desniza (desniza) wrote,

The memory of Saint Gregentius, Archbishop of Zafa

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.

Thus, the archbishop and Ervan spoke until the evening, though the latter showed himself very quarrelsome. It was clear that the holy Gregentius succeeded on all points. For the Holy Spirit spoke through him, even as it is written: “Ye shall be brought before governors and kings on account of Me, for a testimony to them and to the nations. But whenever they deliver you up, do not become anxious about how or what ye should speak; for it shall be given to you in that hour what ye shall speak. For ye are not the ones who are speaking, but the Spirit of your Father Who is speaking in you [Mt. 10:18-20].” Since it was becoming dark, the debate was adjourned till the morning. Thereupon, all retired, save the Jews who encircled Ervan. They were embracing and lauding him for his rejoinders. Ervan commented, “Entreat the Lord God Who delivered the law to us that He come to our aid. You have all seen and heard how clever with words this Gregentius has proven to be, so that it shall be exceedingly arduous to vanquish him.” Nevertheless, the Jews urged him to stiffen his back and face him down.
The following morning, even at dawn, all assembled and the debate recommenced. Thus it was to continue, with all returning to their places day after day. The Christians yearned to hear their archbishop’s every inspired word, which revealed the truth. The Christians were enthralled at his exposition on the prophets and how he cleared up mystery after mystery in the prophetical writings. The subject then turned to the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. The passage of the Prophet Esaias was immediately introduced: “Behold, the Virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Emmanuel [Is. 7:14].” Ervan straightway saw where the archbishop was leading and demanded, “What woman’s womb can contain the uncontainable divinity, Whose majesty fills and holds all?” The archbishop answered, “Bring to mind Abraham and how God appeared to him by the oak of Mambre, as he sat by the door of his tent. Even as the oak of Mambre accommodated God, giving the patriarch a place to offer hospitality, so it was in the womb of the Virgin [Gen. 18:1-15].” Ervan quickly asked, “How then did the fire of the divinity not consume her?” The archbishop explained, “When Moses came to the mount of Choreb, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in flaming fire out of the bush. Moses observed that the bush was not consumed [Ex. 3:1-3]. In like manner the divinity consumed not her virginal womb. She conceived virginally and gave birth virginally and remained virgin.” Ervan objected to this explanation, saying, “Then Jesus’ birth is an illusion, for how can she have remained intact after giving birth?” The archbishop reminded him of other instances, saying, “Consider Prophet Abbakoum. Had he not entered the den of seven lions in Babylon, where the Prophet Daniel was shut up? Was not the den sealed closed, and yet Abbakoum went in with a plate of pottage and broken bread in a bowl and then departed [Bel, 33-37]?”
After three more days of arguments and bandying texts, Ervan yearned to flee, but his coreligionists constrained him. “Abandon us not,” they implored him, “lest we should perish. Nonetheless, even if we are defeated in these talks, we shall find other ways to resist–but surrender, never!” Ervan then began the fourth day with an attack on the Christian veneration of the icons, claiming that they worshipped idols. Therefore, he argued the Christians were enemies of God’s law. For the Lord God said, “Thou shalt not make to thyself an image, nor likeness of anything [Deut. 5:8].” The archbishop rejoined, “In the days of Noah, when the floodwaters were upon the earth, how were Noah and those with him preserved?” Ervan answered, “By the ark which God instructed him to make [Gen. 6:14, 15].” The archbishop asked, “In your opinion, could God have saved Noah and his family without the ark?” Ervan replied, “With the Almighty, all things are possible.” The archbishop continued, “Since God could have saved them otherwise, why did He have Noah build the ark? Perhaps Noah owes his thanks and preservation to the ark, and not to God?” “Nay,” said Ervan, “it is meet to give praise to the Creator and God and not to insensate creations.” The archbishop continued, “Yet you admit that God foreordained Noah’s salvation by means of a soulless creation, that is, the ark. In like manner then does God work our salvation through these visible images, the icons. We venerate them, and this veneration is passed to the prototypes of the saints to whom we have elevated our minds.”
Then showing him an icon of Christ, the holy man said, “We have here depicted the Lord Jesus Christ, according to His manhood, not His divinity which is uncircumscribable. Jesus Christ emptied Himself and came to be in the likeness of men [Phil 2:7]. The apostles heard Him, saw Him with their eyes, touched Him with their hands. The Logos was made manifest, and the icons bear witness of His incarnation [1 Jn. 1]. Thus, even as Noah gave thanks to God for his salvation in the ark by building an altar, so we give thanks by portraying and venerating His image, which we contemplate; thereby are we delivered from the noetic flood. With Jesus taking on human nature, we recognize this to be another ark which sanctified us, bore away our sins, and raised us to the heavens.” Ervan remained self-willed and blasphemed the icons, saying, “I am astonished at the fables contrived by the Christians who declare that God grants His grace to paintings on boards and walls.” The archbishop replied to Ervan’s disdain, saying, “Why then did God bestow His grace upon Elias’ soulless mantle, rather than to the living Prophet Elisaios? Elisaios was unable to cross the Jordan, so he smote the waters with the mantle of Elias, and they parted hither and thither, so that he was able to pass over [4 Kgs. (2 Kgs.) 2:14].”
The holy Gregentius then spoke of the visible and tangible tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, the golden jar with the manna, the tablets of the law, Aaron’s rod that budded, the altar, the censer, and the seven lamps [Ex. 25:37]. “These articles were made by the hands of men, yet were they not receptacles of God’s grace? Did not the cloud cover the tabernacle of witness? ‘For the tabernacle was filled with the glory of the Lord [Ex. 40:34].’ None but the Levites and the priests could touch them, since these items were consecrated to God. In such manner were the objects honored during the time of the old covenant; then why should it be incredible to you that icons have become vessels of grace during the new dispensation?”
Ervan then thought to bring forward’s David testimony, and so he recited: “‘The idols of the nations are of silver and gold, the works of the hands of men [Ps. 113:12].’ Your icons are idols made by men.” The archbishop stated by way of explanation, “Certainly the statues of the nations who know not God are idols. Those statues were depictions of godless individuals steeped in wickedness. I mean magicians, sorcerers, murderers, cannibals, fornicators, adulterers, and the like, who died. Later generations, deceived by Satan and their ancestral imposture, looked upon them as gods and goddesses. You did the same when you paid homage to the idols of the nations and sacrificed your sons and daughters to them. The icons are not idols, but the depictions of those who honored God and wrought miracles by His grace.” Ervan remarked, “We still find the icons indistinguishable from the idols.”
The archbishop, undaunted, then recalled for Ervan the materials of the tabernacle in the wilderness, saying, “Consider thy garments and the tabernacle itself. Are they both not fashioned from wool and linen? But does that mean that we are indifferent to the regard we ought to render to those items in God’s house and thine own wardrobe? I ask thee, does thy staff have the same power as that of Aaron’s rod which budded? Is the jar in thy pantry of equal honor to that which held the manna? The wooden chest in thy bedchamber, wherein thou hast stored thy personal articles, is it to be likened to the glory of the ark of the Lord’s covenant? What of the lamps in thy house: do they compare to the gold seven-branched candlestick? Is thy house to be held in esteem as that of Solomon’s temple? By no means. It is self-evident to anyone with discernment that greater honor is ascribed to items consecrated to God and sanctified by Him. Thus, we distinguish between those items for common and ordinary use and those for God’s service. Correspondingly, an idol depicting some wicked demon or benighted man who dwells in Hades is not to be compared with an icon of one who has been pleasing to God and from whom divine grace energizes his entreaties on our behalf.”

Ervan then spoke of the bodiless host, though he did not know that they are not pure spirit. The Jewish doctor then recited the words of the psalm: “God maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire [cf. Ps. 103:6].” He then added, “Why do you Christians err and give these incorporeals bodies in your icons?” “You are mistaken,” said the archbishop. “It is not only the Christians, but even the Hebrews of old who depicted the celestial beings, from which we learned also to portray them.” Ervan appeared stunned and retorted, “This was never done by our fathers.” The archbishop then asked, “Thou hast said, hast thou not, that thou hast studied the Old Testament in its entirety? If this is true, then how canst thou be unaware of these portrayals?” Ervan then declared, “As the Lord lives, I know not one incident which reveals that our forefathers depicted or reverenced images of the angelic host.” The archbishop then affirmed, “Indeed, this work was done by the Hebrews of old. Allow me to cite some examples.” “Speak on,” said Ervan. The archbishop then began saying, “Regarding Moses and the ark of the covenant, hast thou not read that the cherubs were made on either side of the expiatory (mercy seat) [Ex. 25:18, 19]? What of the veils? Is it not written: ‘They made the veil of blue, and purple, and spun scarlet, and fine linen twined, the woven work with cherubs [Ex. 36:35]’? Didst thou never hear in the Scriptures that section pertaining to the furnishings for the temple built by Solomon? We learn therein that ‘both the cherubs were in the midst of the innermost part of the house; and they spread out their wings, and one wing touched the wall, and the wing of the other cherub touched the other wall,’ and so on [3 Kgs. (1 Kgs.) 6:27]. If, then, you depicted the bodiless host, why do you condemn us for venerating the images of men who wore flesh and pleased God?”
On the evening of the fourth day, the viceroy and archbishop rose up and retired. Concluding arguments were to be delivered in the morning. The Jews then gathered around Ervan and encouraged him to continue: “Thou art doing well. We see that the questions which thou hast posed have caused the viceroy to listen to thee carefully.” Ervan, however, was not encouraged but dispirited, and he remarked, “The man is far superior to me in intellect and oratory. I cannot gainsay or contradict his reasonings. He has turned to nought all my arguments and queries.” “Nay,” said they. “Thou art contending well. Take courage, for we see that our God is with thee. Believe us, the viceroy listens to thee with no less heed than he gives to that Gregentius.”
The following morning, the elders and other doctors of the law came to Ervan. He disclosed to them a dream which he had been vouchsafed and began by saying, “I tell you, brothers, the archbishop shall win this debate. Last night, I beheld our Prophet Moses and Jesus; and I do not mean Moses’ successor, Jesus of Navee, but Jesus Whom the Christians hold as the Messiah. Both the prophet and Jesus were standing together on the roof of some sanctuary and conversing. I observed that Moses, with reverential fear, had his hands crossed over his breast and was bowing in worship to Jesus, as though He were his Lord and God. I wondered at this and asked the prophet, ‘My lord, Moses, it is proper to conduct thyself in this way before Jesus?’ But then he who delivered the law to us interrupted me and said, ‘I tell thee, keep silent. I am worshipping the Master Whom I recognize as my Creator and Lord. Thou hast no part with me. If thou hadst believed me, thou wouldest have believed in Jesus; for I wrote of Him [cf. Jn. 5:46]. Desist from harassing the archbishop and perverting the Scriptures. Know thou this: thou shalt be defeated on the morrow, and thou shalt come to worship the Lord Jesus.’ The vision then vanished, and I was awakened, not knowing what to think or do. Nevertheless, I shall enter the talks again today and defend our law, until God should otherwise dispose of matters.” These words of Ervan left many of the Jews perplexed and disheartened.
When all entered into the assembly to resume the debate, the archbishop’s notary was again present. He was from Alexandria and had accompanied Gregentius to the peninsula. He had a quick hand and took down shorthand accurately, not missing a word. By the grace of God, the archbishop continued to prevail over the Jewish doctor of the law. Though Ervan’s arguments grew weaker and his defeat was predictable, yet both he and the Jewish teachers remained resistant and wilfully blind and deaf to the archbishop’s words of truth. Ervan realized that, at this juncture, after having exhausted all his arguments by which he hoped to ensnare the holy man, he had no further arguments which he could present against the Christian Faith.
Thus, every question was answered by the archbishop with reference to the books of the prophets. The Jew, seeing that he was routed by the sagacious Gregentius, whose words revealed the truth, said this to the man of God: “Why should we consume so much time in discourse and argument, which has proved vain and to no profit? Let us have done with all contention and rivalry and come to the actual deeds. Show thou me this Jesus Christ living, that I might perceive Him with the senses and converse with Him. Then in truth shall I become a Christian.” The ill-intentioned Jews, hearing such a proposition from their rabbi, were offended in Ervan, and they said to him, “We beseech thee, do not err and become a Christian. Much rather, play the man and be strong. Stand firm and waver not in our religion, for it is certainly known that there is no other God save the God of our fathers.” Ervan then addressed them, “What nonsense are you speaking, O mindless ones? If Gregentius should truly show me the Christ of Whom the prophets spoke, and I choose to resolutely disbelieve, then I would be an imbecile and wanting in understanding and, indeed, estranged from the God of our fathers.”
The saint, perceiving that Ervan was speaking these words sincerely and not as a piece of impertinence or as one playing a part, answered cheerfully and graciously, saying, “In what manner dost thou wish what thou seekest to be fulfilled?” The Hebrew replied, “Beseech thy Master, if He is in heaven, as thou hast declared, to come down to me, so that I may behold and speak to Him. Then indeed, as the Lord God lives–that is, He Whom thou sayest to be the Father of the Christ–I shall immediately come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah and receive the Baptism.” Then the crowd of scribes and Pharisees began shouting, “Yea, milord archbishop, do thou the bidding of our rabbi, by showing us thy Christ. Then, with fear and trembling, we shall believe in the Christ; for indeed, we shall no longer have any defense or pretext.” They repeatedly cried out these words, but all the while the thrice-wretched ones were saying among themselves in a half-whisper, “Even if he should show us the Christ, we shall not become Christians; but rather, we should prefer everlasting punishment.” Others then remarked, “So many years have elapsed from the time that our fathers crucified and buried this Jesus in a sealed sepulcher. Is it possible for this one Christian prelate archbishop to resurrect Him, of Whom the bones do not even remain?” The holy Gregentius then, knowing full well that if he did not perform this wonderworking, that these stiff-necked people should in no wise believe, addressed them: “Know this: on account of my profound desire to guide you to the truth, lest you should become wretched and suffer everlasting perdition, I shall beseech my Master Christ to condescend and come to the earth in essence this very day, as He is merciful and most compassionate. And then, when He appears to you, even in the heaven sitting in glory, as many of you as do not believe, straightway you shall be justly cut in twain by the sword.”
All present therefore accepted the terms set forth. However, the Jews thought the appearance of Christ alive to be impossible. They reasoned that He had been put to death and buried for so many centuries. The saint, for his part, was cognizant of the words of the Lord Who said in the holy Gospel: “Verily, verily, I say to you, the one who believeth in Me, the works which I do shall that one do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go to My Father [Jn. 14:12].” Gregentius then rose up from his episcopal throne. He requested the viceroy that he not depart, until he should return, lest the assembly disperse. The archbishop then went alone outside to the portico, where they had all assembled. The blessed man stood in a place opposite the people. He then faced the direction of east and made three full prostrations, bending his knees and touching his head to the ground. All could witness from afar the archbishop entering into his prayers. Archbishop Gregentius, with tears in his eyes, then entreated the Lord with all of his heart and faith: “O Master Lord Jesus Christ, Son and Logos of the awesome and invisible Father, Who, impassibly and without change, was begotten, not made, before all the ages; and Who, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is worshipped and glorified, by Whom the heaven and the earth were created and the foundations thereof were laid; and Who, for our sake and our salvation, bowed down the heavens and descended and became Man of the holy Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit; and Who, as the lover of mankind, ‘showed Thyself upon earth and conversed with men [Bar. 3:37],’ associating with the lawless Jews and working signs and wonders among them; do Thou, O Lord Jesus Christ, Who art everywhere present and filling all things, have mercy and take pity on this benighted multitude of Jews. Do Thou overshadow them with Thy power and open their darkened eyes, which have been blinded by the devil. Do Thou appear to them, according to the multitude of Thy compassions, that they might see Thee for themselves, this very day, and believe in Thee the only true God, together with the Father Who sent Thee [Jn. 20:21] and Thy Holy Spirit.”
Upon his offering up this prayer in the hearing of the people, all eyes were fixed upon the archbishop. Then suddenly, a great earthquake occurred with the boom of a mighty thunderclap in the direction of the east, which caused all present to fall to the ground from their terror. After a little while, they rose up and looked toward the east. The heavens were opened and parted. Then a radiant cloud stretched before them as a plain, so that it appeared to begin from heaven and arrive as far as the people there. Thus all were better able to behold our Lord Jesus Christ coming from the heavens toward them. There, sitting upon the cloud, appeared the Lord, of Whom it is written in the psalms: “Comely art Thou in beauty more than the sons of men [Ps. 44:2].” His countenance was filled with ineffable light, and His garments were shining as lightning. As the Lord approached, He stood up at the edge of the cloud, near to the assembly and above the archbishop, at about a distance of two hundred cubits. He appeared clothed in a scarlet cloud that was most beautiful and glorious, from which divine rays were proceeding. A diadem was observed on His head, which was extraordinary, and the size of which was inconceivable, for the rays it emitted made it appear as a crown of thorns. In His left hand He held a book, and in His right hand He bore a sword. The Master Christ, as seen by the viceroy, his nobles, and all the pious, appeared in a marvellous form. They felt both fear and joy, though they rejoiced while trembling. No one was able to utter a word before this terrifying sight. The Christians only gazed upon their Lord with a sense of delight and sweetness, as ones ecstatic, that is, beside themselves and in a state of wonder. The Jews however, with Ervan, at seeing this fearsome mystery, were filled with such terror that they beat their breasts from fear. They kept looking to the right and to the left in an attempt to find a way in which to escape.
Then the saint cried out with a great voice to Ervan and said, “Dost thou see, O Ervan, this awesome mystery for which thou didst seek? Be thou therefore informed of the truth. Cease doubting, and do thou believe that One is holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father.” Neither Ervan nor any of the other Jews was able to speak a word. Moreover, the ingrates kept refusing to believe, but only stood there silent and stupefied. Then the voice of the Lord was heard, saying, “On account of the supplication of My great archbishop have I appeared before you, whose fathers had crucified Me.” When the Jews heard these words, they fell prone to the earth, trembling and blind. In like manner had this occurred to the great Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus, on the road to Damascus [Acts 9:4]. After a little while, they rose up; and though their eyes were wide open, they beheld nothing. The believers and pious not only were greatly enlightened and retained their power of sight, but their vision was sounder than before. They beheld the Lord coming upon the cloud, which covered them, and then observed it recede, taking up Jesus from under, until nothing remained of the vision. The Christians knelt for a long while, weeping and crying out with joy, “Lord have mercy!” Thus, while they looked, the heavenly King was taken up before their eyes into the heavens as before. The multitudes of Christians, together with the saintly archbishop, were loudly giving thanks for the Lord’s extreme condescension. The viceroy, together with all his nobles, then rose up and venerated the archbishop, rendering him honor, as was meet; for they all marvelled at him as a truly holy man.
The unfortunate Jews, thereupon, remained in their darkness, both spiritual and physical. They kept asking one another if any among them could see; but it was soon discovered that all of them were struck with blindness. They then bewailed their circumstances with loud voices, saying to Ervan, “Woe to us! What shall come to pass now, rabbi? How shall we go forth, since none of us can see?” Ervan then asked them, “So is it true then that only we do not see after beholding God, or have the Christians also suffered the same affliction?” Then certain among the pious Christians, overhearing the Jews, answered and said, “May this not be, but we Christians were rather illumined by His ineffable grace and now actually see better. Your wilful spiritual blindness has been manifested in your involuntary blindness. Your unbelief has blinded you. Though you yourselves asked to behold the Lord Jesus and set the terms of your conversion upon His appearance, yet you have shown yourselves unworthy.” Ervan then groped about and took hold of one of the Christians who took him before Archbishop Gregentius. Ervan then said to the man of God, “Everyone among you, who beheld God, received benefit from Him; but we, who have beheld Him this day, have become blind. Is this the benefaction which He grants to those who would draw near to the Christ?” The saint replied, “‘The Lord is the God of vengeances; the God of vengeances hath spoken openly [Ps. 93:1].’ You have received the recompense for your blasphemies.” The rabbi then said, “If He then renders evil for evil, none would come to repentance.” The saint answered, “The physician, when he severs the gangrenous limb, is not to be condemned. Since you looked upon the Lord through unworthy eyes, you were blinded.” Ervan then said, “Of all that we have heard from thee and seen, still the end remains. Were we to receive our sight, then shouldest thou make us all Christians; otherwise thou shalt need to give answer for us to God at the hour of judgment.” The holy man replied, “First receive Baptism, and then you shall see again.” Ervan answered, “But if we should be baptized and afterward not have our sight restored, what shall happen then?” The saint said, “Let only one among you receive Baptism; and if he is not illumined in both soul and body, then no one else shall be baptized.”
The proposal pleased the Jews. The saint then baptized one among them and, straightway, his eyes were opened and he cried aloud, “Jesus the Christ is the most true God in Whom I, the unworthy one, believe!” The other Jews heard his exclamation. All came forward with much eagerness, asking to be baptized in turn. The archbishop asked if they had come to believe in Jesus as the Christ. When he received their affirmation, they were received as catechumens. Preparations were then made to baptize their entire community. As each one received Baptism, forthwith, as if scales fell from each one’s eyes, each recovered his sight. Saint Paul had written that “the righteousness which is of faith speaketh thus, ‘Say not in thy heart, “Who shall ascend into the heavens?” (that is, to bring down Christ) or, “Who shall descend into the abyss?”’ (that is, to bring up Christ from the dead). But what saith it? ‘The word is near to thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart’ (that is, the word of faith which we proclaim): That if thou confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in thy heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart one believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth one confesseth unto salvation. For the Scripture saith, ‘Everyone who believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord of all is rich to all those who call upon Him [Rom. 10:6-12].”
Thus, they received the seal in Christ and were numbered in the ranks of the Orthodox Christians. There was great joy and rejoicing in the Church of Christ. The demons and minions of evil suffered much loss and inconsolable affliction. Ervan and the others were baptized and all received their sight. They glorified the Lord with exultant voices and repented for the excess of their former lawless deeds and iniquities. Before all, Ervan showed himself most wise, by revealing his genuine and profound compunction for all he had perpetrated against the Master Christ. He beat his breast and was saying, “Woe to me, the mindless one! Our Master, Jesus Christ, Whom our ungrateful fathers crucified, is in the heavens; and here we were thinking He was to be found in Hades! O most compassionate Master and Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, grant pardon to me through Thy great mercy, as much as I sinned against Thee in ignorance.”
These and other statements of repentance were made by Ervan, who greatly revered the blessed Gregentius, whom he honored as an angel of God. Since Ervan conceived a deep and sincere love for the archbishop, he was in no wise able to keep himself apart from the holy man. For this cause, the viceroy, Abramios, also came to exceedingly love Ervan, deeming him most seemly and erudite. When the former rabbi emerged from the holy font of the Holy Spirit, the viceroy received him as his spiritual son. He named him Leo and then elevated him to one of his senators, further honoring him with the title of patrician.
We should mention that not only the Jews of the city of Kefron were baptized, but also those of all the cities of the archbishop’s see. The most pious viceroy for his part ordered that all the synagogue members of the Jews were to receive holy Baptism, so that the number of newly illumined Hebrews came to five thousand. According to the express command of the viceroy and the archbishop, all those who were baptized were to mingle and settle among the Christians, lest they should lapse or convene secret assemblies. In fact, intermarriage was more than encouraged, but also written into law that any marriageable woman among the Hebrews was enjoined to take a husband among the Gentile Christian men. In like manner, the Hebrew men were to take brides among the Gentile Christian women. No Hebrew man or woman was to dare enter into marriage with one of his or her race, under penalty of beheading. Thus, with the passage of time, the Hebrews would forget their customs and the traditions of their elders. Within a few years, this most wise decree caused all the Hebrews in that province to unite with the Christians in such a way that assimilation was complete for the kingdom of the Homerites, which had been enlightened by God’s help. Indeed, throughout that land, there was harmony and rejoicing in the churches.
The viceroy and the archbishop celebrated, glorifying the Lord with all-night vigils and other God-pleasing works of excellence. They were especially diligent in the ministration of almsgiving, before any other practise of virtue. As ones wishing to emulate God, they abundantly assisted orphans, widows, and other poor folk. The most Christian viceroy examined all the judgments and decisions which were written on the books. The just ones were promulgated, while the unjust ones were abrogated. Those that were unjust on account of human error, carelessness, inattention, or the diabolic intervention of wicked men were removed. By his order in his own hand, the grandees and nobles were given written documents, stating that no poor person was to be wronged or denied justice. Various decrees, ordinances, and even doctrines were put into effect as the law of the kingdom. Capital punishment for lawbreakers was meted out in the form of death by the sword or drowning in the sea. Neither the poor nor the nobility were exempt or shown any partiality with regard to keeping the law of the Lord unwaveringly. No serious matter was decided without the spiritual guidance of the saint, who would beseech the Lord for answers and solutions. All of the Lord’s commands were written down. With the effects of intermarriage and the keeping of God’s law, the citizenry thrived and enjoyed peace and the spread of piety. The viceroy ruled with the blessing of the people, and none opposed his God-pleasing measures. He is also believed to have shifted South Arabia from Monophysitism to true Orthodoxy.
The viceroy, worthy of blessing, ruled for thirty years and offered a good repentance, until he was translated to the heavens. The holy Archbishop Gregentius prophesied to Abramios the day of the viceroy’s departure, for which the latter made preparations, as was meet. Thus, he finished his earthly sojourn in a God-pleasing manner and was buried with honor and reverence. His son, Erdidos, succeeded to the throne. He proved to be as obedient as was his father to the archbishop, who continued to shepherd the flock of Christ in a good and godly manner. Thereafter, the Church of the Himyarites continued to dwell in peace, until the coming of the Persian occupation in Yemen (572), which preceded the growth of Islam (ca. 632) in the Arabian peninsula.
During the thirty years of the saint’s service in South Arabia, he wrought many miracles and great signs among them, not only in this life, but even after his falling asleep in the Lord. This took place on the 19th day of December, in the year 552, not long after the repose of Abramios. He was interred in the burial-vault of their great church at Zafar. At his funeral, the huge attendance of hierarchs, priests, deacons, and monastics who came to pay their last respects did not allow for all to be contained within the cathedral. All the mourners, especially the baptized Hebrews, lamented bitterly upon being deprived of such a loving shepherd. The saint was deemed by all to be a compassionate father and friend of children, who interceded on their behalf with the man-loving God. Saint Gregentius, as one most sympathetic, was always beseeching and entreating God for the needs of his flock. His God-pleasing prayers and intercessions bestowed upon them forgiveness of their faults and transgressions, as our Lord Jesus Christ is merciful and the lover of mankind. To Him is due glory, dominion, honor, and homage, now and ever and unto the ages of the ages. Amen.
[1] The entire proceedings between Saint Gregentius and Ervan were recorded. See Dialexis (Discourse) with the Jewish Teacher of the Law, Ervan, in P.G. 621-620. The published account also may be obtained (in Greek) from Basil S. Regopoulos, religious publishers (Thessalonike). This protoype text was paraphrased (into simpler Greek), with an introduction and a plethora of notes, under the title, Dialogue with Our Holy Father Among the Saints, Gregentius, Archbishop of Ethiopia, with the Hebrew Teacher of the Law, Ervan, Concerning the True Faith of the Christ. This handsome book, with its wealth of information, is worth possessing. It both furnishes a defense against the Hebrews and can prove to be instructive for them. See: Laws for the Himyarites, in BHG 706h-i; and BHG 706d for the Conversation with Ervan the Jew.

See also: Christides, Vassilios. The Himyarite-Ethiopian War and the Ethiopian Occupation of South Arabia in the Acts of  Gregentius  (ca. 530 A.D.) // Annales d'Ethiopie, 9, No. 2. Paris, 1972. P. 115-46.


Tags: 6th century, baptism, bishop, blessings of god, byzantine, ceremony, christ, christian, church, church fathers, consecratio, coronation, cross, emperor, father, history, literature, mass, st. gregentius

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