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Today, Christians celebrate the legacy of St. Mark the
Evangelist. Mark is mostly
remembered as the traditional author of the Gospel of Mark, the earliest gospel
in the New Testament–a breathless story of Jesus as a teller of
tales and a miracle-working healer who is crucified by the Romans, and whose
identity as “the Son of Man” is a secret to all except those who have some
spiritual understanding of his acts.
Mark witnesses to the so-called “messianic secret,” the hidden purpose of God’s
son who suffers for the sake of the world.
But most Christians don’t realize that Mark’s story does not
end with the writing of his gospel.
Indeed, Mark may well have traveled as a missionary with both St. Paul
and St. Peter at different times after the death of Jesus. Eventually, he went to Egypt where he
is credited with establishing the Church of Alexandria, one of the most
influential of the ancient Christian churches (today known as the Coptic
Orthodox Church). As such, Mark
became the first bishop of Africa and one of the founders of African
Of Mark’s many accomplishments, ancient tradition claims that
he started the Catechetical School of Alexandria, a “wisdom academy” that
instructed students in a way of life based in Christian philosophy, sacred
texts, prayer, and spiritual practices.
The Catechetical School was the first Christian university where early
followers of Jesus explored the connections between their belief in the
suffering God with Alexandria’s cosmopolitan intellectual culture and religious
believers were marked by their faithfulness and their love of learning. Eventually, the school would develop an
approach to the Bible called “allegorical reading” that taught Christians to go
beyond a literal understanding of scripture to explore the deeper “spiritual”
meanings of holy texts.
In many ways, Mark is an appealing figure for contemporary
Christians–his story of Jesus is quick and to the point, a mystery that lets
its readers in on a divine secret; he was a person who understood the power of
faith and questions, of belief and intellectual endeavor; and he established a
vibrant Christian community in a pluralistic city. More than leaving us a book, he left us a way of wisdom to
be emulated in the modern world.