Saint Brigid Religious Education
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Mark

 

We know something of Mark the evangelist's life from certain New Testament texts and the testimony of ancient ecclesiastical writers. To fill the gaps left by these texts there are later sources that refer to his apostolate in Egypt and the Venetias. Mark had two names: John, a traditional Jewish name, and Mark, a very ancient Roman name deriving from Mars, the god of war.

Mark was the son of Aristopolus and Mary and is said to have been born in Cyrene, one of the five Western cities in North Africa.  A fair amount of wealth allowed him to study Hebrew and Latin, gaining in-depth knowledge of Holy Scriptures and especially the writings of the prophets. Their home was invaded by barbarian tribes who pillaged Mark's family's land and property. He and his family took refuge in Jerusalem, where he met the first preachers of Jesus' holy words. His cousin was Barnabas and Peter was married to the cousin of Aristopolus. 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.

After the Ascension of Christ, Mark left Jerusalem and went to Antioch with Barnabas and Paul. Antioch stood opposite the island of Cyprus. There were numerous synagogues and Barnabas and Paul set about announcing the gospel with the aid of Mark. Later Mark left them to return to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch too. Paul left for the Christian community of Asia Minor and Barnabas took ship for Cyprus with Mark for a second evangelization of the island.

Mark reached Rome after the year 50, where as assistant to Peter, he carried out his work among the Jews, who numbered about forty-five thousand. He also approached the pagan Romans, chiefly the military classes. Mark was a sort of interpreter between Peter, who spoke no Greek or spoke it badly, and his listeners for whom Greek was the international language.

The second part of Mark's life included the apostolate in Aquileia and in Alexandria. Mark was Peter's disciple in Rome where he wrote his gospel at the request of the local Christians so that the apostle's preaching should not be lost. When Peter came to know of it he was cheered and ordered that the text of the gospel be delivered to the various churches. The newly converted Christians asked Mark for copies of the gospel and he complied so that they might observe it with constancy. At this point Mark, considering his mission completed, planned to return secretly to Peter in Rome.

Mark returned to Jerusalem for a last farewell to his mother, who was close to death, and began his new voyage. Once in Cyrene, Mark began preaching and performing marvels and miracles. Mark's voyage continued to Alexandria, where there were a surprising number of believers in Christ resulting from Mark's teachings. He asked his disciples to build a great church in honor of the Immaculate Virgin Mary and he set up an actual ecclesiastical hierarchy. Leaving Alexandria in secret he returned to Cyrene where he remained several years to consolidate the faith and establish a proper hierarchy. With this phase over the evangelist decided to go back to Alexandria.

It was not long before the opportunity arose to get rid of the evangelist. Mark's enemies, taking advantage of the Easter ceremonies held by the saint, sent armed men who surprised and arrested him while he was celebrating Mass. Mark was being pulled through the streets of Alexandria by a pagan mob and died the following day on April 25th, 68. The multitude of persecutors, anxious to get rid of all traces of the saint, threw his body on a fire. At this point the Lord intervened providentially, sending a violent storm that destroyed buildings and killed many inhabitants. The saint's killers took flight, running away from his body. When the storm had passed some men gathered Mark's remains and took them to the place where he used to sing his prayers and psalms. Mark's tomb soon became an internationally famous sanctuary, drawing the faithful after the end of the great persecutions. In Alexandria new patriarchs were ordained and received investiture on his tomb, holding the saint's head, wrapped in precious cloths, in their hands. Mark's sanctuary was spared during the Persian invasion of Egypt in 620 but was partly burnt during the Arab invasion of 644-646. The saint's relics were removed from the ruins until the Patriarch of Alexandria was granted permission to rebuild the ancient building where the evangelist's remains were laid to rest.

 

St. Mark the Evangelist feast day is April 25.

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