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Miracle surrounding the death of St Mark (tradition)

There 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.

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 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.

The Roman Christians were not satisfied with hearing about Christ; they clamored earnestly for a written record of His life and teachings.  St. Mark complied and wrote his account, considered to be the earliest of the four Gospels.    It was approved by St. Peter as being wholly accurate, and was accepted without disputation by all the local Churches as authentic, divinely-inspired Scripture.

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.

Egypt was a land full of pagan idolatry, although not without sophistication.  Its principal city, Alexandria, boasted a superb library and was a renowned center of Hellenic learning, attracting scholars from all corners of the empire.  The city claimed a sizable Jewish community, and it was there, on the initiative of Ptolemy Philadelphus, that the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek; it is this Septuagint edition which was accepted as authoritative Scripture by the Apostles and which remains the standard version for the Orthodox Church.

After sojourning for a time in the coastal cities of Pentapolis, and bringing many there out of the darkness of ignorance into the light of faith, the Evangelist was led by the Holy Spirit to sail east to Alexandria.  As he reached the city gates, one of his sandals broke.  A cobbler, in trying to fix it, punctured his hand with his awl.  St. Mark made a paste of some earth mixed with his spittle and applied it to the bleeding wound with the words, "In the name of Jesus Christ Who lives forever, be thou whole!"  Immediately the blood stanched and the wound closed. The grateful cobbler insisted on inviting St. Mark to his home, where he questioned him closely: "Who are you and what is your business, and who is this Jesus Christ?"  St. Mark proceeded to expound the gospel, which so impressed the cobbler that he and his household asked straightway to be baptized. The Apostle took this as an auspicious sign, and he was not mistaken.

As 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....The whole period from dawn to dusk is given up to spiritual discipline...

"They not only practice contemplation but also compose songs and hymns to God in all kinds of metres and melodies, setting them, as might be expected, to solemn measures.  /.../  Having first laid down self-control as a foundation for the soul,, they build the other virtues on it.  None of them would take food or drink before sundown, as they hold that philosophy deserves daylight, while darkness is good enough for bodily needs."

Philo was specially taken by some of the older women, "who have remained single, not of necessity, like some priestesses of pagan cults, but of their own free will, through their passionate craving for wisdom, with which they were so eager to live that they scorned bodily pleasures, and set their hearts not on mortal children but on immortal, which only the soul that loves God can bring into the world."  (Quoted by Eusebius in his History of the Church.)

There in Alexandria St. Mark established a catechetical school which produced many great apologists for the Faith: Clement, Dionysius (of Alexandria), Gregory the Wonderworker, and others.

The pagan leaders, infuriated by the progressive spread of Christianity in their domain, conspired to kill St. Mark.   On learning of their evil resolve, the Apostle ordained Anianus bishop and fled to Pentapolis.  He strengthened the Church he had established there earlier and brought the Gospel to more remote parts of Libya and to Ammonicia.

Returning to Egypt, St. Mark continued his apostolic labors, rejoicing in spirit at the abundant harvest of souls.   At last, however, the pagan leaders, bitterly resenting his authority, found opportunity to kill him.

The approaching celebration of Pascha coin-cided that year with the festival of the pagan god Serapis, drawing scores of idol-worshippers to the city.  As St. Mark was celebrating the divine service, a mob of pagans broke into the church and seized their prey.   The holy Apostle was bound with a rope and dragged through the streets of the city, as his captors shouted mockingly, "We're taking the ox to the stall!"  He was thrown into prison, his body lacerated by the sharp stones over which he had been mercilessly dragged.  That night an angel strengthened him for his final trial. "Slave of God, Mark, thy name is written in heaven in the Book of Life.  Thou hast been numbered among the holy apostles, and thou wilt be remembered unto ages of ages.  Thou wilt rejoice with the powers on high, and on earth thy precious relics will be preserved." Then the Lord Himself appeared and said to the Saint: "Peace to thee, Mark, My evangelist."

In the morning the Saint, a rope tied around his neck, was again led through the streets like some dumb beast, accompanied by a great crowd of jeering pagans.  Utterly spent, the meek sufferer eventually collapsed and his soul, released from its earthly tabernacle, ascended to heaven.  The pagans, not content with having killed the Saint, wanted to destroy also his lifeless body, but they had scarcely lit the bonfire that was to have consumed the body before there was a mammoth thunderclap; the earth shook and the sky loosed a storm of hailstones.  The fire was quenched and the pagans dispersed, allowing the Christians to come and collect the sacred remains of their martyred bishop and father in the Faith.  These they placed in a stone coffin in the place where they gathered for common prayer.  Later, in the ninth century, Islamic incursions caused the relics to be transferred to Venice, where they are preserved to this day in the magnificent basilica dedicated to this holy Apostle and Evangelist. 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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