St. Mark the Apostle, the Founder of the Coptic Church

The Coptic Orthodox Church or the Church of Alexandria is called “See of St. Mark;” one of the earliest four sees: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Rome.

St. Mark, the Founder

The Coptic Church has been founded by one of the seventy-two Apostles, and one of the four Evangelists: Saint Mark. This honest and persistent preacher planted the seed of the living faith in the hearts of the Egyptians and watered it with his pure blood through martyrdom. Hence, it grew and prospered, its branches bearing fruits for people all over the world.

Our Church is both ancient and modern. She is traditional in maintaining the apostolic faith; yet modern in its application to the current generations.

St. Mark’s Biography

St. Mark was of Jewish Origin, born in Africa. He was born in Cyrene (Currently Libya), from Jewish parents, Aristopolos and Mary. He was first named John at birth, and then he was called Mark (Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37). His family was wealthy and he grew up in a cultural environment, studying The Old Testament at a young age. He also learned different languages such as Hebrew, Greek and Latin. St. Mark’s mother, Mary, played a great role in his life. In addition to being a living example and a blessed model for the spiritual life, she planted God’s love in her son’s heart. She sacrificed everything she had, with enthusiasm, to serve Our Lord, and offered the upper room of her family’s house located in Jerusalem to host Jesus Christ and His disciples. According to tradition, this is the birthplace of the first Christian church in the world, where the Passover took place (Mk 14:12-26) and where the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost, following the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and His appearance to the disciples. It continued being the main headquarters for the early Church meetings for many years afterwards.

St. Mark in Africa

St. Mark went to Alexandria around the year 61 A.D. At his arrival, he was praying while walking in its streets. His sandal was torn, so he was forced to stop by a shoemaker to get it fixed. While Anianus, the cobbler, was repairing St. Mark’s footwear, an awl pierced his finger, and that’s when he cried out saying, “O One God”.  This astonished St. Mark and he healed the man’s wound miraculously. Afterwards, St. Mark started talking to Anianus about Our Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for Mankind.  That is when Anianus accepted the faith and invited St. Mark to his house, along with his family and neighbors. St. Mark baptized all those who believed. The first nucleus of the Christian Church was formed in Egypt, soon after the seed of faith had been planted in the hearts of the people. This was also the time when St. Mark established a theological school in Alexandria and a system for the Divine Liturgy known today as the Divine Liturgy of St. Cyril.

The Christian faith grew and prospered in Egypt, which caused the pagans to be furious against St. Mark. After ordaining Anianus as bishop, alongside the ordination of three priests and seven deacons to look after the congregation, St. Mark left Alexandria. He went to Rome to meet with St. Peter and St. Paul and he stayed with them until Our Lord remembered them, around 64 A.D.

A few years later, St. Mark revisited the church he had established in Egypt. The seed he had planted was growing, flowering and bearing fruits. The number of believers had increased and a huge church was built in the area of Baucalis, a suburban area in Alexandria, Egypt.

His Martyrdom

Easter of the year 68 A.D. came on the same day as the feast for the pagan God, Serapis. Many Egyptians had converted to Christianity by then, which made them abandon the celebration of the Serapis feast, and instead, attended the Divine Liturgy in the Holy church. The pagans were furious and decided to attack St. Mark, the eliminator of idols, on that same day. They jumped on him and arrested him. They tied him with ropes and dragged him through the streets of the city.  St. Mark’s blood was shed on the streets, yet he kept praising God and expressing gratitude for being worthy of such pain for His Mighty name.

In the evening, he was thrown into prison, where an angel came to him, touched him and gave him strength, saying, “Now your hour has come O Mark, the good servant, to receive your reward immediately. Have courage, as your name has been written in the Book of life.” St. Mark’s heart was filled with comfort and he rejoiced, thanking God for the angel He had sent him. Christ himself then appeared to him in a great light, saying, “O Mark, my disciple, the Gospel writer, Peace be to you!” As St. Mark started to shout, “My Lord Jesus”, the vision disappeared. He was strengthened and comforted.

The next morning, the pagans came back, tied St. Mark’s neck with a rope and dragged him in the streets. The patient and tolerant servant kept praying and asking God to forgive them. Finally, his flesh was torn and his head got separated from his body. His spirit was in the hands of His Beloved Lord Jesus. The pagans wanted to burn the saint’s body, but the weather suddenly changed and a windy storm took place, which caused the multitudes to disperse.

The believers wrapped his body in precious fragrance, carrying it to the Church of Baucalis. St. Anianus prayed on him, then he was put into a grave under the altar of the church. It became the first and oldest church in Egypt and Africa, and it was named after St. Mark, the great apostle.

His Apostolic Acts

  • He established the famous theological school in Alexandria, Egypt, where Christian doctrine and many other sciences were taught. This source of knowledge and light brought many different people to Christ.
  • He was universal in his preaching, and not limited to one place. He preached in Egypt and Africa, as well as in Lebanon, Antioch, Turkey, Cyprus, Venice and Rome.
  • He wrote the Divine Liturgy, which was later adopted by St. Cyril the great, who added to it and rearranged it. It is known today as the Divine Liturgy of St. Cyril.

The Lion

In St. Mark’s picture, there is a peaceful lion accompanying the Evangelist. The lion’s strength and courage are maintained, while his monstrous nature is taken away.

There are different reasons for the presence of that lion by St. Mark’s side:

  1. The famous lion incident:

St. Mark’s first miracle happened when he and his father were traveling in Jordan. As they were walking, a lion and lioness appeared. The father, being terrified and protective, told his son to escape, so that the two animals would be occupied by devouring him. However, St. Mark assured his father that The Lord Jesus Christ would not allow them to be harmed. With a heart full of faith, he knelt and prayed. His prayer was answered instantly and both the lion and lioness fell dead. This incident was a blessing for his father, who consequently believed in Christ.

  1. His Gospel begins with John Baptist being described as a lion roaring in the wilderness (Mk 1:3).
  2. The African lion reflects St. Mark’s origins (Cyrene, North Africa) and the places where he served the most (Alexandria, Egypt).

His Gospel

The Holy Gospel of St. Mark was written approximately in the year 60 A.D., which makes it the oldest of the four Gospels. Consequently, the order of the New Testament books is not necessarily chronological.