Today is the feast day of Saint Mark. Ora pro nobis.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger
Two Saints by the name of Mark, are mentioned in Holy Writ. The first is Mark the Evangelist, whose festival we celebrate today. The other is Mark, surnamed John, who assisted St. Paul and St. Barnabas in the promulgation of the Gospel. He of whom we speak here was by birth a Jew, of the tribe of Levi. Some say that he was one of the seventy disciples of Christ, but others, more authentic, say that he was converted on the day of Pentecost by the sermon of St. Peter, and was also baptized by this Apostle. Hence the latter, in his Epistle, calls him his son, because he was through him spiritually born again in holy baptism. For the same reason, St. Paul calls Onesimus his son, and wrote to the Corinthians that he had regenerated them through the Gospel.
After St. Mark had been baptized he manifested such zeal in his new faith, that St. Peter chose him as his travelling companion and interpreter. At Rome, whither he went with the apostle, he had the joy to see the effect of the preaching of the latter in the daily increasing number of the converted. When St. Peter was obliged to leave Rome for a time, he gave the newly converted Christians into the charge of Mark. As these most earnestly requested him to give them in writing all that they had heard, from him and St. Peter, of the Saviour’s teaching and miracles, so that they might remember it better and conduct themselves more according to His divine precepts, St. Mark wrote the Gospel which is still extant in the Church of Christ. St. Peter read it after his return and approving of it, sanctioned the reading of it in the assemblies of the faithful. St. Peter afterwards sent his companion into Egypt and other surrounding countries to preach the Gospel, which was done by the Saint with truly apostolic zeal. He went to each city and village, and was so successful in his teaching that not only thousands of idols were thrown from their altars, and numberless heathens adopted the true faith, but the newly converted also endeavored to lead most holy lives. This was the cause that Egypt, until then so addicted to idolatry, became the home of so many hermits and fervent servants of the Almighty. The newly converted were not content with merely discharging the duties which the Gospel enjoined, but observed most scrupulously all counsels given to them by the Evangelists. They divided their property among the poor; possessed nothing as their own; and were extremely temperate, as, after the example of their holy teacher, they abstained from meat and wine, and fasted almost daily. Numberless were those who preserved perpetual virginity. Christians as zealous as these filled the whole land, especially Alexandria, where Mark governed the Church which he had founded, for nineteen years. He had there encountered the most embittered heathens, who could not even endure to hear a Christian spoken of. And yet, notwithstanding this, Mark had increased the number of the faithful to such an extent, by his preaching, his holy life and by the many miracles he had performed on people, by the sign of the Cross, or by calling on the most holy name of Jesus, that the house in which the converts had always assembled to hear the words of Christ, could no longer contain them all, and several additional houses had to be selected.
The idolatrous priests, enraged at this wonderful progress of Christianity instigated the heathens against St. Mark, and endeavored to make away with him. The holy man, fearing that a general persecution of the faithful might ensue, which might lead many, for fear of death, to desert their faith, consecrated Anianus, who had been one of the early converts in Alexandria, and whom the Saint had well instructed in the faith, as bishop, and secretly left the city, to be absent for some time. After two years, which time he employed in visiting other churches, founded by him, he came back to Alexandria. Soon after his return, which could not be kept a secret long, the heathens held a celebration in honor of the idol Serapis, on which occasion many sacrifices were made to this false god. The idolatrous priests, whose rage against St. Mark his absence had not cooled, cried loudly that above all they should search for the Galilean–thus they designated the Saint–and as the most bitter enemy of their gods, sacrifice him to Serapis. The people following these madmen, sought for St. Mark, and found him before the altar offering to God the unbloody sacrifice of the Mass. Binding a cord around his body, they threw him upon the ground, and thus dragged him out of the church and through the streets with such violence, that the whole way was stained, with his blood, and his body cruelly mangled.
At sunset, they threw him into a dark, damp dungeon. During the night, an angel appeared to him, who said: “Mark, servant of the Most High; thy name stands written in the book of life. Thy memory shall never die, and the archangels will receive thy soul into everlasting peace.” Scarcely had this comforting vision departed, when Christ, our Saviour, appeared to him in the same form in which he had lived when on earth, saying to him these divine words: “Mark! peace be with thee!” The joy of the Saint at this vision was inexpressible. He passed the whole night in prayers and praises to God. The following day at early dawn, the barbarous heathens again dragged him through the streets as they had done the day previous, until his soul went to God. During his martyrdom, he ceased not to praise the Almighty, to preach Christ, and to assure all that he considered it great happiness to die for the faith of the Saviour. His last words were those spoken by the Lord upon the Holy Cross: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” The heathens would have burned the Saint’s remains, but a sudden hailstorm drove them away, and this gave an opportunity to the Christians to take possession of them and bury them in a cave hewed out of a rock. After many years they were transported to Venice, where at this day they are preserved and held in high honor. (2)
The Liturgical Cycle of Holy Mother Church brings before us today the Lion, who, together with the Man, the Ox, and the Eagle, stands before the throne of God (Ezech. 1: 10). It was on this day that St. Mark ascended from earth to Heaven, radiant with his triple aureole of Evangelist, Apostle and Martyr.
As the preaching made to Israel had its four great representatives—Isaias, Jeremias, Ezechiel, and Daniel—so, likewise, would God have the New Covenant to be embodied in the four Gospels, which were to make known to the world the life and teachings of His Divine Son. The holy Fathers tell us that the Gospels are like the four streams which watered the garden of Eden (Gen. 2: 10). The first of the Evangelists—the first to register the actions and words of our Redeemer—is St. Matthew, whose star will rise in September; the second is St. Mark, whose brightness gladdens us today; the third is St. Luke, whose rays will shine upon us in October; the fourth is St. John, whom we have already seen in Bethlehem, at the crib of our Emmanuel.
St. Mark was the beloved disciple of St. Peter; he was the brilliant satellite of the sun of the Church. He wrote his Gospel at Rome, under the eyes of the Prince of the Apostles. The Church was already in possession of the history given by St. Matthew; but the faithful of Rome wished their own Apostle to narrate what he had witnessed. St. Peter declined to write it himself, but he bade his disciple take up his pen, and the Holy Ghost guided the hand of the new Evangelist. St. Mark follows the account given by St. Matthew; he abridges it, and yet he occasionally adds a word, or an incident, which plainly proves to us that St. Peter, who had seen and heard all, was his living and venerated authority. One would have almost expected that the new Evangelist would pass over in silence the history of his master’s fall, or at least have said as little as possible about it; but no—the Gospel written by St. Mark is more detailed on St. Peter’s denial than is that of St. Matthew; and as we read it, we cannot help feeling that the tears elicited by Jesus’ look when in the house of Caiphas, were flowing down the Apostle’s cheeks as he described the sad event. St. Mark’s work being finished, St. Peter examined it and gave it his sanction; the several Churches joyfully received this second account of the mysteries of the world’s redemption, and the name of Mark was made known throughout the whole world.
St. Matthew begins his Gospel with the human genealogy of the Son of God, and has thus realized the prophetic type of the Man; St. Mark fulfills that of the Lion, for he commences with the preaching of St. John the Baptist, whose office as precursor of the Messias had been foretold by Isaias, where he spoke of the voice of one crying in the wilderness—as the Lion that makes the desert echo with his roar.
St. Mark, having written his Gospel, was next to labor as an Apostle. St. Peter sent him first to Aquileia, where he founded an important Church; but this was not enough for an Evangelist. When the time designed by God came, and Egypt, the source of countless errors, was to receive the truth, and the haughty and noisy Alexandria was to be raised to the dignity of the second Church of Christendom—the second See of St. Peter, as it were—St. Mark was sent by his master to effect this great work. By his preaching, the word of salvation took root, grew up, and produced fruit in that most infidel of nations; and the authority of St. Peter was thus marked, though in different degrees, in the three great cities of the Empire: Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. St. Mark may be called the first founder of the monastic life by his instituting, in Alexandria itself, what were called the Therapeutes. To him, also, may be justly attributed the origin of that celebrated Christian school of Alexandria which was so flourishing even in the second century.
But glorious as were these works of St. Peter’s disciple, the Evangelist and Apostle St. Mark was also to receive the dignity of Martyr. The success of his preaching excited against him the fury of the idolaters. They were keeping a feast in honor of Serapis; and this gave them an opportunity which they were not likely to lose. They seized St. Mark, treated him most cruelly, and cast him into prison. It was there that our Risen Lord appeared to him during the night, and addressed him in these words, which afterwards formed the slogan on the coat of arms of the Republic of Venice: “Peace be to thee, Mark, My Evangelist!” To which the disciple answered: “Lord!”—for such were his feelings of delight and gratitude that he could say but that one word, as it was with St. Mary Magdalene, when she saw Jesus on the morning of the Resurrection. On the following day St. Mark was put to death by the pagans. He had fulfilled his mission on earth, and Heaven opened to receive the Lion, who was to occupy the place allotted to him near the throne of the Ancient of Days, as shown to the Prophet of Patmos—St. John—in his sublime vision (Apoc. 4).
In the ninth century the West was enriched with the relics of St. Mark. They were to taken to Venice; and, under the protection of the sacred Lion, there began for that city a long period of glory. Faith in so great a Patron achieved wonders; and from the midst of islets and lagoons there sprang into existence a city of beauty and power. Byzantine art raised up the imposing and gorgeous church, which was the palladium of the Queen of the Seas; and the new Republic stamped its coinage with the Lion of St. Mark. Happy would it have been for Venice had she persevered in her loyalty to Rome and in the ancient severity of her morals.
Thou, O St. Mark, art the mystic Lion, who, with the Man, the Ox, and the Eagle, art yoked to the chariot whereon the King of Kings pursues His triumphant course through the earth. Ezechiel, the prophet of the Ancient Testament, and St. John, the prophet of the New Law, saw thee standing nigh the throne of Jehovah. How magnificent is thy glory! Thou art the historian of the Word made Flesh, and thou dost publish to all generations His claims to the love and adoration of mankind. The Church reveres thy writings, and bids us receive them as inspired by the Holy Ghost.
It was thou that, on the glad day of Easter, didst announce to us the Resurrection of Our Lord: pray for us, O holy Evangelist, that this divine mystery may work its effects within us; and that our hearts, like thine own, may be firm in their love of our Risen Jesus, that so we may faithfully follow in Him that new life which He gave us by His Resurrection. Ask Him to give us His peace, as He did to His Apostles when He showed Himself to them in the Cenacle, and as He did to thee when He appeared to thee in thy prison.
Thou wast the beloved disciple of St. Peter; Rome was honored by thy presence: pray for the Church of Rome, against which the wildest storm is now venting its fury. Pray to the Lion of the Tribe of Juda: He seems to sleep; and yet we know that He has but to show Himself, and the victory is gained.
Apostle of Egypt, what has become of thy flourishing Church of Alexandria, Peter’s second See, the hallowed scene of thy martyrdom? Its very ruins have perished. The scorching blast of heresy made Egypt a waste, and God, in his anger, let loose upon her the torrent of Islam. Centuries have passed since then, and she is still a slave to error and tyranny: is it to be thus with her till the coming of the Judge? Pray, we beseech thee, for the countries thou didst so zealously evangelize, but whose deserts are now the image of her loss of faith.
And can Venice be forgotten by thee, who art her dearest patron? Obtain for her that she may be purified and return to God, Who has chastised her in His justice. (3)
Research by ED Masters, REGINA Staff