Mark II, Saint


A forty-ninth patriarch of the See of Saint Mark (799-819) (feast day: 22 Baramudah). He was an important patriarch, a fascinating individual, a master preacher, and an eminent Coptic writer. Mark’s life was closely associated with that of his predecessor, JOHN IV. As a in Alexandria, he became John’s disciple and helped his mentor in his building program as well as in his days of need, when the country was stricken by famine. Then he became a monk of in Wadi al- Natrun. Mark must have been acquainted with the Hellenistic world, since he came from Alexandria. No doubt he knew Greek, Arabic, possibly Syriac, and, of course, Coptic.

His election to the patriarchate was unanimously approved by the clergy and the bishops assembled at Alexandria, partly on account of his predecessor’s deathbed reference to him as a worthy successor. Mark fled deep into the desert because, in his humility, he considered himself unworthy of this dignity. After the governor’s approval was granted, however, Bishop Mikha’il of Misr (al-Fustat) returned to take Mark to Alexandria by force; according to the HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS, in iron chains.

Beginning with his inauguration homily after his enthronement at Alexandria, Mark demonstrated his preaching ability and his knowledge of Coptic orthodoxy in opposition to the Council of CHALCEDON. Conditions in and Alexandria improved for the Christians, as Mark was able to obtain permits to rebuild churches since he maintained a friendly relationship with the governor. The situation in the rest of Egypt is reported to have been secure, and there is evidence that people could resume renewed building activity elsewhere.

Mark cultivated friendly connections with Syria by writing a synodical epistle to Patriarch Cyriacus of Antioch, defining his Coptic Orthodox faith, and stressing the unity between their churches. More important, he successfully withstood teachings about the Eucharist in Syria by the Abrahamites, a sect so called after their leader. He also convinced the leaderless BARSANUPHIANS, or ACEPHALOI, to affiliate with the Coptic Orthodox Church, although they had been fierce adversaries of PETER III MONGUS (480-488), who had accepted the HENOTIKON (482) of Emperor Zeno. The Barsanuphians had refused to recognize any patriarchs after Peter III, but when their chiefs, George and his son Abraham, were ordained bishops by Mark, their faithful followers returned to the as well.

Mark overcame many difficulties and jealousies that surrounded him. He helped during a locust plague in the western Delta province of al-Beheira and in Alexandria. He was able to heal the sick and cast away evil spirits, although he himself suffered ill health for twelve years.

But despite his positive accomplishments, problems persisted. After the death of Caliph Abu Ja‘far Harun al-Rashid ibn al-Mahdi (786-809), Egypt became embroiled in local conflicts within his realm. Traffic was interrupted, especially to Nubia and Ethiopia. Plundering and tax collecting again intensified. Andalusian warriors brought booty to Alexandria from the islands, which dragged the city into the war movement of the eighth and ninth centuries in the Mediterranean, and the Christians participated in the fight between the Lakhmids and Andalusians, many becoming victims. During this period, Mark is said to have bought and freed about six thousand Christian captives intended for the slave market. The of the Redeemer, which had been rebuilt by him, was consumed by fire. Together with two companions, the distressed Mark left Alexandria and tried to carry on his duties in absentia.

‘Abd al-‘Aziz, governor of the eastern provinces, attempted to help him by decree. And in Syria the new Antiochene patriarch, Dionysius, defended himself against the heretical sect of the Abrahamites, for which Mark expressed pleasure in a letter to his colleague. Mark also saw the Bedouins plunder SCETIS, even taking some of the monks as prisoners.

At Nabaruh, where he resided for five years after leaving Alexandria, Mark died on 17 April 819. His coffin was placed in the village until it could be moved to Alexandria.

The literary works of Mark consist of twenty Easter epistles (festal letters) and twenty-one books of mystagogy. All were probably written in Greek and accompanied by an authentic —at least for the Easter epistles. Undoubtedly, he wrote his synodical letter to Cyriacus of Antioch in Greek.

The homily that was pronounced by Mark at his inauguration exists in Coptic. Not only is it a good example of Coptic rhetoric, but also it shows Mark’s knowledge of the Bible and other theological literature. As far as Christology is concerned, the preacher shows Christ as a real man, suffering in the body. Against ARIUS, NESTORIUS, Ibas of Edessa, THEODORUS OF MOPSUESTIA, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Nectarius, ORIGEN, and the COUNCIL OF CHALCEDON, Mark argues the unity of the divine and human nature in Christ, without any confusion.

T. Lefort (1879-1959) discovered that this homily is extant in Arabic under the name of Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 315-403). The Arabic text follows a Greek version of uncertain origin. Another version exists in Old Slavonic. Both of these differ from the Coptic texts, particularly in passages; some parts are missing, and some sections of the Coptic texts are abbreviated.

Obviously some of his Greek texts are revised for Coptic usage. It is possible that Mark made the Coptic revisions himself. Another possibility is that the famous enthronement homily was omitted from Coptic tradition and added to the Greek by an unknown person.

  • Orlandi, T. Elementi di lingua e letteratura copta, p. 111. Milan, 1970.
  • Vis, H. de. “Homélie cathédrale de Marc, patriarche d’Alexandrie.” Le Muséon 34 (1921):179-216; 35 (1922):17-39.