Monday, February 15, 2010

Will you be my Valentine this lent?

Yesterday in church I preached about preparing for the great lent. But I also preached on Valentine’s day. Obviously one would immediately resent any relation between the two. I would agree that Valentine’s as it is celebrated now does not have much in common with lent. But before we come to an obvious conclusion, let us look at both separately.

The great lent in the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox church starts after the Sunday worship, with the wedding at Cana as the gospel reading. The lent actual starts after the evening prayer on the same day. We are initiated into the great lent with thoughts from the wedding at Cana, where Jesus turns water into wine to save the wedding attended by his mother Mary and his disciples. The act of Jesus suggests love, trust, mystery and satisfaction. The love for his mother and the love for the people makes Jesus intervene, although he himself says it is not yet his time. His mother Mary despite his disinterest maintains a deep and profound trust in him when she tells the helpers at the wedding to do as he says. What happens then is a total mystery, just as worship or qurbana is a mystery. The ordinary water turns into wine. How this happens is beyond us. Finally the chief steward tastes it and declares that it is so good. He goes on to say that usually the best is given at the beginning but in this case the best is saved for the last. The satisfaction is for those who have waited till the end!

Valentine’s day is a celebration in itself and is especially popular with young people. But the myth or even history about Valentine is quite different from what we see now. Sifting among the various stories, one which is believable is one in which the priest Valentine went against the emperor’s edict that young men should not marry because he wanted them to be in his army. The priest goes against this and encourages couples to get married. Truly by this account, it is a call to a life long commitment!

Valentine’s day now has become some kind of a pressure for girls and boys, men and women. The pressure of going out with someone and being a part of a cultural performance. But I wonder whether this is how it is meant to be. The church is helping to make people understand that love is a more permanent feature and not just some one off thing once a year. This is also why we can connect Valentine’s day and the great lent.

Of course this is not an attempt to impose something on to the younger generation. What they want to do is obviously their own decision. The church or priests like me cannot judge them based on this. But what we can do is to offer our interpretation of Valentine’s day. And at the end of it all, it won’t just be a one sided version of love and love between young couples only, but a more comprehensive definition of love and how this concept can help us. We can use the concept of Valentine’s day to understand, profess and spread love to not just young couples, but to all kinds of people, groups and dispensations. The love which is compassionate, involves trust, is a mystery and gives satisfaction for those who wait patiently.

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