Valentine's Day is often considered a day to celebrate love and romance only but only a few people truly know the meaning behind it.
"'If you asked the person in the street, 'What does Valentine's Day mean to you?' all it means is heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and a nice dinner with your beloved and sending cards and so forth,"' explains Fr. Longenecker in a video.
'"And if they did know about a Saint Valentine, they probably wouldn't realize that he was a priest in the late 3rd century in Rome who was actually martyred for the faith. Very often legends will develop from real facts. There's that little phrase in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings where he says, 'History became a legend, and legend became myth.'"
The legend of Saint Valentine is a story that is rooted in actual events. There are, in fact, numerous stories surrounding what actually happened to Valentine and all of these stories agree on a number of issues, Dr. Corne Bekker, dean of the School of Divinity at Regent University, told CBN.
"It seemed that he was born in 226 in a tiny little city called Terni in Umbria in Italy and that he was either a priest or a bishop. Valentine lived during the reign of the Emperor Claudius II, he's sometimes referred to as Claudius Gothicus. Now, this emperor did not reign for very long, maybe a year and a half," Dr. Bekker said.
Rome was a "cesspool of immoral behaviors including pedophilia and sexual promiscuity" at the time, said Dr. Bekker. The early church, during that period, "stood up for the value of a godly marriage where sexuality was channeled into its God-given boundaries and to become a witness of what enduring love could look like."
The Roman Emperor Claudius issued an official order to make marriage illegal, Bekker said. Marriage was made illegal due to the fact that Goths invaded Rome at the time, and men were needed to go to war. Being married meant having the freedom to refuse to go to the war.
"Valentine would not only convert the people, but secretly marry them so that they could indeed stay at home," Dr. Bekker said.
Valentine eventually got arrested, but while he was in jail, he presented the gospel to his jailer, a judge named Asterius, Dr. Bekker said. Asterius then challenged Valentine to prove the gospel he was preaching was true.
"Well, if this indeed is true, I want you to prove it," Asterius allegedly told Valentine, Dr. Bekker said. So the judge brought in one of his adopted daughters, who happened to be blind according to one of the legends. Valentine laid his hands upon the girl and healed her "immediately."
Dr. Bekker mentioned other legends, one of which said Valentine left a note for the girl before he was beheaded for converting people to Christ. The note was allegedly signed "Your Valentine." This eventually led to the practice of sending "valentines."
"All the legends seem to agree that Valentine was martyred on the fourteenth of February in 269," Dr. Bekker added.
Fr. Longnecker also agreed, saying "Therefore, that was the day associated with him when the church would celebrate him and thank God for his life."
"We do need to recognize that this day, the fourteenth of February, was already connected with Valentine from the fourth century, already from that time onward," says Dr. Bekker, explaining that Valentine's day did not originally start out as a romantic holiday.
"Right from the beginning, this celebration had more to do than just a celebration of romantic love. The church's commitment to Valentine to honor this example of Christian marriage and sacrifice and martyrdom and the healing of other people and the spread of the gospel was, from the beginning, a commitment to what Christian marriage could be like in our world and the message that it brings to a broken world."
Christians consider marriage as more than just the union of love between a man and a woman. For Christians, Dr. Bekker declared, "marriage is a holy parable of the love of Christ towards his church. It's a visible sermon about what holiness and purity could look like in our lives."
"We should celebrate what true sacrificial love looks like in a broken world and ultimately it should be a day that we celebrate the commitment of Christ who gave his life for his church," he added. "It should be a day of evangelism. It should be a day where we celebrate the power of true love to change our world. It is a Christian holiday."