ST. MARK THE FOUNDER
St. Mark was the first missionary to Egypt and the founder of the See of Alexandria. He is regarded as the first pope of an unbroken chain of 117 patriarchs of Alexandria. He is also the first of a stream of Egyptian martyrs.
St. Mark was one of the seventy Apostles and one of the four Evangelists. Many believe the Gospel of Mark to be dated shortly before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
His Hebrew name, "John", meant "The Kindness of God" and was mentioned twice in the Book of Acts (Acts 13:5;13). His Roman name was "Mark" which meant a "Hammer". Our Apostle was mentioned as “Mark” in all the epistles of St. Paul (Col 4:10; Phi 24; 2 Tim 4:11); St. Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and in the Book of Acts (Acts 15:39). On three occasions, his two names were mentioned together. It was either said, “John who was named Mark”, or “John who was known as Mark”.
HIS EARLY LIFE
St. Mark was an African native of Jewish parents who belonged to the Levites' tribe. His family lived in Cyrenaica, in Pentapolis on the Northern African coast, until they were attacked by some barbarians, and lost their property. Consequently, they migrated to Jerusalem (Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37). Apparently, he was given a good education and became fluent in both Greek and Latin in addition to Hebrew, and became well educated in religion.
His family was highly religious and in close relationship with the Lord Jesus. His cousin was St. Barnabas and his father's cousin was St. Peter. His mother, Mary, was one of the "Marys" who followed Christ. She was a reverend woman and highly regarded by the early Christians. Her upper-room became the first Christian church in the world where the Lord Himself instituted the Holy Eucharist (Mark 14:12-26), appeared twice to the disciples after His resurrection, and where His Holy Spirit came upon them in Pentecost. The believers gathered and prayed at her house, at the time of the Apostles (Acts 12:12).
Insight into John Mark's personality can be obtained through this very well known story involving his travels in the mountains near Jordan:
“Once, a lion and a lioness appeared to him and his father, Aristopolus, while traveling in Jordan. The father begged his son to escape while he distracted the wild beasts and awaited his fate. The father was filled with fear. He had not yet become a Christian. Mark assured his father that the Lord Jesus Christ would save both of them, and he prayed and made the sign of the cross over himself and then over the attacking lions. Suddenly the two animals became quiet and slowly moved to sit at his feet. As a result of that miracle, the father immediately believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This event led the artists to insert a lion in all of his icons. It is possible also that the lion refers to the beginning of his Gospel, as he described a roar of a lion (Mark 1:3); or because his Gospel represented the Lord Christ in His Majesty and His Kingdom as: “The lion of the tribe of Judea."
Being one of the seventy, he is mentioned in the Scriptures in a number of events related with the Lord: He was present at the wedding of Cana of Galilee, and was the man who had been carrying the jar when the two disciples went to prepare a place for the celebration of the Passover (Mark 14:13, 14; Luke 22:11). He was also the same man who fled naked before the Crucifixion (Mark 14:51, 52). Due to these passages, the Coptic Church calls St. Mark, the "Beholder of God."
PREACHING WITH THE APOSTLES
St. Mark started his preaching when he was very young. He accompanied St. Peter on his missionary journeys inside Jerusalem and Judea. Then he accompanied St. Paul and St. Barnabas on their first missionary journey to Antioch, Cyprus and Asia Minor (Acts 13:13). He went to Cyprus with St. Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41). There, St. Barnabas departed in the Lord and St. Mark buried him. Afterwards, St. Paul needed St. Mark with him and they both preached in Colossi (4:11), Rome (Phil. 24; 2 Tim. 4:11) and perhaps at Venice.
PREACHING IN AFRICA
St. Mark's great labor lays in Africa. He left Rome for Pentapolis, the land where he was born. Then he traveled to Egypt, entering Alexandria from its eastern gate on 61 A.D.
Upon his arrival, the strap of his sandal broke loose. He went to a cobbler to mend it. Accidentally, Anianus, the cobbler pierced his hand and cried aloud: "O One God." After miraculously healing the man's wound, St. Mark began to preach him. Eventually, Anianus, his family, and many others believed and were baptized.
The Apostle ordained Anianus a bishop with other three priests and seven deacons to look after the congregation. St. Mark then left Alexandria for Berce, then Rome, where he met Sts. Peter and Paul and remained there until their martyrdom in 67 A.D. He returned to Alexandria. He spent another two years in Pentapolis preaching and ordaining bishops and priests. Finally he returned to Alexandria and was overjoyed to find that Christians had multiplied so much that they were able to build a large church in the suburban district of Baucalis.
In response to the request of the newly converts there, and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, St. Mark wrote his Gospel.
The spread of Christianity must have been quite remarkable because pagans were furious and sought St. Mark everywhere. In the year 68 A.D, Easter fell on the same day as the feast of the god, Syrabis. The pagans seized St. Mark at the Church and he was inhumanely dragged from street to street and then thrown into prison, badly beaten and left near death.
While in prison the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him and said, "Be strong, O my Evangelist, for tomorrow you shall receive the Crown of Martyrdom." The next morning the pagans again dragged him through the streets until his bloody flesh was torn and his head separated from the rest of his body. The chosen apostle was steadfast and strong until death.
It was their intention to cremate his remains, but the wind blew and the rain fell in torrents and the populace dispersed. Christians took his body and secretly buried him in a grave which they had engraved in a rock under the altar of the church.
The saint’s head was kept in Alexandria, Egypt; while the body was taken to Venice by some Italian merchants. They built a huge cathedral in St. Mark's name, believing that St. Mark was their patron Saint.
In 1968, part of his relics which is now kept in his Cathedral in Cairo, was offered to the 116th Pope of Alexandria, Cyril VI (Kyrillos VI) from The Pope of Rome, Paul VI.
HIS APOSTOLIC ACTS
· Preaching in Egypt, Pentapolis, Judea, Asia Minor, and Italy.
· Establishing the "School of Alexandria".
· Writing the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist.
· Writing the Gospel according to St. Mark. We celebrates his martyrdom on the 8th of May (30th of Baramudah) of every year.
We celebrate his martyrdom on the 8th of May (30th of Baramudah) of every year.