St Alban’s Episcopal Church
Tuesday, February 14, 2023
Why St Valentine?
Who was Valentine?
Well, we know. And we don’t know. It is popular these days to dismiss as fictitious the names and deeds of people in antiquity, especially the saints, since rarely did any of them leave much hard evidence of their lives. And yet, in truth, neither will we. Those 20,000 humans who died in the earthquake in Turkey/Syria were real, but disappeared without a trace – and in many cases without anyone’s memories. And if one is remembered, and celebrated for his goodness, who is there to believe the stories? Most of us won’t be remembered for 50 years after our deaths. And if we are, the stories our grandchildren will tell may or may not be factually “accurate.” I am pretty sure none of us will be in anybody’s memories or stories in 100 years. Let alone 1700+ years!But in reality, stories of the holy women and men who were almost never powerful or wealthy, whose strength lay in their sacrificial love – which was told and retold, perhaps embellished, and which strengthened others to love as they did – continue to be told hundreds of years after their deaths.
The Valentine we know most about died in 270 AD. Another, or perhaps the same one whose stories got confused, was martyred outside the city for the crime of marrying Christian couples – some of them Roman soldiers whose conversion was already illegal – during times of persecution.
Valentinus means “worthy”, or “valorous” or “strong.” And there were many men who bore that name between about 200-800 AD.
The memories passed down about Valentine, like Alban, our own patron, are both real and true and impossible to prove. And stories get added to in the retelling. But we don’t care. Or shouldn’t. It amuses me when the children or grandchildren “mess up” some story about my life – but it doesn’t matter, and I rarely correct them, because what they are telling is “true” – that is, they are remembering my stubbornness, or my love for them, or my adventurous past – or my awkwardness or my passion for God – and those are true.
People remembered the saints, even those very early ones, because what is true is that they died defying the empire – They died breaking the law of earthly rulers who claimed unlimited power over the lives of people – They suffered for Love – following God – and in love. At cost – often of their very lives. They were “worthy” of remembrance.