SEE OF ST. MARK1
FR. TADROS Y. MALATY
The Coptic Church or the Church of Alexandria is called "See of St. Mark;" one of the earliest four sees: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Rome.
HOW WAS CHRISTIANITY INTRODUCED INTO EGYPT?
St. Mark is considered the founder of the Coptic Church. However, evidence indicates that Christianity was introduced into Egypt before St. Mark, though undoubtedly, it must have been on a very small scale. The following are some interesting points on this subject:
1) The Book of Acts refers to the Jews of Egypt who were present at the Pentecost (Acts 2:10). Upon their return home, they must have conveyed what they saw and heard about Christ to their relatives.
2) The same book mentions an "Alexandrian Jew named
Apollos" who arrived at Ephesus... He was described as an
eloquent man with sound knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.
He preached with great spiritual earnestness and was able to
demonstrate from the Scriptures that Jesus was the expected
Christ (Acts 18:24-28). It is quite possible that Apollos was
a member of a small Christian group of Jewish origin who
lived in Alexandria.
3) St. Luke addresses his Gospel to "His excellency Theopilus," a Christian believer from Alexandria1.
4) The Coptic book of Sinxarum (the day of 15 Bashance) records the preaching of Simon the Zealous in areas of south Egypt and Nubia2.
ST. MARK THE FOUNDER
The Copts are proud of the apostolicity of their church,
whose founder is St. Mark; one of the seventy Apostles
(Mark 10:10), and one of the four Evangelists. He is
regarded by the Coptic hierarchy as the first of their
unbroken 117 patriarchs, and also the first of a stream of
This apostolicity was not only furnished on grounds of its foundation but rather by the persistence of the church in observing the same faith received by the Apostle and his successors, the Holy Fathers.
ST. MARK'S BIBLIOGRAPHY
St. Mark was an African native of Jewish parents who be-
longed to the Levites' tribe4. His family lived in Cyrenaica
until they were attacked by some barbarians, and lost their
property. Consequently, they moved to Jerusalem with their
child John Mark (Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37). Apparently, he was
given a good education and became conversant in both
Greek and Latin in addition to Hebrew. His family was
highly religious and in close relationship with the Lord Jesus.
His cousin was St. Barnabas and his father's cousin was St.
Peter. His mother, Mary, played an important part in the
early days of the church in Jerusalem5. Her upper-room
became the first Christian church in the world where the
Lord himself instituted the Holy Eucharist (Mark 14:12-26).
There also, the Lord appeared to the disciples after His
resurrection and His Holy Spirit came upon them.
Young Mark was always associated with the Lord, who
chose him as one of the seventy6. He is mentioned in the
Scriptures in a number of events related with the Lord: He
was present at the wedding of Cana of Galilee, and was the
man who had been carrying the jar when the two disciples
went to prepare a place for the celebration of the Pasch
(Mark 14:13, 14; Luke 22:11). [He was also the same man
who fled naked before the Crucifixion (Mark 14:51, 52)7].
Accordingly, the church insists on calling St. Mark
"Theorimos," i.e. the beholder of the Lord, in order to
prevent counterfeits of some historians.
ST. MARK AND THE LION
The lion is the symbol of St. Mark for two reasons:
1) He begins his Gospel by describing John the Baptist as a lion roaring in the desert (Mark 1:3).
2) His famous story with the lion, as related to us by
Severus Ebn-El-Mokafa: Once a lion and lioness appeared to
John Mark and his father Arostalis while they were traveling
in Jordan. The father was very frightened and begged his son
to escape, while he awaited his fate. John Mark assured his
father that Jesus Christ would save them, and began to pray.
The two beasts fell dead and as a result of this miracle, the
father believed in Christ, and died shortly thereafter.
PREACHING WITH THE APOSTLES
At first, St. Mark accompanied St. Peter on his missionary
journeys inside Jerusalem and Judea. Then he accompanied
St. Paul and St. Barnabas on their first missionary journey to
Antioch, Cyprus and Asia Minor, but for some reason or
another he left them and returned home (Acts 13:13). On
their second trip, St. Paul refused to take him along because
he left them on the previous mission; for this reasons St.
Barnabas was separated from St. Paul and went to Cyprus
with his cousin Mark (Acts 15:36-41). There, he departed in
the Lord and St. Mark buried him. Afterwards, St. Paul
needed St. Mark with him and they both preached in Colosy
(4:11), Rome (Phil. 24; 2 Tim. 4:11) and perhaps at Venice.
St. Mark's real labor lays in Africa. He left Rome to
Pentapolis8, where he was born. After planting the seeds of
faith and performing many miracles he traveled to Egypt,
through the Oasis, the desert of Libya, Upper Egypt, and
then entered Alexandria from its eastern gate on 61 A.D.
On his arrival, the strap of his sandal was out loose. He
went to a cobbler to mend it. When the cobbler - Ananias -
took an awl to work on it, he accidentally pierced his hand
and cried aloud: "O One God." At this utterance, St. Mark
rejoiced and after miraculously healing the man's wound,
took courage and began to preach to the hungry ears of his
first convert9. The spark was ignited and Ananias took the
Apostle home, with him. He and his family were baptized,
and many others followed.
The spread of Christianity must have been quite
remarkable because pagans were furious and sought St.
Mark everywhere. Smelling the danger, the Apostle ordained
a bishop (Ananias), three priests and seven deacons to look
after the congregation if anything befell him. He left
Alexandria to Berce, then to Rome, where he met St. Peter
and St. Paul and remained there until their martyrdom in 64
Upon returning to Alexandria (65 A.D), St. Mark found
his people firm in faith and thus decided to visit Pentapolis.
There, he spent two years preaching and performing
miracles, ordaining bishops and priests, and winning more
Finally he returned to Alexandria and was overjoyed to
find that Christians had multiplied so much that they were
able to build a considerable church in the suburban district of
In the year 68 A.D, Easter fell on the same day as the
Serapis feast. The furious heathen mob had gathered in the
Serapis temple at Alexandria and then descended on the
Christians who were celebrating Easter (Christian Pasch) at
Baucalis. St. Mark was seized, dragged with a rope through
the main streets of the city. Crowds were shouting "The ox
must be led to Baucalis," a precipitous place full of rocks
where they fed the oxen that were used in the sacrifices to
idols. At nightfall the saint was thrown into prison, where he
was cheered by the vision of an angel, strengthening him
saying: "Now your hour has come O Mark, the good
minister, to receive your recompense. Be encouraged, for
your name has been written in the book of life.." When the
angel disappeared, St. Mark thanked God for sending His
angel to him... Suddenly, the Savior Himself appeared and
said to him: "Peace be to you, Mark, my disciple and
evangelist!" St. Mark started to shout "O My Lord Jesus"
but the vision disappeared!
On the following morning probably during the triumphal
procession of Serapis he was again dragged around the city
till death. His bloody flesh was torn, and it was their
intention to cremate his remains, but the wind blew and the
rain fell in torrents and the populace dispersed. Christians
stole his body and secretly buried him in a grave which they had engraved in a rock under the altar of the church.
During the schism which burst between the Copts and the
Melkites10, the first kept the head while the body remained
with the latter. On 644 A.D, a soldier sneaked into the
church where the head was buried. He took it away to his ship under the impression that it was a treasure. Later, when Amro-Ebn-El-Aas (leader of the Arab troops) ordered the ships to sail off Alexandria, that particular ship could not move. Eventually the soldier had to confess and Amro handed it back to Pope Benjamin11.
The saint's body did not remain in Egypt, for it was stolen
and taken to Venice by some Italian merchants. They built a
huge cathedral in St. Mark's name, believing that St. Mark
was their patron Saint. In 1968, part of his relics which is
now kept in the new Cathedral in Cairo, was offered to the
Egyptian Pope Cyril (Kyrillos VI) from pope Paul VI.
HIS APOSTOLIC ACTS
St. Mark was a broad-minded Apostle. His ministry was
quite productive and covered large fields of activities. These
* Preaching in Egypt, Pentapolis, Judea, Asia Minor, and
Italy, during which time he ordained bishops, priests and
* Establishing the "School of Alexandria" which defended Christianity against the philosophical school of Alexandria and conceived a large number of great Fathers.
* Writing the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist which was
modified later by St. Cyril to the liturgy known today as the Liturgy of St. Cyril.
* Writing the Gospel according to St. Mark.
1. Fr. T. Malaty: The Coptic Church, Melbourne 1978, p. 19ff.
2. Kamel Saleh Nakhla: St. Mark, Ch. 6 (Arabic)
3. Dr. Aziz S. Atiya: Hist. of Eastern Christianity, p. 25.
4. Sawiris Ibn El-Mokaffa: Hist. of Patriarchs, 13:13 (Arabic).
5. Douglas: Dict. of the Christian Church, p. 632.
6. Origen: De Reta in Deum Fide; Epiphanius: Adv. Hear 51:5; Cheneau: Les Saintes d'Egypte, vol. 1, p. 495.
7. Sawiris: 15R.
8. Pentapolis, or "The Five Western Countries," consist of: Cyrene; Beronice (Hesperis),
now Beni-Ghazi; Appolonia (Souzah); Touchira or Arsinoe; and Ptolemias, or Tolomita,
9. Dr. Aziz S. Atiya: p. 27.
10. he Melkites were loyal to the Emperor of Constantinople; they were in authority, because Egypt was following the Eastern Empire.
11. Abu El Sebaa: "Al-Gawhare Al-Nafisa Fi Oloom Al-Kanissa, p. 140-1 (Arabic).