want our bishops, and even our parish priests, to be a priest for us. How much time is there, really, for clergy and laity to be together informally? How much time do we afford our bishops to simply be with the faithful in an informal setting?

    God knows I love being Orthodox–but sometimes I feel the weight of our byzantine court behavior. When I was at Nashotah House I found the informality of the clergy and bishops not only among themselves but with the seminarians refreshing.

    No, the problems isn’t that the EP and the Archbishop had their picture taken with the Coca Cola bear. The problem is these kind of events don’t happen more frequently, that we don’t let our bishops “let their hair down” more frequently.

    Speaking as more a psychology than a priest for moment. I fear that we (the Church) take good and idealistic men and simply crush the life out of them. I know it has happened with priests, I don’t doubt it happens with bishops.

    In Christ,


    • Fr. Gregory, your points are very well taken. I have said before the EP should just toss out the political script in the USA and pastor the flock one person at a t ime. Visit Churches, preach, hear confessions and listen. There is no way I can buy into the Green Patriarch routine but if the EP just toured the USA and allowed the sycophant bubble around him to dissappear it would be a blessing to everyone. The Green Patriarch could easily become America’s Patriarch and we would all love him for it.

      Here is an example. One time, Bishop Maximos was at the annual college conference. He Eminence heard the confession of every student in line well past midnight and into the early hours of the morning without blinking an eye. I had never seen a bishop hear confessions but this was natural to him. As long as one kid was in line seeking forgiveness the bishop kept on doing the work of the Church one soul at a time. Now there is a man who can clearly lead the Church. The priesthood is for real men and Bishop Maximos showed me that day what a real man and father does.

      We need more real mean and real fathers in the episcopacy.

    • I am not sure +Maximos is a good example, as the vignette you provide fits in with all accounts of his episcopal character (the same can be said of +Isaiah). The question is those bishops who seem to be inseparable from from the episcopal court.

  7. Geo Michalopulos :

    Somehow, I could never imagine Patriach +Kirill or the Pope in such a predicament. I wouldn’t mind the “unseriousness” and self-deprecating frivolity of the event if this was par for the course for these two hierarchs. As we know, the EP takes himself WAY too seriously on matters having to do with “who shall be first.”

    I agree with Andrew, if the EP had instead been a shepherd who was truly interested in his flock, he would have come over more often, visited without a script, told the GOA what they were doing right, what they needed to improve on and…preach the Gospel! He also would have said that as an archpastor, his goal was to see the Church grow and take root in all lands. This would mean that autocephalies would bloom everywhere, and yes, this means North America. Instead we see cheap tricks like this to try and ingratiate himself with –who?–the globalists? The common people?

    No, I must be to differ. Bishops don’t have to speak to the little people in coffee shops (though there’s nothing wrong with that). They need to preach the Gospel wherever and whenever the opportunity arises. If that means a halfway house for drug addicts, so be it. But being concerned with matters of primacy is not what the Gospel is about.

    • I think the real issue here is not the jovial moment but Coca Cola thing. Pope JP2 had many jovial moments even when he was riddled with illness but he never lent his authority to a corporation. JP2 could make you laugh but everyone knew he was a man who did the work the church and asked great things of his flock.

      The issue here is Coca Cola. Why on earth do you have the successor of St. Andrew giving up a day to hang out with the folks at Coca Cola? No matter how nice the photo is, this does not look good.

      The ministry of the EP is not about Green Patriarch, Coca Cola or Pepsi its about being a Father and serving.

      I will say it again this whole visit of the EP makes the typical Orthodox Christian feel Fatherless.

      • Maybe the issue isn’t Coke. Maybe the issue is Turkey. If the EP and Mr. Kent are friends, perhaps he will assist the EP in some of the talks between the Orthodox Church and the Turkish government.

  8. George Michalopulos :

    Andrew, that’s because those who belong to dhimmi churches ARE fatherless.

  9. I have to take issue with the wholesale endorsement of capitalism. In many ways, it is just as materialistic (in the bad sense: at a Triumph of Orthodoxy sermon Fr. Roman Braga pointed out that Orthodxo Christians, with the Incarnation, relics and icons, are the only true materialists. Many years to him! I’d wish him the episcopacy if I didn’t know it would kill him) as Marxism, and based on the same premises. The chattle slave trade was a child of the “enlightenment” and the rise of the mercantile class, which didn’t feel fettered with medieval thoughts of morality (alms houses were also closed down for the same reasons: not profitable). Dangerous things happen when the bottom line is allowed to be the last word. Gordon Gekko is wrong: greed is not good, it is a deadly sin.

    But then, running a fair business for profit is not greed. The NT confirms the dictum of the OT: “Do not muzzle the ox that treads the grain.”

    One thing you see in post-communist societies is that the worst excesses of capitalism are embraced: consumerism, affluenza, etc. Getting rich quick, not matter the cost, rather than work ethic, seems to be what is the dominate paradigm.

  10. The question has been asked: why Coke?

    One reason could be that Muhtar Kent, the head of Coke, and the Patriarch are friends. Mr. Kent is a Turkish citizen, and apparently befriended the Patriarch. The photo was probably taken at a dinner Mr. Kent hosted for the Patriarch in Atlanta.

  11. What’s next?

    The Leno Show?

    Unbelieveable….just unbelieveable.

    And people wanna talk about MY metropolitan (+Jonah)?



  12. George Michalopulos :

    Dean, when all is said and done, there is no way that this photo-op or the entire “apostolic visit” can be justified as anythimg more than a desparate attempt to be relevant. Tell +Jonah to keep on doing what he’s doing.

  13. I found this today, very interesting ………

    WorldNetDaily Exclusive
    Coca-Cola spearheads
    1-world climate tax
    100 companies push ’16 days left
    to seal deal’ on $10 trillion treaty


  14. Its true that the Byzantines didn’t opposed interest. However, the silk industry was run by the state. I think its true that the Byzantine empire led to the development of some western economic powers like Venice since they traded with them and gave Venice some breaks on tariffs in this trade arrangement. Also, a lot of Byzantines settled in Italy after the fall of Constantinople which probably influence both Roman Catholics and later Protestants in the area of trade.
    As for the bad side of the free market, well we know if some of us that are against the state handling a lot of welfare functions should take note of the late 19th century when both Bismarck and Disreali created the modern welfare state to deal with some of the effects of the early industrical period. Granted the welfare state was small under both gentlemen but expanded a lot during the 20th century. Those workhouses in Dickens led to the creation of the modern welfare state. Many conservative Christians don’t always develop alternatives to the present welfare or make the current one more effective.

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