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Is Valentine’s Day an Orthodox Feast Day?

People of all ages look forward every year to Valentine’s Day. A day of flowers, greeting cards and lots and lots of chocolate. Kids especially view Valentine’s Day as a “second Halloween” with all the sweet treats. We see stores, schools and homes decorated with hearts and cupids. Yet, do all these things signify what the day is all about?
 
In the year 486 AD, Pope Gelasius I established the Feast of St Valentine on February 14th. It was to honor St. Valentine of Rome who was martyred on that day in the year 286 AD. 
 
St Valentine of Rome was a presbyter who defied the imperial order of Emperor Claudius which stated: men who had not fulfilled their military obligations could not marry. The Saint married many couples who were barred from marriage per the imperial decree. 
 
The details of Valentine’s martyrdom are unclear; however, tradition holds it was related to his defiance over the imperial decree. It was his connection to the sacrament of matrimony that inspired the late Medieval Western literary foundations which led to the secular celebration of what we now know as Valentine’s Day. 
 
Thus, St Valentine of Rome gave his life in order to sanctify and make whole the union of young couples through the blessing of God’s love. This love is not eros which is physical and emotional but rather αγάπη which is self-sacrificial and self-giving. In the Orthodox Church, St Valentine of Rome is celebrated on July 6th.
 
There is also a St Valentine of Interamna who was a bishop. He too lived during the 3rd Century and was a martyr. He was known for his wonderworking, healing of maladies, particularly epilepsy. There were three pagan youths, Proculus, Ephebus and Apollonius who came to Athens to study under a known teacher named Craton. The teacher’s son, Cherimon, developed a very severe curvature of his spine. It was so bad that his head bent down to his knees. 
 
One day, Craton approached Bishop Valentine and asked him to help his son. The bishop gladly went to their home and prayed unceasingly all-night for the boy. In the morning, the boy was completely healed and after having witnessed this miracle, the entire household was baptized into the True Faith. 
 
The fame of Bishop Valentine spread throughout the city, even the Prefect’s son, Abundius, became a Christian. When the Prefect learned about this, he summonsed St Valentine to appear before him and to renounce his faith in Christ and to worship the idols. 
 
The Saint endured severe torture and imprisonment, yet, he did not waver in his faith. By the order of the Prefect, St Valentine was beheaded. Shortly after, the Saint’s three disciples were beheaded also. Abundius attempted to visit the three disciples in prison, but he was too late. Instead, he buried the three disciples next to the grave of St Valentine. The Feast of St Valentine of Interamna is celebrated on July 30th. 
 
Since the 19th Century, the celebration of St Valentine’s Day has been relatively the same as we know it today. It has been completely commercialized just like Christmas and its advertised image has nothing to do with the Feast itself. In some ways it can be justified for the cupids and hearts, since they do represent the love and romance shared in marriage between a husband and wife. 
 
Indeed, St Valentine of Rome died to safeguard the institution of marriage. Christian marriage is not all about romance but about sacrificial love.
 
It is for this reason that a couple is crowned in marriage, imitating the martyrs who sacrificed their lives for Christ. We hear at the wedding service as the newly married couple walks around the table three times: I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. Alleluia…O holy Martyr Saints, who competed well and received the crowns of laurel, intercede with the Lord for us, that His mercy come upon our souls…Glory be to You, Christ our God, the Apostles' pride and joy, exultation of the Martyr Saints, whose proclamation was the Consubstantial Trinity. 
 
Marriage is very much about sacrificial love and a husband and wife each become a martyr for the salvation of the other. This is why we hear these hymns at the wedding service and why crowns are placed upon their heads. The icon for marriage is the Bridegroom, Ο Νυμφίος which we venerate at Church during the Bridegroom services of Holy Week (Palm Sunday evening, Holy Monday and Holy Tuesday). It is an image of Christ’s Passion leading up to His Crucifixion. Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church (the faithful) is His Bride. 
 
Valentine’s Day conflates two Saints on the same day, sharing one important similarity: martyrdom. If we look at this day as one celebrating sacrificial love (αγάπη) and not eros, then we certainly are upholding what St Valentine of Rome intended. 
 
Both these men named Valentine were canonized Saints before the Great Schism (1054 AD), so they are very much venerated as Orthodox Saints. Although they each have their own feast day on separate days in July, perhaps February 14th could be the Synaxis of these Saints, the same way the Feast of the Three Hierarchs is a Synaxis (January 30th) despite each of the three having their own feast day throughout the year. St Basil is celebrated January 1st, St John Chrysostom on November 13th and January 27th and St Gregory the Theologian on January 25th. 
 
May we seek the intercessions before Christ our God, of both these great Martyrs named Valentine.
 
A Blessed and Joyous Valentine’s Day to all!
 
-John Athanasatos 
 

A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.

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