For Coptic Orthodox Christians, St. Mark the Evangelist holds a prominent role in the history and hagiography of their religious tradition. St. Mark, one of the original apostles of Jesus Christ, is credited with bringing the Gospel to Egypt, where many Christians identify as Coptic, or Orthodox, believers. St. Mark is also famous for his many works of preaching, charity and evangelism, including the authorship of the Gospel of Mark, one of the older canonical Gospels in the biblical tradition. His influence in eastern Christianity is uncontested in the religion's history.
St. Mark's Early History and Influence
St. Mark and his family held close ties to Jesus Christ and the early Christian church. African born, St. Mark and his parents lived in Jerusalem for most of St. Mark's childhood, where he became fluent in Greek, Latin and Hebrew. Biblical texts depict Mark as a fervent follower of Jesus Christ -- he was not only present at the famous wedding at Cana, but, according to the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States, St. Mark's home was also the site of the Last Supper.
Apostleship and Missionary Work
St. Mark was numbered as one of the 70 disciples Christ dispatched to spread the Gospel. After Christ's Ascension, Sts. Mark and Peter began evangelizing areas of Jerusalem and Judea, and later Antioch and Rome. St. Mark also accompanied St. Paul on his missionary journeys, but after a dispute, returned with his cousin Barnabas to Cyprus. St. Mark's work in Rome led him to Alexandria, the capital of Egypt. St. Peter had a prophetic dream about evangelizing Alexandria, and St. Mark traveled there with him. This was the beginning of Christianity's spread in Egypt.
Arriving in Alexandria
Legend has it that, when St. Mark entered Alexandria, his sandal strap broke; this led him to visit the shoeshop of Anianus, who became the first Christian convert in Egypt. St. Mark worked with many Egyptians to share the message of Christianity through public preaching, writing and sharing his Gospel account. The original "Gospel according to the Egyptians" has some narrative variations from the currently established canonical Gospel of Mark, but was likely written by Mark and is a direct source for the currently accepted Gospel. Many Egyptians were angry with St. Mark's effective evangelism and made dangerous threats against his life. St. Mark ordained Anianus as bishop, along with three other priests, and left the area until A.D. 65, when he returned to a thriving Christian community.
St. Mark's Influence and Martyrdom
After St. Mark's return to Egypt, Christian converts grew in great number, which caused greater animosity between St. Mark and Egyptian non-Christians. Because Egypt was part of the Roman Empire, the emperor of Rome was seen as a deity, and those who practiced different religions were seen as traitors to the Roman Empire. In A.D. 68, an Easter celebration was mobbed by angry Egyptians who beat and killed many Egyptian converts; St. Mark was taken captive and condemned to death. After a dream, in which both an angel and Christ appeared to him, St. Mark was martyred, his body dragged by horses around Alexandria's streets. Other Christians saved his body and buried it beneath the Church of Alexandria. St. Mark is remembered for founding the Church of Alexandria, and for setting the foundations for the School of Alexandria, which educated many Orthodox Christian church fathers.
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