According to the most common narrative, Saint 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. In defiance of imperial edict, Valentine continued to unite and bless Christian couples, which were legally barred from marrying. Saint Valentine was eventually arrested, thrown into prison and sentenced to death.
In our lives, it is unlikely that we will ever face a life or death situation for the sake of love; however, we are likely to be presented with many situations requiring the sacrifice of our wants for the wants of another. But let’s get back to Saint Valentine, who, in spite of his incarceration and death sentence, remained steadfast and positive. Many young people came to the prison to visit him. They threw flowers and notes up to his window, wanting him to know that they, too, believed in love. One of these young people was the daughter of the prison guard, who allowed her to frequently visit him in his cell. On the day Valentine was to be executed, he left her a note thanking her for her friendship and loyalty. He signed it, “Love from your Valentine.” That note started the custom of exchanging love notes on Valentine’s Day. It was written on the day he died, February 14, 269 A.D. The life of Saint Valentine reminds us that love is a sacrificial commitment, not something that one just falls into as the romantic songs suggest. Love also makes us vulnerable, and vulnerability can evoke fear.
If we have been hurt by love or have ever experienced a painful breakup, we may experience feelings and thoughts to never want to be in a relationship again. A broken heart and pained soul may want to give up on love altogether; however it is prudent to pause and consider a valuable reason to give love another shot. Our hurt and tears clear the fog around our heart and illumine our soul, manifesting our highest, most sacred and loving self, for God is love and the source of love. In spite of the vulnerability and potential for emotional pain, it is by loving that we experience God’s presence and become even more whole.
For Orthodox Christians, Saint Valentine’s Day is most fully understood as a celebration of sacramental love and of God’s unconditional love. Indeed, Saint 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.