Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Lion of Alexandria

The Church attributes authorship of the earliest Gospel to Mark the Evangelist, one of the 70 disciples of Christ, and the founder of the Church of Alexandria, one of the original four major Christian dioceses. 

A common tradition identifies Mark the Evangelist with John Mark of the Scriptures (Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; 15:37), though Hippolytus and others disagree. Mark is said to have become Peter’s interpreter, the writer of the first Gospel, the founder of the Church in Africa, and the bishop of Alexandria. According to Eusebius of Caesarea, Peter apparently chose Mark at some point and made him his travel companion and interpreter. Mark, having recorded "notes" on the sermons of Peter, utilized them in composing his account of the Gospel. 

Mark is said to have left for Alexandria in the third year of Claudius (43 AD), arriving there around 49 AD, some 19 years after the ascension of Christ. There he founded the Church of Alexandria, the descendant of which today is the Coptic Orthodox Church. Aspects of the Coptic liturgy are said to be traced back to St. Mark himself, the first bishop of Alexandria. According to Eusebius (Eccl. Hist. 2.24.1), Mark was succeeded by Annianus as bishop in the eighth year of Nero (62/63 AD), probably, but not definitely, due to his coming death. Later Coptic tradition says that Mark was martyred in 68 AD.

Mark's feast day is celebrated on April 25, and his symbol is the lion. In 828, relics believed to be those of St. Mark were stolen from Alexandria by two Venetian merchants and taken to Venice, where a basilica was built to house the relics. 

 On June 22, 1968, Coptic Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria sent an official delegation to Rome to receive a relic of St. Mark from Pope Paul VI. The delegation included ten metropolitans and bishops, seven of whom were Coptic and three Ethiopian, as well as three Coptic lay leaders. The relic was said to be a small piece of bone that had been given to the Roman Pope by Giovanni Cardinal Urbani, Patriarch of Venice. Pope Paul, in his address to the delegation, noted that the rest of Mark's relics remained in Venice. The next day, the metropolitans, bishops, and priests of the delegation all participated in the pontifical liturgy in the Church of St. Athanasius in Rome.  

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