Wednesday, 21 March 2012
An Evangelion is a liturgical book used by members of certain Christian rites in their services. It contains the Gospel texts, and is generally bound in a manner that would be extremely uncommon for other kinds of books and has a very distinctive appearance.
The Gospel has traditionally held a prominent place in Christian liturgy, for perhaps obvious reasons. In some traditions, it may be venerated. Saints are also venerated in some Christian traditions, a subject of much controversy in the debate over iconoclasm. The Saint from whom my confirmation name is taken is Mark (the Evangelist).
Evangelion could roughly be translated as "good messenger," and that title would be a fitting one for Mark. The beginning of his story is a complicated one, and it could well be that over time his story has been conflated with that of another Mark, a contemporary of his. Traditionally, Mark was the one credited with compiling the preaching of Simon Peter into the Gospel of Mark.
The story of Mark involves his being a disciple of Peter and traveling a great deal after the events of what is sometimes called the Great Commission, when Jesus sent his disciples out into the world to spread the good news. He spent some time in Rome, and his writing was done for the most part in the Greek of the day, a Greek that was certainly influenced by Latin. Although his first language was probably Aramaic, which would influence much of his style and thought.
Another influence on Mark of course came from Alexandria in Egypt, the location of his See. Mark is credited by Christians in Egypt as being the first Bishop of the great city, and an important influence on their liturgy. Mark has been associated traditionally with the symbol of a winged lion holding a book that, roughly translated, says, "Peace Be Upon Mark, My Evangelist." It is possible that the symbol of a winged lion entered Christian symbolism by way of an attempt to Christianize the symbolism of other religions, specifically the lamassu. The symbol was also in use on the flag of the Republic of Venice, and has been since Venice decided to long ago up their prestige by way of association with one of the Gospel writers. His symbol is also prominently displayed on the Facade of the Basilica of St. Mark (below left) and in one of the stained glass windows of St. Mark Orcival (below right).
The Gospel of Mark is my favorite out of the four Gospels. It lacks much of the trappings of the other Synoptic Gospels in terms of tales of Jesus' conception, the journey of the Magi, etc. It is very human in character in terms of the way it presents the Apostles and contains the kind of detail to which a close eyewitness would pay attention rather than the kind of detail to which a later Christian theologian would be inclined to pay attention. In short, it seems more like the biography of Jesus as seen through the eyes of a follower. Some of the other Gospels seem to be either more theological or cultural in focus than biographical in focus.
The manner of Mark's death was as far as we can tell that of a gruesome execution, that he was dragged through the streets of Alexandria with a rope around his neck. He lives on as the legendary founder of the oft-persecuted Coptic Church in Alexandria and its first Bishop. He lives on in the Gospel he wrote from what he learned at the feet of Simon Peter. And one can hope that he lives on in Heaven, as Saints are said to do.
Is there any particular Christian Saint's life you find yourself fascinated by? Do you have a favorite Gospel?