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Life of St. Mark the Evangelist

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.

The compelling beauty of the language of the New Testament can only be fully appreciated by a knowledge of the classical Greek in which it was written, because there is something lost in translation, particularly in idiomatic expression. Despite this handicap, the New Testament remains the most beautiful book in any language in the world. Nothing can distort the purity of Christianity, thanks to the gifted pens of such men as Sts. Mark, Matthew, Luke, John and the other framers of the Good Book.

St. Mark's name was John, in Hebrew, but he is remembered by the Roman name of Mark, a name given to him after his acceptance of Christianity. His socially prominent family was among the first to recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah, and although there is no mention of his father in Scripture, the fact remains that his mother, Mary, was deeply devoted to Jesus and turned her more than adequate house into a headquarters for the New Faith. As such, the house of Mary was transformed into a church since the services that were held there, although not the elaborate liturgies that were to come later, were held for the express purpose of worshiping Jesus Christ, the Son of God.St. Mark knew the great joy of worshipping the living Jesus and of sharing the responsibility of introducing him to a spiritually darkened world, acting in concert with the most venerated men in Christianity -- the disciples and apostles of the Master.

St. Mark's mother opened her doors to all comers and it is generally accepted that hers was the house to which the disciples went, the "upper room," where they gathered after the Ascension. It was in this house that the disciples received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2.1) and it was to this now sanctified dwelling that Peter turned after being released from Herod's prison by an angel of the Lord. This holy corner of Jerusalem, "Where many were gathered together in prayer" (Acts 12.12), was the scene of the Last Supper of the Savior and after the Ascension and Pentecost the holiest house in the world.

St. Mark preached the word of Christ in many areas, notably in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis where his commanding oratory won converts in such great numbers that he was later to become the first bishop of Alexandria, a city where Christianity took hold despite all manner of pagan resistance. During the reign of Tiberius, St. Mark's fiery preaching won him not only respect, but the envious wrath of pagan dissenters who harassed him at every turn without once diminishing his enthusiasm or shortening his stride for Jesus Christ.

It was during this crusading period in Alexandria that St. Mark found time to compose the Gospel which is part of the New Testament and which reflects his firm resolve and quiet courage. He is also the composer of a Divine Liturgy still used by the Orthodox Church on special feast days and upon which are based the liturgies of St. James, St. Basil, and St. John Chrysostom.

His incessant preaching brought him equally incessant harassment which finally erupted into hostility that made good the threats on his life by the pagan rabble. St. Mark was en route to his Cathedral of Alexandria when he was set upon by a frenzied mob of idol worshipers who pelted the holy man with rocks and dragged him through the streets to be cast into a cell where he died for Christ of his wounds.

Through the prayers of Saint Mark, may the Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us. Amen!

George Poulos, Orthodox Saints
Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline Mass. 1991

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