I want to tell you a story— a love story, actually. It's the story of a bride and her Beloved. As it unfolds, you'll see that this is not your typical love story. This is not the kind of love story that you'll find on the pages of a children's fairytale, or the type that is flaunted publicly for all to see and envy. No, this love story is inconspicuous, yet, powerful— a love story for the ages. It all started 2000 years ago, with a bride seated in a familiar upper room...
The events that she had witnessed over the past few weeks were a whirlwind, to say the least. She had gone through the grief and heartache of losing her Beloved by the most violent of deaths, only to find out that He had risen three days later— just as He said. In the days that followed His resurrection, she made the most of every moment that she had with Him; they broke bread together, had breakfast by the sea together, spent hours talking together about fulfilled prophecies, and even walked for seven miles together all the way to Emmaus just enjoying one another's company. She had watched Him perform many signs, wonders, and miracles that the world itself could not contain by all the books that could be written. Their time together came to an end forty days after his resurrection, as her Beloved left once again, this time to be with the Father. Before He ascended, He left the bride with the task of spreading the Good News to all nations. She understood the significance of the task that was set before her, but found rest in the words of her Beloved: "And lo', I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
And so, here she was, seated in an upper room, waiting to receive the power of the Holy Spirit, just as her Beloved had promised. When her members were gathered altogether, a sudden sound came from heaven, and a mighty wind filled the upper room. Tongues of fire appeared to her members, sat upon each of them, and immediately she was filled with the Holy Spirit. She began speaking in foreign tongues, as the Holy Spirit gave her utterance. One of her members who was present in the room went out into the streets of Jerusalem, and with a loud voice said:
"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— [...] whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it..."
The bride gained three thousand members that day.
Shortly thereafter, that same member, who proclaimed the message of the Beloved to the people of Jerusalem, encountered a young man—but he was no stranger. A Libyan Jew in his youth, he was the son of that member's cousin. The youth's mother had hosted a number of the bride's functions in her own home in the past, but until recently, the youth had played a minor role in the bride's life. He showed enthusiasm for the Bride and her Beloved, and the member was moved to include him in the task of spreading the message of the Beloved. Sure, his young age was concerning, but the member saw something in the youth that he hadn't seen often in those he encountered— courage. He had a "lion's heart," as one would say, so the member took the youth as his travel companion. The two went out into Jerusalem and Judea to bring the message of the Beloved to a people in need of salvation. After their ministry in Jerusalem and Judea, the youth joined two of the bride's other members in their ministry in Antioch, Asia Minor, and Cyprus. The youth traveled throughout Antioch, Asia Minor, and Rome with different members in the years that followed, but eventually, he grew into adulthood. After some time, he decided it was time to embark on his own journey— a journey back to his homeland. Armed with the Holy Spirit, the member with the lion's heart set out to bring the message of the Beloved to the land of Egypt.
After trekking all the way from Rome to Alexandria, the member noticed that his sandal strap was broken. Reminded of the urgency of his mission, the member tried to ignore the pain of the broken sandal strap rubbing against his skin, and continued onwards through the Alexandrian streets. Time passed, and his pain grew worse. Just when he was just about to collapse, the member noticed a cobbler a few feet away from him. He approached the cobbler, and sure enough, he was willing to fix the member's broken footwear. Amidst the weaving and sewing, the cobbler cut his hand with an awl, and cried out, saying, "O One God!" That certainly caught the member's attention. The member miraculously healed the cobbler's wound, and presented him with the message of the Beloved. Intrigued by the member's words, the cobbler invited him to his home, where the cobbler's entire household accepted the message of the Beloved, and were baptized. That day, the member with the lion's heart planted the Bride's first seeds in the land of Egypt. From there, the Bride grew and thrived, with scores of Egyptians accepting the message of the Beloved. However, there were also many pagan Egyptians who hated the fact that the Bride was flourishing in their land, and sought to seize the member with the lion's heart. Suspicious of the pagans' rising tensions, the member decided to leave Egypt for his personal safety. Before leaving, he ordained the cobbler-member as the new bishop of Alexandria, and established a church* in a crypt where the Beloved and His family had sought refuge many years ago, so that the scripture might be fulfilled, which said,
"In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. And it will be for a sign and for a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt..." Isaiah 19:19-20
During the three years of the member's absence, the Bride flourished even further, with many Egyptians receiving salvation through the Beloved. When the member had returned to Egypt after the martyrdom of his first and second travel companions, the pagans' hate towards the Bride had festered, and spread to insufferable measures. To add fuel to the fire, the Romans also perceived the member as a political threat to their empire, and sought to kill him. In the year 68 A.D., the day of the Beloved's resurrection coincided with the pagan feast of Serapis. When the member had concluded the celebration of the Eucharist with the rest of the Bride, the pagans attacked their house of prayer, and seized the member with lion's heart. They bound him with rope, and dragged him through the streets of Alexandria. By night, he was thrown in prison, his body bloody and torn. That same night, an angel appeared to him and said,
"Now your hour has come O Mark, the good minister, to receive your recompense. Be encouraged, for your name has been written in the book of life."
The following day, he was bound with rope, tied to a horse's tail, and dragged throughout the rough and rocky streets of Alexandria, once again. His body bled, his flesh was torn, and the soul of the member with the lion's heart returned to be with its Maker– but little did they know that the message of the Beloved could not be shut up so easily. Little did they know that neither death nor life, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing could separate the Beloved from His bride. Little did they know that those who witnessed his martyrdom for the sake of the Beloved, would be so moved as to become members of the Bride. Little did they know that St. Mark's blood would be the first of millions in Egypt to be shed for the sake of the Beloved. Little did they know that the sixteen-chapter-composition that St. Mark wrote would become part of the most famous book in all of history. Little did they know that those small seeds that were planted in the land of Egypt by the member with the lion's heart so many years ago, would grow, to boast of an apostolic and universal church with a membership of over 20 million, two millennia later. Little did they know, that St. Mark's labour for the Bride would come full circle on February 15, 2015, when 21 Coptic men were martyred in Libya, St. Mark's motherland, for their unwavering faith in the Beloved.
Little did they know, that in 2017 A.D., a group of travellers from a city halfway across the world, would gather at the tomb of the youth with the lion's heart in Venice, and thank him for bringing the message of the Beloved and His bride to their motherland.
Little did those persecutors of the faith know that roughly 300 years later, an Alexandrian youth- a theological great- would stand before an entire ecumenical council, and single-handedly defend the nature of the Beloved against those seeking to separate the Beloved from His bride. Oh, how little did they know.
To Be Continued...
"Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity."
1 Timothy 4:12
*Today this altar is located in the Church of the Virgin in the Burned Monastery (Deir el-Muharraq) in Egypt.
Tomb of St. Mark in Basilica Di San Marco in Venice, Italy. Inscription on his tomb reads, "Greets you...Mark my son." 1 Peter 5: 13