Broker turned monk offers home truths to needy
Brother Nikanor, a Nasdaq broker turned monk, advises former
colleagues to put a jar with soil on their desks to remind them where we
are all heading and what matters in life.
As western banks fold into each other like crumpled tickets and
commentators portray the current crisis as the last gasp of modern
capitalism, Hristo Mishkov, 32, shares the pain - and offers home
His story partly resembles that of Brother Ty, the monk-tycoon
protagonist of the 1998 satire "God is my Broker" by U.S. writers
Christopher Buckley and John Tierney - he failed on Wall Street and
became a monk.
But 10 years later, the similarities are superficial: the Bulgarian
had a successful broking career, does not write self-help manuals and
aims to get happy, not rich.
His interest in financial markets began under communism in the 1980s
when he and other children created their own play stock exchange in
their apartment block's basement in Sofia.
Five years ago, after failing to find happiness in the life he lived,
the Christian Orthodox who hadn't practised as a child quit the New
York-based market for a dilapidated Bulgarian monastery that once served
as a communist labour camp.
Retaining one luxury - a mobile phone, which connects him with both
potential donors and former trading colleagues - he has brought the
rigour of his broking experience to his faith.
He has helped to raise hundreds of thousands of levs (dollars) to
rebuild the monastery - a hard task in a country where charity is not
part of the mentality and building shopping malls and golf courses is a
"Many people... in the world do not realise that they have not earned
the food they eat, that they take without giving," Mishkov told Reuters.
"But if someone consumes more than they have earned, it means someone
else is starving.
"It is right to see people who consume more than they deserve
shattered by a financial crisis from time to time, to suffer so that
they can become more reasonable."
Being a trader has seldom been more traumatic: placing bets on
political decisions about billion-dollar bank bailouts which, if they
fail, could mean much more than a bad day for yourself or colleagues,
but also jeopardise livelihoods.
Some have found solace in religion, others in humour, but a few fall.
Surveys show traders reporting more stress and every news report of a
trader suicide is accompanied by suggestions the pressure may have been
"We always search for happiness in the outside world, in material
things, which makes us constantly unsatisfied, angry with ourselves and
the world," said Mishkov, who exudes a sense of tranquillity,
intelligence, and humour.
Greed and the marketisation of our lives have reached the point where
people have been turned into a commodity - even their health can be
traded like a stock, he said.
"We have so quickly lost our human appearance, we have become beasts
... There's no-one to count on and say 'hey neighbour come help me.' He
will come but demand a payment."
His monastery, tucked among hills 50 km (31 miles) west of Sofia, was
founded in the 12th century. The communist regime which banned religion
turned it into a labour camp, then a children's pioneer camp and a
Now Mishkov works hard every day milking buffalo cows and building
stone walls. He says he is not against rich people but can only respect
those who contribute to the good of society - pointing to Microsoft
founder Bill Gates as an example.
As a younger man working for more than two years for Karoll, one of
Bulgaria's leading brokerages, Mishkov was good at his job, former
"He was a religious person and that annoyed me sometimes," said
Alexander Nikolov, head of international capital markets at Karoll.
"There were occasions when he would not show up at work because of some
His colleagues were stunned when he decided to become a monk, but
Mishkov felt the time had come to look after people's souls.
"Everybody can be a good broker but this does not bring much benefit
for the world," he said. Religion can help people cope in today's
stressful times and find answers, Mishkov added.
Churches in New York's financial district reported last month
increased attendance at lunchtime meetings, with many more people in
business attire than usual, when some of the world's biggest investment
Steven Bell, chief economist of London hedge fund GLC, said keeping a
sense of reality is what traders needed.