Pasquale Ottino, 17th Century, Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux

St. Mark was born early in the first century likely in Cyrene, a Greek/Roman city in modern-day Libya in Northern Africa. He was one of the 70 apostles of Jesus Christ, the author of the Gospel of Mark, and Bishop of Alexandria in Egypt. He suffered a martyr’s death in 68 A.D. He is honored in the Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican (including Episcopal), and Lutheran Churches. He’s particularly honored as the father of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. He’s the Patron Saint of Egypt and Venice, Italy. His feast day is April 25.

Because Mark was a common Latin name in ancient times, it’s possible that there was more than one man named Mark referred to in the New Testament. However, it’s generally believed that the writer of the Gospel of Mark was the son of a devout woman named Mary, a follower of Jesus.

Mark and his family had migrated to Jerusalem at some point before his mother became one of Jesus’s followers. It’s this Mary who is believed to have owned the house where Jesus shared the Last Supper with the Twelve Apostles. Mark may have assisted in serving them.

After describing the betrayal and arrest of Jesus and the scattering in fear of the Apostles, Mark wrote:

A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked. – Mark 14:51-52

Many believe that Mark was referring to himself according to the literary norms of his time.

Mark shows up again in Acts where he’s referred to as John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas:

After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. – Acts 15:36-40

At this time, ordination was determined by the “crowd.” If the new Christians thought someone would make a good priest or bishop, he became a priest or bishop. An ancient Roman text refers to the possibility that Mark, desperate not to be made a priest, cut off one of his fingers, thus giving himself a deformity that would make him unworthy of priesthood.

Later Mark traveled to Rome with Peter. Peter, who had become a great preacher and the first Bishop of Rome, took on a paternal role with Mark. He wrote in his Letters:

Your sister church in Babylon, chose together for you, sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark. 1 Peter 5:13

Peter spoke openly about his time following Jesus during His three years of ministry. Mark, who was not with Jesus during those three years, listened carefully to Peter’s preaching and explaining.

There came a time when Peter felt that Mark was ready to spread the word (despite his possible missing finger) and made him a priest.

At some point after this, Mark proved himself to Paul who referred to him in his Letters:

Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. – Philemon 1:23-24

Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry. – 2 Timothy 4:11

It was probably during his time with Paul that Mark wrote his gospel based on all he had learned from Peter.

He then traveled to Egypt where he established a church in Alexandria, became the Bishop, and ordained other priests and bishops to spread the Word.

In the spring of 68 A.D., it’s believed that Mark spoke out against the pagan holiday of the Egyptian god Serapis which fell on Easter. The followers of Serapis captured him, tied him up, and dragged him by the neck through the streets until he died.

Christians recovered his body and buried it. In the year 829, Venetian pirates, I mean, merchants, “purchased” some of the relics of St. Mark and transported them back to Venice where they are enshrined in the Basilica di San Marco. The rest of the relics are believed to be in St. Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in Alexandria and some in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo.

Why did Mark fight so hard against his calling to ministry?

An answer came to me while reading the Gospel of Mark. Remembering that Mark was a much younger man than the Twelve Disciples, and he wasn’t with Jesus during His ministry, he simply didn’t understand it all. Although Mark was a witness to the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Pentecost, and believed in the miracle that is Jesus Christ, he didn’t fully understand Jesus’s message until he heard it properly and completely from Peter.

Something similar would be my first-generation, Italian-American father who understands Italian well enough to speak with Italians but not well enough to teach the language to his children.

Peter taught Mark everything he needed to know about spreading the Word of Jesus Christ. This, and Peter’s faith in his abilities, strengthened Mark in his mission. So much so, that it occurred to him that he should write down Peter’s words. The Gospel of Mark can be read like a preacher’s manual. For example:

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” – Mark 4:30-32

And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. – Mark 13:10-11

Armed with the Word, Mark set out to scatter the mustard seeds of faith. In Egypt, he planted what is now known as the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. This Church has close ties with the other Oriental Churches as well as the Eastern (Greek) Orthodox Church and has many congregations throughout the United States and around the world.

Like the other Apostles, St. Mark scattered the seeds of the Christian faith far and wide. Time has allowed those shrubs to grow specific to their climate, culture, and history. Yet underneath, the roots of these Christian faiths are all the same.

Almighty God, by the hand of Mark the evangelist you have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. — Collect, Book of Common Prayer

For More Info:




Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern U.S.

Encyclopedia Coptica

Taste of Egypt Festival

In honor of the potential in the mustard seed of faith within all of us:


About two pounds of chicken breasts cut into 1 inch cubes

2 tablespoons plain yogurt

1/8 teaspoon dry mustard (or 1 teaspoon brown mustard)

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon wine vinegar

½ teaspoon curry powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon turmeric

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

In a small bowl mix yogurt, mustard, lemon juice, wine vinegar, curry powder, salt, turmeric, and cardamom. Set aside.

Place cut up chicken pieces into a medium bowl, add yogurt mixture. Stir to coat all the pieces and set aside for 30 minutes. (Place in refrigerator if it will be longer than 30 minutes.)

Thread chicken pieces onto skewers.

Preheat grill. Cook kebabs on grill for about five minutes. Carefully turn kebabs over. Then cook for about five minutes more until done.

Serve with pita bread and yogurt cucumber dip. Add a salad or vegetable kebabs including onions and tomatoes.

Note 1:  We discovered we were out of fuel right before we were to cook our kebabs on the grill, so the above photo was taken after the kebabs were broiled in the oven.

Note 2: Cardamom tastes like black licorice. So, if that doesn’t appeal, leave it out.

Note 3: St. Mark probably ate lamb or goat kebabs. Have fun with that.

Bonus Material:

Photos by Brian Suntken on his blog John 13:34

(Originally posted on 4/24/2014 to Saints and Recipes on Blogger.)

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