Saint Mark, was born with the name Emmanuel, in 1392 in the queen of cities, Constantinople. He came from pious parents, his father was called George and was a chief justice, a sakellarios, and a deacon of the Great Church, and his mother was Maria, the daughter of the pious physician Luke.
Both parents tried and succeeded in raising little Emmanuel in the teachings and admonition of the Lord. But the death of his father left him and his younger brother John orphans at a tender age.
The Saint learned his first letters from his father George, who had a famous private school. After the death of his father, his mother sent him to continue his studies with the most famous teachers of the time, John Chortasmenos (later Metropolitan Ignatios of Selymbria) and the mathematician and philosopher George Gemiston Plethon. Among his classmates was his later sworn enemy Bessarion the Cardinal.
Teacher and Monk
When the young Emmanuel completed his studies he assumed the administration of his father's school and soon was recognized as the brightest teacher of the declining city. Among his students who later excelled were George Gennadios Scholarios, the first Patriarch following the fall of the City, Theodore Agallianos, Theophanos the Metropolitan of Medeia and his brother John the Eugenikos.
Divine love however did not allow Emmanuel to be carried away by a most promising teaching career. Not even the very friendly relationship with the emperor stopped him from denying the world and fleeing to the island of Antigone in the Prince's Islands, close to the famous ascetic Symeon. There he remained in a spiritual struggle for two years and then, after the Turkish assaults on the islands, he came with his elder to the fabulous Monastery of Saint George of Mangana, in Constantinople.
Monk Mark continued in his new repentance enduring the tough ascetic life. In the Monastery of Mangana, Saint Mark composed many works, and almost all of his more than 100 works are saved to this day. Especially important are the works he wrote against the Latin leaning rivals of Saint Gregory Palamas, whom he greatly respected as his model. In this monastery, Mark was tonsured to the priesthood, after being pressured to do so, because he thought of himself as unworthy of such a high calling. Soon though he acquired such great spiritual fame, that many clerics and lay people wrote to him requesting his opinion on different topics.
At the Synod of Ferrara
In 1436, even though still a Hieromonk, the Patriarch of Alexandria named him as his representative at the convened Synod for the union of Churches. The same year Emperor John Palaiologos forced him to accept the throne of Metropolitan of Ephesus which had become vacant that year.
The emperor showed his great appreciation for Saint Mark by naming him General Exarch of the Synod. Therefore, the Saint followed the Patriarch and the rest of the representatives to Italy.
Saint Mark went to the Synod with the best intentions and demonstrated his conciliatory stance with the speech he composed for the Pope, even before the start of the proceedings of the Ferrara Synod. Some Orthodox representatives even criticized Mark for his conciliatory stance in the dialogue with Cardinal Cesarini, and demanded that from then on Metropolitan Bessarion of Nicaea should speak instead.
The first topic of discussion was on purgatory. Bessarion feeling not capable of speaking (due to his inadequate theological training), let Mark speak instead for the Orthodox, who then expressed four points of disagreement on the topic.
The crystal clear Orthodox views as presented by our Saint greatly pleased the emperor, who looked towards Mark as the one Orthodox theologian who could easily answer the arguments of the Papists. But the theologically inadequate Roman emperor was hopeful that the Orthodox views would prevail, not knowing that the Papists would have insisted without budging from their errors. For this reason, when the emperor saw that the irrational persistence of the Latins would sink his political agenda - namely the union of the Churches along with the assistance to confront the Turks - he began to pressure the Orthodox to follow a milder and more yielding way.
The False Union
The Latins began to apply their known tactics of whisperings, lies and pressures, and during that time they distributed in Ferrara hundreds of leaflets which contained fifty-four seemingly heretical (non-Latin) Orthodox practices! Seeing that the situation was worsening against the Orthodox, two of the sanctioning members of the Orthodox representation, Metropolitan Anthony of Herakleia, first ranking Metropolitan to the Ecumenical throne, and John the brother of Saint Mark, tried to flee from Ferrara, but were impeded by the emperor. Because John was being accompanied by his brother to the harbor, the emperor and the Patriarch fearing other attempts at fleeing, in agreement with the Papists, transferred the Synod from Ferrara which was close to the sea, to Florence.
When the proceedings of the Synod recommenced, Saint Mark, the Metropolitan from Ephesus, was the main speaker for the Orthodox. However the Saint’s responses and the reversals by the Latin false believers caused the wrath of the Latin-minded Orthodox, who with the silent consent and tolerance of the emperor, tried to overcome Saint Mark by spreading rumors that he had gone mad. During one of the meetings of the Orthodox representatives, when the Metropolitan from Ephesus referred to the Papists as “heretics”, the Metropolitan of Lacedaemon and of Mytilene insulted the Saint and tried to hit him.
Mark of Ephesus will not sign
The Saint, ascertaining that all his attempts to persuade the Orthodox not to proceed towards union - thus becoming victims of the Papists - were in vain, stopped taking an active part in the proceedings of the Synod.
Finally on 5 July 1439, the union was endorsed, and as reported by Syropoulos, most of the Orthodox representatives signed against their will, being fearful of the emperor. When the Pope asked if Mark had also signed, he received a negative response. To this the Pope remarked, “Well, we have accomplished nothing.” The arrogant and despotic Pope shamelessly asked the undecided Roman emperor to send Mark to him to be judged in front of the Synodal Court, but fortunately the emperor refused.
Later on though, the emperor begged Mark, having first received oral assurances from the Pope of his safety, that he present himself in front of the Pope to explain his position. Mark, obeying the emperor’s order, went to the Pope. In vain the arch-heretic of the West tried to force him to accept the unseemly union. When he saw that Mark remained immovable in his views, he reverted to abuses and threatened to declare him a heretic. However, Saint Mark was not intimidated and responded with boldness saying, “The participants of the synod pass judgment on the unpersuaded of the Church, but praise the ones that stood against her, yet those that preach of her and struggle for her, they call them heretics. I however do not preach my own beliefs nor have I innovated anything, nor do I stand for some strange dogma or rule, but I abide to her extreme glory."
The people welcome Mark
Following the treasonous union at Ferrara-Florence, the Romans left Italy to return to the besieged city. The emperor received Saint Mark on the imperial ship, and after a trip of three and a half months they finally arrived at Constantinople. There the people received them with adverse feelings and denounced those that signed the union, but welcomed and honored our Saint. Then, as the Greco-Latin Bishop Joseph of Methonis described, “The one of Ephesus saw the multitudes praising him for not signing, and the crowd knelt before him as if he were Moses and Aaron, praising him and calling him a saint.”
The simple people of God looked at Saint Mark as the lone hierarch who had the courage and capability to protect his Orthodox faith. They were already aware that quite a few who signed the union were bribed by the pope, while the hands of Mark were clean. When the emperor decided to fill the Patriarchal throne, he sent representatives to Mark asking him to accept the high honor of the Patriarch, but he did not accept.
The imprisonment of the Saint in Lemnos
On the 4th of May in 1440, Saint Mark was forced to flee from the Royal City back to his see in Ephesus because his life was in danger. Ephesus at that time was already occupied under the Turks. Having shepherded for a short while his blessed flock, he was forced again, now due to the Turks and unionists, to leave Ephesus and board a ship destined for the Holy Mountain, where he decided to live the rest of his life. However when the ship made a stop at Lemnos, the Saint was recognized and arrested under imperial order and imprisoned there for two years. During his period of imprisonment, he suffered greatly, but as he wrote to the Hieromonk Theophanes of Evia, “The word of God and the power of truth cannot be tied down, instead it proceeds and prospers, and most of the brothers, encouraged by my exile, keep watch against the wicked and transgressors of the true faith.”
From Lemnos the Saint sent his famous encyclical epistle for all Orthodox people around the world and those who lived on the islands. With this, he severely rebuked those Orthodox who accepted the union and with uncompromising facts proved that the Latins are innovators. Because of this he says, “As they are heretics, we turned ourselves away and for this we separated from them.” The Saint then invites the believers to avoid the unionists because they are “false apostles and deceitful servants.”
Continuation of the struggle from the Mangana Monastery
After he was released from prison, Saint Mark, because of illness, could not withdraw to the Holy Mountain, but returned to the monastery in Constantinople where he was received by the faithful people with honor as a saint and confessor. From the Monastery of Saint George of Mangana, the new confessor directed the struggle against the unionists, writing letters to the monks and clerics, encouraging them to hold on to the true faith and not to cooperate with the unionists.
Suffering the pressures of persecutions and scorn, the state of health of the holy father worsened, so that on the 23rd of June in 1444, having called to his side his spiritual children and passed on the leadership of the anti-union struggle to George Gennadios Scholarios, he departed to the Lord at the age of 52.
Honors for the Saint after his repose
The faithful people of the Lord, now orphaned, mourned greatly for the loss of their spiritual father. George Scholarios gave a eulogy during which he recalled among other things about the righteous one, “as a cleric he excelled, as a hierarch he shined, and suffered for the Church, so that she will be seen with the highest possible stability in her passing on ... now the naked soul is garbed in blessedness which is well recognized and received, here he studied the life in Christ and emulated the holy teachers of the faith so that he may always be as righteous as them.” The spiritual fruit that the Saint bore are his two holy students, the Patriarchs of Constantinople Gennadios and Dionysios.
Immediately following his holy repose, Mark was honored as saint and confessor.
Thus his contemporary and implacable enemy, Joseph the uniate bishop of Methonis testified with pain saying, “Among many and diverse, even the one called Palamas and Mark of Ephesus, were inundated with glorious words by the people. Although deplete of any virtue and holiness, but because they spoke and wrote against the Latins, you glorify and praise them, you depict them with icons, and with feasts you keep them and venerate them as saints.”
The first service in honor of the Saint was given by his brother John the philosopher. In the beginning he was commemorated on June 23, but later it was changed to January 19, the day the relics of the Saint were transferred to the Monastery of Saint Lazarus in Galata. The struggles of Saint Mark as well as of his student Gennadios were recognized and justified by the Great Synod of Constantinople that was concluded in 1484, when their names were recorded as holy fathers in the Synodikon of Orthodoxy.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.