Thursday, February 14, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Valentine’s Day Kills Real Love, Russian Orthodox Journal Says

Paul Goble

Baku, February 14 – Since the end of communism, religious leaders in the Russian Federation have actively discouraged their followers from observing Valentine’s Day, the Muslims because it is Christian, the Russian Orthodox because it is Catholic, and the Catholics because it is pagan.
But despite this opposition (, ad campaigns by firms seeking to profit from the sale of cards and gifts have led more Russians to celebrate the day, a development that has led some conservative writers to denounce it as an indication of the threat commercialism poses to traditional values.
The Orthodox “Radonezh” journal this week features one of these philippics. According to its authors – the article is unsigned and therefore especially authoritative – there is nothing wrong with love but there is something very wrong with the cult of love this holiday now promotes (
The holiday itself may have originally been harmless, the journal suggests, but now it has been commercialized, and commercial culture has as its goal pushing “people along the path of least resistance” toward purchasing something, even if that push requires the subversion of higher values.
And in the case of this most commercialized holiday, that effort, by advancing an entirely selfish view of love, one that asks not about its purpose and object but only about self-gratification, is fully “capable of destroying genuine love and family happiness” and thus something fundamentally contrary to the teachings of the Church.
That unfortunate situation, the journal suggests, is most obvious in “romantic love” as “a commercial brand.” The typical story in a woman’s magazine, the journal continues, normally follows this script: “She is unhappy in her marriage. Her husband doesn’t love, value or understand her, and in general is a negative character.”
“How terrible that she should be tied to him! And then appears on the scene a prince/millionaire/foreign count, a personality who combines unlimited funds, a wonderful soul, and physical attractiveness, who loves her and carries her off to a beautiful place far away.”
Stories for men are just the same with only the gender of the players reversed.
But such fantasies, “Radonezh” argues, “can destroy the life of an individual just as much as alcohol can” by promoting the idea that life and love are easy and not things that human beings must work on.
Moreover, “by pursuing such romantic fantasies,” the Orthodox journal says “an individual is condemning to unhappiness both himself and all those who might be stupid enough to link their lives with his.” But many people want to believe this at least for awhile – and the commercial spirit of Valentine’s Day plays to that.
A century ago, the journal says, the forces driving people toward such fantasies were not so strong and “a love letter meant a very great deal,” while “in our time, ‘Valentine cards’ mean almost nothing.” By reducing love to “being in love” and then to flirtation, this commercialized holiday has changed human hearts into “cardboard” ones.
In Western countries, attacks on commercialism in advance of holidays like Valentine’s Day are a regular feature in many newspapers and magazines, and now, they are becoming equally prominent in parts of the post-Soviet Russian media. But in neither place are such attacks having much impact.
In Western countries, people spend millions of dollars on cards, candy and flowers, and in Russia, the number of people marking Valentine’s Day in the Western fashion continues to rise, although the initially explosive growth in this holiday’s devotees in the first post-Soviet years is beginning to slow.
According to the results of a ROMIR poll released this week, 42 percent of Russians will mark the holiday this year in some way or other, a statistically insignificant increase over the number a year ago ( But other results of that poll suggest the percentage will increase in the future.
Seventy-five percent of those aged 18 to 24 say they will mark the day, a figure that declines to 29 percent for those aged 45 to 59 and to only 13 percent of those 60 years of age and above. Moreover, Russian men are more likely to say they will do something special on Valentine’s Day than Russian women do.
Both the decline in the number of celebrants with age and the tendency of men to mark this holiday more than women are found elsewhere as well, indications depending on one’s view of the greater impact commercialization has on the young or the greater willingness of men to engage in the romantic fantasies such commercialization promotes.

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