Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Holy Apostle Mark the Evangelist

St. Mark the Evangelist (Feast Day - April 25 or Bright Wednesday)

Verses

The bloodthirsty dragged Mark along the earth,
Sending to the heavens him who they did not recognize.
On the twenty-fifth the senseless ones dragged Mark along earth.

The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark was a Jew by birth, of the tribe of Levi. His Hebrew name was John, but attached his Latin name Mark to it when he joined the Apostle Peter to preach the gospel in Rome. He is considered one of the Seventy Apostles of the Lord by Origen and Saint Epiphanios of Salamis.

In his Gospel he records how a certain youth secretly followed the Lord wrapped only in a linen sheet when He was betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and when soldiers laid hold of the young man, he escaped naked, leaving the sheet behind in their hands (Mk. 14:51-52). It is believed by many that this youth was the Apostle Mark himself, and that he followed the Lord wearing only a linen may indicate that he lived nearby in the garden, thus indicating that the Garden of Gethsemane was the property of his family. In the Book of Acts we are further told that Mark's mother, Mary, owned a house in Jerusalem in which the Apostle Peter found refuge after his miraculous deliverance from prison by an angel (Acts 12:1-12). This house had served as a place of congregation and worship after the Lord ascended into heaven. It was at this time that Mark developed a close friendship with the Apostle Peter, as Peter testifies in his epistle when he calls Mark his son, saying: "The Church that is in Babylon, elected together, greets you; and so does Mark, my son" (1 Pet. 5:13).

Mark was also a nephew of the Apostle Barnabas, who was a Levite by descent, though born on the island of Cyprus. Through him Mark was introduced to the Apostle Paul when he first arrived in Jerusalem following his conversion. Thus Mark became a close and invaluable companion of both Peter and Paul.


Joining Paul and Barnabas in Antioch around the year 44, Mark took part in their first missionary journey. After spreading the gospel on the island of Cyprus, Mark left Paul and Barnabas and returned to his mother in Jerusalem. There he attached himself to Peter, who set out for Rome. Together they established the Church of Christ in Rome, converting both Jews and pagans alike to the Christian faith. Desiring an account of the life and teachings of the Lord, Mark was approached by the new Christians of Rome to record all that he and Peter taught them. Mark agreed to fulfill their good desire, so he wrote down accurately what was deemed most profitable for them. Thus the Gospel of Mark, written with the approval of the Apostle Peter, has apostolic authority and is part of divinely-inspired Scripture.

After laboring in Rome, Mark was sent by Peter to preach the gospel in the city of Aquilea, which lies at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea. Establishing a Church there, he visited other places along the Adriatic Sea, founding Churches everywhere. After this, again at the insistence of Peter, Mark was sent to Egypt to spread the gospel. This took place, as Patriarch Eutychios of Alexandria bears witness, in the ninth year of the reign of Emperor Claudius (c. 49 AD).


At that time many Jews lived in Egypt, so it was to them that Mark was to proclaim the gospel first. After first sojourning in Pentapolis and establishing a Church there, the Holy Spirit informed him to go to Alexandria. Arriving in Alexandria he went to certain place called Medion, where at the city gates his sandal split in two. Seeing a cobbler repairing an old shoe nearby, the Saint gave him his sandal to fix. While working on the sandal, he accidentally ran his awl through his hand, and cried out in pain. The Holy Apostle saw this as an opportunity to share the power of the Lord. As the wound gushed forth blood and the cobbler was in pain, Mark made clay of the dirt and smeared it on the cobblers hand calling upon the Lord to make this man's hand whole again. Immediately the blood stopped and the wound was completely healed. In return the cobbler, whose name was Ananias, thanked Mark and invited him to stay in his home and have dinner. Mark consented, and at dinner he taught the cobbler the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. The cobbler believed the words of Mark, which were further confirmed by the miracle, and he and his entire household were baptized, together with many in the area. Day by day the number of faithful increased.

Upon hearing that the rulers of the city sought Mark in order to kill him for leading people away from the pagan faith of their fathers, he hastened to ordain Ananias a bishop. With him he also ordained three priests - Malchus, Sabinus and Cedronus -, seven deacons and eleven other ministers for the ministry of the Church. He then fled to Pentapolis, where he remained for two years establishing the Church there and ordaining men to minister to it. After going through all the surrounding regions and cities, he returned to Alexandria and found near the sea a church that had been erected in a place called Bukulus. Seeing this Mark rejoiced and gave glory to God. He remained there for some time, and saw the Church of Alexandria grow considerably. He also worked many miracles there, healing the sick, causing the deaf to hear and the blind to see. Yet as the Church grew, the less people went to the pagan temples. This brought new threats against Mark, so he left and returned to Jerusalem.


From Jerusalem Mark met up with Paul and Barnabas again in Antioch, and with his uncle Barnabas he went to Cyprus (Acts 15:36-40). After laboring some time in Cyprus with Barnabas, Mark returned to Egypt. At some point he joined the Apostle Peter and they labored together in Egypt establishing Churches. Mark remained in Egypt until the eighth year of the reign of Emperor Nero (c. 62 AD).

After this Mark joined the Apostle Paul in Rome as he languished in prison. We read in Paul's epistle to the Colossians that Mark was one of his few co-workers in Rome that were a consolation to him, and that at the instructions of Paul, Mark left Rome to go to Colossae in Asia Minor to counteract false teachers who were leading the Colossian Christians astray (Col. 2:8-18; 4: 10-11).

While in Asia Minor, Mark met up with the Apostle Timothy who was bishop of Ephesus. As Paul was in prison he asked Timothy in an epistle to come to Rome to assist him and charged also to "take Mark, and bring him with you, for he is profitable to me for the ministry" (2 Tim. 4:11). In Rome Mark witnessed his two teachers, Peter and Paul, die martyric deaths for the love of Christ.

Mark returned then to Egypt and found the Churches he established there in good order. It is believed that at this time the Apostle Mark established in Alexandria a Christian catechetical school to counteract the pagan schools of Alexandria for the benefit of the Christians there who loved learning. He also codified a Divine Liturgy at this time to be used by all the Christians of Alexandria.


We have an idea of what these Churches in Egypt were like from the historian Eusebius, who preserved a historical text of the Jewish philosopher Philo, a contemporary of the Apostles, who praised the virtuous life of the Egyptian Christians. Eusebius writes:

"And they say that this Mark was the first that was sent to Egypt, and that he proclaimed the gospel which he had written, and first established churches in Alexandria. And the multitude of believers, both men and women, that were collected there at the very outset, and lived lives of the most philosophical and excessive asceticism, was so great, that Philo thought it worth while to describe their pursuits, their meetings, their entertainments, and their whole manner of life.... And since he describes as accurately as possible the life of our ascetics, it is clear that he not only knew, but that he also approved, while he venerated and extolled, the apostolic men of his time, who were as it seems of the Hebrew race, and hence observed, after the manner of the Jews, the most of the customs of the ancients.

In the work to which he gave the title, On a Contemplative Life or on Suppliants, after affirming in the first place that he will add to those things which he is about to relate nothing contrary to truth or of his own invention, he says that these men were called Therapeutae and the women that were with them Therapeutrides. He then adds the reasons for such a name, explaining it from the fact that they applied remedies and healed the souls of those who came to them, by relieving them like physicians, of evil passions, or from the fact that they served and worshiped the Deity in purity and sincerity. Whether Philo himself gave them this name, employing an epithet well suited to their mode of life, or whether the first of them really called themselves so in the beginning, since the name of Christians was not yet everywhere known, we need not discuss here.

He bears witness, however, that first of all they renounce their property. When they begin the philosophical mode of life, he says, they give up their goods to their relatives, and then, renouncing all the cares of life, they go forth beyond the walls and dwell in lonely fields and gardens, knowing well that intercourse with people of a different character is unprofitable and harmful. They did this at that time, as seems probable, under the influence of a spirited and ardent faith, practicing in emulation the prophets' mode of life. For in the Acts of the Apostles, a work universally acknowledged as authentic, it is recorded that all the companions of the apostles sold their possessions and their property and distributed to all according to the necessity of each one, so that no one among them was in want. 'For as many as were possessors of lands or houses,' as the account says, 'sold them and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet, so that distribution was made unto every man according as he had need' (Acts 2:45).

Philo bears witness to facts very much like those here described and then adds the following account: 'Everywhere in the world is this race found. For it was fitting that both Greek and Barbarian should share in what is perfectly good. But the race particularly abounds in Egypt, in each of its so-called nomes, and especially about Alexandria. The best men from every quarter emigrate, as if to a colony of the Therapeutae's fatherland, to a certain very suitable spot which lies above the Lake Maria upon a low hill excellently situated on account of its security and the mildness of the atmosphere.'

And then a little further on, after describing the kind of houses which they had, he speaks as follows concerning their churches, which were scattered about here and there: 'In each house there is a sacred apartment which is called a sanctuary and monastery, where, quite alone, they perform the mysteries of the religious life. They bring nothing into it, neither drink nor food, nor any of the other things which contribute to the necessities of the body, but only the laws, and the inspired oracles of the prophets, and hymns and such other things as augment and make perfect their knowledge and piety.'

And after some other matters he says: 'The whole interval, from morning to evening, is for them a time of exercise. For they read the holy Scriptures, and explain the philosophy of their fathers in an allegorical manner, regarding the written words as symbols of hidden truth which is communicated in obscure figures. They have also writings of ancient men, who were the founders of their sect, and who left many monuments of the allegorical method. These they use as models, and imitate their principles.'

These things seem to have been stated by a man who had heard them expounding their sacred writings. But it is highly probable that the works of the ancients, which he says they had, were the Gospels and the writings of the apostles, and probably some expositions of the ancient prophets, such as are contained in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and in many others of Paul's Epistles.

Then again he writes as follows concerning the new psalms which they composed: 'So that they not only spend their time in meditation, but they also compose songs and hymns to God in every variety of metre and melody, though they divide them, of course, into measures of more than common solemnity.'

The same book contains an account of many other things, but it seemed necessary to select those facts which exhibit the characteristics of the ecclesiastical mode of life. But if any one thinks that what has been said is not peculiar to the Gospel polity, but that it can be applied to others besides those mentioned, let him be convinced by the subsequent words of the same author, in which, if he is unprejudiced, he will find undisputed testimony on this subject. Philo's words are as follows:

'Having laid down temperance as a sort of foundation in the soul, they build upon it the other virtues. None of them may take food or drink before sunset, since they regard philosophizing as a work worthy of the light, but attention to the wants of the body as proper only in the darkness, and therefore assign the day to the former, but to the latter a small portion of the night. But some, in whom a great desire for knowledge dwells, forget to take food for three days; and some are so delighted and feast so luxuriously upon wisdom, which furnishes doctrines richly and without stint, that they abstain even twice as long as this, and are accustomed, after six days, scarcely to take necessary food.'

These statements of Philo we regard as referring clearly and indisputably to those of our communion. But if after these things any one still obstinately persists in denying the reference, let him renounce his incredulity and be convinced by yet more striking examples, which are to be found nowhere else than in the evangelical religion of the Christians.

'For they say that there were women also with those of whom we are speaking, and that the most of them were aged virgins who had preserved their chastity, not out of necessity, as some of the priestesses among the Greeks, but rather by their own choice, through zeal and a desire for wisdom. And that in their earnest desire to live with it as their companion they paid no attention to the pleasures of the body, seeking not mortal but immortal progeny, which only the pious soul is able to bear of itself.'

Then after a little he adds still more emphatically: 'They expound the Sacred Scriptures figuratively by means of allegories. For the whole law seems to these men to resemble a living organism, of which the spoken words constitute the body, while the hidden sense stored up within the words constitutes the soul. This hidden meaning has first been particularly studied by this sect, which sees, revealed as in a mirror of names, the surpassing beauties of the thoughts.'

Why is it necessary to add to these things their meetings and the respective occupations of the men and of the women during those meetings, and the practices which are even to the present day habitually observed by us, especially such as we are accustomed to observe at the feast of the Savior's passion, with fasting and night watching and study of the divine Word. These things the above-mentioned author has related in his own work, indicating a mode of life which has been preserved to the present time by us alone, recording especially the vigils kept in connection with the great festival, and the exercises performed during those vigils, and the hymns customarily recited by us, and describing how, while one sings regularly in time, the others listen in silence, and join in chanting only the close of the hymns; and how, on the days referred to they sleep on the ground on beds of straw, and to use his own words, 'taste no wine at all, nor any flesh, but water is their only drink, and the relish with their bread is salt and hyssop.'

In addition to this Philo describes the order of dignities which exists among those who carry on the services of the church, mentioning the diaconate, and the office of bishop, which takes the precedence over all the others. But whosoever desires a more accurate knowledge of these matters may get it from the history already cited. But that Philo, when he wrote these things, had in view the first heralds of the gospel and the customs handed down from the beginning by the apostles, is clear to every one."

Such was the fragrant garden of Christ that the Holy Apostle Mark planted in the land of Egypt.

Tomb of St. Mark in Venice

Saint Symeon Metaphrastes recounts for us the martyrdom of the Apostle Mark in Alexandria. He says that when it was the festival to Serapis, the pagans finally managed to arrest Saint Mark. As he was serving the Divine Liturgy, a pagan mob attacked the church and seized Mark. They dragged Mark through the streets on ground littered with sharp stones, causing him to bleed profusely. After being cast into prison, an angel appeared to him at midnight and strengthened him for the struggle of martyrdom; the Lord Jesus Christ also appeared to him and comforted him by His appearance. In the morning the angry mob dragged him out of prison to the streets of the city. Unable to sustain any more wounds, Saint Mark gave thanks to God and surrendered to Him his spirit. The mob intended to burn Mark's body in a great fire, but suddenly a great storm arose and everyone fled. Pious Christians took up his body with reverence, and interred it in a stone tomb where they also held their prayer services.

In the year 310 a church was erected over the tomb of Saint Mark, and his relic remained in Alexandria until the ninth century. In 828, when Islam had dominated Egypt and Monophysitism had weakened the Orthodox Church in Egypt, the relics of the holy Evangelist were transferred to Venice. There they rest to this day, in a magnificent church dedicated to him.


Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
From your early youth, O Mark, the truth enlightened you, and you loved the labor of Christ the Savior. Wherefore you followed Peter zealously and ministered unto Paul as a good fellow-laborer. In recording the Gospel, you have enlightened the world.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
When you received the grace of the Spirit from on high, O Apostle, you broke the webs of the rhetors' words, and gathered all nations into your net and brought them to the Lord, O all-memorable Mark, by your preaching of the divine gospel.

Megalynarion
As a true initiate of the Word and His gladsome tidings, you set down His soul-saving words and seal your Gospel with martyrdom for the sake of the truth, O Mark, resplendent glory of Alexandria.


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