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from Third Journey Through Ethiopia by Alexander Bulatovich

edited by A.B. Davidson (documents found and collected by I.S. Katsnelson (1981), edited and assembled in book form by A.B. Davidson

Published by "Nauka", Moscow, 1987

This excerpt translated by Richard Seltzer

For the historical context, see I.S. Katsnelson's Introduction to his edition of Bulatovich's Ethiopian books.

Ethiopia Through Russian Eyes by Alexander Bulatovich, translated by Richard Seltzer.
Unique and detailed first-hand account of Ethiopia in 1896-98 -- at the change of an era -- by a Russian officer with remarkable understanding for the many varied people who lived there and keen insight into their destiny.


Confidential letter from B. Chermerzin, Charge D'affaires of the Russian Embassy in Ethiopia to A. A. Neratov, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs -- December 15, 1911

Dear Sir, Anatoly Anatolyevich!

The broadly conceived plans of Father Antoniy (Bulatovich), as could have been foreseen, were not implemented.

After his illness, which lasted about two months, this monk immediately wanted to to get to work healing Emperor Menilek II, for which aim he had brought with him several wonder-working icons, consecrated oil and holy water. However, to penetrate the "Dzhankhoy" which was strongly defended against contact with Europeans, turned out to be by far not so simple as Frather Antoniy had imagined. In spite of the formal authorization given in my presnece by Lidzhem Yasu for an official audience, admittance was postponed from one day to the next, and the cherished desire of Father Antoniy was fulfilled only in the fourth month of his stay in Addis Ababa.

At last admittted to see the sick man, Father Antoniy with his companioin Monk Ieronim held church services, sprinkled and even rubbed the body of the emperor with holy water and holy oil, applied wonder-working icons, but no improvement in the health of Menelik resulted. The only result of their visit was that it was evidently established that the emperor is alive and that all the rumors about the substitution of the long-since dead man by the "Dzhankoy" with an Aybssinian who resembles him were false.

Having carried out one of the aims of his visit to Abyssinia, Father Antoniy then tried to ascertain the attitude of the local government to his other preconceived plans for the establishment of a Russian Orthodox spiritual mission and an Athonite "podvor" in Abyssinia.

Here disappointment awaited him: both members of the government and well-known natives in general, who every minute poured out to Father Antoniy their feelings of love toward everything Russian and toward Russian clergy in particular, as soon as the question turned to a concession for the building of a "podvor" of a Russian monastery on an island in Lake Khoroshal (which lies three days journey south of Addis Ababa and was chosen by Father Antoniy on this trip as the designated site), found a mass of objections, and Father Antoniy thus did not succeed in securing a definitive promise of a concession for the plot of land selected by him.

Foreseeing this turn of events, I avoided providing any help to the undertakings of Father Antoniy, all the more because I explained to him in conversations that his plans were very vague and were not taking definite shape.

As far as I can determine, in general, his intentions amount to the following:

Building on a plot of land granted by the Abyssinian government a modest "podvor" of the St. Andrew Skete of Mount Athos, in which would live Father Antoniy himself and five or six other monks, selected by him from a number who had already expressed their desire to form the brotherhood of the said "podvor." At the podvor he would establish a school for children, in which to provide elementary education for young natives. Monetary means, which, in an approximate account, to begin with would be needed at a rate of 2000 rubles per year, and with the development of the school activities and the possibility of developing it into a seminary at 8000 rules per year, Father Antoniy intended to find by way of voluntary contributions from his former friends and acquaintances, who sympathize with the effort to enlighten Ethiopia, and the largest part of it he would bring in himself from the money his mother now sends him. The activities of the brothers at the podvor would be exclusively religious-moral and instructive, without any political tendencies.

For my part, I noted to Father Antoniy as a criticism of these assumptions, that the hopes of a flood of contributions for such a special purpose as the construction of a "podvor" in Abyssinia, were scarcely well-grounded and that, in case of approval of his plans by the Holy Synod, he would have to rely exclusively on his own personal means. Aside from that, in my opinion, there is another weak side -- this selection of associates. You could hardly doubt that the majority of his brothers, now attracted to live in Abyssinia by his passionate tales of bliss, would scatter soon after they became acquainted with all the difficulties that they had in store for them on this island devoid of fresh water, in a region that is not renowned for its healthy climate, far from any human habitation.

Finally, Father Antoniy himself, who was a man of strong spirit, was at the same time in very weak health (he suffered from malaria and problem with his eyes) and very ignorant in worldly matters, which could by no means not have an affect on his activity.

Moreover, the ecclesiastical leadership of Saint Andrew's Skete apparently disapproved of his enterprise and told him in an urgent summons to return to Mount Athos. Clearly, the skete was reluctant to part with this well-educated, deeply believing and wealthy associate.

On December 8 Father Antoniy Bulatovich left here for Mount Athos, taking with him only hopes and not having a single definite promise from the side of the authorities.

Time will tell whether he tries to accomplish his plans.

Please be assured, sir, of my deep respect and devotion.

B. Chermerzin

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