Saint Valentine, the patron saint of love, is celebrated by the Catholic Church every February 14 as a reminder of affection between romantic partners, friends, and family.
But where did this celebration come from, and how does it relate to the ancient Greeks?
The history of Saint Valentine and the connection with Greek history, mythology, and Greek Orthodox religion are fascinating and complex.
Saint Valentine was a Christian priest who lived in the 3rd century AD. According to legend, he defied the Roman emperor Claudius II by performing secret marriages for soldiers who were forbidden to marry by the emperor. This led to Saint Valentine being imprisoned and ultimately executed for his beliefs. He was declared a saint by the Catholic Church, and his feast day was celebrated on February 14 in memory of his sacrifice and bravery.
However, the connection with love and romance is not solely rooted in the story of Saint Valentine. The ancient Greeks also had a significant influence on our modern understanding of love and its importance in life. Greek mythology, in particular, played a role in shaping our ideas of love and relationships. The Greeks worshipped Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, who was said to bring happiness and joy to those who experienced love. In Greek mythology, there are many tales of love and romantic relationships, such as the story of Eros and Psyche, which taught the importance of trust, selflessness, and sacrifice in love.
The Greek Orthodox religion also holds a significant place in the celebration of love even though it does not celebrate Saint Valentine on February 14 regardless of how many Greek couples choose to marry on this day.
The Orthodox Church’s veneration of Saint Valentine remains immutable and in opposition of the Papacy’s move to discard the memory of Saint Valentine’s martyrdom in the face of commerce and frivolity. Orthodoxy honours Saint Valentine, the Presbyter from Rome, for his martyrdom as a model of the “Christed way of life” on July 6.
However, Greece has its own saint as a patron of lovers, celebrated on August 17.
In Crete, Saint Hyacinth is especially revered for his love and compassion, always ready to offer guidance and support to those in need. He was also known for his kindness and generosity, especially to the poor and the sick.
On this day, couples who are seeking to deepen their love and commitment to one another often turn to Saint Hyacinth for his guidance and intercession. They may exchange gifts and tokens of their love, and participate in religious celebrations in honor of the saint.
In addition to his role as the patron saint of love, Saint Hyacinth is also remembered for his wisdom and strength of character. Aside from a protector and guide for eros (romantic love), he is seen as a role model for all who seek to deepen their relationship with god with selfless devotion.
The celebration, of Saint Valentine is a mix of Christian and pre-Abrahamic Greek influences, that has gained great momentum in the modern world in spite of the eastern and western church division.
From the bravery and sacrifice of Saint Valentine to the myths and legends of the ancient Greeks, the connection between Greek history, mythology, and Christianity has had a lasting impact on our understanding of love.
Whether we celebrate it with a romantic dinner, a heartfelt card, or a marriage ceremony, Saint Valentine’s Day remains a special occasion that brings people together in the spirit of love and affection.
Although it can be a challenging time for those who are alone, it is important to remember that this day is about celebrating love in all its forms, not just romantic love. Focusing on self-love, helping others, connecting with friends and family, practicing gratitude, and finding a community, you can make this day and any day a celebration.