Saint of the Day: St. Mark the Athenian

(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today's saint, St. Mark, is found in Volume 1 of the series.)
Saint Mark the Athenian

When St. Paul spoke from Mars Hill, he opened his remarks not with a polite “Gentlemen” or “My Friends,” but commenced with the words spoken in respect as well as greeting: “Ye men of Athens.” When this magnificent saint spoke, he was addressing polytheists, but as he faced the Acropolis, which was already 500 years old, at that time, he already knew that Athens was the cradle of democracy and would be receptive to the humble carpenter in whose eyes all men were equal. That Mark should come down to us as St. Mark the Athenian is not just to distinguish him from other Marks, but to have us know he was one of the “men of Athens” four centuries after St. Paul. 

Mark was born in Athens into a family of intellectuals to whom he was indebted for his intelligence but whose highly successful commercial enterprises he valued little, preferring to devote himself not to the business of making money but to the deadly serious and much more rewarding business of pursuing a career in religion. He could thank his family for the very best education that money could buy but thereafter the achievements were strictly his own. He also owed a debt of gratitude to a loving family who never interfered in his choice of career and never discouraged him in any way to depart from the merchant tradition which had amassed a family fortune in which he was assured his share.

Mark dismissed the money matters from his mind and concentrated on his preparation for service to Jesus Christ, attaining a scholastic stature that drew the attention of no less a person than the eminent St. John Chrysostom who took a personal interest in him and closely followed his remarkable mastery of every phase of ecclesiastical lore. Mark is said to have committed to memory the entire Bible from which he could quote passages at any length from the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. This was not an ostentatious display of his cerebral prowess but the full use of a tremendous intellect dedicated to the word of God, aiming at spiritual perfection with all the mental processes he could muster, leaving no stone unturned that lay in the path of the approach to heaven.

After receiving the utmost in religious tutoring from St. John Chrysostom, Mark sailed to Africa and traveled deep into the interior of what is now Ethiopia, settling at last atop a mountain to enter a life of asceticism far removed from the clamor of the city. Assured a quiet solitude, he commenced a life of meditation, prayer and fasting, interspersed with religious writings. He had left word with his family that, should he not return, his share of the wealth be given to various charities. He was to remain long after the family wealth had been divided after the death of his parents because he remained in his bleak retreat for an incredible sixty years.

It is said that the prolonged spiritual vigil of Mark resulted not only in his awareness of the Holy Spirit about him, blotting out the mundane completely, but he came to actually witness a physical manifestation of the Spirit. On the occasions following a fast, he is said to have received Holy Communion from a heaven-sent hand which he looked upon with his own eyes and was sanctified in life as saints are after death. The miraculous appearance of the hand, which placed the sacred spoon to his mouth, was perfectly formed, and when he looked for the rest of this angel, the arm was only visible to the elbow.

Some distance from his mountain retreat was another holy man of the desert of Egypt who is known as St. Serapion and who in a vision was instructed to go to St. Mark’s mountain, where he would be told by Mark himself the nature of his visit. Serapion made the arduous journey not without a great deal of pain and discomfort, arriving finally at the mountain peak exhausted.

After he had rested, Serapion was told by Mark that he had been sent to see to Mark’s funeral and interment. By now one hundred twenty years old, the venerable Mark had been told by his unseen visitor that his time was at hand and since there was no other living soul to a end him, Serapion would be sent to bury him. Soon afterwards, Mark died at the age of one hundred twenty-one and was given a Christian burial by Serapion who, like everyone else who knew about St. Mark the Athenian, never ceased to be amazed by the wondrous life of a man of the city of Athens who left family and friends to find the kinship of the Holy Spirit.

Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia

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