3 comments

  1. Hi, that link to PDF not currently working. I am surprised that 1866 or 1865 proposed as birthdate.
    Claire Bloom:
    In what year was Gurdjieff born? Let’s use this question as an exercise of active thinking and explore the history of Armenia and Russia.

    Different sources mention the year of his birth as 1866, 1872 and 1877. Who should we believe?

    At some point I realized that the assumptions of his contemporaries, or claims that Gurdjieff had said something to somebody were not proof enough. I needed cross references. I needed hard facts and dates of other events that could be relied upon. What facts and events could help?

    I reread “Meetings with Remarkable Men”, namely the chapter “My First Tutor”. It tells us about the dean of the Kars Military Cathedral, whom Gurdjieff referred to as “my unforgettable teacher, my second father”.

    His full name is Damian Amvrosievich Borshch.

    I decided that if I could find out when Father Damian had become Dean of Kars Cathedral I might get closer to the truth.

    Let me explain my reasoning and remind you of something.

    In his book Gurdjieff writes:

    “Our family lived in the town of Alexandropol all this time, which happened to coincide with the period of rapid reconstruction by the Russians of the nearby fortress-town of Kars which they had taken.

    The opportunities that arose in Kars to make good money, and the added persuasions of my uncle, who already had his business there, motivated my father to move his workshop to Kars. He first went there alone, and later took his whole family”.

    While attending a Russian school in Kars, Gurdjieff was amongst the pupils who were selected to sing in the cathedral choir.

    Father Damian was the Dean of Kars Cathedral. Gurdjieff became unwell on one occasion and Father Damian came to visit him and his father. The two men became spiritual brothers and good friends. Following the advice of the dean, Gurdjieff left school to be home schooled. Father Damian himself taught him mathematics and other subjects.

    According to the book, Gurdjieff was about 10-12 years old at this time.

    So, what sort of documents did I find and where did I find them.

    At first I went to the State Historical Public Library and found two documents: the “Razvedchik” journal and the “Guardians of Sevastopol” photo album. These documents revealed to me that Father Damian had been a veteran of the Crimean war and had fought in the heroic defense of Sevastopol (1854-1855), but they didn’t disclose any dates of his service in Kars. To get a fuller picture I went to Sevastopol.

    Next I went to the Russian State Historical Archives in St. Petersburg. That’s where I found Father Damian’s service list. It is a valuable document, 13 pages long, filled with elegant calligraphy. It is this list that indirectly answers the question “In what year was Gurdjieff born?”.

    🔥 And now, pay attention!

    Father Damian arrived in Kars on December 6, 1888. He most likely met Gurdjieff at the start of 1889.

    If Gurdjeff had been born in 1866, he would have been 23 at the time, so he couldn’t have been born in 1866! If he had been born in 1872, he’d have been 17 at the time. That doesn’t work either!

    But if he’d been born in 1877, he would have been 12 at the time. That makes sense!

    Actually, in his first passport, his date of birth was written down as 1877. I have no idea why this story became so convoluted later on.

    When I began my investigations, 1866 seemed the more likely birth-date since Kars had been captured by the Russian army in 1877 and by 1878 was already a Russian territory.

    After reading the book again, Gurdjieff’s account of the family’s move to Kars somewhat confused me: “Our family lived in the town of Alexandropol all this time, which happened to coincide with the period of rapid reconstruction by the Russians of the nearby fortress-town of Kars which they had taken”.

    I began to read about Kars during that period, and realized that the “rapid reconstruction”, which included the construction of a road, had not begun immediately after the capture of the town.

    Gurdjieff also writes that Father Damian was about 70 years old when they first met. At first I doubted his words. Could a 10-year-old boy really tell whether an elderly person is 60 or 70? It turned out that he could. Maybe an adult had told him. Father Damian was born in 1819, which means that in 1889 he would indeed have been 70 years old.

    ☝ And so, to conclude. Gurdjieff was born in 1877. If you know anyone interested in this topic, please send them my way!

    I am very pleased with the outcome of my logic and reasoning! And I am very grateful to the keepers of the archives and all those who helped me in my research!

    (с) Elena Bloom
    Elena Gurdjieff

    1. Thank you. I am very appreciative of this. I have not seen the documents you refer to, but accepting your testimony on its face, it sounds convincing.

      1. Claire Bloom:
        Meetings with Remarkable Men. The third chapter of this book − My First Tutor − describes the dean of the Kars Military Cathedral, whom Gurdjieff referred to as “my unforgettable teacher, my second father”.

        Below are my findings about him.

        Military dean, archpriest Damian Ambrosievich Borshch (1819-1899). [In English translation his name is written as Borsh, what is slightly incorrect.]

        Veteran of the Crimean War (1853-1856). At the start of the war Father Damian, senior military chaplain, was transferred from the 47th Ukranian Infantry Regiment to the 45th Azov Regiment. When the war with Turkey began, his regiment went on a military campaign through Moldavia and Walachia to the Danube. In October 1854, when the Anglo-French allies arrived on Crimean shores, he returned with his regiment to the highlands surrounding Sevastopol. He fought in the siege of Sevastopol, which lasted almost one year (1854-1855) and was injured and shell-shocked twice.

        He fought in the Battle of Balaclava and Inkerman, in the battles near Evpatoria and on the Fedyukhiny highlands by the Chernaya. He helped repel the last storm of Sevastopol and crossed with the Sevastopol garrison to the north.

        Brother of mercy, consoler and spiritual mentor, Father Damian was loved by his regiment. On the battlefield he gave the injured first aid notwithstanding flying bullets and artillery fire. When the regiment would return to its campsite, he would help the injured and comfort the dying. The soldiers trusted him fully when they handed him their final letters, to be sent to their families if they were to die. Such trust from the lower ranks meant that this military priest was always snowed under with requests, letters and correspondence with their families, whom he often wrote letters to himself.

        On 4 August 1855 during the battle by the Chernaya the bandage supply came to an end and Father Damian cut his cassock and overgarments into bandages for the injured. His field commander, colonel Nordenstreng, fell into the river after being shell-shocked. He would have drowned were it not for Father Damian, who jumped into the river to save him.

        Damian Ambrosievich Borshch was awarded two golden pectoral crosses for the Crimean War. One of them came with a George’s ribbon and the order of St. Anna, 3rd class with swords.

        The description in his service record reads: “for carrying out his duties with excellence during military action against the Turkish, English, French and Sardinian armies from 1854-55 (time and place of battle shown), where with Christian selflessness he accompanied his regiment carrying a cross in his hands and gave encouragement to his soldiers with his every deed. He never left the battlefield before battle ceased, and then he continued to bandage and administer the last sacrament to the heavily wounded and the dying.”

        Some time later he was awarded the order of St. Anna 1st class, Saint Vladimir 4th and 3rd class, four pectoral crosses, club and mitre.

        After the end of the war, at the beginning of 1856, Dean Borshch was transferred from the Azov Regiment to the 4th Shlisselburg Infantry Division. He then served in the church of the Shostkinsky gunpowder factory, where created a church choir and opened a parochial school.

        Next he was appointed the dean of Sveaborg Cathedral and archpriest of the Finnish Military Region, and after that, dean of the Saint Petersburg Admiralty Cathedral and archpriest of the Saint Petersburg and Novgorod military churches.

        He was serving as dean of Kars Cathedral, when Gurdjieff met him. After that he became dean of St. Nicholas Military Cathedral in Kiev.

        Father Damian’s service in Kars was featured in the press of that time, which revealed that “not only military servicemen, but also adherents of Islam and separatists had complete respect for him”. Separatists most likely refers to Molokans, who founded a big community in Kars at that time. Gurdjieff even composed a piece of music called “Song of the Molokans”.

        Gurdjieff wrote that the whole Kars area looked up to Father Damian as its main spiritual authority, and that Father Damian played a huge role in the development of Gurdjieff’s personality.

        Gurdjieff attended a Russian school in Kars where students were selected to sing in the cathedral choir, Gurdjieff being one of those selected. When he fell ill, the dean came to see him and to meet his father. The two men became spiritual brothers and good friends. They led long, cordial conversations about the meaning of ancient legends and fables, which led to Gurdjieff’s first spiritual awakening.

        Following the advice of the dean, Gurdjieff left school to be home schooled. Father Damian himself taught him mathematics and other subjects.

        Father Damian also studied astronomy and chemistry, composed church music and played the violin.

        What a remarkable man he was!

        ***

        Source materials:

        – Razvedchik. Journal (1896);
        – P.F. Rerberg. Guardians of Sevastopol (1904);
        – O.A. Zolotarev. Christ-loving Russian Army;
        – G.I. Gurdjieff. Meetings with Remarkable Men

        I am grateful to the archivists.

        ***

        The photo for this post is from the photo album “Guardians of Sevastopol”. A short video about where I found the source materials is in a separate post on my page.

        https://www.facebook.com/elena.about.gurdjieff/videos/596261314153597/

        It took me about two weeks to write everything up.

        #gurdjieff #meetingswithremarkablemen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *