Bulgarian churches, orphanages, and monasteries received large donations from a most unexpected source. An old, homeless man stood in front of the Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital.
He collected donations and passed them on to the beneficiaries. Who was he, and how did he do it?
Dimitri Dobrev, affectionately known as Grandpa Dobri, was a World War One survivor. In his earlier years, he was a married man with four children. He was to outlive two of them. The year 2000 brought about awakening for Dimitri.
He felt the need to consciously uncouple himself from his material belongings, having realized they did not define him. Dimitri decided he would live a simpler life and started by donating all his assets to the church.
Dimitri was an Orthodox Christian. With his long white hair, he was the embodiment of a saint. Living in an extension on the church in his home village, the elderly man was determined to gather more funds to donate to the church. Over the coming years, Dimitri would set himself up to collect alms wearing handmade clothes, sitting on the ground. Collecting donations in a country as impoverished as Bulgaria was not easy, but his persistence would pay off.
Bulgaria was in a financial crisis. Poverty was rife. The post-Soviet years were punctuated by the corruption that led the country to the brink of bankruptcy. As a member of the European Union, Bulgaria was listed as its most impoverished nation.
Grandpa Dobri, as he became known, donated all the money he received to local orphanages and churches. His income was a $100 stipend.
The Orthodox Church’s infrastructure was in a state of disrepair. Buildings that housed churches, monasteries, and orphanages were crumbling and dangerous to enter. Grandpa Dobri’s donations allowed them to remain open and functional.
He collected $22,500 in 2009, all of which went to religious institutions such as the Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky.
The lengths Dimitri went to in service to the church created the notion that he was a living saint. He spread the word of Christianity to every person he encountered, offering them comfort and prayer.
Although Dimitri stayed away from technology, many people started Facebook pages sharing his incredible story. He became an internet sensation, moving people around the globe to tears with his selflessness.
On February 13, 2018, Grandpa Dobri passed away and went to meet his Maker. His 25 years of service to the church would not be forgotten. The people who had passed him daily as they went about their business noticed he was gone.
They were saddened as he had touched their lives. On the side of an apartment building, a mural depicting Grandpa Dobri holding a candle appeared. It would cement his place in the hearts and minds of the people who knew of him.