by Eli A. Popoff
Dorofeyushka Dergausov was an 18th century Cossack and progenitor of the Dergousoff family of Doukhobors. The following is an authentic, first person account of Dorofeyushka’s adoption of the Doukhobor faith, passed down orally from generation to generation, recorded by Doukhobor historian Eli A. Popoff and published in his book, “Stories from Doukhobor History” (Grand Forks: U.S.C.C., 1992). To acquaint family researchers with the value of Doukhobor oral tradition, the following excerpt is reproduced by permission from Mr. Popoff’s excellent work.
In the late 18th century in one of the large Cossack settlements in the Kuban region, there were several families who began to profess the Doukhobor life concepts. These families still went to church, but they had already ceased to believe in the various rites and ceremonies performed there, and they often discussed among themselves about what exact occasion they would choose to completely disassociate themselves from the Church and all its rituals.
18th Century Caucasian Cossacks
In this settlement, and of this Doukhobor group, there lived Dorofey Dergausov and his family. He was descended from an old Cossack guard group who were known as keepers of the borderline or line guards. Dorofey was a very solidly built individual. He was tall and broad shouldered. His hair was as dark as tar. His eyebrows were very bushy, somewhat arched and commandeering, and he had a beautiful, long black moustache. He was a great conversationalist. His forefathers were from a group of Cossacks who were forcefully stationed here by the Empress Catherine the Great. They originally came from the Don River area.
It so happened that at one church service, when the priest was performing the ritual of the burning of the incense, the smell of it became absolutely repugnant to Dorofey. He puckered his face in disgust and turned away from it. The priest noticed this and immediately accosted him. “What is the meaning of this, Dorofeyushka, this is not the first time that I am noticing that you are showing disdain to God’s holy rituals?”
At this moment, the thought came to Dorofey – here indeed was the occasion that they had been waiting for to disassociate themselves from the Church and all its rituals.
He slowly drew his hand across both sides of his moustache, and firmly answered, “Yes, your observations are quite correct. It has been some time now since I have ceased to believe in the need of these superfluous rituals, and I have just been waiting for an occasion to announce this to you.”
The priest became very disturbed. He was also a tall person, but he was thin and pale with long thin arms. His hands shook holding the incense container and with a trembling voice he asked, “Do you really feel that this ceremony of the burning of the incense is superfluous? Do you not have the real knowledge of the value of the scent of this incense?”
Dorofeyushka waved away the scented smoke and slowly and carefully answered again, “The scent of this incense means nothing, neither to God nor to people. What God really requires of us is that we do good to others and love one another, but all this incense burning, the bowing to ikons, all these candles and fancily made crosses – all these are just useless toys of the age. We do not see any purpose or usefulness in them whatsoever and do not expect any saving grace out of their use…”
After these words of Dorofey, all the rest of his friends and their families arose, to be leaving. The priest got so excited and emotional that he just about dropped the incense burner. He kept looking at first one then another of them, but most of all at Dorofey. Raising his voice to a screech, he shouted at them: “Why are you leaving? Do all of you believe the same way as this worthless person who denounces holy things?”
“Yes” answered one of Dorofey’s friends, “and Dorofey is not a worthless person. He has told you the real truth about your church rituals. We all believe the same way as he does.” This made the priest even more upset. He put his hands to his head and screamed at Dorofey and his friends, “Get out of here! All of you! We will have all of you exiled to Siberia for the rest of your lives!”
The group of Doukhobors quietly and in an orderly manner left the church and henceforth did not ever return to it.
Dorofey and his friends were arrested and held in confinement several times. They were charged and made to pay large fines for their alleged heretical statements against Church and state. Their cattle and horses were confiscated and so were large amounts of their grain. But they did not recant their beliefs and they bore their persecution without anger or hate. Although their material possessions were mostly confiscated and taken away in fines, Dorofeyushka lived on to a ripe old age, with his family about him, without giving up any of his Doukhobor beliefs.
Dorofeyushka had a son Grigorii, who, along with his family also followed the true pathway of his illustrious father. He also continued to renounce all Church rituals and was also subjected to various forms of persecution and privation. In spite of these hardships, Grigorii lived till the time when persecution of the Doukhobors was stopped, and they were allowed to migrate to the Milky Waters area of the province of Tavria. Together with the other friends of the Doukhobor faith, Grigorii and his family migrated to Tavria.
It was this Grigorii, son of Dorofeyushka Dergausov, who is regarded as the patriarch of all present day Doukhobors with the surname of Dergousoff.
Copies of “Stories from Doukhobor History” by Eli A. Popoff are available for purchase along with various other informative Doukhobor materials from: The Birches Publishing, Box 730, Grand Forks, British Columbia, V0H 1H0, Tel: (250) 442-5397, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.