Coptic Church History: St Mark, the Apostle and Beholder of God
St Mark is recognized by all Christians world-wide as one of the four Evangelists who wrote a Holy Gospel. In addition, for our beloved Coptic Church, St Mark is also our preacher, our founder of the Coptic Church, and our first Pope of the See of St Mark. Through St Mark, the prophecy spoken of in the Holy Book of Isaiah the Prophet has been fulfilled, “…there will be an altar for the Lord in Egypt and a pillar at its boundaries…”
St Mark was also one of the seventy apostles; therefore our Coptic Church can be rightly termed “apostolic” as it was indisputably founded by one of the original apostles. Although the disciples and the apostles are considered ecumenical or universal bishops for the Church in general, every church refers to her initial preacher as her first bishop and as such, St Mark is the Coptic Church’s first bishop of the See of Alexandria.
St Mark attended the first ecumenical council held in Jerusalem in 51 AD to discuss the topic of the relevance of circumcision prior to baptism. The holy apostles agreed at this ecumenical council to accept the Gentiles into the Church without circumcision before baptism (Acts 15:23-30). Following the council held in Jerusalem, St Mark and St Barnabus journeyed to Cyprus (Acts 15:36- 40) and there the Holy Spirit led St Mark to preach in the Five Western Cities in North Africa. Following St Mark’s ministry in North Africa he then journeyed to Egypt. The date of this founding saints’ arrival into Egypt was 55 AD.
Egypt during the Period of St Mark’s Ministry
When St Mark came to Egypt, many pagan gods were being worshipped by the Egyptians. Some of the gods were considered to be national gods and other idols originated from Greece, Rome, Persia, Syria, and Babylonia. These gods included:
- Rua - The god of the sun. Rua was considered by the pagans to be the source of light and warmth. Heliopolis “Ainshams” was the center of its worship and from this center gradually its false teachings were spread throughout all of Egypt.
- Amon - The invisible god. Tibha was the center of worship for this particular god. Later during the Egyptian state, Amon was combined with Rua and the combined worship came to be termed Amon Rua.
- Osiris - The messenger god of love and peace among the people. This god of peace and love originated from Syria.
- Diana or Artamis - The god of hunting.
- Khnoum - The creator god. Tibha was also the center of worship for Khnoum.
Also when St Mark journeyed to Egypt, Egypt was considered the second greatest city in the world. Second only to Rome, was Egypt. Egypt was widely accepted though as first in the world for science, art, philosophy, and architecture. Its school was recognized world-wide as well as the professors who taught within it. For all those seeking knowledge and philosophy Egypt was the place to come. In Alexandria there were Greek philosophers and scholars, Jewish scholars and teachers of Scriptures, and Persian wise men. In addition to all this were the priests. In Alexandria, there was the famous Alexandrian Library considered as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. This famed library contained millions of volumes of books of the greatest philosophers and scholars in the world for that time frame.
The Alexandrian population was approximately 600,000. The most famous temple in Alexandria among the School and Library was Serabium. In this temple the idol Serabis was worshipped by most of the population. The Holy Book of Acts 6:9 tells that St Stephen went in dialogue with a Jerusalem Council and that some of the council members were from the City of Alexandria. Also, Apollos, one of the greatest preachers in the early Church was from the City of Alexandria as denoted by the Holy Book of Acts 18:24.
Not only was Alexandria the center of civilization for the world, it was also the center for moral corruption.
Politically, Egypt was a Roman state under the direct control of the Roman emperor. Alexandrians revolted against the Roman authority of Augustus Caesar. Caesar sent a Roman military army of 20,000 to Alexandria to put a halt to the revolution. The emperor was in dire need of Egypt’s wheat. Putting an end to the revolution would not be the only act of Augustus Caesar. He also gave social and religious freedom to the Jews residing in Alexandria. This inequality gave rise to many disputes and fights among the Jews and Alexandrians.
Read more about St. Mark here.