The Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist ~ Sr. Dollie Wilkinson, OPI

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Saint Mark

Feast Day-April 25

The greatest invention since the dawn of civilization has to be the printing press, since it made possible the reproduction and distribution of our most Holy Bible, to every living soul in the world. Prior to the development of print, the Bible had been accessible only in the cumbersome handwritten copies found primarily in houses of worship. It is just as sacred today in its ubiquitous form as it was in its sparsely circulated script form nearly two thousand years ago, not only because it is the everlasting truth of the word of God, but also because it is literary art, written by dedicated men of God, one of whom was St. Mark, author of the book of the New Testament which bears his name.

St. Mark the apostle, was born in Cyrene (one of the five Western cities, Pentapolis, in North Africa). His father’s name was Aristopolus, His mother’s name was Mary and he was a kinsman of the Apostle Barnabas. They were, Jewish in faith, rich and of great honor. They educated him with the Greek and Hebrew cultures. He was called Mark after they immigrated to Jerusalem, where St. Peter had become a disciple of Jesus Christ. St. Peter was married to the cousin of Aristopolus. Mark visited St. Peter’s house often, and from him he learned the Christian teachings. His house was the first Christian church, where they ate the Passover, hid after the death of the Lord Christ, and in its upper room the Holy Spirit came upon them.

The book of Acts mentions a Mark, or John Mark, a kinsman of Barnabas (Col 4:10). The house of his mother Mary was a meeting place for Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12). When Paul and Barnabas, who had been in Antioch, came to Jerusalem, they brought Mark back to Antioch with them (12:25), and he accompanied them on their first missionary journey (13:5), but left them prematurely and returned to Jerusalem (13:13). When Paul and Barnabas were about to set out on a second missionary journey, Barnabas proposed to take Mark, but Paul thought him unreliable, so that eventually Barnabas made one journey taking Mark, and Paul another journey taking Silas (15:36-40). Mark is not mentioned again in Acts. However, it appears that he became more reliable, for Paul mentions him as a trusted assistant in Colossians 4:10 and again in 2 Timothy 4:11.

The Apostle Peter had a co-worker whom he refers to as “my son Mark” (1 Peter 5:13). Papias, an early second century writer, in describing the origins of the Gospels, tells us that Mark was the “interpreter” of Peter, and that he wrote down (“but not in order”) the stories that he had heard Peter tell in his preaching about the life and teachings of Jesus.

The Gospel of Mark, in describing the arrest of Jesus (14:51f), speaks of a young man who followed the arresting party, wearing only a linen cloth wrapped around his body, whom the arresting party tried to seize, but who left the cloth in their hands and fled naked. It is speculated that this young man was the writer himself, since the detail is hardly worth mentioning if he were not.

Tradition has it that after the death of Peter, Mark left Rome and went to preach in Alexandria, Egypt, where he was eventually martyred. When he entered the city, his shoe was torn because of the amount he had walked during his preaching and evangelism. He went to a cobbler in the city, called Anianus, to repair it. While Anianus was repairing the shoe, the awl pierced his finger. Anianus shouted in Greek saying “Eis Theos!” which means “O, one God!” When St. Mark heard these words his heart rejoiced exceedingly. He found it suitable to talk to him about the one God. The apostle took some clay, spat on it, and applied it to Anianus’ finger, saying “in the Name of Jesus Christ the Son of God,” and the wound healed immediately, as if nothing had happened to it.

Anianus was exceedingly amazed by this miracle that happened in the name of Jesus Christ, and his heart opened to the word of God. The apostle asked him about who was the only God that he cried for when he was injured. Anianus replied “I heard about him, but I do not know him.” St. Mark started explaining to him from the beginning, from the creation of heaven and earth all the way to the prophecies that foretold the coming of Christ. Anianus then invited him to go to his house and brought to him his children. The saint preached and baptized them.

When the believers in the name of Christ increased and the pagan people of the city heard of it, they were enraged and thought of slaying St. Mark. The faithful advised him to leave for a short while, for the sake of the safety of the church and its care. St. Mark ordained St. Anianus as bishop of Alexandria as well as three priests and seven deacons. He went to the five Western cities, and remained there for two years preaching, where he ordained more bishops, priests, and deacons. Finally he returned to Alexandria, where he found the believers had increased in number, and built a church for them in the place known as Bokalia (the place of cows), east of Alexandria on the sea shore.

It came to pass when he was celebrating the feast of the Resurrection in the year 68 A.D. that the same day coincided with the great pagan celebration for the feast of the god Syrabis. Thus a multitude of pagans assembled, attacked the church at Bokalia, and forced their way in. They seized St. Mark, bound him with a thick rope, and dragged him through the streets crying, “Drag the dragon to the place of cows.” They continued dragging him with severe cruelty. His flesh was torn and scattered everywhere, and the ground of the city was covered with his blood. They cast him that night into a dark prison.

The angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him: “O Mark, the good servant, rejoice, for your name has been written in the book of life, and you have been counted among the congregation of the saints.” The angel disappeared, then the Lord Christ appeared to him and gave him peace. His soul rejoiced and was glad. The next morning, the pagans took St. Mark from the prison. They tied his neck with a thick rope and did the same as the day before, dragging him over the rocks and stones. Finally, St. Mark delivered up his pure soul into the hands of God and received the crown of martyrdom. Nevertheless, St. Mark’s death did not satisfy the rage of the pagans. They gathered much firewood and prepared an inferno to burn him. But a severe storm blew in, and heavy rains fell. The pagans became frightened and fled in fear.

The believers came and took the holy body, carried it to the church at Bokalia, wrapped it up, prayed over the saint, and placed him in a coffin. They laid the coffin in a secret place in this church. In 828 A.D. the body of St. Mark was stolen by Italian sailors and was removed from Alexandria to Venice in Italy. However, the head remained in Alexandria.

Many different miracles are attributed to Saint Mark. One that relates to Mark’s patronage of lions happened when Mark and his father Aristopolus were walking near the Jordan River and encountered a male and female lion who eyed them with hunger and seemed about to attack them. Mark prayed in Jesus’ name that the lions wouldn’t harm them, and immediately after his prayer, the lions fell down dead. Mark’s symbol in art is a Lion, usually winged. In the book of Revelation, the visionary sees about the throne of God four winged creatures: a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle. It has customarily been supposed that these represent the four Gospels, or the four Evangelists (Gospel-writers).

PRAYER (traditional language)

Almighty God, who by the hand of Mark the evangelist hast given To thy Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank thee for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen

An historical event:

On the 17th of Baounah (Coptic month), of the year 1684 A.M. (Coptic calendar), which was Monday, June 24, 1968 A.D., and in the tenth year of the papacy of Pope Kyrillos the Sixth, 116th Pope of Alexandria, the relics of St. Mark the Apostle, the Evangelist of the Egyptian land and the first Patriarch of Alexandria, were returned to Egypt. After eleven centuries outside Egypt, St. Mark’s body has at last returned to the same country (Cairo, Egypt) where he was martyred, and where his head is preserved to this day in the city of Alexandria, Egypt.

Pope Kyrillos had sent an official delegation to travel to Rome to receive the relics of St. Mark the Apostle from the Roman Catholic Pope Paul VI. The papal delegation consisted of ten metropolitans and bishops, seven of whom were Coptic and three Ethiopians, and three of the prominent Coptic, lay leaders. The Alexandrian delegation received the relics of St. Mark the Apostle on Saturday,June 22, 1968 A.D., from Pope Paul VI. The moment of handing over the holy relics, after eleven centuries, during which the body of St. Mark was kept in the city of Venice, Italy, was a solemn and joyful moment.

 

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