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From Russia With Blessings


Up Front

FROM RUSSIA WITH BLESSINGS

Does blessed water really taste better? Yes, according to the Russian Orthodox Church. In its first private business deal since the Bolshevik Revolution, the church is marketing Saint Springs, a new bottled mineral water that costs about $1 for a 1.5-liter bottle. The water project is a joint venture among U.S. businessman John King, Russian bottler Rodniki, and the diocese of Kostroma, where the spring is located.

The water is clear, sweet-tasting, and metal free--which alone would make it noteworthy in Russia. But the big selling point is a blessing its spring and bottling plant have received from Russian Patriarch Alexei II. (The water, however, is not used in liturgy.) Besides spiritual benefits, the church enjoys certain business advantages: It can get government approvals faster and isn't hounded by Russia's pervasive organized crime. While the church will not participate in the marketing of the product, it will get a cut of the profits to use for charitable works.

Saint Springs is a big seller among foreigners and hip, newly rich Russians. And King hopes eventually to sell the water to Russian communities in America. Says King, who retired from the plastics industry: "We aim to be the Evian of Russia."Juliette Rossant


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