Apostle Mark: From Idolater to Evangelist

The Feast Day of Apostle Mark the Evangelist is celebrated on April 25th, however, when Pascha falls on or after that date, it is celebrated on Bright Tuesday. So, in essence, Apostle Mark is celebrated every year during the forty days of Pascha. This is indeed fitting since he was a herald of the Good News. Mark was originally an idolater from Cyrene of Pentapolis which is near Libya. At a young age, he and his family migrated to Jerusalem. Years later, Mark became one of the Seventy who were early emissaries of Christ sent out to do missionary work. After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go.  Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest (Lk 10:1-2).

Mark went with St Paul on his first missionary journey to Cyprus and Asia Minor. There is reference made to Mark in Acts 13:6-13 when he witnessed the blinding of the sorcerer Elymas by St Paul in Paphos. We see Mark’s name first mentioned in Acts 12:12: so, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. He was also a disciple of Peter and followed him to Rome. Mark recorded Peter’s sermons which became the foundation of his Gospel. Peter was like a father to Mark and even refers to him in his own epistle: She, who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you; and so does Mark my son (1 Peter 5:13). Although the Gospel of Mark comes second in sequence it is the source for both Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It was written a few years before the fall of Jerusalem which occurred in 70 AD. While in Rome with Peter, Mark wrote his Gospel. The major theme of Mark’s Gospel is Jesus Christ as Servant and Sacrifice. For He is both the One who offers and is offered. As we hear at the epiclesis of every Divine Liturgy: Your own of Your own we offer to You, in all and for all. 

Mark’s Gospel was written in Greek and for the Gentile Christians with focus on the words and deeds of Christ which reveal His Divine power. Mark emphasized that Jesus concealed His messianic identity. He commanded His Disciples, the people He healed and even demons, to keep silent about His messiahship until He reveled Himself before the Sanhedrin. Also, there are several accounts in the Gospel where Mark underscores the power of God achieving what is impossible by man. One example is: “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.” He answered him and said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.” Then they brought him to Him… And when He had said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting. (Mk 9:17-20, 28-29). 

Tradition holds that when Jesus was arrested, the young man who fled naked was Mark himself (Mk 14:51-52). It is a common literary device for an author not to mention his own name. John did the same in his Gospel, he referred to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved

In 62 AD, St. Mark established a local church in Alexandria, Egypt which eventually became one of the first five Patriarchates. He preached throughout northern Africa. Mark even authored his own liturgy which for many years was the primary liturgy celebrated in the Church of Alexandria. In fact, in 63 AD, while celebrating the Divine Liturgy, the pagans seized Mark and dragged him throughout the streets of Alexandria. He was beaten badly and thrown in prison. It is believed that he died from his wounds. Just before he died, Mark uttered the immortal words of Christ: into Thy hands I commit My Spirit (Lk 23:46). When the pagans tried to burn his body, it suddenly became dark and there was an earthquake. They fled in fear and so the Christians gathered Mark’s body and buried it in a crypt. Today, it is a tradition to celebrate this liturgy on his feast day. 

The Prophet Ezekiel envisioned four living creatures: this was the likeness of their faces: the face of a man, the face of a lion on the right side of the foursome, the face of an ox on the left, and the face of an eagle. (Ezek 1:10) Each creature is a type of Christ who became a man (Matthew) in the incarnation, an ox (Luke) on the Cross, a lion (Mark) in the Resurrection and an eagle (John) in the Ascension. St Gregory the Great said that the lion is Mark because of the crying in the wilderness (reference to Mk 1:1).  These same living creatures are also mentioned in Revelation 4:6: and in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was a flying eagle. St Irenaeus says that the likeness of a lion is a symbol of Christ’s royal office.

The bright star of Egypt, holy Mark, being the most-excellent and all-wise preacher of God the Word, and also the divine author of the Gospel, be extolled by us today with sacred and divine songs and melodies; for he beseeches Christ, interceding that surpassing peace and great mercy be upon our souls bestowed (Sticheron of Festal Vespers). 

Christ is Risen!

Glory to His Three-Day Resurrection

-John Athanasatos 

A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.


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