This year will be 560 years since the repose of the holy father and confessor Mark Eugenikos, archbishop of Ephesus.
St. Mark (nee Emmanuel), was born of pious parents in 1392 in the queen of cities, Constantinople. His father was called George and was the Chief Justice of Sakellion and deacon of the Great Church, his mother was Maria, the daughter of the pious doctor Luka.
Both parents tried and succeeded in raising little Emmanuel in teaching and upbringing in the Lord. But the death of their father left him and his younger brother John orphans at a tender age.
His first letters, the saint learnt from his father George, who had a famous private school. After the death of his father, his mother sent him to continue his studies to the then most famous teachers, John Cartasmeno (later Metropolitan Ignatius of Selmyria) and the mathematician and philosopher George Gemiston Plithona. Among his classmates was the later sworn enemy Bissarion the Cardinal.
Teacher and Monk
When the young Emmanuel completed his studies he assumed the administration of the patristic school and soon was recognized as the brightest teacher of the declining city. Among his students who later excelled were George Gennadius Scollarius, the first Patriarch following the fall of the city, Theodore Agallianus, Theophanus, Metropolitan of Midia and his brother John Eugenikos.
The divine love however, did not leave Emannuel to be carried away by the most promising teaching career not even the very friendly relationship with the emperor stopped him from denying the world and fleeing to the island of Pringiponison (princely island) Andigoni close to the famous ascetic Symeon. There he remained in a spiritual struggle for two years and then, after the Turkish assaults on the islands, he came with his elder to the fabulous monastery of St George of Magganon, in Constantinople.
Monk Mark continued in his new confession, the tough ascetic life. In the monastery of Magganon, St Mark composed almost all of the more than 100 works, that are saved to this day. Especially important are the works he wrote against the Latin leaning rivals of St Gregorius Palamas whom he respected a lot and was his model. In this monastery Mark was tonsured to the priesthood, after being pressured to do so, because he thought of himself as unworthy of such a high calling. Soon though he acquired such great spiritual fame, that many clerics and lay people wrote to him requesting his opinion on different topics.
At the Synod of Ferraras .
In 1436 and while still a Hieromonk, the Patriarch of Alexandria named him as his representative at the convened synod on the Union of Churches. The same year Emperor John Paleologos forced him to accept the Metropolitan throne of Ephesus which became vacant that year.
The emperor showed his great appreciation he nurtured for St Mark, by naming him General Exarch of the Synod. This saint was forced to follow the Patriarch and the rest of the representatives to Italy.
St Mark went to the synods with the best intentions and demonstrated his conciliatory stance with the speech he composed for the Pope, even before the start of the proceedings of the Ferrara Synod. Some Orthodox representatives, even criticized Mark for his conciliatory stance in the dialogue with Cardinal Cessarini and demanded that from then on the Metropolitan Bessarion of Nicea should speak instead.
The first topic of discussion was on purgatory. Bissarion feeling not capable of speaking (due to his inadequate theological training), let Mark to speak instead for the Orthodox, who then expressed four points of disagreement on the topic.
The crystal clear Orthodox views as presented by our saint, greatly pleased the emperor who looked forward to Mark as the lone Orthodox theologian who could easily answer the arguments of the Papists. But the theologically inadequate byzantine emperor was hopeful that the Orthodox views will prevail, not knowing that the papists would have insisted without budging from their deceits. For this reason when he saw the irrational persistence of the Latins would have sank his political agenda- namely the union of the Churches and by this, the expected papist help to confront the Turks- he began to pressure the Orthodox to follow a milder or better, a more yielding way.
The Latins began to apply their known tactics of whisperings, lies and pressures and during that time they distributed in Ferrara, hundreds of leaflets which contained 54 heretical Orthodox practices!! Seeing that the situation was worsening against the Orthodox, two of the sanctioning members of the Byzantine representation, Metropolitan Anthony of Iraklia, and Metropolitan John, first in rank to the Ecumenical throne, and brother of Mark, tried to flee from Ferrara, but were impeded by the emperor. Because John was being accompanied by his brother to the harbor, the emperor and the Patriarch fearing other attempts at fleeing, in agreement with the papist, they transferred their Synodal work from Ferrara which was close to the sea, to Florence.
When the proceedings of the synod re-started the one from Ephesus, was the main speaker of the Orthodox. The clear responses however and the reversals by the Latin false believers, caused the wrath of the Latin leaning Orthodox who with the silent consent and sufferance of the emperor, they tried to overcome Saint Mark, even distributing the information that the one from Ephesus was mad. During the conference of the Orthodox representatives, when the Metropolitan from Ephesus referred to the papists as "heretics", the Metropolitan of Lakedemon and of Mytelini insulted the Saint and tried to hit him.
Mark of Ephesus will not sign.
The Saint ascertaining that all his attempts to persuade the Orthodox not to proceed towards Union- thus becoming victims of the papists- were in vain, he stopped taking active part in the proceedings of the synod.
Finally on the 5 July 1439, the union was endorsed and as reported by Syropoulos, most of the Orthodox representatives signed against their will fearful of the emperor. When the Pope asked if Mark had also signed and received a negative response he remarked orally, "well we have accomplished nothing". The arrogant and despotic Pope asked the undecided byzantine emperor to send Mark to him to be judged in front of the Synodal Court, but luckily the emperor refused.
Later on though, he begged Mark, having first received oral assurances from the Pope on his safety, that he present himself in front of the Pope to explain his position. Mark obeying the emperor's order went to the Pope. In vain the arch- heretic of the West tried to force him to accept the freakish union. When he saw that Mark remained immovable in his views, he reverted to abuses and threatened to declare him a heretic. But St Mark unintimidated responded by saying, " the synodics pass judgment on the unconvinced of the Church, but praise the ones that stood against her, yet those that preach of her and struggle for her, they call them heretics. I however do not preach my own beliefs nor have I innovated anything, nor do I stand for some strange dogma or rule but I abide to her extreme glory.
The people test Mark.
Following the treasonous union at Ferraras-Florence, the Byzantines left Italy to return to the besieged city. The emperor received St Mark on the imperial ship. After a trip of three and a half months, they finally arrived at Constantinople. There the people received them with averse feelings and tested those that signed the union but tested and honoured our saint, and as reported by his insulter, the greekolatin bishop Joseph of Methonis, "the one of Ephesus saw the crowd praising him for not signing and the crowd kneeling to him as if he were Moses and Aaron, and praised him calling him a saint". The simple people of God looked at St Mark as the lone hierarch who had the courage and capability to protect his Orthodox faith. They were already aware that quite a few who signed the union were bribed by the pope, while the hands of St Mark were clean. When the emperor decided to fill the Patriarchal throne, he sent representatives to St. Mark asking him to accept the high honour of the Patriarch, but he did not accept.
The imprisonment of the Saint in Limnos
The 4th of May 1440 Saint Mark was forced to flee from the Royal City, because his life was in danger and to go to his metropolitan area, Ephesus, that was under the Turks. There having shepherded for a short while his sane flock, he was forced again, now due to the Turks and unionists, to leave Ephesus and board a ship destined for the Holy Mountain, where he decided to live the rest of his life. However when the ship made a stop at Limnos, the Saint was recognized and arrested under imperial order and was imprisoned there for two years. During this period of imprisonment he suffered greatly, but as he wrote to the Hieromonk Theophanis of Evia "the word of God and the power of truth cannot be tied down, instead it proceeds and prospers and most of the brothers encouraged by my exile check the scamps and transgressors of the true faith.
From Limnos the Saint sent his superb encyclical epistle for all people around the world and the Orthodox Christians who lived on the islands. With this he severely rebuked those Orthodox who accepted the union and with uncompromising facts proved that the Latins are innovators and because of this he says, "as they are heretics we turned ourselves away and for this we separated. The Saint then invites the believers to avoid the unionists because they are false apostles and crafty servants".
Continuation of the struggle from the Magganon monastery.
After he was released from prison, Saint Mark, because of his sickness, he could not withdraw to the Holy Mountain, but returned to the monastery in Constantinople where he was received by the people with honours as a saint and confessor. From the monastery of St George of Magganon, the new confessor directed the struggle against the unionists, writing letters to the monks and clerics, encouraging them to hold onto the true faith and not to cooperate with the unionists. The persecutions, the despising and the pressures worsened the state of health of the holy father, so that on the 23rd June 1444 having called by his side his spiritual children and passed on the leadership of the anti union struggle, he departed to the Lord. He was 52 years old.
Honours for the Saint after his repose
Immediately following his holy repose, Mark was honoured as saint and confessor. Thus testifies with pain, his contemporary and sworn enemy Joseph, the uniate bishop of Methonis by saying, "Among many and divers, even the one called Palamas and Mark of Ephesus, people not only stopped but inundated them with glorious words, while being deplete of any virtue and holiness, only because they spoke and wrote against the Latins, you glorify and praise them and you depict them with icons and feast and hold them as saints and you venerate them".
The first service in honour of the saint was given by his brother John, the philosopher. In the beginning he was commemorated on June 23, but later it was changed to January 19- the day the relics of the saint were transferred to the monastery of Lazarus in Galata. The struggles of Mark as well as of his student Gennadius were recognized and justified by the great synod of Constantinople that was concluded in 1484 and recorded their names as holy fathers in the Synodic of Orthodoxy.