A Debate Between Saint Gregentius, Archbishop of Zafar, and the Jews
The saint labored especially among the Jews in his efforts to bring them from their error to true belief in Christ as the Messiah. This was also achieved by the grace of God working in him to do many wonders and miracles, which were mostly wrought by the wisdom of his words. The saint was learned and particularly endowed by God with the gift of interpretation and discernment. In every argument with the scribes and teachers of the Jews, he vanquished them by the word of God. Not one of them could gainsay the wisdom of his words or his understanding. There was one among the Jewish teachers of the law, Ervan, a man of letters and extremely crafty. It pleased him to contend with the venerable man of God daily, so that the vain and disputatious Ervan became a nuisance with his false reasonings and captious arguments. Nonetheless, the God-inspired Gregentius agreed to a public debate. Thus, the archbishop, by the grace of God, would reveal the Jew’s arguments to be as solid and firm as a spider’s web; the rabbi’s syllogisms were merely a series of subtle contrivances and sophisms (1).
The discourse between the most wise Gregentius and Ervan was scheduled. After forty days of preparation, the debate took place in the city of Zafar, before Abramios, the council, and the clergy. The Jews came forth with their scribes and rabbis. Ervan, their main orator, was well versed in the traditions and laws of his elders, the prophets, and profane learning. The essence of their talks produced the following dialogue.
Archbishop Gregentius opened the debate when he addressed Ervan and the multitude of Jews who had assembled: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness overcame it not [Jn. 1:5]. The darkness of night has ended and the Sun of righteousness has arisen with healing in His wings [Mal. 4:2]. Why do you Jews oppose His Light and deny Him?” Ervan answered, “We believe that you Gentiles oppose the Light, since you have abolished the law of God, which was given to us by God.”
The archbishop replied, “Who has created those people whom you call Gentiles?” “Why, God of course,” said Ervan. “Then if we are fellow creatures,” asked the archbishop, “why do you deem yourselves superior? What superiority have you acquired over us?” Ervan answered, “We possess the same superiority over you as we have over the Egyptians.” The archbishop said, “It is well that you have mentioned the Egyptians; but demonstrate how you are superior to them.” Ervan said, “Surely you have read the account of Moses and the wonders wrought in Egypt, the Red Sea, and the exodus into the wilderness? Have you not heard how the Egyptians perished in the sea and Israel was preserved?” The archbishop then remarked, “Well then, there is no difference between you and the Egyptians. Though Pharaoh and his host perished in the waters, thy fathers, on account of their sins, suffered and died in the wilderness. Who does not know that out of some six hundred thousand who departed Egypt, only two survived and entered the promised land, Caleb and Jesus of Navee [Num. 26:65]? In what way then did God honor you above the Egyptians?”
Ervan dismissed that query and asked, “Who received manna in the wilderness from God? Was it not us, and not the Egyptians?” The archbishop replied, “Which seems better to you: the meat you ate in Egypt or the manna sent to you in the wilderness?” Ervan replied, “It is evident that the manna from God is more to be preferred.” The archbishop then rejoined, “Why then did you wish to return? Did you not say, ‘We remember the fish, which we ate in Egypt freely; and the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the garlic, and the onions [Num. 11:5]’?”
The debate then turned to the subject of the Holy Trinity. Ervan began: “The Christians confess three deities: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Lord God, however, gave the great commandment on Sinai: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord [Deut. 6:4].’ The Christians then transgress the law when they worship not the one God, but three.” The archbishop explained, “We worship one God, the Creator of all, in three hypostases, even as the Lord God was mentioned thrice in the verse just cited. Hearken now to the words of the Psalmist David: ‘By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the might of them by the Spirit of His mouth [Ps. 32:6].’ Observe how David also proclaims three hypostases, but a single divinity, coessential, co-beginningless, co-everlasting, and co-enthroned. The Lord is God the Father, His Word is the Son and Logos, and His Spirit is the Holy Spirit.”
The holy Gregentius then expounded upon the prophesies spoken to the Hebrews foretelling the Cross and death of the Messiah: “Thy Life shall be suspended before thine eyes [Deut. 28:66]”; and, “I, as an innocent lamb led to the slaughter, knew not: Against me they devised an evil device, saying, ‘Come and let us put wood into his bread, and let us utterly destroy him from off the land of the living, and let his name be remembered no longer [Jer. 11:19].’”
The archbishop then spoke of many other mystical forebodings and foreshadowings given in the Scriptures: Noah’s ark, the sacrifice of Abraham, the ram which took the place of Isaac when it was caught by its horns in a plant of Sabec [Gen. 22:13]; and when Israel (Jacob) did reverence, leaning on the top of his staff [Gen. 47:31], and blessed Joseph’s sons in the form of a cross, when he guided his hands crosswise [Gen. 48:14]. He spoke of the time when Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the water was divided [Ex. 14:21, 27]. He also discoursed on the mystical significance of Moses taking the rod of God in his hand–while Jesus of Navee set the army in array against Amalek–and Aaron and Or (Hur) kept Moses’ arms up in the form of a cross, so that Jesus of Navee routed Amalek [Josh. 17:8-14]. The archbishop then took up the subject of the significance of the brass serpent; for it is written: “Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a signal-staff: and it came to pass that whenever a serpent bit a man, and he looked on the brazen serpent, he lived [Num. 21:9].” He also explained the import of the incident when the people could not drink of Merrha, for it was bitter; so the Lord showed Moses a tree, which he cast into the bitter waters, and the waters were sweetened [Ex. 15:23-25]. These and many other mystical meanings and types were revealed.