Tell THIS to the faithful in Russia!

Believe it or not, St. Valentine's Day was not created by the people who sell chocolates, flowers and strange jewelry. And, believe it or not, the rites that used to be celebrated in churches on Feb. 14 focused on a hero and martyr, not the alleged patron saint of lovers. Then, in 1969, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church decided to drop the feast of St. Valentine from the general calendar of the church year. There was a mini-storm of headlines at the time covering this "demotion."

But that's not what this post is about.

I just thought it would help to know some of the back story about this saint before we dig into a strange little item that's in the news right now. It seems that officials in a province of Russian are trying to put the kibosh to Valentine's Day celebrations. Thus, Reuters reports:

Not everybody in Russia is in love with Valentine's Day. Authorities in Belgorod province are urging schools and other state institutions to refrain from celebrations marking the heart-shaped holiday, seen by some conservative Russians as a unhealthy foreign phenomenon.

The initiative is part of a recent directive on "measures to provide for spiritual security," which calls on officials to ban Valentine's Day and Halloween celebrations in educational and cultural centers in the province, Russian media reported. ... The directive was signed by the Belgorod governor's top deputy and "blessed" by the province's Russian Orthodox bishop, the state-run news agency said.

In other words, some state and church authorities -- scared a bit more than normal of the West -- are tilting at a popular windmill. However, note the identity of the bishop who is involved in this story.

Which brings us to the Orthodox howler that managed to make it into a small item on the Time website. When I say that this is an "Orthodox howler" I mean that this is a mistake that will make Eastern Orthpdox folks howl and type LOL on lots of forwarded emails. You know how wacky us Orthodox folks get just before Holy Lent.

But I digress. Check out this chunk of the item that ran under the lighthearted headline, "Flowers and Candy? Nyet: Russian Province Nixes Valentine's Day." When dealing with the logic behind the canceled holiday, blogger Samantha Rollins notes:

Grigory Bolotnov, a spokesman for the Governor of Belgorod, told Bloomberg that Valentine's Day promotes "amorousness rather than love" and added that "it's designed to swell the emotions, and you know what kind of teenage liaisons happen then." Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

This move comes as part of a recent directive that aims to promote "spiritual security" in the once atheist, now Greek Orthodox nation. The directive also discourages celebrating Halloween on the grounds that the holiday is falsely spiritual. Which prompts us to ask: No love? No trick-or-treating? What will Russia say nyet to next?

Yes, you read that right. Russia was "once atheist" -- a reference to the Soviet decades, obviously -- and now it is a "Greek Orthodox nation." Right. The Greeks rode in and converted everyone a decade or so ago.

Hey Time! Tell that to the Russians. So much for a 1,000-plus years of history following the baptism of Rus in 988. So much for the bishops, priests, deacons, monks, sisters and faithful slaughtered by the Bolshevik authorities in the largest martyrdom in the history of Christianity. Click here for a handy, very minimal timeline of key Russian Orthodox dates from 988-2008.

Correction, please. In Russia, you are dealing with the Russian Orthodox Church -- not the Greeks. When in doubt, refer to the whole global communion as Eastern Orthodoxy or simply as the Orthodox Church.

Image: Icon of St. Valentine, martyr of Old Rome.

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