Entries with tag feast days .

The Historical and Orthodox Saint Valentine

Now a commercialized holiday celebrating modern Western courtship and romance, the ancient Christian origins of Saint Valentine’s Day are largely forgotten.  The actual Orthodox liturgical Feast Days of Valentinos (Greek)/Valentinus (Latin) commemorate two Early Christian saints, Saint Valentine the Presbyter of Rome (July 6) and Hieromartyr Valentine the Bishop of Intermna (Terni), Italy (July 30).  Although the historical records for these two saints are not complete, and what we do know about their lives has often been subjected to considerable confusion, their martyrdoms are well known to us.  Because of their refusal to renounce their faith in Christ, both Valentines were imprisoned, tortured, and executed around 270, during the persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor, Claudius II.

Because they shared the same name, were contemporaries, resided near each other in central Italy, and ultimately, shared similar fates, the two Valentines’ personal histories were intermingled and conflated over the centuries, producing inconsistencies and puzzlement in many accounts of their lives.  What most sources indicate, however, is that Bishop Valentine was renowned during his lifetime as a healer of the sick and blind, while Valentine the Presbyter would become notable in the historical memory of Christians, originally both Eastern and Western, as a courageous steward of marriage.  Indeed, because of his connection to the sacrament of marriage, it would be the latter Valentine, the Presbyter from Rome, who would serve as the inspiration for the Late Medieval Western literary foundations for what would by the nineteenth century evolve into today’s popular, secular Valentine’s Day.

According to the most common narrative, Presbyter Valentine, a priest in Rome, drew the ire of Emperor Claudius by ignoring the imperial ban against allowing men who had not fulfilled their military obligations to the Empire to marry.  Remaining loyal to his moral commitment and beliefs as a Christian priest, Valentine refused to compromise the sanctity of marriage to the will of the state.  In defiance of imperial edict, Valentine continued to unite and bless Christian couples, which were legally barred from marrying.  This association with young Christian beloveds became the muse over several centuries for an increasingly fictionalized, romantic expropriation and reconstruction of Saint Valentine in the West, one that has led to the modern Saint Valentine’s Day.  Indeed, the memory of Saint Valentine became so distorted and uncertain over the centuries, that the Roman Catholic Church ended its commemoration and veneration—traditionally associated with mid-February in the West—of him as a calendar saint in 1969, effectively surrendering the historical Valentine to his appropriation and exploitation by Western popular culture.

As in other matters of reverence and faith, the Orthodox Church’s veneration of Saint Valentine remains immutable.  Secularization in the West accounts in large part for the Papacy’s move to discard the memory of Saint Valentine’s martyrdom in the face of commerce and frivolity, but Orthodoxy still honors Saint Valentine, the Presbyter from Rome, for his martyrdom—and as for all its saints, the Orthodox Church honors St. Valentine as a model of the life in Christ. 

For Orthodox Christians, Saint Valentine’s Day is most fully understood as a celebration of romantic love and of God’s love.  Indeed, Valentine was willing to sacrifice his life not for Eros but in order to sanctify and make whole the union of young couples through the blessing of God’s love.  Demonstrating our love for God and reaching our fulfillment in Christ through our relationships with our spouses, families, and communities, is a way of life that is at the heart of Orthodoxy.  By living a life in emulation of Christ, Saint Valentine shared this fundamental truth of Orthodox Christianity with the world, one that is more beautiful and lasts longer than flowers and cards—it is eternal.                                        

Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou is Professor of History at Salem State University, where he teaches on the Balkans, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire.

Seeing God

It’s easy to see the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, celebrated on Feb. 2, as a lovely scene of domestic bliss. Joseph and Mary bring the newborn Jesus, now 40-days-old to the Temple. Our attention is on the family. Because the Orthodox Christian practice of the 40-day blessing of a newborn is rooted in the Feast, it’s very easy for us to make this connection. When a newborn is presented in our parishes today, all our attention is on the “beautiful baby” making his or her official first entrance into the church.

The Feast also is a significant reminder that the incarnation of the Lord, celebrated at Christmas, overturns the nature of our relationship with God Himself. At the Feast of the Presentation, we remember Simeon, who was promised by God that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, the Savior of Israel.

Many figures in the Old Testament prophets asked to see God.  Look up the following passages (or have your students look them up):

Genesis 3 – Adam and Eve could only hear God’s presence as He moved about in the Garden.

Exodus 33:18-23.  Moses, the Great Moses, was denied his request to see God. The Lord said to him, “man shall not see me and live.” But God allowed Moses to see his back as He passed by.

1 Kings 19:9-13 – Elijah experiences God in the “still small voice.”

Isaiah 6:1-7 – Isaiah has a vision of God on His throne and realizes that he is a sinful man.

In the Incarnation, at the Nativity and now in the Feast of Presentation, Wise Men, Shepherds and now Simeon and Anna see the Lord face to face. And Simeon holds God incarnate in his arms.  What a reversal! What a paradox!

From this moment on, it is possible to say we have seen God "face to face." --- in the icons, in the Scriptures, in the kiss of peace in the Liturgy, in Holy Communion, and as Christ Himself would eventually teach us, in our neighbor, in the "least of our brothers and sisters" (Matthew 25:40).

The Summer Feasts

The Summer Feasts

With Pentecost on the horizon on June 23 and the Feast of All Saints (which closes the Pentecostarion, the liturgical book in use from Pascha) and the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29 and the Feast of the Holy Apostles on June 30, our attention should begin to be drawn to the summer feasts.  Because much of parish life slows down during the summer, we might miss these important celebrations in the liturgical year.

The Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Synaxis of the Holy Apostles

First, there is no Apostles Fast this year because the week after Pentecost is a fast-free week.

In the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul we remember the two great saints and “founders” of the Church. Their preaching and missionary witness establishes Christianity and begins its reach throughout the Roman world, and ultimately beyond. The lives and work of Sts. Peter and Paul are connected and thus the Church connects them in the Feast.

The Feast of the Holy Apostles is a “synaxis” – after many important feast days of the Church, the day after the Feast commemorates a figure – in this case a group – connected to the Feast. For example, the day after Theophany/Epiphany is the Feast of St. John the Baptist.  By commemorating the Holy Apostles after the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, we are invited to remember the ministry of all the Apostles throughout the world.

The two Feasts are tied to Pentecost. The Holy Spirit filled the Apostles empowering them to preach the Gospel and establish the Church.

The Transfiguration, August 6.

This is one of the great Feasts of the Church. Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-12, and Luke 9:28-36 all describe the event (interestingly the Gospel of John does not tell the story). The Transfiguration was an important event in the life of Christ, for in it He revealed Himself fully – God and human – to the disciples. And it also reveals the ultimate transformation of all creation when Christ returns.

The Dormition Fast, August 1-15

August 15 is traditionally identified as the day of the Falling Asleep of the Theotokos. This date for the Feast was established during the reign of Emperor Maurice (582-602 AD), although we do not know the actual date. On this feast, we remember the death of the Virgin Mary and her translation into heaven.

The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, August 29.

A strict fast day (the best reason I was given for the strictness of this fast day is that St. John the Baptist was killed in the context of a banquet, see Matthew 14:1-12)

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