It’s a pity indeed that we bypass entirely the feast day of the Evangelist Saint Mark in the very year when we honour Holy Scripture and focus on Saint Mark’s Gospel. But such is the nature of the Lord’s Day, which liturgically blots out almost every other anniversary and observance. I thought we could make a quick memorial today. Here then is a translation of the Roman Martyrology entry for tomorrow:
“Festival of Saint Mark, Evangelist, who at Jerusalem first followed Blessed Paul into the apostolate, then attaching himself to the ministry of Blessed Peter was called by him a son, and whose (Peter’s) catechism on the Gospel to the Romans he (Mark) composed into a Gospel, and finally is traditionally given to have founded the Church in Alexandria.”Roman Martyrology, the 25th of April
Mark appears first in the Acts of the Apostles (12: 12), as a near relation of the Cypriot Apostle Saint Barnabas, who was one of the earliest associates of the Twelve. As such, he joined Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas on their first journey together, which included Cyprus itself. Following a later disagreement with Paul (Acts, 15: 37-40), Mark left his company and must then have attached himself to Saint Peter. That Peter called him son is clear from the end of the first letter of Saint Peter that we have in our New Testament.
“The church here in Babylon, united with you by God’s election, sends you her greeting; so does my son, Mark. Greet one another with the kiss of fellowship. Grace be to all of you, friends in Christ Jesus. Amen.”I Peter, 5: 13-14
It is a long tradition in the Roman Church that the Gospel of S. Mark is composed from the memories of the Apostle S. Peter himself, as mentioned in the martyrology entry above. Mark is traditionally given to have remained in the Roman Curia, as that might have existed under Saint Peter as the first Roman bishop. Therefore, when Peter bent his mind towards the growing number of Christians in the City of Alexandria in lower Egypt, he sent Mark out to establish the See and Patriarchate there that is today identified with the Coptic Church. The Coptic Church was therefore originally a daughter church of Rome. Tomorrow, April the 25th, the Roman Church remembers the second patriarch of Alexandria as well, Mark’s successor. This is his entry in the martyrology:
“Commemoration of Saint Anianus, bishop of Alexandria in Egypt, who according to the testimony of Eusebius and in the eighth year of the emperor Nero, received as the first after Saint Mark the bishopric of this City and held it for twenty-two years, being a man accepted by God and admirable in every way.”Roman Martyrology, the 25th of April
So, let us remember the Coptic churches today, Catholic and non, as the children of those first two exceptional bishops and patriarchs. They are persecuted today as they have been persecuted for some thirteen centuries. May they be always blessed.