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April 25, 2010

Saint Mark the Apostle and Evangelist

Saint Mark the Apostle and Evangelist (Feast Day - April 25)

St Mark is recognized by all Christians world-wide as one of the four Evangelists who wrote a Holy Gospel. Through St Mark, the prophecy spoken of in the Holy Book of Isaiah the Prophet has been fulfilled, “…there will be an altar for the Lord in Egypt and a pillar at its boundaries…”

St Mark was also one of the seventy apostles. Although the disciples and the apostles are considered ecumenical or universal bishops for the Church in general, every church refers to her initial preacher as her first bishop and as such, St Mark is the first bishop of the See of Alexandria.

St Mark attended the Apostolic Synod held in Jerusalem in 51 AD to discuss the topic of the relevance of circumcision prior to baptism. The holy apostles agreed at this synod to accept the Gentiles into the Church without circumcision before baptism (Acts 15:23-30).

Following the synod held in Jerusalem, St Mark and St Barnabus journeyed to Cyprus (Acts 15:36-40) and there the Holy Spirit led St Mark to preach in the Five Western Cities in North Africa. Following St Mark’s ministry in North Africa he then journeyed to Egypt. The date of this founding saints’ arrival into Egypt was 55 AD.

Egypt during the Period of St Mark’s Ministry:

When St Mark came to Egypt, many pagan gods were being worshipped by the Egyptians. Some of the gods were considered to be national gods and other idols originated from Greece, Rome, Persia, Syria, and Babylonia. These gods included:

- Rua: The god of the sun. Rua was considered by the pagans to be the source of light and warmth. Heliopolis “Ainshams” was the center of its worship and from this center gradually its false teachings were spread throughout all of Egypt.

- Amon: The invisible god. Tibha was the center of worship for this particular god. Later during the Egyptian state, Amon was combined with Rua and the combined worship came to be termed Amon Rua.

- Osiris: The messenger god of love and peace among the people. This god of peace and love originated from Syria.

- Diana or Artamis: The god of hunting.

- Khnoum: The creator god. Tibha was also the center of worship for Khnoum.

- Anhita: A popular god which came from Persia.

Also when St Mark journeyed to Egypt, Egypt was considered the second greatest city in the world. Second only to Rome, was Egypt. Egypt was widely accepted though as first in the world for science, art, philosophy, and architecture. Its school was recognized world-wide as well as the professors who taught within it. For all those seeking knowledge and philosophy, Egypt was the place to come.

In Alexandria there were Greek philosophers and scholars, Jewish scholars and teachers of Scriptures, and Persian wise men. In addition to all this were the priests. In Alexandria, there was the famous Alexandrian Library considered as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. This famed library contained millions of volumes of books of the greatest philosophers and scholars in the world for that time frame.

The Alexandrian population was approximately 600,000. The most famous temple in Alexandria among the School and Library was Serabium. In this temple the idol Serabis was worshipped by most of the population.

The Holy Book of Acts 6:9 tells that St Stephen went in dialogue with a Jerusalem Council and that some of the council members were from the City of Alexandria. Also, Apollos, one of the greatest preachers in the early Church was from the City of Alexandria as denoted by the Holy Book of Acts 18:24.

Not only was Alexandria the center of civilization for the world, it was also the center for moral corruption.

Politically, Egypt was a Roman state under the direct control of the Roman emperor. Alexandrians revolted against the Roman authority of Augustus Caesar. Caesar sent a Roman military army of 20,000 to Alexandria to put a halt to the revolution. The emperor was in dire need of Egypt’s wheat. Putting an end to the revolution would not be the only act of Augustus Caesar. He also gave social and religious freedom to the Jews residing in Alexandria. This inequality gave rise to many disputes and fights among the Jews and Alexandrians.

This is the state of the wonderful City of Alexandria, founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, when St Mark arrived to preach and teach the message of salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Upon the first day of his arrival, St Mark wandered about the streets of Alexandria until his worn shoes fell apart. St Mark stopped at the first shoemaker shop he approached to have his shoes repaired. The shoemaker’s name was Anianos and this shoemaker would later become the second bishop of Alexandria. While Anianos was working to repair St Marks’ worn shoes, the needle in which he was using to repair the soles of St Mark’s shoes injured his hand and Anianos cried out, “Oh God, the only One!” At this exclamation, St Mark spit upon the ground, made mud, and placed the mixture upon Anianos' finger and healed it immediately. Discussion ensued between St Mark and Anianos related to his One God. Anianos confessed to St Mark that he had only heard of such a God but did not actually know of this One God.

St Mark began to preach to Anianos about the One God, the Lord Jesus Christ. The message of salvation through the Holy Cross was taught and welcomed by Anianos and his family. Anianos' home is considered the first Church in the land of Egypt.

Within a few short years Christianity had spread throughout the land of Egypt. Christianity not only spread and was accepted, through its teachings the behavior and morals of the Egyptian people would also change for the better.

Philo, the Jewish scholar, stated, “St Mark and his disciples did not care about worldly matters, but cared about God’s Glory and His salvation to all people.” The Egyptians became united in true “Agape” love and a heavenly peace. There was no rich or poor classification among the people. Everyone lived an economical life; the rich gave unto the poor so everyone could be considered rich with God. The people ate only one time per day after sunset. Some would fast for three to five days without food.

There is disagreement among scholars about the possible visit of St Peter the Apostle to St Mark in Babylon’s fort where there was a great Jewish colony and from which St Peter wrote his first Holy Epistle which concludes with this verse, "The chosen one at Babylon sends you his greeting as does Mark, my son" (I Peter 5:13). Some scholars believe this means Rome. Regardless, there is nothing to contraindicate the possibility of St Peter’s visit to Babylon. Further, some scholars suggest St Simeon the Canaanite visited Egypt as well.

To establish the newly growing Church, St Mark, ordained Anianos as a bishop and along with this ordained twelve priests and seven deacons. St Mark at this particular time also wrote his Divine Liturgy, now referred to as the “Divine Liturgy of St Cyril.” St Mark first wrote the Divine Liturgy in Greek then it was translated to the language of Behari Coptic. Three of Anianos assistants were Malchos, Sabinos, and Kerdinos.

St Mark founded the School of Alexandria to counteract the idolatrous school in Alexandria which had become world famous for its philosophy, science, medicine, mathematics, and astronomy. St Mark wrote the Apostles Teachings, Rituals, and Traditions that were specific for the See of Alexandria. Following all of this, St Mark departed Alexandria in 65 AD to further his ministry in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Five Western Cities in Northern Africa.

After continuing to strengthen the churches in North Africa, St Mark at St Paul’s request joined the apostle in Rome to help in preaching and teaching those there. St Paul stated in the two Holy Books, II Timothy 4:11 and Philemon 1:24, that St Mark was indeed useful for the ministry.

Bishop Anianos, his priests and deacons were known for their honesty, for their ministry, and taught throughout Egypt. They established the first church in Bokalia now known as “St Mark's Church in Alexandria.” St Mark returned to Alexandria around 67 AD, where he wrote his Holy Gospel in Greek for the believers in Alexandria.

The great success of St Mark’s evangelism led to the persecution and torture of Christians in Alexandria by the idolatrous governors and people of the city. St Mark was one of the ones who would ultimately be put to death because of his ardent belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.

On 29 Baramoudah (April 16) 68 AD, St Mark celebrated the Glorious Resurrection Feast with the believers which coincided with the Feast of Serabis, as previously mentioned, the most famous of idols worshipped in the City of Alexandria. The idolaters angrily broke into the church and attacked St Mark while the saint was praying the Divine Liturgy of the Glorious Feast of the Resurrection at the
altar. The crowds of idolaters tied up St Mark with a band around his neck and dragged him into the streets of Alexandria. From one street to another they inhumanely dragged the saint crying and screaming “Drag him to the bulls’ house.”

The “bulls’ house” refers to the Bokalia area where the Coptic Church was later built in his honor, known as “St Mark’s Church in Alexandria.” They continued to torture the bleeding St Mark until finally he was thrown into prison. The Lord Jesus Christ through a great Heavenly light appeared to St Mark and healed him saying, “Be strong My beloved apostle, your heart will be filled with joy. Be in peace as tomorrow you will have the crown of martyrdom and be with Me in the Heavenly Jerusalem.”

The following day, the idolaters tied up the apostle once again with a neck bond and dragged his body through the streets as they had done before. This time they dragged his body until his head separated from his body. Upon this day, St Mark received three crowns, the crown of apostolicity, the crown of evangelism, and the crown of martyrdom. All the while during his torture, St Mark prayed, “Thank you Lord because you have allowed me to suffer persecution and torture for Your Holy Name.” St Mark, near his death, requested that the Lord forgive those who brought about his death, and then departed from his earthly existence.

After St Mark’s martyrdom, the idolaters hurriedly brought firewood to burn his body. A great wind suddenly blew, and a great rain fell and the idolaters in fear scattered. St Mark’s disciples came and affectionately carried his holy body and buried him in the Church which carries his name in Bokalia. St Mark’s blood became the first shed in Egypt and millions of martyrs would follow his example and chose earthly death rather than deny their Lord Jesus Christ.

In the year 310, Saint Mark's Church was built over the relics of St Mark. In 820, when the Muslim Arabs had established their rule in Egypt and oppressed the Christian Church, the relics of St Mark were transferred to Venice and placed in the church named for him. This occurred in 828. There is a mosaic in this Venetian basilica showing how the sailors covered the relics with a layer of pork. Since Muslims are not allowed to touch pork, this action was done to prevent Muslim intervention in the relics removal. Saint Theodore of Amasea had previously been the patron saint of Venice, but he was soon replaced by Saint Mark.

Copts believe that the head of the saint remained in Alexandria. Every year, on the 30th day of the month of Paopi, the Coptic Church celebrates the commemoration of the consecration of the church of St. Mark, and the appearance of the head of the saint in the city of Alexandria. This takes place inside St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria, where the saint's head is preserved.

In June 1968, Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria sent an official delegation to Rome to receive a relic of St. Mark from Pope Paul VI. The delegation consisted of ten metropolitans and bishops, seven of whom were Coptic and three Ethiopian, and three prominent Coptic lay leaders.

The relic was said to be a small piece of bone that had been given to the Roman pope by Giovanni Cardinal Urbani, Patriarch of Venice. Pope Paul, in an address to the delegation, said that the rest of the relics of the saint remained in Venice.

The delegation received the relic on June 22, 1968. The next day, the delegation celebrated a pontifical liturgy in the Church of Saint Athanasius the Apostolic in Rome. The metropolitans, bishops, and priests of the delegation all served in the liturgy. Members of the Roman papal delegation, Copts who lived in Rome, newspaper and news agency reporters, and many foreign dignitaries attended the liturgy. These relics were taken to the newly constructed Cathedral in Cairo, where they were placed in a specially built shrine brightly decorated with Coptic icons. They still remain there today. The Coptic Cathedral of St. Mark is by far the largest Cathedral in Africa and the Middle East.

In the book The Lost Tomb of Alexander, historian Andrew Chugg argues that the relics of St. Mark in Venice are actually those of Alexander the Great. Few historians, however, accept this claim.

In the ancient iconographic tradition, which adopted symbols for the holy Evangelists borrowed from the vision of St John the Theologian (Rev 4:7) and the prophecy of Ezekiel (Ez. 1:10), the holy Evangelist Mark is represented by a lion, symbolizing the might and royal dignity of Christ (Rev 5:5).

St Mark wrote his Gospel for Gentile Christians, emphasizing the words and deeds of the Savior which reveal His divine Power. Many aspects of his account can be explained by his closeness to St Peter. The ancient writers say that the Gospel of Mark is a concise record of St Peter's preaching.

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
O Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark, intercede to our merciful God, that He may grant our souls forgiveness of sins.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
When thou hadst received the Spirit's grace from Heaven's heights, thou rentest apart the webs of the philosophers; and on catching all of the nations in thy net, O all-lauded Mark, thou didst offer them to thy Lord, by preaching the Gospel of divine renown.