April 25, 2014

Saint Mark the Evangelist as a Model for our Lives

St. Mark the Evangelist (Feast Day - April 25 or Third Day of Pascha)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Mark the Evangelist was named John ("the name Mark was a Roman surname, which was then added to the primary name John"). In the house of his mother, where the first Christians gathered together to worship God, he met the Apostle Peter who, as it seems, was his teacher and spiritual father, which is why he calls him "my son" (1 Pet. 5:13). This relationship is shown by the fact that Mark the Evangelist in his Gospel preserved the message of the Apostle Peter, of which he is called an interpreter. "When the Apostle Peter preached his teachings in Rome he invited admiration, and there the faithful wanted to have written those things they heard, which is why they begged Mark who was with him to write it for them" (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite).

He also worked with the apostles Barnabas and Paul. He was the nephew of the former "either by brother or by sister, but perhaps nephew means first cousin". We see him with these two Apostles in Cyprus. Then, when these two went to Asia Minor, he abandoned them and returned to Jerusalem. This was due to a strong disagreement between the two Apostles. "There was a dispute, so that they separated from one another." It was precisely because he abandoned them, that Paul refused to receive him on his second apostolic journey. Barnabas insisted, but Paul in no way accepted the "apostate", and so their paths separated. Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus, while Paul and Silas "came to Syria and Cilicia to support the Churches" (Acts 15:41).

The sacred Chrysostom commented on this incident, saying among other things: "In the Prophets too we find such diverse minds, diverse characters: for instance, Elijah was austere, Moses was meek. So here Paul is more austere... The contention cannot be said to be evil, when each disputes for such objects, as here, and with just reason. I grant you, if the exasperation were in seeking his own, and contending for his own honor, this might well be reproved, but if wishing, both the one and the other, to instruct and teach, the one took this way and the other that, what is there to find fault with? For in many things they acted upon their human judgment; for they were not wood or stones... Now which of them advised best, it is not for us to pronounce, but thus far, we may affirm, that it was a great arrangement of Providence... The point to be considered, is not that they differed in their opinions, but that they accommodated themselves the one to the other, seeing that thus it was a greater good their being parted, and the matter took a pretext from this. What then? Did they withdraw in enmity? God forbid! In fact you see after this Barnabas receiving many encomiums from Paul in the Epistles. There was 'sharp contention,' it says, not enmity nor quarrelling. The contention availed so far as to part them... For Barnabas wished Paul’s plan to stand, and therefore withdrew; on the other hand, Paul wished the other’s plan to stand, therefore he withdrew. Would to God we too made such separations, as to go forth for preaching. A wonderful man this is; and exceedingly great! To Mark this contest was exceedingly beneficial. For the awe inspired by Paul converted him, while the kindness of Barnabas caused that he was not left behind: so that they contend indeed, but the gain comes to one and the same end."

With two people of different characters, attitudes and habits, it is natural to disagree on some issues and perhaps this disagreement can be expressed,  at times, intensely. What is unnatural is resentment and envy that creates tensions and disagreements. The Saints, because they truly love, do not hold resentment and their friendship is never cut off. They withstand all their trials as gold in the furnace, which makes it even cleaner and brighter. So the good relations between the Apostle to the Nations and the founder and protector of the Church of Alexandria remained. They are always friends and coworkers. During the first imprisonment of the Apostle Paul in Rome, Mark the Evangelist was near to him. And his presence was so pleasant and helpful, that during his second imprisonment he wrote to his disciple Timothy: "Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry" (2 Tim. 4:11).

Here we should add that for friendship to exist there must be a connection between both sides. It has been correctly written, that to be friends with someone one should want it and the other should show a similar attitude, but to love him it is not necessary for there to be a connection on their part, since true love "never fails" (1 Cor. 13:8), but it embraces enemies. Besides, we will not give an account for whether or not others loved us, but if we truly and genuinely loved others.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΣΤΗΣ ΜΑΡΚΟΣ", April 1998. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.