St. Mark was from the tribe of Levi and was a disciple of Saint Peter. Peter closes his first letter: "The church that is in Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you: and so doth my son Mark." (1 Peter 5, 13)
St. Peter instructed him in the Christian Faith and baptized him. He followed Peter to Rome and preached the Gospel with him there. St. Mark wrote the life of Our Lord according to the accounts of St. Peter who, after examining his work, testified that it was perfectly exact and approved it to be read by all the faithful. His is first Gospel to be written.
The Gospel (Luke X, 1-9) is as on February 6, for the feast of St. Titus, with the narrative of the calling and sending forth of the seventy-two disciples by Our Lord. In all probability Mark was not of this number, but being called afterwards to fellowship with Paul, Barnabas, and, later, with Peter, he also nobly fulfilled the duties of the Apostolate.
Modern historians have claimed to get a glimpse in the Holy Scriptures of a certain timidity in the character of Mark. When on the evening on which Jesus was made a prisoner, the young man Mark, suddenly aroused from sleep, had gone out into the street wrapped only in a large linen sheet and was arrested, he, struck with fear, swiftly threw off the sheet and escaped naked from the hands of the soldiers. “Then his disciples leaving him, all fled away. And a certain young man followed him, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and they laid hold on him. But he, casting off the linen cloth, fled from them naked.” (Mark 14:50-52)
This incident must certainly have alarmed him, and in boldness and was more adapted for working faithfully in a subordinate position than for assuming the responsibility of venturesome enterprises.
Having been brought up in an honourable family at Jerusalem, and having lived among the apostles, when he accompanied his cousin Barnabas and Paul on their first apostolic mission to Pamphylia, the youthful Mark ended by losing courage in face of the daring zeal of the two Jewish missionaries, who, in a pagan country, held free intercourse with the Gentiles scorned by the Torah, and admitted them to a share in the inheritance of the sons of Abraham. In these circumstances Mark felt that his hour for serving in the vanguard has not as yet come; so, taking leave of the two missionaries, he returned to the quiet harbour of Jerusalem. “Paul and Barnabas continued at Antioch, teaching and preaching, with many others, the word of the Lord. And after some days, Paul said to Barnabas: Let us return and visit our brethren in all the cities wherein we have preached the word of the Lord, to see how they do. And Barnabas would have taken with them John also, that was surnamed Mark; But Paul desired that he (as having departed from them out of Pamphylia, and not gone with them to the work) might not be received. And there arose a dissension, so that they departed one from another; and Barnabas indeed taking Mark, sailed to Cyprus. But Paul choosing Silas, departed, being delivered by the brethren to the grace of God.”
Yet there was within him, although dormant, the vocation to the apostleship, consequently Mark did not feel altogether at peace in the tranquillity of the Upper Room. Some time afterwards he desired to make amends, as it were, for that which he now considered to have been a weakness, and suggested to the two apostles that he should accompany them on their second mission. This time, however, Paul, who knew that his character was not yet fully formed, fearing that his presence would be rather a hindrance than a help in the conversion of the Greeks, refused to accept him, so Mark set off for Salamina with his cousin.
When at last in 61-62, Paul is kept a prisoner at Rome, we find mark, together with the Evangelist Luke, again in the immediate surroundings of the apostle. After a brief absence in Asia Minor and at Colossae, he is recalled to Paul’s side by means of the Second Epistle to Timothy, as being a person mihi utilis in ministerium. It is evident that in those great and generous minds the momentary disagreement between Paul, Barnabas, and his cousin had left no trace.
During the journey of Paul to Spain, Mark remained at Rome, and acted as interpreter to Peter, whose teaching he afterwards wrote down at the request of the faithful. After the martyrdom of the two apostles, an old tradition asserts that Mark went to Alexandria, where, at the beginning of the fourth century, a sepulchral memorial of the Evangelist was to be seen.
St. Peter sent St. Mark to Alexandria, where he was the first to preach the Word of God and he established the Church there. St. Peter consecrated him Bishop of Alexandria.
When St. Mark came to preach in Alexandria it was a bestial and decadent world of Paganism. Imagine this opulent city of Alexandria when St. Mark first arrives. He is there for the first time walking through its streets, with his stately bearing, his sanctity, his spirit of recollection; he approaches a first group of people, finds them open to him, and begins to preach. Some of the wayfarers laugh at him, others are indifferent, but one here, another there, come to join the small group that is already listening to him. In a short time he has a circle of people around him. The words of St. Mark open a new perspective of eternal live. He speaks about spiritual things, of the resurrection of the body, of Heaven and eternal happiness, and also of Hell and Purgatory. He explains that there is a God who is Goodness, Justice and Wisdom Itself to whom we should pray and ask for help. He speaks about Our Lady and the Sacraments, the Holy Eucharist, Confession and the great privilege of having our sins forgiven.
People start to talk about the things they hear, about Our Lord Jesus Christ, His cross, the need to follow a way of austerity, chastity, and sanctity. Grace accompanies the words of St. Mark, and those people for the first time contemplate a completely different life. Here is a wife abandoned by her husband, there a young man whose eyes begin to open to the gross immorality of this society, further along is a drunk who stops to see what was going on. To men accustomed to the orgies of Alexandria, these topics cause contradictory reactions. One feels an irresistible attraction, and another a complete repulsion.
It came to pass when he was celebrating the feast of the Resurrection in the year 68 A.D. that the same day coincided with the great pagan celebration for the feast of the god Syrabis. Thus a multitude of pagans assembled, attacked the church at Bokalia, and forced their way in. They seized St. Mark, bound him with a thick rope, and dragged him through the streets crying, "Drag the dragon to the place of cows." They continued dragging him with severe cruelty. His flesh was torn and scattered everywhere, and the ground of the city was covered with his blood. They cast him that night into a dark prison.
The angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him: "O Mark, the good servant, rejoice, for your name has been written in the book of life, and you have been counted among the congregation of the saints." The angel disappeared, then the Lord Christ appeared to him and gave him peace. His soul rejoiced and was glad.
The next morning, the pagans took St. Mark from the prison. They tied his neck with a thick rope and did the same as the day before, dragging him over the rocks and stones. Finally, St. Mark delivered up his pure soul into the hands of God and received the crown of martyrdom.
Nevertheless, St. Mark's death did not satisfy the rage of the pagans. They gathered much firewood and prepared an inferno to burn him. The air became turbulent, and lighting and thunder broke through the sky. His assailants, who had planned to burn his body, all fled. Thus Mark’s disciples were able to collect and piously bury his remains.
After his death, his relics were sent back to Italy, so the land where he wrote his Gospel had the honour of preserving his body.
The Martyrdom of St. Mark