Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark*

The Holy Disciple Mark of the Seventy is mentioned by the holy Disciple and Evangelist Luke in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 12: 25, 15: 37-39) and also by the holy Apostle Paul in both the Epistle to the Colossians (Col. 4: 10) and the Epistle to Philemon (Phlm. 1: 23).

By birth a Jew of the priestly tribe of Levi, St. Mark was a nephew of the Apostle Barnabas. Although not a direct disciple of Jesus Christ, he was one of the 70 Apostles. One can assume that he became acquainted with many of Christ’s disciples when they gathered in his mother’s home. He developed a particularly close bond with St. Peter, who referred to him as “my son” (I Peter 5:13). Later he became a faithful companion and assistant to the Apostle Paul. He witnessed the martyrdom in Rome of both chief Apostles: St. Paul by execution and St. Peter by crucifixion.

St Mark 2There is a tradition which says that Mark was the youth who witnessed Judas’ betrayal of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. Of the four evangelists, only St. Mark relates the incident:

“And there followed Him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked” (Mark 14:51-52).

His mother had a house in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 12:12), which some suppose to have been in or near the Garden. Perhaps the youth was awakened (the betrayal occurred at night) and ran out to see what the commotion was about. It is, in any case, a plausible explanation of why he was undressed.

St. Mark travelled extensively in spreading the Gospel. He accompanied Paul and Barnabas when they returned to Antioch after distributing relief to the Jerusalem Christians, and assisted them in their missionary work on the island of Cyprus, where his uncle was bishop. In Perga Mark left them to return to Jerusalem, and from there set off for Rome with Apostle Peter. From Rome St. Mark was sent by St. Peter to preach the Gospel in those regions bordering the Adriatic. His ministry was fruitful; everywhere churches were established. St. Peter then appointed Mark bishop and sent him to Egypt.

St Mark 3As promised, the Lord confirmed the Apostles’ preaching with signs and wonders: the sick were healed, the deaf were made to hear and the blind to see. The number of faithful increased daily, and under St Mark’s tutelage these Egyptian Christians attained an impressive level of sanctity. Many gave away their possessions and moved outside the cities, forming communities devoted to the disciplined pursuit of Christian excellence. The Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo described their lifestyle:

“In every house there is a holy chamber called a sanctuary or ‘monastery’, where they celebrate in seclusion the mysteries of the sanctified life, bringing in nothing-drink, food or anything else required for bodily needs-but laws and inspired oracles spoken by prophets, hymns, and everything else by which knowledge and true religion are increased and perfected.”

Returning to Egypt, St. Mark continued his apostolic labors, rejoicing in spirit at the abundant harvest of souls. At last, however, the civil leaders, bitterly resenting his authority, found opportunity to kill him. The holy Apostle was bound with a rope and dragged through the streets of the city like some dumb beast, accompanied by a large jeering crowd. Utterly spent, the meek sufferer eventually collapsed and his soul, released from its earthly tabernacle, ascended to heaven. The saint’s relics are preserved to this day in the magnificent basilica dedicated to this holy Apostle and Evangelist in Venice.

*Compiled from The Lives of the Holy Apostles (from the Menology of St. Dimitri of Rostov), Holy Apostles Convent; the Life of St. Mark by Nun Barbara in Pravoslavnaya Zhizn, Jordanville; and The Prologue of Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich, Lazarica Press.

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