Will the Real St. Valentine Please Stand Up?
Cancel your plans for February 14!
As many of us prepare to celebrate Valentine’s day this coming Sunday, I thought it would be nice to explore a little bit of the day’s history. As we might expect from our experience with Christmas, the celebration of this secularized holiday bears very little resemblance to the Church’s memory of this great saint. For starters, the date is wrong! The Orthodox Church actually remembers three saints by the name of Valentinos, all three of them martyrs. Two of them are commemorated in July, and the third in April. Thankfully, it is much easier to get a reservation in July, so feel free to shift your Valentine’s day celebration in order to skip the crowds! Still want to celebrate on Sunday? Read on to learn more about all three Saint Valentines.
Three Different Valentines
Who are these Valentines that are remembered in the Orthodox Church, and which one is associated with this late winter holiday? This is not an easy question to answer. First of all, only one of these Valentines is mentioned in The Great Synaxaristes, which is the primary saints-lives reference book used by those in the Greek Orthodox tradition. The other two are attested to in The Prologue of Ohrid, a book of Russian origin.
April 24 – The Valentine remembered on this date was martyred with his fellow soldier, Pasikrates, and is the only one mentioned in both The Prologue of Ohrid and The Great Synaxaristes. Their story is a compelling account of bravery in the face of martyrdom. Unfortunately, this cannot be the Valentine for whom we are searching, as these two soldiers for Christ contested in Moesia, modern day Bulgaria. We need to find a Roman Valentine.
July 30 – On this day, we commemorate Valentine, the bishop of Interamna, modern day Terni, in Italy. Terni is just over a hundred kilometers from Rome, so it is not outlandish to associate this saint with that city. Bishop Valentine healed the son of a famous Roman tutor named Craton. In response to this miraculous healing, Craton, along with his household and several of his students, were baptized. As a result, the bishop’s fame spread throughout the region, and many were converting to Christianity, including the son of the city prefect, Abundius. When Abundius openly confessed to be a Christian, the wrath of the prefect fell on Bishop Valentine, and he was tortured and eventually beheaded.
July 6 – We commemorate Valentine the Presbyter of Rome on this day, a day quite distant from the fourteenth of February. The martyrdom of this roman priest is commemorated along with the martyrdoms of Martha, Marinus, Audifax, Habakkuk, Cyrenus, and Asterius, all of whom were beheaded by order of the emperor Claudius II in the year 269. Unfortunately, that’s all the information we are given about this saint in our sources. However, it is this saint who is thought to be the same Valentine who is celebrated by the West on the fourteenth of February.
From Martyrdom to Romance
None of the above stories sound particularly romantic. How did we come to associate a beheading with gifts of flowers and chocolates? The story goes that this priest from Rome enraged the emperor by ignoring the imperial decree that did not allow men to marry unless they had first fulfilled their military obligations. Saint Valentine believed in the sanctity and importance of marriage to such a degree that he was willing to die to uphold the importance of this holy sacrament.
Because of the cause of his martyrdom, the later association of this day with the celebration of love and romance was a natural fit. It appears that the first person to make this connection was Geoffrey Chaucer in his work, “Parliament of Foules.” This poem states that the fourteenth of February is the day on which the birds choose their mate, and links courtly acts of love to the commemoration of St. Valentine.
For us as Orthodox Christians, any day dedicated to the celebration of love provides us with the opportunity to contemplate on the many aspects of love revealed to us by Christ, His saints, and the Holy Scriptures. Since the communion of marriage, the true setting for human romance, is a reflection of Christ’s communion with His Church, it is especially fitting that this year we can begin this feast by partaking of the holy eucharist, communing with Christ and the members of His body, at the Divine Liturgy.
Perhaps this year our sightings of Cupid, the Roman name for Eros, will remind us of the importance of passionately desiring God, and spur us on to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
“St. Valentine beheaded.” This Day in History – February 14. History.com. Accessed February 11, 2015
Elizabeth Hanes. “6 Surprising Facts About St. Valentine.” History in the Headlines. History.com. Accessed February 11, 2015
Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou. “The Historical and Orthodox Saint Valentine.” blogs.goarch.org. Accessed February 11, 2015
“Martyr Valentine in Moesia, Bulgaria.” The Lives of the Saints – April 24. oca.org. Accessed February 11, 2015
“Martyr Valentinus the Presbyter and those with him at Rome.” The Lives of the Saints – July 6. oca.org. Accessed February 11, 2015
“Hieromartyr Valentine the Bishop of Interamna, Terni in Italy.” The Lives of the Saints – July 30. oca.org. Accessed February 11, 2015
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