Orthodox America

  Hieromartyr Alexander, Bishop of Comana,

 August 12 

We have a tendency to form an opinion about someone on the basis of what the person looks like--the kind of clothes he's wearing, her hairstyle, fat or thin, plain or pretty. Sometimes this prejudice keeps us from discovering a person's hidden qualities and even from making friends with those who may have a real treasure in their hearts The next time we find ourselves making such a judgment, let's try to bring to mind the following Life of Saint Alexander of Comana.


In the city of Comana, or Cuma, near Neocaesarea there lived in the third century a pious man by the name of Alexander. He seemed to be simple and uneducated; he lived in poverty, barely supporting himself by selling coal at the marketplace. Seeing him always in ragged clothing, his face and hands black with coal, many scorned him; even children made fun of Alexander the coalman. Indeed, this was the only name by which he was known there m the city. In fact, however, Alexander had received an advanced education; his wisdom and learning could have gained him great respect among the people if he had desired to reveal his talents. But out of love for God he had chosen a poor and humble life. He bore patiently everyone's scorn, and only the Lord knew his good deeds and superior wisdom. Alexander served Him in deep humility, but it pleased the Lord to raise up his servant for the benefit of many.

      The bishop of Comana died and a new bishop had to be chosen. The citizens of the city invited the holy St. Gregory the Wonderworker, Bishop of Neocaesarea, and asked his help in choosing a pastor. Having gathered for this important business, the clergy and people began to vote for those who seemed to be worthy to be bishop. The names set forth were primarily well-known people, learned, eloquent speakers, etc. But the hierarch did not voice his approval, as if he were waiting for a sign from above. He reminded those present how the Lord chose David to rule as king, looking not at external merits but at the heart. "Man looks at the face," he said, "but the Lord looks at the heart, judging not by a man's outwards merits, but by what is hidden in his heart. Let us likewise try not to pay attention to externals but to seek what God has prepared."

       Among those present, some didn't care for this advice. They laughingly said to one another, "If one disregards outward appearances, why not elect Alexander the coalman to be bishop?!"

       Many found this idea amusing, but Bishop Gregory thought to himself, Is this not perhaps a sign from God that this name has been brought up? "Who is this Alexander?" he asked. "I'd like to see him." Alexander was found to be standing there in the crowd, and he was brought to the bishop. As usual, he was dressed in a tattered shirt, and covered from head to toe with coal dust. The sight of him provoked a gale of laughter, but Alexander stood before the bishop, calm and quiet, paying no attention to the reaction of the crowd. The Holy Spirit revealed to St. Gregory that God's grace rested upon this humble man. Motioning Alexander to follow him outside, the bishop had a private talk with him in which he learned the truth--that Alexander was in reality a wise and learned man who, out of love for the Lord and for the sake of Christian humility, had chosen for himself a life of labor and poverty. The bishop told him to wash and put on a clean garment. Meanwhile, he returned to the assembly and began a discussion on the Holy Scriptures.

       Soon Alexander appeared. The people barely recognized him: he was wearing clean clothes, and his face, washed of soot, was handsome and intelligent When the hierarch turned to him with some questions concerning the Scriptures, Alexander astonished the people with his wise answers. Many felt ashamed that for so long they had considered him to be an ignoramus and had treated him so badly. With one accord they asked that Alexander be consecrated bishop. He was raised up through the ecclesiastical ranks and very soon was made a bishop by St. Gregory. His first homily profoundly moved everyone’s heart, and all the citizens of Comana, filled with joy, thanked God for having granted them such a pastor.

      Bishop Gregory returned to Neocaesarea and Alexander began to guide the Church of Comana, teaching his flock by word and good deeds. His sermons were simple, yet filled with divine wisdom. He wasn't concerned with delivering beautiful orations, but tried to set forth the rules of the Christian faith in words which everyone could understand. In all his teachings one could sense the grace of the Holy Spirit It was said that once a certain learned man laughed at the simplicity of the bishops words, but afterwards he saw in a vision a flock of white doves, shining with unearthly light, and heard a voice which said to him, "Such are the words of the bishop Alexander at whom you laugh'  The learned man repented and asked the holy bishop's forgiveness.

       During Diocletian's persecution of Christians, Bishop Alexander was brought before a tribunal. By admonishments and tortures they tried to make him denounce Christ. But their attempts were in vain. Seeing the bishop's steadfastness, they sentenced him to death and cast him into a furnace.

       St. Alexander is commemorated by the Church on August 12. 

(An adapted translation from Selected Lives of Saints compiled by A.N Bakhmetova, Moscow, 1872)