St. Mark the Apostle, Evangelist
The Founder of the Coptic Church of Alexandria
And Preacher of the Christian Faith in Africa
St. Mark, the Founder
The Copts are proud of the apostolicity of their Church, whose founder is St. Mark; one of the seventy Apostles (Mk 10:10), and one of the four Evangelists. He is regarded by the Coptic hierarchy as the first of their unbroken 117 patriarchs, and also the first of a stream of Egyptian martyrs.
This apostolicity was not only furnished on grounds of its foundation but rather by the persistence of the Church in observing the same faith received by the Apostle and his successors, the Holy Fathers.
St. Mark’s Bibliography
St. Mark was an African native of Jewish parents who belonged to the Levites’ tribe. His family lived in Cyrenaica until they were attacked by some barbarians, and lost their property. Consequently, they moved to Jerusalem with their child John Mark (Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37). Apparently, he was given a good education and became conversant in both Greek and Latin in addition to Hebrew. His family was highly religious and in close relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. His cousin was St. Barnabas and his father’s cousin was St. Peter. His mother, Mary, played an important part in the early days of the Church in Jerusalem. Her upper room became the first Christian church in the world where the Lord Jesus Christ Himself instituted the Holy Eucharist (Mk 14:12-26). Also, this is the same place where the Lord appeared to the disciples after His resurrection and His Holy Spirit came upon them.
Young Mark was always associated with the Lord, who choose him as one of the seventy. He is mentioned in the Holy Scriptures in a number of events related with the Lord. For example, he was present at the wedding of Cana of Galilee, and was the man who had been carrying the jar when the two disciples went to prepare a place for the celebration of the Passover (Mk 14:13-14; Lk 22:11).
St. Mark and The Lion
The voice of the lion is the symbol of St. Mark for two reasons:
He begins his Holy Gospel by describing John the Baptist as a lion roaring in the desert (Mk 1:3).
<!His famous story with lion, as related to us by Severus Ebn-El-Mokafaa: “Once a lion and lioness appeared to John Mark and his father Arostalis while they were traveling in Jordan. The father was very scared and begged his son to escape, while he awaited his fate. John Mark assured his father that Jesus Christ would save them and began to pray. The two beasts fell dead and as a result of this miracle, the father believed in Christ.”
Preaching with the Apostles
At first, St. Mark accompanied St. Peter on his missionary journeys inside Jerusalem and Judea. Then he accompanied St. Paul and St. Barnabas on their first missionary journey to Antioch, Cyprus and Asia Minor, but for some reason or another he left them and returned home (Acts 13:13). On their second trip, St. Paul refused to take him along because he left them on the previous mission; for this reason St. Barnabas was separated from St. Paul and went to Cyprus with his cousin St. Mark (Acts 15:36-41). There, he departed in the Lord and St. Mark buried him. Afterwards, St. Paul needed St. Mark with him and they both preached in Colosse (Col 4:10), Rome (Phil 24; 2 Tim 4:11) and perhaps in Venice.
St. Mark’s real labour lays in Africa. He left Rome to Pentapolis, where he was born. After planting the seeds of faith and performing many miracles he travelled to Egypt, through the Oasis, the desert of Libya, Upper Egypt and then entered Alexandria from its eastern gate in 61 A.D.
On his arrival, the strap of his sandal was loose. He went to a cobbler to mend it. When the cobbler – Anianos – took an awl to work on it, he accidentally pierced his hand and cried aloud “O One God”. At this utterance, St. Mark rejoiced and after miraculously healing the man’s wound, took courage and began to preach to the hungry ears of his convert. The spark was ignited and Anianos took the Apostle home with him. He and his family were baptized, and many others followed.
The spread of Christianity must have been quite remarkable because pagans were furious and ought St. Mark everywhere. Smelling the danger, the Apostle ordained a bishop (Anianos), three priests and seven deacons to look after the congregation if anything befell him. He left Alexandria to Berce, then to Rome, where he met St. Peter and St. Paul and remained there until their martyrdom in 64 A.D.
Upon returning to Alexandria in 65 AD, St. Mark found his people firm in faith and thus decided to visit Pentapolis. There, he spent two years preaching and performing miracles, ordaining bishops and priests, and winning more converts.
Finally he returned to Alexandria and was overjoyed to find that Christians had multiplied so much that they were able to build a considerable church in the suburban district of Baucalis.
In the year 68 AD, Easter fell on the same day as the Serapis feast. The furious heathen mob had gathered in the Serapis temple at Alexandria and then descended on the Christians who were celebrating the Glorous Resurrection at Baucalis. St. Mark was seized, dragged with a rope through the main streets of the city. Crowds were shouting “The ox must be led to Baucalis,” a precipitous place full of rock where they fed the oxen that were used in the sacrifice to idols. At nightfall the saint was thrown into prison, where he was cheered by the vision of an angel, strengthening him saying, “Now your hour has come O Mark, the good minister, to receive your recompense. Be encouraged, for your name has been written in the book of life.” When the angel disappeared, St. Mark thanked God for sending His angel to him. Suddenly, the Saviour Himself appeared and said to him, “Peace be to you Mark, my disciple and evangelist!” St. Mark started to shout, “O My Lord Jesus” but the vision disappeared.
On the following morning probably during the triumphal procession of Serapis he was again dragged around the city till death. His bloody flesh was torn, and it was their intention to cremate his remains, but the wind blew and the rain fell in torrents and the populaces disperse. Christians stole his body and secretly buried him in a grave that they had engraved on a rock under the altar of the church.
His Apostolic Acts
Was born about 280 A.D. of a Christian family that was wealthy and of noble origin, in the city of Capadocia, a city of the Eastern Empire, in Asia Minor.
He followed the usual career of young nobleman and joined the Roman army, where his ability and charm brought him quick promotion. The Emperor heard about him and as a result made him a tribune or an officer in the Imperial Guard.
One story says that he was a friend of Constantine another officer, who later became the first Christian emperor. The legend says that St. George came with Constantine to Britain and visited some holy places as Glastonbury and Caerleon. On his return to Nicomedia, the capital of the Eastern Empire where Diocletian settled, he met the fiercely storm of persecution.
Diocletian gave orders for the issue of a formal edict against the Christians on February 23, in the year 303 A.D., being the feast of Termhlalia.
The provisions of this edict which was published on the next day in the market place, were as follows: “All churches should be levelled to the ground. All sacred books to be burned. All Christians who hold any honourable rank are not only to be degraded, but to be deprived of civil rights. Also, All Christians who are not officials are to be reduced to slavery”.
In great courage, the young man George, pushed his way through the market place to read the proclamation, and then in front of the awe-stricken crown, he deliberately tore down the Imperial edict and threw it away. Consequently he was arrested and brought to the presence of Diocletian.
Some historians believe that St. George was not the young man who tore the proclamation, but as the edict was proclaimed and the great church in Nicomedia was ransacked and destroyed by the Pretorian guard, he liberated his slaves, distributed all his wealth to the poor and prepared himself for martyrdom. He entered Diocletian’s palace and rebuked him for his behaviour against the Christians.
The Emperor tried to seduce him by promises that he would be granted a higher position in the Empire. But as these promises failed to attract him, the Emperor began to threaten him with unbearable tortures that he will inflict on him. Lastly he put him in prison.
ST. GEORGE’S CHASTITY
Diocletian knew that nothing, except sin, could destroy the strength, and demolish the integrity of this Saint. Thus he arranged for a very beautiful woman to spend the night with him in prison and try to debauch him. St-George, who could only look forward to heavenly joy, began to pray and within a short while he managed to swing her heart to the Christian faith. Soon she seriously began to inquire about salvation, and by the morning she declared that she found her true Bridegroom Jesus Christ. With great courage she announced her Christianity to the emperor and his men then she joined other saintly martyrs.
ST. GEORGE’S Sufferings
It is not the purpose of this paper to go through the tortures that were. Applies to St. George, in depth, but nevertheless I wish to bring to light his utmost love for Christ, by listing some of them. His body was torn by a special instrument that had metallic teeth, and our Lord Jesus raised him, after his death and many pagans were converted. He was put in a active lime, and then water was poured on it. Again the Lord returned him back to life. The emperor became very agitated, imagining that the Saint was using magic. He called his top magician, Athanasius and requested him to prepare a lethal poison to kill St. George. The Saint signed over the Cup with the sign of the cross before drinking it; of course no harm came to him. The Emperor’s councillors informed him that St. George’s magic was in fact contained in the sign of the Cross itself. Another cup was also given to the Saint, but this time with his hands tied behind his back. The Saint signed it by his head saying: “shall I drink it from here or here or here or here!!!”
During all these tortures, although the Saint had enough pains and sufferings of his own, but nevertheless kept on talking to Diocletian about the powers of the Christian faith. At the end the Emperor asked him if he could raise a dead man he knew of. St. George prayed to our Lord and the dead man came back to life. The result of that was the conversion of both the dead man and the magician as well as many others. They all were martyred.
IN THE EMPEROR’S PALACE
When all methods failed to incite St. George, the Emperor invited him in his palace to entertain him. He offered him an appointment as a prince if he only sacrificed once to the idols. The Saint replied “Tomorrow you will see the powers of your gods”
At the palace, St. George met Empress Alexandra, who had a fair idea about the Saint’s God. She spoke with him, but the conversation quickly changed its course and the Saint began to preach to her about Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.
On the following day many people went to the temple to witness St. George’s sacrifice to the idols. The Saint stretched his hands, raised his eyes to Heaven and in a moment, the idols collapsed and fell to the ground!!. The crowds shouted “we believe in George’s God” At this, the Emperor and his men put an end to the lives of the new Christians, St. George, and Empress Alexandra in 23 Baramouda, 303 A.D.
St. George was buried in his mother’s home that was situated on the seashore at Lydda, in Palestine. Before long his fame was spread all over the world. King Constantine, who took over after Diocletian, considered that St. George was the true model of the young Christian man, and ordered a church to be built over his grave. In Egypt, the Copts call him, “The Prince of Martyrs”, and built over 200 churches named after him. Moreover he is a personal friend of the majority of the Copts, who believe in the power of his prayers for them. The Greeks call him “the Great Martyr”.
HIS FIGHT WITH THE DRAGON
Legends grew up about this Saint, but the most famous one is about his fight with the dragon, which was documented in a book called “the Colden legend” by James de Voragine, a bishop of Genoa. It happened when St. George was once stationed with the Roman army near Salome in Libya, North Africa. In that area a Dragon which was described as a huge crocodile with scaled wings, had eaten so many of the country folks around Salome that the remaining lot fled to the town and took shelter behind its walls. There, the dragon was positioned outside the city gates, and nobody could get in or out. Moreover its poisonous breath was so lethal that as it snored over the city wall, people could actually drop dead in the nearby area. In order to keep the beast away from the walls, two sheep were tethered every day, some distance away. The system worked fine until they ran out of sheep and the miserable people could not think of any other alternative but to sacrifice one child everyday.
One day the lot fell on the king’s daughter, Sabra, a girl of fourteen. Sometimes called Cleodolinda Dressed in her most splendid clothe, as for her wedding, the poor girl was taken outside the city walls. While she was waiting for the dragon, weepily, George the tribune came up mounting his white horse. On hearing the story he decided to put an end to that tragedy, and decided to kill the dragon.
“Fair girl” he said, “do not be afraid for I will save your life with the aid of my I Lord Jesus Christ”. When the dragon appeared George the hero got engaged with the wild beast in a great combat. Finally he managed to wound it with his lance so badly that it could fight no more. Now the two of them tied a rope around its neck, and dragged it to the town. There in the market place, George cut off its head in front of all the cheering habitants, and the people of the whole town were baptized and became Christians.
The above story seems to be exaggerated, which is perhaps true, and it could have started by a fight between St. George and an ordinary crocodile. However, it became very popular all over the world, because of its spiritual meaning that St. George defeated the devil by the Cross and his righteousness in Christ.