St. Mark the Anchorite of Athens of Mount Trache (ca. 400)
Commemorated on April 5
The Life and Spiritual Endeavors of our Righteous Father
St. Mark the Anchorite of Athens,
Who Lived and Struggled on the Mountain of Thrace
in the Desert Which is Beyond the Herjaians
Most men are surrendered unto Satan and run after wealth and other things of this life. But there are a few who believe with simplicity in the words of Christ. And again among these are found a few who go and live far away from the world, struggling and walking their whole life on the narrow and arduous goat’s trail which our Lord showed us. They go to the desert and seek to find the hidden door of Paradise. These blessed men are not mistaken, but rather know well where their ancient Fatherland is found.
There were in old Egypt two holy fathers who lived deep in the desert. One was named John and the other was named Serapion. They lived a quiet life at this place, forgotten by all, and they thought that no other ascetic had withdrawn farther into the desert and they praised God.
One night they reclined to sleep and St. Serapion saw in his sleep that two venerable elders stood over him and said, “How many years you have been at this desert and do not know the inner desert which is the door of Ethopia? The Mountain of Thrace is found there, and on this mountain struggles St. Mark, an elder in deep age, one hundred and thirty years old, who has not seen man for ninety-five years. There is no other ascetic, who has reached the heights which this saint has reached. And in forty days he rests.”
When the day dawned, Abba Serapion related his dream to Abba John. And he answered him, “From God is your dream. But where is this Mountain of Thrace found?” And Abba Serapion said, “Bless me, holy elder, and God will open the way before me.
He walked towards Alexandria and reached this great city in five days, covering double the distance than the camel, which is called hampsini, walking day and night, or better yet, flying in his joy like the camelbird. In Alexandria he met a merchant, one of those who travel to far away places, and asked him to learn where the Mountain of Thrace is found. And the merchang answered, “There is much road to cover, my Abba Father: from the great sea to the Hetjaians. I know that one goes in twenty days, otherwise by land thirty days are required or even more.”
Abba Serapion took therefore a few dates with him and a little water in a water-squash, said his prayers and took to the road. He walked on that hot desert for twenty days as if he were walking on lighted coals. But the Lord Who refreshed the three Children in the Fiery Furnace covered Abba Serapion, and he was not pierced by the flaming darts of the sun which scorch even the earth in those parts. He saw neither beast nor bird, nor even an ant, nor any other living thing, nor grass, because rain never falls on that land.
On the twentieth day the water that he had in the water-squash came to an end, and he fell, near death. Whereupon he saw again the two elders standing before him, and one of them gave him a certain root from a tree and said, “Take this root and go with the strength of God.” Then they showed him the way and disappeared. And immediately he woke up and went towards the direction they had showed him.
He walked seven days on a certain desert even more frightening than the first, and he licked the root which he held in his hand in order to satisfy his thirst, until he reached a very high mountain, and under the mountain he saw a great sea. And he started to climb for another seven days, and on the seventh day, night caught him before a cave. And he went close to the mouth of the cave and heard Saint Mark praying in the cave and saying, “A thousand years O Lord, are in Thine eyes like the day that has passed, like yesterday.*”
And when he had finished saying the Psalter, he began to say, “Blessed1 is your soul Abba Mark, for it has not been soiled with the mud of this world. Blessed is your body, for it has not been polluted by the unclean desires of the never satisfied flesh.
Blessed are your eyes, for the devil has not been able to lead them astray in order to look upon strange faces. Blessed are your ears, for they did not hear the women who are the sirens of this vain world.
Blessed are your hands, for they did not touch the false things which men love. Blessed is your nose, for it was not filled with perfumes of the devil. Blessed are your feet, for they did not walk in a sinful and accursed path. Blessed is your heart, for you did not cause sorrow to anyone, nor did anyone weep for you.”
After this, he said again, “Glorify, O my soul, the Lord and all that is in me His Holy Name. May you forever be blessed, O Lord. Why are you grieved, O my soul? Do not fear. You shall not be held by the aerial custom houses.”2
And after he began to say: “Lord, you tested me and came to know me. You understood my thoughts, and know from afar all that I put into my mind. You laid out the path which I tread. Lord, you know all things, the latest and the ancient. You molded me at put Your hand upon me. My bone, which You created in secret, is not hidden form You, and Your eyes saw me who am nothing. Everyone will be written in your book, none will be forgotten.
“‘Lord, You shall light my lantern, You shall light my darkness, You brought Your eyes to rest upon my humility, You rescued my soul from wants. And I said, ‘I will hold fast to the ways of my Lord, and shall not fall into sin.’
‘’Lord, You made known unto me my end, and the number of my days. All are false and fleeting, and man who lives in this world, like a painting passes and fates, and whoever does not lean upon You, Lord, Who art glorified unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
And after he said many other things from the Old Testament and the Gospels, he came out to the mouth of the cave and cried out with tears, “Abba Serapion.” And Abba Serapion answered him wuth fear, “Bless me, elder,” and St. Mark said, “The peace of Christ be upon you. Come draw near me, my child.” And Abba Serapion went close to him and bowed low before him. And St. Mark said to him, “May the Lord give you your reward, my child, on the day of the Judgement, because you suffered many hardships to come to this barren place for me, the forsaken one.”
And the entered the cave and sat in darkness. And St. Mark said again, “Ninety-five years it has been that I have not seen a man and now I see your holy face.”
And Abba Serapion asked him, “Tell me, holy elder, how did you come to this cave?” And St. Mark said answered, “I was born, my son, in Athens, a Greek idolater. My parents put me to study and become a philosopher as the false people of my country become. But God had mercy on me and I became a Christian and was baptized, and put off the old man from me as a snake sheds its skin. My parents died, and I said, ‘I too am a mortal man like my fathers. What profit to me this false world?’ I got up, therefore, and left the world to those who love it and by the grace of God came to Alexandria. From Alexandria I went out onto the sand and walked many days and many nights until I reached a big and sinful city. From here I left and passed much sand and reach a great building full of idols, which they call Amanta. After this I walked some days upon parched earth that had never known the smell of water, and reached a place, which is called ouaho, and by the Greeks oasis, with water and many trees, and wild men living there. I saw that I was still close to men even as I had been in the world, and I walked many days and nights with a yearning to reach a place where there was no man. I walked in a great pit and saw petrified trees, but man I did not see until I reached the mountains of Zambrach close to the sea. From there, I walked forty days being guided by God, and finally reached this place, and my feet brought me straight to this cave without my governing them. For ninety-five years I have not seen man, nor even beast, nor bird, and I have not eaten bread or worn clothes. For thirty years I lived with much plight and privation, with hunger and thirst, and the snares of the devil. I ate, my child, earth from my great hunger, and from great thirst I drank water from the sea. For twenty years I was naked like Adam. The demons would drag me down to the sea to drown me, and would cry out, ‘Go away from our place, monk. From the beginning of the world no man set foot here, and now, how did you dare to come?’ And I endured twenty years hungry and naked, and the compassion of the Lord made the nature of my body change and hairs grew all over my flesh, and an angel brought me to eat, and I saw the angels come near me, and I beheld the celestial kingdom and the monasteries where the souls of the saints rest.”
And as St. mark was talking the night went by, and it became dawn, and Abba Serapion saw the body of St. Mark covered with dense hair as if he were a beast, and fear overcame him and he was terrified, for he did not have a human appearance, and one could not distinguish that he was a man except for the voice that came from his mouth.
And St. Mark said, “Do not be afraid, my child, of the appearance of this body, for it is temporary. Instead tell me, does the world still stand and blossom according to its ancient manner?” And Abba Serapion answered, “Yes, Father, with the grace of Christ even more so than before the world exists and blossoms to this day.” And Abba Mark said again, “Is there still persecution, and are there Greek idolaters?”
And Abba Serapion answered, ‘“May God have glory, by the prayers of the saints, the persecutions against Christians have ceased-*’
And the elder rejoiced and asked again, “Are there to be found in the world today certain saints who are able to work miracles and wonders? And who have works according to the faith of Christ, as it is written in the Gospels, that if you have faith as a mustard seed you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from your place and fall into the sea* and it will do so?'”
And as St. Mark was saying this, the mountain which was above them moved and went toward the sea. And the saint picked up his head, and seeing the mountain moving, he hit the stone with his hand said, “I did not say to you move, soulless mountain, which art more obedient than man. Remain in your place!” And it stood in its place and Abba Serapion fell down and St. Mark picked him up and asked, “Have you not seen such a miracle in your days?” And St. Serapion answered, “No elder!” And St. Mark sighed and wept and said, “Woe unto the world, because there are Christians in name only, and not according to their works. Blessed be God who brought me to this place so that I would not die in my country and be buried in earth which s desecrated by many sins.”
And the day drew to an end and St. Mark said, “My child Serapion, it is time that we make agape.” And he spread his hands and prayed. And they entered the cave and beheld a table and upon it a loaf of bread that was still hot and two broiled fish, and greens and olives and dates and a pitcher of water. And they sat. And St. Mark said, “Give the blessing,” and immediately a hand appeared and blessed the table. And St. Mark said, “Bless, O Lord, the food and drink, now and forever and unto the ages of ages.”
And when they finished, St. Mark made thanksgiving and said, “We thank you, Master, for the blessings which You give to Your unworthy slaves. The rich of the earth have become poor and have hungered, whereas those who seek the Lord shall not be denied of all goods unto the ages of ages.” And immediately the table disappeared even as it had been set.
And St. Mark said to Abba Serapion, “Do you see, my child, how much God loves his own?” And he became silent. After a long time he opened his mouth and said, “Today, my child, ends the measure of my life, and the Lord sent you to bury with hour holy hands my forsaken body.” And he did not say another word all day.
Towards sunset, he said to Abba Serapion, “Brother, suffer with me that we may keep a vigil this night.”
And they chanted from the Psalter, and St. Mark changed as if he had a book before him without every having learned the letters of the Church. He chanted sorrowfully and humbly and said, “They did not keep the Testament of the Lord and they did not wish to abide by His law. They tempted God in their hearts, and asked Him to give them food to eat. They spoke illy of God and said, ‘Will God be able to set a table in the desert?’ And He rained manna for them to eat, and He gave them the bread of Heaven. The bread of angels did man eat, He sent them food that they might be filled.”
And he chanted sadly, “Do not surrender unto beasts a soul which confesses unto You its sins. The souls of the poor do not forget, O Lord.”
And again he chanted sadly, “God is in His place which is sanctified. He put those to sit in His House who live desolate and without kin.”
And again he chanted sadly, “God looked down from Heaven over the people to see if there be anyone among them, who with Knowledge seeks from God to help him.”
And again he chanted sadly, “These things did I put with my mind, and refreshing water sprang in my soul, and I understood with a gladdening voice as if a joyous festival were heard, that I would go rest in a marvelous tent in the House of God. Why are you sad, O my soul? And why do you trouble me?”
And again he chanted sadly, “And I put into my mouth a new song, a hymn unto God.”
And again he chanted sadly, “I shall bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall be forever in my mouth. The Lord shall commend my soul. Let the meek hear it and be glad.”
And again he chanted sadly, “A voice of rejoicing and salvation is heard in the tents of the just. Open, ye doors of justice, that I may enter and confess myself unto the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord and through it the just shall enter.”
And finishing the Psalter, St. Mark turned to Abba Serapion and said, “Brother Serapion, bury my body in this cave and seal the entrance with stones. Then leave so that you shall not remain in this place.”
And Abba Serapion began to weep, and Abba Mark said, “Do not weep my son, today, which is the day of my joy. God, Who showed you he way to come, shall likewise show you the way to return to your obedience, but you shall not return by the road which you came. Brother Serapion, this day is the greatest day of all the days of my life. Today my soul leaves my diseased body, and goes to rest from its toils and from sin.”
And as he was saying these words, the cave was filled with a light brighter than the sun, and the mountain filled with a fragrance. And St. Mark took the hand of Abba Serapion and began to say:
“Farewel,3 O cave, wherein I passed my life, and said my prayers, and tamed my body. You again shall keep it secure until the terrible day when all men shall be resurrected.
Farewell, my body also, the house wherein I sat so many years with struggles and pains. Lord, unto You I surrender it, because for You it suffered hunger, and thirst and cold and heat and nakedness. Clothe it, Lord, with an incorruptible and glorious garment on the frightful day of Your Parousia.
Farewell, my eyes, which I tired with so many all-night prayers and unrelenting vigils.
Farewell, kind animals, innocent trees and plants, flying clouds, wind which blows from the north, and from the south, and from the gulf, and from the sands.
“Farewell, the four blessed and good ends of the earth.
“Farewell, athletes and anchorites and eremites who sleep in the canyons and mountains.
“Farewell, O mountain which covered and hid me so many years.
“Farewell, desert also, speechless and cruel beast which tenderly protected me from the wild world.
“Rejoice, O Church of Christ and the whole universe!”
And having said these words, he knelt and lifted up his hands and said, “LordI Lord! Protect and cover Your world, hide its sinful works from Your eyes!”
Then he got up and embraced Abba Serapion and said, “Farewell to you also, Brother Serapion. May Christ give you your reward for the hardships which you suffered for me, on the day of His Appearance. I beseech you, my son, in the name of God, not to take anything from my body, not even one hair. Do not dress my body with clothes nor cover it, but rather let the hair with which the Lord has dressed me be my shroud.”
And when he ceased talking, a voice was heard from Heaven saying, “Bring Me the champion of the desert, the pillar of patience, My blessed and faithful servant. Mark! Mark! come to rest in the place of justice.” And St. Mar said to Abba Serapion, “My brother Serapion, let us kneel.” And they knelt, and a voice was heard saying to someone else, “Open your bosom.”
And Abba Serapion got up and turned and saw the soul of St. Mark dressed in a white garment, carried by angels and saints, being taken to Heaven. And the roof of Heaven opened and he saw the aerial customs which wanted to grab the soul of St. Mark. And a thunderous Voice was heard which said, “Flee, spirits of darkness, before the Light.” And there was great commotion, and the soul of St. Mark was detained about one hour. And after, a Voice was heard saying, “Uplift the soul of My beloved.” And the demons were dispersed. And Abba Serapion saw a hand which reached out of Heaven and took the soul of St. Mark. And he did not see it again. And it was third hour of the night.
And Abba Serapion prayed all night. And in the morning he chanted the funeral chants over the holy body, but he neither touched it nor moved it, nor even covered it with anything.
After, he took stones and sealed the mouth of the cave and descended the mountain. And he besought God to strengthen him that he might pass the frightful desert. And when the sun was setting, he saw before him the two elders whom he had seen in his dream, and they said, “Today you buried a body of which the whole world is not worthy. Come with us and we shall walk all night, so that you will not lose your strength from the heat of the day.” And the three walked together until morning. And in the morning, they said, “Go with the blessing of God.” And they disappeared from his eyes.
And Abba Serapion walked a little farther and turned his eyes and saw that he was standing before the door of the church, at the cell of his obedience. And he marvelled, and remembered the words which were said to him by St. Mark, “You shall not return by the road which you came.” And he glorified the Lord.
And Abba John heard his voice and came out of his cell and said, “Welcome back, Abba Serapion.” And they entered the church and glorified God.
And Abba John said to Abba Serapion, “Brother, he was a true Christian. We are Christians in name only, whereas by our actions we are not in the least. Glory be to God, Who deems us worthy to see His saints.” Amen.
1. The Greek word used here is makarios i.e., happy, fortunate. The whole passage is known among Orthodox ascetics as the Beatitudes of the Senses.
2. The teaching of the Church concerning ihe aerial custom houses is very ancient and is based on Holy Scripture aod the revelations of the Holy Fathers, Some identify it wiih the partial judgement. Mention of it is made many times in the Octoechos and other liturgical texts. The most detailed account is in a homily of St. Makarios the Great of Egypt found_ in the end of his Fifty Homilies (see Greek editions). Below is an excerpt from the Life of St Anthony by St Athanasius the Great: “Once when he was about to eat having risen up to pray about the ninth hour, he perceived that he was caught up in the spirit, and, wonderful to tell, he stood and saw himself, as it were, from outside himself, and that he was ted in the air by certain ones. Next certain loathesome and terrible beings stood in the air and wished to hinder him from passing through. But when his guides opposed them, saing
The Lord hath wiped out the sins from his birth, but from the time that he became a monk, and devoted himself to God, it is permitted you to make a reckoning. Then when they accused him and could not convict him, his way was free and unhindered. And immediately he saw himself, as it were, coming and standing by himself, and again he was Anthony as before. Then forgetful of eating, he remained the rest of the day and through the whole night groaning and praying. For he was astonished when he saw against what mighty opponents our wrestling is, and by what labors we have to pass through the air. And he remembered that this is what the Apostle said, accordini to the prince of the air(Eph. 2,2 ) For in it the enemy has power to fight and to attempt to hinder those who pass through. Wherefore most earnestly he exhorted, Take up the whole armor of God, That ye may he ahle to withstand the evil (Eph 6,13), that the enemy, having no evil thing to say Against us, may he ashamed (Tit. 2. 8).
3. The word used here in Greek is i.f., “save thyself.’ It seems, that in the early day of the Church this expression was used at parting instead of “farewell,’ even as to this day in all Orthodox monasteries the greeting used is evlogeite i.e., *’bless ye,’ benedicite, whereupon the other answers o Kyrios, i.e.,, “the Lord (bless you).’
The Orthodox Word, 1966 Vol. 2, No. I , January – February – March, pp3-13, by the Farher Herman Brotherhood
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
With the rivers of your tears, you have made the barren desert fertile. Through sighs of sorrow from deep within you, your labors have borne fruit a hundred-fold. By your miracles you have become a light, shining upon the world. O Mark, our Holy Father, pray to Christ our God, to save our souls.
In Tone VIII:
Spec. Mel.: The Martyrs of the Lord.
A holy, precious, divine and radiant lamp * is not left hidden under the bushel of life, * rather, the Lover of mankind elevates him unto a high summit * through the gift of miracles; * by his intercessions O Christ grant unto Thy people great mercy.
In Tone IV:
Spec. Mel.: Speedily prevent.
Vanquishing the fleshly subtlety of the passions through fasting, * thou didst make the weaker subject unto the better, * O most glorious Father Mark, / and thereby destroyed the wily scheming of the demons. * In the brilliant radiance of thy virtues thou didst shine forth in the world * as a beacon of divine light; * Wherefore we ever hymn thee.