He is not in our calendar, but there really was a St. Valentine!  Early sources, in fact, record two martyrs of this name, one claimed by Rome, one claimed by Terni, both martyred on the Flaminian Way.  It seems likely we’re talking about the same person, and really only fighting about who gets to claim him.

There is no known association between Valentine and lovers.  That association may have come from the February celebration of the Roman festival of Lupercalia, when boys drew the names of girls in honor of the goddess Februara Juno — since Christian holy days were often substituted for existing festivals in this way.  (This seems to have been done, for example, with Christmas and All Saints’ Day.)

And then, apparently, there is Chaucer, who suggested that birds mate on Valentine’s Day.  And there is a letter from the 1400’s in which a woman addressed her suitor (in a letter associated with this saint’s day) as “my right well beloved Valentine.”  But by 1955 (in England) this custom was “hardly more than a memory.”  Our celebration today has more to do with Hallmark than the saint.  (Just like Mother’s Day started as a protest by mothers against sending their sons off to war, and now may be THE Hallmark day.)

What we do have in our calendar is a celebration of the lives and ministries of the brothers Cyril and Methodius, missionaries to the Slavs.  Cyril created an alphabet for the slavic language (cyrillic) and began the work of translating the Bible into slavic.  Though he was the younger brother, he died many years before his brother, who continued this work.

They were caught in the politics of the day, working in an area that was in dispute between the Eastern and Western churches.  And at a time when the Western church insisted on using only Greek, Hebrew and Latin (perhaps to “own” or keep control of all scholarship in the hands of the approved experts) they were using the vernacular in their work.  They seem to have navigated these treacherous waters (though not without paying a price) and because of this they are considered patrons of ecumenism.

It is probably instructive to think about the possessive erotic love of Valentine’s Day (as we practice it) and the possessivness of the scholars in Cyril and Methodius time and to contrast it with the freely given and self giving love of Jesus.  Though of course, all love is a gift.  This is true whether we are talking the agape love (active verb) of Jesus or the erotic love (feeling) associated with romantic love.  As the song says, you lose your love when you say the word “mine.”

So I find myself wondering:  how much do we think of all the love in our lives, the feelings and the actions taken on our behalf by others, as simply gifts that we have been blessed to receive.  And how much do we think of them as possessions or things that we have earned and that are our due?

I know I fall easily into the possession trap.

I also know, really, that it can all only be received as a gift.

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