Not too recently, the Neos Kosmos English Edition published a rather tedious article about Valentine’s Day by a certain Nelly Skoufatoglou. The article in question, interviewed various members of Melbourne’s Greek community about how they viewed or celebrated “Valentine’s Day”. And of course one got an appreciation of differing views, most of which expressed the thought that Valentine’s Day was a rort and scam that served a commercial agenda. And many, expressed the view that it was a day that was somewhat “put on” in how people expressed their love, and it was here they cited that if they wanted to express their love, they did not need a specific day to emphasise that point to their dearly beloved.
However, it seems that the article was written with the intention to contradict the majority view of those who were interviewed. Discerning from Ms Skoufatoglou’s “historical endnote” the assertion she sought to make was that Valentine’s Day is a major Christian feast because the Roman Catholic Church recognised St Valentine the Priest-Martyr of Rome, and that as such, the day was not invented by commercial interests, therefore we should all celebrate and enjoy this particular day. The exact wording of the article’s endnote is as follows:
“*History lesson of the day:
Valentine’s Day actually stems from the story of Saint Valentine, a Roman priest who was executed by Emperor Claudius II on 14 February AD270, for performing illegal marriage ceremonies on the Roman battlefield. The emperor believed love and connubial pleasure made the soldiers want to stay alive for their wives, therefore afraid of death and war.
Saint Valentine is not an urban legend, neither was he invented by Hallmark cards, as many may think.
This celebration has become increasingly popular in Australia over the years, but how does the Greek community feel about it, since the Greek Orthodox Church has denounced this day?
The Catholic Church, though, has three more Valentine’s to celebrate. English poet Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to associate the saint with courtly love in his Parliament of Foules poem. It wasn’t until budding entrepreneur Esther Howland decided to move the tradition of handwritten V cards one step forward that printing Valentine’s Day cards turned into a business in 1847.“
Firstly, to state from an Orthodox Christian perspective that the Roman Catholic Church recognises someone as a Saint, is neither here nor there, as the heresy of Papism created the Great Schism and separated the Church of Rome from the entire body of the One Undivided and Universal Christian Church. (And this separation was affirmed in many other areas within Western Europe that were beyond the control and ecclesial jurisdiction of Rome, only when they were invaded and conquered by armies loyal to and blessed by the Roman Papacy. The blessing to such loyal armies to invade and conquer another nation came in exchange for surrendering and submitting the ecclesial authority and jurisdiction to the Church of Rome. Thus the complete separation of Western and Eastern Christendom, which found its extreme expression within the Norman invasions of Southern Italy and Britain as well as the various Crusades, particularly the First and the Fourth).
Thus for a community like the Greeks of Melbourne which is predominately Orthodox Christian, to state that the Roman Catholic Church views Valentine’s Day as a major celebration is quite baseless. Yet Ms Skoufatoglou, continues in her error by citing St Valentine’s hagiography which is a matter still in dispute, as the very account she quotes come from later writings and traditions which have been ascribed to this unknown and obscure Christian martyr. Either way, the Roman Catholic Church which she holds to be authoritative on this matter, and should by inference be binding upon Orthodox Christian peoples like the Greeks, removed St Valentine’s feastday from their main festal calendar due to the dubious nature and unreliable details of his life account as many stories and traditions have been “added on” by people throughout the ages.
Interestingly, the key person responsible for turning the commemoration of an obscure but respected Christian martyr into a “celebration of erotic love and desire”, was an obscure 17th century figure who was originally a trouble-maker and revolutionary, who later became a monk, and who got involved in matchmaking ill-matched people and even encouraging them in inappropriate relationships and lewd behaviour. Many of the stories asserting St Valentine the Priest-Martyr of Rome at the centre of matchmaking and marrying soldiers on the battlefield, were fabricated projections made by this 17th century “monk” who sought to justify his questionable actions by creating a historical and Saintly precedent. The truth is, the stories ascribed to St Valentine were based on the “ministry” of this strange and questionable monk of dubious repute.
Nevertheless, we have Ms Skoufatoglou who goes on to castigate the Greek Orthodox Church and by extension the other Eastern Orthodox Churches for issuing a series of statements regarding the modern-day celebration of Valentine’s Day. And furthermore she asserts that the Greek Orthodox Church does not commemorate the memory of this ancient and not so well known martyr Saint. Of course this is far from the truth, as his specific memory is honoured on the 6th July. Yet there is a neglect to mention that the Orthodox Church also honours other Saints by the name of Valentine or Valentina such as:
10th February: St Valentina the Martyr – (Martyred with Ennatha and Paul during the time when Firmilian was governor of Caesarea in Palestine, around 308-309AD. Her crime was to speak out against the harsh punishments meted out to a woman like Ennatha and the complete lack of legal legitmiacy behind the persecution and torture of Christians).
24th April: St Valentine the Soldier-Martyr – (Served in the Roman army, and was martyred together with his Christian brother Pasicrates during the reign of Diocletian).
24th October: St Valentine of Asia Minor – (We don’t know much about this martyr, except that he was martyred with his fellow Christian companions Mark and Sotericus, by being beaten and dragged along the ground, and that their relics were transferred to the island of Thassos).
As a final thought regarding Nelly Skoufatoglou’s article about Valentine’s Day, which clearly expresses the Westernised secular phronema that has taken root in Greece and other Othodox nations and communities, we ask:
- Why Orthodox Christian peoples are so ignorant of their own Faith or their culutural heritage and identity?
- Why are they so willing to adopt and submit uncritically to every fashion, idea or trend that comes from Western Europe and America, while abandoning their own unique traditions and civilisation?
- We could also ask why historically, amongst some our own people, we have those who seek to import and push these things upon us, holding themselves out as being innovators or modern. Things like Valentine’s Day, Communism, Fascism, Reality TV and so forth, to name a few things.
- Why do we not be modern or innovative by drawing upon our own unique approach and culture? And of course, we could ask, why do these “Westerners” seek to impose their secular cultural imperialism upon us and the rest of the world?
Whatever the case may be, we sent the following correspondence to the Neos Kosmos Newspaper commenting on the inaccuracies and misinformation presented about Valentine’s Day and the stance of the Eastern Orthodox Church in regarding this day and of St Valentine the Priest-Martyr of Rome:
MODE OF LIFE CORRESPONDENCE: “Valentine Facts of Interest”
With respects to Nelly Skoufatoglou’s article about Valentine’s day (14/2/15), there are certain things that need to be clarified regarding her history lesson endnote.
Firstly, the hagiography and manuscript evidence regarding the life of St Valentine the priest-martyr of Rome, is unclear and contradictory. What we can be certain of, is his name and where he is buried, because even the time and reason for his martyrdom are in dispute. Consequently, the Roman Catholic church removed his name in 1969 from the “General Roman Calendar” of feastdays, due to the aforementioned ambiguities of his hagiography, and thus relegating his feast to the discretion of local churches to comemmorate. Within the Eastern Orthodox Church this not so well known Saint is commemorated on the 6th July, and he is one amongst many Saints named Valentine or Valentina who are honoured within Orthodoxy.
Secondly, it was only the Church of Greece amongst other Greek and Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions that called into question the validity and nature of the present-day phenomenon of Valentine’s Day. The concern they expressed was the absence of the commemoration of St Valentine himself, and exactly how were people remembering and honouring him. They also questioned the weak link between his life (which is still a mystery to this day) with the traditions and stories that others have ascribed to him with the present-day secular customs.
The other concern that the Church of Greece had, was that Valentine’s day was another example of the imposition of Western culture, modes of behaviour and commercialism that obscure and override Greece’s and other Orthodox nations’ unique culture, identity, traditions and beliefs. On this point they were particularly concerned, as Valentine’s day in its current form, not only seeks to promote a commercialist agenda, but promotes a crass and shallow sense of love based on mere show, erotocism and emotionalism rather than on substance and authenticity.
Consequently, the Church of Greece reiterated Orthodoxy;’s stance regarding love as not something confined to one specific day of the year, but an ongoing, lifelong reality which we must manifest everyday, and show towards all peoples without qualifications or conditions. And that this is even moreso for those who are married, as the Orthodox wedding service highlights and even cites regarding the fruit of the couple’s union, their children.
To this effect, the Church of Greece designated the feast of Sts Priscilla and Aquila (13 February) as a paradigm for an “Orthodox Valentine’s Day”. The choice of this married couple who are Saints of the Orthodox Church, was not only due to the reliability and details of their hagiography unlike Valentine the priest-martyr of Rome, but to emphasise the qualities of love that Priscilla and Aquinas had towards each other and towards others.
Their story without doubt is an inspiration within the desert of today’s extreme egotistical, shallow, narcissitic, self-centered and self-motivated individualist culture. This couple endured illness, expulsion, persecution, poverty, joy, hard work and much more together. And they extended this genuine love that they had for each other, towards other people without preference or condition via hospitality, charity and community service. All without the expectation of that love being reciprocated, nor with the expectation of gaining converts for Christ, but as an example of what God’s love within the world is and what love between two people truly should be.
VM on behalf of Mode of Life Project