The holy, glorious and all-laudable Apostle and Evangelist Mark is the author of the Gospel of Mark, the companion of the Apostle Paul (as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles), and is numbered among the Seventy Apostles. He is often referred to as John Mark, and is the founder of the Church of Alexandria, being regarded as its first pope. As a result, he is also particularly venerated by the Coptic Church as its founder, as well.
His name was John, as the Holy Bible says: "He came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying" (Acts 12:12). He was the one that the Lord Christ, to Whom is the glory, meant when He said: "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples" (Matthew 26:18).
This apostle was born in Cyrene (one of the five Western cities, Pentapolis, in North Africa). His father's name was Aristopolus and his mother's name was Mary. They were Jewish in faith, rich and of great honor. They educated him with the Greek and Hebrew cultures. He was called Mark after they emigrated to Jerusalem, where St. Peter had become a disciple of Jesus Christ. St. Peter was married to the cousin of Aristopolus. Mark visited St. Peter's house often, and from him he learned the Christian teachings.
Once Aristopolus and his son Mark were walking near the Jordan river, close by the desert, they encountered a raving lion and a lioness. It was evident to Aristopolus that it would be his end and the end of his son, Mark. His compassion for his son compelled him to order him to escape to save himself. Mark answered, "Christ, in whose hands our lives are committed, will not let them prey on us." Saying this, he prayed, "O, Christ, Son of God protect us from the evil of these two beasts and terminate their offspring from this wilderness." Immediately, God granted this prayer, and the two beasts fell dead. His father marvelled and asked his son to tell him about Christ. He believed in the Lord Christ at the hands of his son who baptized him.
After the ascension of the Lord Christ, he accompanied Paul and Barnabas to preach the gospel in Antioch, Seleucia, Cyprus, Salamis, and Perga Pamphylia where he left them and returned to Jerusalem. After the apostolic council in Jerusalem, he went with Barnabas to Cyprus.
After the departure of Barnabas, with the order of Jesus, St. Mark went to Afrikia, Berka, and the five Western cities. He preached the gospel in these parts, and believed on his hands most of its people. From there, he went to Alexandria in 61 A.D.
When he entered the city, his shoe was torn because of the much walking in preaching and evangelism. He went to a cobbler in the city, called Anianus, to repair it. While he was repairing it the awl pierced his finger. Anianus shouted in Greek saying "Eis Theos!" which means "O, one God!" When St. Mark heard these words his heart rejoiced exceedingly. He found it suitable to talk to him about the one God. The apostle took some clay, spat on it and applied it to Anianus' finger, saying "in the Name of Jesus Christ the Son of God," and the wound healed immediately, as if nothing happened to it.
Anianus was exceedingly amazed from this miracle that happened in the name of Jesus Christ, and his heart opened to the word of God. The apostle asked him about who was the only God that he cried for when he was injured. Anianus replied "I heard about him, but I do not know him." St. Mark started explaining to him from the beginning, the creation of heaven and earth, the transgression and fall of Adam, the flood, how God sent Moses, who brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, and gave them the Law, the captivity of the children of Israel to Babylon, and the prophecies that foretold the coming of Christ.
Anianus invited him to go to his house and brought to him his children. The saint preached and baptized them.
When the believers in the name of Christ increased and the pagan people of the city heard that, they were raged with anger and thought of slaying St. Mark. The faithful advised him to get away for a short while for the sake of the safety of the church and its care. St. Mark ordained St. Anianus as bishop for Alexandria, three priests and seven deacons. He went to the five Western cities, remained there for two years preaching, and ordained bishops, priests, and deacons.
He returned to Alexandria where he found the believers had increased in number, and built a church for them in the place known as Bokalia (the place of cows), east of Alexandria on the sea shore.
It came to pass, when he was celebrating the feast of the Resurrection in thr year 68 A.D., the same day coincided with the great pagan celebration for the feast of the god Syrabis, a multitude of them assembled and attacked the church at Bokalia and forced their way in. They seized St. Mark, bound him with a thick rope and dragged him in the roads and streets crying, "Drag the dragon to the place of cows." They continued dragging him with severe cruelty. His flesh was torn and scattered everywhere, and the ground of the city was covered with his blood. They cast him that night into a dark prison.
The next morning, the pagans took St. Mark from the prison. They tied his neck with a thick rope and did the same as the day before, dragging him over the rocks and stones. Finally, St. Mark delivered up his pure soul in the hand of God, and received the crown of martyrdom, the apostolic crown, the crown of evangelism, and the crown of virginity.
Nevertheless, St. Mark's death did not satisfy the rage of the pagans and their hatred. They gathered much firewood and prepared an inferno to burn him. A severe storm blew and heavy rains fell. The pagans became frightened, and they fled away in fear.
The believers came and took the holy body, carried it to the church they built at Bokalia, wrapped it up, prayed over him and place it in a coffin. They laid it in a secret place in this church.
In 828 A.D. the body of St. Mark was stolen by Italian sailors and was removed from Alexandria to Venice in Italy. However, the head remained in Alexandria.
Importance to the Coptic Church
In the Non-Chalcedonian Coptic Orthodox Church, the Apostle Mark is perhaps the most beloved of all saints, being the founder of the see of Alexandria in the first century. Many of their churches are named for him, and on the 30th of Babah (Coptic calendar), the Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates the commemoration of the consecration of the church of the pure St. Mark the Evangelist, the founder of the church in Egypt, and the appearance of his holy head in the city of Alexandria.
Return of relics in 1968June 24, 1968 A.D., and in the tenth year of the papacy of Pope Kyrillos the Sixth, 116th Pope of Alexandria, the relics of the great saint, the beholder of God, St. Mark the Apostle, the Evangelist of the Egyptian land and the first Patriarch of Alexandria, were returned to Egypt. After eleven centuries outside Egypt, St. Mark's body has at last returned to the same country (Cairo, Egypt) where he was martyred, and where his head is preserved to this day in the city of Alexandria, Egypt. Pope Kyrillos had delegated an official delegation to travel to Rome to receive the relics of St. Mark the Apostle from Pope Paul VI. The papal delegation consisted of ten metropolitans and bishops, seven of them were Coptic and three Ethiopians, and three of the prominent Coptic lay leaders. The Alexandrian delegation received the relics of St. Mark the Apostle on Saturday the 22nd of June, 1968 A.D. from Pope Paul VI. The moment of handing over the holy relics, after eleven centuries, during which the body of St. Mark was kept in the city of Venice, in Italy, was a solemn and joyful moment.
The next day, Sunday 16th of Baounah (June 23), the Alexandrian papal delegation celebrated a festive pontifical liturgy in the church of St. Athanasius the Apostolic in Rome. The ten metropolitans, bishops, and the priests accompanying the delegation, all served in the liturgy. Members of the Roman papal delegation, the Copts who accompanied the delegation, and those who lived in Rome, newspaper and news agency reporters, and many foreign dignitaries attended the liturgy.
Inauguration of new cathedral in Cairo
On the 18th of Baounah (Coptic month), of the year 1684 A.M. (Coptic calendar), that coincided with Tuesday the June 25, 1968 A.D., and in the tenth year of the papacy of Pope Kyrillos the Sixth, 116th Pope of Alexandria, the Coptic church celebrates the inauguration of the new St. Mark Cathedral in Dair El-Anba Rowais, which was known also as Dair El-Khandaq.
For this occasion and for the return of the relics of St. Mark the Apostle from Rome, after being in the city of Venice in Italy for eleven centuries, i.e., since the ninth century, a great religious celebration was organized. The celebration was headed by Pope Kyrillos VI and was attended by President Gamal Abdel Naser, president of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Emperor Haile Selassie the First, emperor of Ethiopia, and many of the heads of different religions and representatives of churches from all around the world. Among those religious leaders was Mari Ignatius Yacoub the Third, the Antiochian Patriarch for the Non-Chalcedonian Syriac Orthodox.
Many momentous speeches were delivered in different languages for this occasion. The speakers were Pope Kyrillos, the patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox, Cardinal Doval, the head of the Roman papal delegation, the Catholicos Patriarch of Ethiopia, the secretary general of the World Council of Churches, and the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia. They all expressed their joy on this happy and blessed day, saluting the church of Alexandria, which had a glorious history, with salutation of appreciation and respect.
At the end of the speeches the Pope along with the president of Egypt and the emperor of Ethiopia went to the entrance of the new Cathedral. They unveiled the curtains from the commemorative plaque that was prepared to perpetuate this historical day.
This celebration was attended by the journalists, the international news agencies' reporters, radio, television and more than six thousand Egyptians and foreigners.