Much that is written about St. Mark, an early Jewish convert to Christianity in Jerusalem during the apostolic age, is based on tradition rather than actual history. His mother is said to be a certain Mary who was a wealthy and influential woman whose home in Jerusalem was a meeting place of sorts for the apostles (Acts 12:12,25. However, it is improbable that her house was the scene of the Last Supper as some writers suggest.
While Mark was not one of the 12 apostles of Christ, he was almost certainly among the 70 identified in the Book of Acts. One tradition holds that Mark is probably a cousin to Barnabas, who, together with St. Paul, took him as their assistant on their first missionary service to Cyprus. However, when they arrived at Perga in Pamphylia, for some reason Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13), causing evident displeasure to Paul. Thus, when Barnabas asked that Mark accompany them on a second missionary journey, Paul refused. This led to the break-up of Barnabas and Paul, so when Barnabas took Mark to his native land of Cyprus, Paul took Silas to Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:38).
It is thought that somehow Mark later recovered his lost standing with Paul by the time that Paul was taken as prisoner in Rome the first time. He must have proven so trustful and helpful that Paul mentions him in his letters as one of his fellow workers (Philem 24) who was “very useful in serving me” (2 Tim: 4:11). Also, in Paul’s second Roman captivity just before he was martyred, Paul writes to Timothy enjoining him to “take Mark and bring him with you for he is profitable to me for the ministry.”
Mark was also associated with St. Peter, who affectionately called him “my son” (1 Peter 5:13). This close spiritual relationship between them led Papias, a second-century Christian writer and bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, to suggest that Mark was indeed the author of the Gospel narrative thought to be the first, written at around the year 70 (although this proposition continues to be the subject of scholarly debate).
Mark’s Gospel, while ostensibly the Story of Jesus, is a handbookof discipleship that teaches us that to be a Christian is not merely saying that Jesus is Christ but is a matter of “patterning one’s own life on Jesus’ example of self- sacrificing love.” Whether or not it is the earliest, his gospel is the shortest and thought to be the simplest and clearest of the four Gospels, and may have been a model for Matthew and Luke.
Another ancient tradition says that, having finished writing his Gospel, Mark set sail for Alexandria in Egypt where he devoted himself to the work of teaching others “what he had learned from the apostles of Christ.” He lived in Alexandria for some time, eventually becoming its first bishop. He also set up the first Christian school there which became very famous. From the 4th century A.D. the Alexandrian see has been called cathedra Marci.
The Roman Martyrology tells us that: “Later . . . he was arrested for his faith, bound with cords and grievously tortured by being dragged over stones. Then while shut up in prison, he was comforted by the visit of an angel, and finally, after our Lord Himself had appeared to him, he was called to the heavenly kingdom in the eighth year of Nero.”
His body was supposedly brought to the city of Venice, Italy from Alexandria early in the ninth century. Whether this is true or not, St. Mark has been honored since time immemorial as Venice’s principal patron saint and his supposed relics are enshrined in the magnificent golden basilica of St. Mark’s Cathedral.
As published in the April 23 issue of the Parish Bulletin.