Sunday, February 12, 2017

Happy St. Valentine's Day!

By Stephen Wilson

MOSCOW -- "I think it is good thing to celebrate Saint Valentine's Day' as people can express their love for each other by giving presents, flowers and sending cards to each other. What is more, the shops look more beautiful when they are adorned with ribbons and balloons.
I don't see this celebration as bad in anyway', stated a young manager and teacher,the cheerful, lively and astute Olga Avgustan.
A beaming Russian school girl called Anna , 19, informed me : " Everyone in my class got a Valentine's Day card. The boys organised it in such away that every school girl received a card." Those were just a few of the positive comments I heard from young people. They would appear to vindicate the
research of past surveys of Russian attitudes to Saint Valentine's day , which indicate a rising trend amongst Russian youth who see nothing wrong, unpatriotic or immoral about this celebration. Past Surveys by Superjob research centre (2011-2012 ) found a rise from 37% to 39 % of Russians prepared celebrate this day. However, the survey found that almost half the population would not support it for all kinds of reasons , such as 'Our culture does not benefit from such foreign holidays' and some prefer to celebrate : ' The Day of Family , Love and Loyalty' or better known as 'The Day of Saint Fevronia , the Orthodox Patron of Marriage, on the 8th of June. Since this was only declared an official holiday in 2007 not many Russians are aware of it. However, some pragmatists do anything not to miss a
celebration: whether Soviet, Western or Orthodox !
Some Russians have informed me that they fear their own Russian customs and celebrations are beng undermined by the intrusive encroachment of western influence. A Russian informed me : " Many years ago very few Russians would go to restaurants or pubs to meet each on a social occasion. Instead, they would invite their friends home and have a special meal prepared. Now, it is the fashion to eat out".
In fact, during the 1990's , the people who visited restaurants were often viewed as 'criminals' or 'gangsters', and it was dangerous to visit such places. However, the expensive cost of food and drinks deterred most Russians from visiting those places.
A quick walk around the streets of Moscow and a brief glance at the newpapers indicates that Saint Valentine's day , as in the west, is largely a commercial project. Make love and a little money . For the first time in years, this author came across Saint Valentine's cards printed in Russian. I never had to embark on a long search. In my local bookshop, notices are hanging from the ceiling announcing how "Spring is the time of love '.
Of course, some die hard Orthodox believers oppose this celebration on the grounds it is 'a Catholic celebration' . However, if this is the really the case, how do they explain the fact that many of their own Orthodox believers are
celebrating it as well as non-Christians ? Saint Valentine's day has become so secularised in the west that it can be celebrated by just about any hopeless romantic. Are all those secular romantics secret Catholics ?
Is there anything really wrong with celebrating Saint Valentine's day ? I was informed at school, that on this day you were supposed to secretly send an unsigned letter declaring your love for someone . Part of the fun was that
nobody knew (and might never know ) who had sent the letter. In this sense, it was harmless .It was when people started to send letters as a joke or prank pretending to love someone, or making a parody of love ,as in Thomas Hardy's novel , 'Far from the Madding Crowd', that the popularity of this celebration plunged at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century.
It was only after the mass destruction of the First World war , that the celebrating resumed. So this celebration can be abused not only for commercial but cynical reasons. Some people actually don't think that people are capable of loving with real sincerity and intensity. Love seems a charade or an invented fairy tale. But if there is a lack of love in the world,
all the more reason to express, affirm and display it through wishes, flowers, presents and generous acts. We need not only Saint Peter and Fevronia but Valentine and all the other celebrations to encourage rather than dampen down the fire of love.
One of the saddest things about the education system, in Russia , and in Britain, is that very few teachers ever teach their children the art of loving. They don't even consider this a priority. The nature of love is not even clearly defined never mind taught. Instead , people misconstrue love as being like a natural thing which just happens or is simply an emotional
state. People spontaneously 'fall in love' or 'feel a strong desire', rather than grasp that love is an active thing where the lover has to work hard, long and attentively. The lover is always helping his friend in small things , every day and never takes her for granted. The German thinker, Fromm, at least attempted to define love in his book :' The Art of 
Loving'. He maintained that the lover had to respect, take an active interest, have knowledge and actively care about the person. The lover had to also allow the loved person a degree of inner freedom and space.There was no manipulation, mind games or 'You do this for me, if I do this for you'.
The poet Robert Burns put it well be declaring that ; 'love was a form of exalted friendship.'
Saint Valentine's day ought to be a day where people can at least freely debate and discuss how to more ardently love people . We have to acknowledge that romantic love is just a stepping stone to a deeper, more purified love. This love assumes many forms : the Platonic, a mother's love , a brotherhood or family relations. For instance, it is important to raise whether there actually exists a 'maternal instinct '!
Now if you read up on the legend of Saint Peter and Fevronia of Murom, you will find that most Russians were opposed to Prince Peter marrying Fevronia because she was a simple peasant. Prince Peter had to be deeply humbled into learning to genuinely love Fevronia. Despite the fact that both of them insisted on being buried in the same coffin , the locals opposed this , and even separated them into different burial plots. However, after death they refused to be separated. Every time the locals opened their tombs they found them them together again in the common tomb.
It is worth remembering that according to Orthodox belief, people don't love each other until 'death parts them ,' but even after death ! In this sense, love is intended to break all barriers. Now maybe we love each other incompletely, partially and imperfectly. But it is never too late for any of us to learn how to love. Saint Valentine's day is not a bad time
to start !


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