In the latest episode of my American Orthodox History podcast, I talk about Rev. A.N. Experidon, better known as “the Bulgarian Monk.” He was, without a doubt, the weirdest man in the history of American Orthodoxy.
For the whole story, I’d encourage you to listen to the podcast, but below, I’m reprinting an article from the San Jose Daily Evening News (March 28, 1889):
A BULGARIAN MONK
He Will Preach on Santa Clara Street This Evening
A Man With a Mission and a Strange History – A Former Guide in the Holy Land
A Bulgarian monk, was on the streets to-day and attracted much attention. He called at the office of the Mayor this morning to secure permission to preach at the corner of First and Santa Clara street, in the open air, this evening. A large crowd gathered around the man, attracted by his strange garb. He was dressed in a long black gown reaching to his heels. His hair is long and he wears a red cap.
A reporter for the EVENING NEWS engaged the monk in conversation and found him to be a man of pleasing address, and evidently of intelligence and education. His name is Rev. A.N. Experidon and he says he is a Bulgarian monk of the Christian Church of Jerusalem. He is 60 years of age and has been engaged in his mission for 30 years.
FORMERLY A LAWYER
He is a Bulgarian by birth and in his own country was a lawyer by profession. In his early life he acted as a guide at Jerusalem to many prominent American tourists, among them the United States party under Dr. Gibson. In this party was Mark Twain, then a young man, and it was during this journey that Mark got his material for “Innocents Abroad.” The traveling monk therefore finds numerous old friends among prominent people in the United States. There is one gentleman in Woodland, a clergyman there, who was piloted through the
WONDERS OF THE HOLY LAND
By him. Thirty years ago the monk entered upon his mission of teaching the gospel to the people of the earth in accordance with the belief of his church. He studied at St. Marys, Oxford, being associated there with many who are now prominent in the politics of England and Canada. He afterwards studied at Paris, St. Petersburg, Berlin and Constantinople, his studies there being largely devoted to theology and languages. He speaks now thirty-two languages and dialects, and if he has the same command of the others as he exhibits in English he may be said to be fluent in all.
The Christian Church of Jerusalem, of which the Rev. Experidon, or “the Bulgarian Monk,” as he advertises himself, is a member, is what is known in Russia as “Stahto Bratsu,” “The Old Brotherhood.” It preaches the Gospel of Christ, love and charity, regardless of any sect, and recognizing no arbitrary teachings,
And no canonical laws. Indeed, the monk seems to delight in demonstrating from the Bible the inconsistency of the teachings of each of the Christian sects. He quotes Timothy to prove that women are forbidden to preach until after they are 60 years of age, and offers it as an indication of the absurdity of any divine inspiration being received by the Salvation Army or the Methodist female revivalist.
The Bulgarian monk has been thirteen years in America and has preached through Mexico and
EVERY STATE IN THE UNION
Except California. He is now “doing” every county in this State and from here goes to South America. If he manages to finish the countries there he will return to the United States and end his days here. He will die somewhere on this continent, and while prosecuting his self-appointed mission of preaching the gospel of Christ, free from arbitrary interpretations and canonical laws. He is engaged also in the preparation of what he states is a cyclopedia of the world, which he intends for publication.
He will lecture this evening at the corner of Santa Clara and First streets. He states that his subject will be “To Convert all American Preachers, Priests and Christians.”
Was he Orthodox? Originally, yes, but by 1889, I’d guess not. He had been in the United States for around 15 years at that point, and he became stranger and stranger as time passed.
The message of the Bulgarian Monk, if indeed there is a message, seems to be this: America is a frontier for Orthodoxy. I’ve said this before; Orthodox America, like the Wild West, attracted both heroes and outlaws — the good, the bad, and the ugly. And the Bulgarian Monk is one of the ugly ones.
I think the point is, not all of the Orthodox clerics who came to America were saints, or missionaries, or even normal human beings. We had our fair share of oddballs, of whom the Bulgarian Monk might be the oddest.