In our Western world and culture, February 14th is Valentine’s Day, a day given to honor romantic love known in Greek as eros. It is called Valentine’s day, but not too long ago, it was still called St. Valentine’s day. According to legend, and there are conflicting legends, St. Valentine was a Christian priest who was imprisoned and later martyred for his faith. Like St. Paul, though in prison he bore bold witness to his faith. He preached of Jesus Christ to his captor the judge Asterios. The judge, in disbelief, challenged him to heal his blind daughter. This the saint did by calling upon the Lord Jesus Christ and laying hands upon her. For this reason, he is known as a miracle worker.
Encouraging the sacrament of marriage
How he came to be associated with romantic love is perhaps a fluke of history but it may begin with the fact that as a priest, and a ierapostolic priest, he encouraged young Christian couples to marry, as opposed to just living together. This went against the culture of his time, and lead to the conversion of many who having been attracted to a Christian partner now, through the preaching and ministrations of St. Valentine, willingly accepted Christian baptism, marriage and full incorporation into the Christian Church and life at the side of their Christian spouse. In his preaching, consistent with the Christian gospel, St. Valentine encouraged couples not to put a priority on passions of the flesh which withers and fades but to submit themselves and their marriages to the standard and virtue of a higher and eternal love. He preached to those young couples not eros love, which is the love of longing that we most associate with sexual and erotic love, but indeed agape love. Agape is that unconditional love that is best expressed by the love of God for man that we see in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
Agape vs Eros
This was a radical message then and it turns out to be a radical message today as well. The gospel that he preached was a gospel of love. But we mustn’t forget that it was also a gospel of martyric love a love that was willing to be put to the test, and willing even to die so that the authentic Gospel not be diluted or diminished in any way. How ironic that a saint who preached agape love and the value of Christian marriage is now seen as the patron of erotic love and sexual excess.
One small note to ponder: The traditional heart that we associate with valentines, could it be the form of two halos meeting and overlapping in the embrace of two saints? Think about it.
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