The Gurdjieff JournalFourth Way Perspectives
Gurdjieff & Christianity
The orientation of the teachingis it Christian? Entering the new millennium, some fifty years after Mr. Gurdjieff's passing, it is important to begin to understand the part that Christianity played in his life and in the teaching he brought.
Certainly, as Gurdjieff makes clear in Meetings with Remarkable Men, he was raised as a Christian"I know the rituals of the Greek Church well," he would say many years later, "and there, underlying the form and ceremony, there is real meaning." His first religious tutor was seventy-year-old Dean Borsch, dean of the Kars Military Cathedral, the highest spiritual authority of the region. As Dean Borsch aged, he asked the young priest Bogachevsky to tutor Gurdjieff and to confess him every week. For two years, Bogachevsky tutored the young Gurdjieff and then, when the priest was posted elsewhere, he had Gurdjieff continue his confessions by mail.
It is interesting to note, regarding Bogachevsky's caliber, that later he went to Mount Athos as a chaplain and a monk. Soon, however, he renounced monastic life as practiced there and went to Jerusalem where he joined the Essene Brotherhood. Bogachevsky was sent to one of the Essene monasteries in Egypt. He was given the name Father Evlissi and later became an assistant to the abbot of its chief monastery. According to Gurdjieff, the Essenes had preserved the teaching of Jesus Christ "unchanged" and that, as it passed from generation to generation, it "has even reached the present time in its original form."
The depth of Gurdjieff's feeling for this man was expressed when, in his maturity he declared, "Father Evlissi, who is now an aged man, happened to become one of the first persons on earth who has been able to live as our Divine Teacher Jesus Christ wished for us all." [Emphasis added.] Gurdjieff's choice of words would seem to indicate he accepts the divinity of Jesus Christ. He speaks, for example, of Jesus Christ as "a Messenger from our ENDLESSNESS," "that Sacred Individual," "Divine Teacher Jesus Christ," and "Sacred Individual Jesus Christ."
Although Gurdjieff speaks highly of Christianity and of Jesus Christ, there are also many stories of his making fun of Catholic priests, even shouting at them on occasion. For example, his niece Luba reported in her Luba Gurdjieff: A Memoir with Recipes, "My Uncle never taught us how to go to church, or pray, or anything like that. And he never liked priests or the nuns. When we were out driving and he saw a priest, he would say, 'Shoo! Son of a bitch.'"
Gurdjieff certainly knew a great deal about Christianitynot only its religion but its esoteric foundation as well. This can be seen when he came to Russia in 1912 and took the guise of a Turkish prince, calling himself "Prince Ozay." Within a year of his arrival in St. Petersburg he met the young English musicologist, Paul Dukes, later to be a British intelligence officer. Dukes reports that the prince wore a turban and spoke in Russian with a marked accent. He was of medium height, sturdily built and the grip of his hand "was warm and powerful." His dark eyes, Dukes said, "piercing in their brilliance, were at the same time kindly and sparkling with humor." After a chess game which the prince won handily, he spoke knowledgeably to Dukes in English (which Dukes said he preferred) of the Lord's Prayer. The prince told Dukes it was designed "as a devotional breathing exercise to be chanted on a single even breath."
"I have been in many churches in England and America," said the prince, "and always heard the congregation mumble the Lord's Prayer all together in a scrambled grunt as if the mere muttered repetition of the formula were all that is required."
Ozay informed Dukes that the incantation of prayers as a devotional breathing exercise was practiced in the earliest Christian Church, which inherited it from the ancient Egyptians, Chaldeans, Brahmins and others in the East, where it is known as the science of Mantra. This esoteric side, Ozay said, was lost in the Western Church centuries ago.
Gurdjieff had intended to found the Institute for the Harmonious [or Harmonic] Development of Man in Russia but the revolution precluded this. It was not until eight years later in 1921 that he was able to establish it in France. At the time, he stated the Institute's aim unequivocally: "The program of the Institute, the power of the Institute, the aim of the Institute, the possibilities of the Institute can be expressed in very few words: the Institute can help one to be able to be a Christian." He spoke of a Christian as being "a man who is able to fulfill the Commandments... both with his mind and his essence." St. George the Victor was proclaimed as the Institute's patron saint.
The Original Christianity
The opening of All and Everything, First Series, begins with a prayer: "In the name of the Father and of the Son and in the name of Holy Ghost. Amen." And within, Gurdjieff speaks of Christianity as based on "resplendent love," saying also that among all of the ancient religious teachings none had so "many good regulations for ordinary everyday life." He believed that Christianity is the best of all existing or future religions "if only the teaching of the Divine Jesus Christ were carried out in full conformity with its original." [Emphasis added.] It is not clear what he means by the words "its original," but presumably a religion or teaching that came before Christianity. Something of the same sort happens with the aforementioned prayer, for he says in introducing it that this "definite utterance. . . has been formulated variously and in our day is formulated in the following words. . ." He is quite clearly, then, pointing to something that was Christian but which predates Christianity.
It is clear he believes that Christianitythe religionwas mixed with Judaism, and that Judaism by that time "had already been thoroughly distorted." During the Middle Ages, Christianity was further distorted by the fantastic doctrines of hell and heaven imported from Babylonian dualism by the Church Fathers. Christianity, Gurdjieff says, had been "the religion and teaching upon which the Highest Individuals placed great hopes"note how he separates religion from teachingbut, as a result of what he calls "absurdities" and "criminal wiseacring," genuine faith in Christianity was "totally destroyed."