“To give and then not feel that one has given is the very best of all ways of giving.”
… Max Beerbohm
A 100-year-old beggar in a threadbare coat, “Grandpa” Dobri, is already celebrated as a saint in Bulgaria – a symbol of goodness in a country ravaged by poverty and corruption. For over 20 years, Dobri Dobrev has been begging on the streets of Sofia, collecting alms worth tens of thousands of euros. And he has given it all to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. This has made him the largest private donor of the golden-domed Alexander Nevski cathedral even as he maintains an ascetic lifestyle. “He gave us 35,700 leva (18,250 euros, $24,900) in 2009, while living a life deprived of all comfort,” Bishop Tikhon, Chairman of the cathedral’s trustees board, told AFP.Several smaller monasteries and churches also say they have received between 2,500 and 10,000 euros each from the small man wearing peasant leather sandals. It was only recently discovered that he has donated every penny he has collected — over 40,000 euros — towards the restoration of decaying Bulgarian monasteries and churches and the utility bills of orphanages. Incredible as it may sound, he has been living entirely off his monthly state pension of 80 euros and the kindness of others. These sums are considerable in Bulgaria, which remains the European Union’s poorest member seven years after joining the bloc and where the average monthly salary is about 420 euros.
The background of this man, who refuses any interviews, is patchy. Born in the summer of 1914, he partially lost his hearing in one of the bombings of the Bulgarian capital during World War II.”This made him pious in his own way,” said Elena Genova, a distant relative, in their native village of Baylovo, 40 kilometers east of Sofia. “He left his wife and their four children, including a new born baby, to take up different jobs around monasteries,” she said. She affectionately calls him “Grandpa” Dobri and often helps him count the money he has collected.
The old man lives in a small room basically furnished with a bed and a table next to the church in Baylovo, which was renovated with 10,000 leva donated by him. Elder Dobry opens and closes the church every morning and night. Although there is a bed, he prefers to sleep on the floor and does not want to use any facilities of the modern civilization. On the table in the modest room there is only a piece of bread and a slice of tomato, but they are enough to survive another day .Now one of his daughters takes care of him.
In the winter cold and uninviting morning he can be seen rolled up the sleeves of an old black coat to carry full buckets and boards around the yard of the church. It is piled with lumber and tools around. The roof repair is now finished, but there is still work to restore the old building. Money for natural regeneration is donated by the good old man. Despite his old age he actively helps in the hard work of reconstruction and maintenance.
While he was young Dobry Dobrev regularly traveled the distance from Bajlovo to Sofia on foot. It exceeds 25 kilometers. But now he cannot rely on his legs and uses a bus. Keeping in mind his selfless service, drivers often do not even ask him for a ticket. He often relies on the generosity of passers-by to secure the necessary food for the day. In the summer Elder Dobry is often seen to eat a ripe watermelon. He spends his days asking people for money, but he doesn’t keep a cent. He has been raising money for decades to restore churches throughout Bulgaria. He is neither afraid of cold nor bad weather, nor does he worry that he will remain hungry. He is not angry at people indifferent to his work. The old man radiates kindness and meekness. He is ready to kiss a child’s hand with a smile. He loves to talk about God with every passerby. When someone drops a coin into his box, he thanks him from the core of his heart, for the charity.
The media dubbed Dobri “The Living Saint from Baylovo”, and his name — which comes from the Bulgarian word for “good” — has become a symbol for goodness in a country where religious faith has been on the rise since the fall of communism 25 years ago. “God gave him the gift of clairvoyance: he told one mother where to find her missing daughter,” added Maria Zabova, who rings the bells at Alexander Nevski.”He never begs for money, people just put money in his little wooden box and he shows them respect, “she added.
He does not rely on strangers to save his body, but he wants to save their souls. A man like him, who has forgotten his needs and is raising money for lofty mission, can’t be called a beggar. To donate to the church means to enlighten the future of generations, without expecting anything in return. He is a living angel and a saint, who is worthy of worship .