Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
Forty days before the Triduum, the Lenten season disposes Catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery through prayer and penitential practices.
Mark of Arethusa, Bishop, d. c. 365
The emperor Constantine ended the bloody persecution of Christians and declared Christianity to be the state religion. But persecution did not end with Constantine. Some years after his death, his half-brother, Julian, became emperor in 361. While initially raised as a Christian, Julian, as a young boy, came under the influence of a pagan philosopher. When he became emperor, Julian, who came to be known as Julian the Apostate, sought to re-impose paganism as the state religion. He issued several edicts stripping Christian churches of property and ordering all towns to re-establish pagan temples for worship.
Mark, the bishop of Arethusa (in present day Syria), had gained many converts to Christianity beginning in the reign of Constantine. He demolished pagan temples and replaced them with churches. When Julian became emperor, some in Arethusa reverted to paganism and sought payment for the temples which had been destroyed. The bishop fled into hiding, but, when members of his flock were arrested and tortured, he turned himself in.
Even though he was an old man, Mark, through many tortures, refused to pay even as the demands of the pagans dwindled to near zero. “Not one coin!” His fortitude drew much admiration from those witnessing the torture that he was undergoing. Concerned with this show of approval for the bishop’s stand and worried that his death would only bring more people to his cause, the emperor pardoned him.
Having observed the steadfastness of Mark in the face of his tormentors, many pagans of Arethusa came to Mark to learn about this religion that could inspire such resolve. The bishop made many more converts to Christianity.
Saint Mark is honored primarily in the eastern and Orthodox churches on March 29.
Saint Mark's message today: It is never easy to stand up for one’s beliefs. Most of us will not have to endure torture to support our values and standards. But we can’t turn away from our faith because someone ridicules us.