Tuesday, August 11, 2009

August 11th: St. Alexander the Charcoal Burner

My job requires me to interact closely with a lot of people, many of whom are...well...dirty and smelly. So when I took a look at the saints for today, I was struck by the story of St. Alexander the Charcoal Burner, who was known for being exceptionally filthy.

St. Alexander was a good-looking and highly learned young man of the mid-3rd century who converted to Christianity. In order to separate himself completely from his pagan roots, hide from the world and escape the occasions of sin, Alexander moved away from home to the town of Comana in Pontus, Asia Minor, and worked as a charcoal-burner. He was looked upon as being of no account because of his lowly occupation, which earned him just enough to eke out a meager living, and because he was always ragged and dirty.

Meanwhile, the Christians of Comana arrived at the point where they needed a bishop, so they appealed to St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, Bishop of Neocaesarea, to send them a shepherd. St. Gregory came to Comana and advised the people to choose as their bishop a man of virtue, regardless of outward appearances. The worldly-minded townspeople laughingly brought forward ragged Alexander as a candidate for the bishopric. Alexander tried unsuccessfully to get out of being chosen, but St. Gregory, seeing through the dirt and the rags, ordered Alexander to be bathed and clothed in Gregory's own episcopal robes. He made a good and wise bishop, beloved by his flock, and was martyred during the persecutions of Diocletian in 275.

May St. Alexander the Charcoal Burner intercede on behalf of me and all my clients, and obtain for us cleanliness of heart (if not of body).

Hymn in Praise of St. Alexander the Charcoal Burner

Men look upon clothes and the face,
But God looks at the soul and the heart.
Glorious Alexander, a charcoal-burner, was,
With the charcoal-burner, the body is blackened
And from soot, which water cleanses,
In the sinner, the heart is darkened
Which only the fire of faith can cleanse
The fire of faith and the cry of repentance.
It is easier to cleanse the skin of a charcoal-burner
Than the blackened heart of a sinner.
Alexander, with humility, covered
In a cave concealed, as a hidden flame
For laughter, to the gullible world, he was.
The world did not see; Gregory saw,
With an acute spirit, the charcoal-burner discerned
And in him, found a saint,
In the dark cave, a beautiful flame,
Beneath the mask of insanity, great wisdom,
Beneath the dirty soot, a pure heart,
A royal soul in decayed rags.
That the light be hidden, the Lord does not permit,
At the appropriate time, the light proclaims,
For the benefit and salvation of men.
All is wonderful, what God judges.


  1. I guess he can also be the patron saint of anti-"global warming" hysteria!

  2. There's something we have in common. I also have to interact frequently with dirty, smelly people. Oh, well, we can always rub Vicks Vapour Rub under our noses if it gets real bad!

  3. I've tried Vick's Vapo Rub...it doesn't work for me. :(

  4. This is my son, Alexander's patronal feastday saint!
    We had so many Alexander's in the Butler Book of Saints to choose from when he was born and we chose this one.

  5. This is my son, Alexander's patronal feastday saint!
    We had so many Alexander's in the Butler Book of Saints to choose from when he was born and we chose this one.

  6. Teresa, thank you for reminding me of St. Alexander the Charcoal Burner, about whom I had forgotten in the four years since I posted this!

  7. I like it. Here's my appreciation of Alexander: