Saints with Dirty Faces

Well, the Vicar’s back from Camp – we can tell because the Vicarage, beautifully cleaned, tidied and painted in her absence, is now strewn with her belongings all over again.

We’ve had a nice time with all our various guests, who have kept us well supplied with food, cuddles and entertainment.  They even tried to help us with the painting, although for some reason they seemed to think gloss paint would look better on the windowsills than in a trail of paw prints on the dining room floor.  Philistines.  We guess that what a cat considers to be artwork, a house-elf considers to be dirt.

Clearly our guests are unacquainted with the story of Saint Alexander the Charcoal Burner, whose Feast Day it is today.  Alexander was born in the 3rd Century into a rich pagan family, and was well educated; but when he converted to Christianity, he left his wealth and took a job in the city of Comana as a charcoal burner.  It was a particularly dirty and unpleasant job, and Alexander was well known to the townspeople for being exceptionally filthy and ragged.

When Saint Gregory the Wonderworker came to Comana and asked the townspeople to elect a Bishop for themselves, they suggested a number of possible candidates, all of whom were rich, influential and powerful, but none of whom were suitably qualified in terms of education, spirituality or holiness.  In the end, Gregory told them to ignore outward appearances, and present him with the most spiritual person in the city.  The townspeople lost patience with him and, as a joke, dragged forward their dirty charcoal burner.  But when Gregory interviewed Alexander, he found him to be a man of learning and prayerfulness, and promptly consecrated him as Bishop.

Alexander shepherded his people wisely for several years, until he was arrested during the persecutions under Emperor Decius and martyred (in the usual ironic fashion) by being burned alive.

S. Nikolai of Zica, a 20th Century Bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church, wrote of the Saint in his Prologue of Ohrid, composing this hymn of praise:

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.


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