Saint Mark the Evangelist, one of the seventy apostles and the writer of one of the four Gospels, was born in Libya three years after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Saint Mark’s house was where the Lord met with His disciples, and where He celebrated the Passover and Last Supper with them. The Apostles also gathered in his house when the Holy Spirit descended upon them on the day of Pentecost. The house of Saint Mark is therefore well known in all Apostolic Churches as the first church in the world.
HIS FIRST MISSION TO EGYPT
When Saint Mark entered and walked through the streets of Alexandria in Egypt, he tore his sandals and wanted to have them fixed. He went to a local cobbler, Ananias. As he was fixing Saint Mark’s shoes, his finger was cut by the awl and he cried out saying “O the One God!” Saint Mark healed Ananias’ finger and then talked to him about who the “One God,” Jesus Christ. Ananias invited Saint Mark to his house and had his entire family baptized. Other began to believe as well and Ananias’s house became the meeting place for the faithful Christians.
In 62 AD, Saint Mark left Egypt to go to Pentapolis and visit the new believers there. He ordained Ananias a bishop, and founded a church in the Crypt where the Holy Family had taken refuge when they were in Egypt during the time of persecution under King Herod.
HIS SECOND MISSION AND MARTYRDOM
When Saint Mark returned to Egypt after the martyrdom of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, he found the church had grown and so he ordained three priests and seven deacons to assist Ananias. Saint Mark continued to preach against the local pagan gods, stirring the hatred of non-believers. In 68 AD, as Saint Mark was administering the Liturgy on Easter day, pagans were celebrating a feast for one of their gods. The pagans attacked the church that Saint Mark was praying in, captured him, and dragged him in the streets of the city. He was thrown into a prison, where an angel appeared to him, strengthening him. The next day he was dragged through the streets again and eventually martyred. Saint Mark is considered the first Patriarch, or Pope, of the Coptic church, a chain that has remained unbroken to this day.
But by the end of the 2nd century, Christianity was well established in Egypt. By 190 AD, the Church of Alexandria had forty dioceses under the Patriarch of Alexandria.
CHURCH OF MARTYRS
As the Church grew in Egypt, it became known as the Church of martyrs. Beginning in the year 202 AD under the reign of Septimus Severus, the church suffered severe repression and persecution, with the influential School of Alexandria forced to close, and its dean, Saint Clement forced to flee. The repression towards Christianity continued under the reign of the Roman Emperor Decus who issued an edict to reesetablish the state pagan religion at any cost. In 257 AD, Emperor Valerian issued edicts to destroy the church, Pope Dionysius was arrested and sent to exile.
In 302 AD, the Roman Emperor Diocletian began what was to be the most severe persecution towards Christians. He dismissed every soldier in the army who refused to worship the Roman gods. Determined to crush Christianity in Egypt, 800,000 men, women, and children were martyred for their belief in Jesus Christ.
In commemoration of these martyrs, the Coptic Church begins its calendar from 284 AD, the year that Emperor Diolcletian became the Emperor. The Coptic calendar is known as the “Year of the Martyrs” (or anno martyrii, AM) with 2004 as the year 1720-1721 AM. Saint Mina is one of those who gave up his life because of his faith.
THE SCHOOL OF ALEXANDRIA
Long before the establishment of Christianity in Egypt, Alexandria was famous for her various schools, among which was the "Museum," the greatest philosophical school in the East, containing in its library between two hundred thousand and half a million books and manuscripts. It was a unique centre of a brilliant intellectual life where Egyptian, Greek and Jewish cultures were taught.
As recorded by Saint Jerome, Saint Mark himself founded the School of Alexandria. He established the School for the teaching of Christianity in order to provide it as a firm foundation for the city. In time, the school became very famous; it was the oldest centre of sacred sciences in the history of Christianity. Many prominent bishops from different parts of the world were instructed there, and it introduced into the world many scholars and saints, such as Athenagoras, Clement, Saint Dionysius, Saint Peter the Seal of Martyrs, Saint Didymus the Blind, and the great scholar Origen, who was active in the field of commentary and the comparative study of the Bible.
The metaphorical way of commentary, with its deep spiritual meanings, began in Egypt. Origen composed over 6,000 commentaries of the Bible in addition to his famous Hexapala. The School rivalled the Museum and attracted and converted some of its philosophers who later became church leaders.
Of the many influential leaders of the School of Alexandria, Saint Athanasius was one of the most important Deans of the school. At the first Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 AD, Saint Athanasius, at the time, a 20 year old deacon, defended the Orthodox Christian faith from the heresy of Arianism. Arius was a priest from Libya who denied the Divinity of Christ and taught that the our Lord had been created within time. The council refuted Arius' heresy, affirmed the Nicene, or Athaniasian, Creed of Faith, which is still used in part or in whole by almost all Churches of the East and West, until this day. Saint Athansius also wrote a series of four books defending the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Chirst, called the Contra Arianus. Saint Athanasius became the Patriarch of Alexandria in 328 AD and remained Pope for 46 years, 17 of which were spent in exile on account of his vigorous opposition to the spreading of Arianism, which had the support of certain emperors.