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March 29 Saint of the Day – Mark of Arethusa

On this day in 1886, Dr. John Pemberton brewed the first batch of Coca-Cola in a backyard in Atlanta, Georgia. Sadly it did not do what he wanted it to, and he had to find something else to dissolve his penny collection.

Mark of ArethusaBoth calendars today hail Mark, Bishop of Arethusa (d. ca. 362). The west had him struck from the martyrology for many centuries, partly because he disliked the word “homoousios” (and who can blame him, from a purely asthetic point of view), and partly because for many years was semi-Arian (just on his left side). But all indication is that he ultimately embraced the orthodox faith — he is ecomiumized by Theodoritus, Sozomen, and Gregory Nazianzen, and they should know. In the west the Bollandists, an association of mostly-Jesuit scholars, philologists, historians, and similar ne’er-do-wells, have rehabilitated his name. (Probably through reading Theodoritus, Sozomen, and Gregory Nazianzen.)

Theology aside, Mark was particularly good at tearing down pagan temples and replacing them with Christian churches, which pleased the Emperor (Constantius). When Constantius was killed by his brother Julius, Mark gave refuge to his son Julian, fitting him out with a wig and a false nose (or something — where sources are silent, one can but surmise). Once Julian gained the throne he returned the favor by renouncing Christianity and becoming — drumroll, please — Julian the Apostate. One of his first apostatic acts was to demand that Christians rebuild all the temples they had destroyed under his dad. The pagans in Arethusa (which is, by the way, in Syria), including some erstwhile Christians who had deconverted, thus demanded that Mark pay to rebuild their venue, a particularly resplended temple that had fallen to his wrecking ball (or fourth century equivalent). Dismayed, Mark fled for the hills and lived in hiding, but when he found out that the pagans were torturing Christians back in town in their search for him, he turned himself in.

At this point our sources diverge slightly in the wonderfully grotesque tortures that they put Mark through, many of which, we are told, were made up on the spot. (The beauty of my using multiple sources is that you can read about many more forms of torture here than in any single article I read!) Of course he lives through them all, laughing his tormentors to scorn and not minding their tortures any more than you would mind an untroublesome thing that didn’t bother you.

Ready? (Feel free to skip the next paragraph if your stomach is weaker than your curiosity.)

He was stripped, dragged by his hair, dumped in a swamp (and/or sewer), scourged, slashed with knives, bereft of his ears via linen cords (not gonna ask), stabbed by schoolboys with iron pens (Montegrappa? Namiki? sources don’t say), squeezed in a foot press, and finally smeared with honey and grease (or a kind of relish made from pickled fish) (I did not make that up) and suspended in a basket for wasps and other nasties to eat.

As was mentioned, none of this bothered him in the least, much to the dismay of the tormentors. Bizarrely, throughout all this they kept lowering the amount of money they demanded for rebuilding the temple. Like so: “Give us 1,000 solidi or the schoolboys stab you with pens.” “No.” (Stab, stab.) “Okay, give us 500 solidi or we squeeze you in a foot press.” “No.” (Squeeze, squeeze) “Okay give us 200 solidi or we smear you with pickled fish.” “No.” (Smear, smear.) And so on. But even when it got down to a single coin, he refused to pay. Finally they were overcome by his patience and fortitude and courage and endurance and three other abstract nouns, and let him go free. Many of the tormentors and onlookers became Christians themselves when they saw his patience and all those other good qualities. Later he was either pardoned or martyred by Julian, depending on whom you believe. I couldn’t find a patronage, so I hereby nominate him as the patron saint of fish picklers.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

March 29 (Wikipedia)
Coca-Cola (Wikipedia)
Mark of Arethusa (St. Patrick DC) – Main source (1 of 2)
Hieromartyr Mark the Bishop of Arethusa, who suffered under Julian the Apostate (OCA) – Main source (2 of 2)
Mark, Bishop of Arethusa (GOARCH)
Bollandist (Wikipedia)

Mark of Arethusa


About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

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