Aug 12, 2011

Charcoal Burner

I love reading accounts of the lives of the saints. In the Orthodox Church, a number of such saints are venerated (honored) each day of the year, and there are online resources that pull up the readings for every day. Today is the first time I have read the story behind Alexander, Bishop of Comana. What a sober reminder to not  judge others by how they appear on the outside.

Hieromartyr Alexander, Bishop of Comana (3rd c.)

"He lived in the town of Comana* near Neocaesarea as a simple charcoal-burner**. When the Bishop of Comana died, St. Gregory of Neocaesarea, the Wonderworker, was invited to preside over the Council to choose a new bishop. At the Council there were both clergy and laymen. They were unable to come to agreement on one person, estimating the candidates they selected according to their outward worth and behavior. St. Gregory told them that they must not give so much weight to the outward impression as to the soul and the spiritual aptitude. Then some wag called out mockingly: 'Then let's choose Alexander the charcoal-burner as bishop!', and there was general laughter. St. Gregory asked who this Alexander was.

St. Alexander of Comana
Thinking that his name would not have come up before the Council except by the providence of God, he commanded that he be brought. Being a charcoal-burner, he was black with soot and in rags, and his appearance provoked further mirth in the Council. Then Gregory took him aside and asked him to tell the truth about himself. Alexander told him that he had been a Greek philosopher, enjoying great honor and position, but that he had set it all aside, demeaned himself and made himself as a fool for Christ from the time that he had read and understood the Holy Scriptures.

Gregory commanded that he be bathed and clad in new clothes, then went into the Council with him and, before them all, began to examine him in the Scriptures. All were filled with amazement at the wisdom and grace of Alexander's words, and were quite unable to recognize the former charcoal-burner in this wise man. With one voice, they chose him as bishop, and he received the love of his flock for his holiness, his wisdom and his goodness. He died a martyr for Christ under Diocletian." (Prologue)

* Comana was located in the northern part of what is now known as Turkey.
** One whose job it was to make charcoal from wood