Two important feasts fall in February. The first is the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple (2 February). This feast is, in fact, defined as a “Holy Day,” i.e., a feast of Our Lord as opposed to a saint. “Presentation” was known until the 1979 prayer book as “The Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary” (see Luke 2.22-38), and is known popularly as “Candlemas”. The popular name derives from the tradition of blessing candles for use throughout the church year on this day, this tradition probably deriving from the Christian supplantation of the Anglo-Saxon pagan practice of bearing torches on this day in honor of the earth goddess, Ceres.
The second important feast is that of St. Matthias the Apostle (24 February). When the apostles met and prayed in the nine days between Jesus’ ascension and the day of Pentecost, St. Matthias was selected to replace Judas Iscariot. This story is found at Acts 1.21-22, which tells us nothing more about Matthias. Traditionally, Matthias is remembered as an example to Christians of one whose faithful companionship with Jesus qualifies him to be a suitable witness to the resurrection of our Lord, and one whose service is unheralded and unsung.
Matthias is reputed to have died a martyr. On 5 February we remember the Martyrs of Japan (1597), who were killed when the ruling shogun concluded that the establishment by Jesuits of a thriving Christian community in Nagasaki posed a threat to his rule. The center for Christian life in Japan has remained Nagasaki, despite the fact that most Christians were killed in the 16th century persecution and the community then suffered from nuclear attack in the twentieth century. Alongside this Catholic community, the Protestant missionary efforts which followed the opening on Japan to foreigners after 1853 have planted a lively Christian presence throughout the Chrysanthemum Kingdom.
Another Anglo-Saxon day that has become associated with a Christian saint is 14 February, St. Valentine’s day (which is not on the Church Calendar). St. Valentine was a third century martyr in Rome, and his life bears no connection with traditions of romantic love and betrothal. However, on the AngloSaxon calendar this was the day when birds were thought to select their mates, and the saint’s feast “baptized” this day into a Christian consciousness, furthered by the growth of the idea of romantic love in Medieval times. The Church observes 14 February as the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, apostles to the Slavs (and inventors of the Cyrillic alphabet as used in Russian).
Lesser feasts in February include that of St. Anskar (d. 865, feast 3 February), the missionary to the Nordic peoples; Bl. Absalom Jones (13 February), the first AfricanAmerican ordained (1802) a priest in the Episcopal Church; and St. Scholastica (d.543), the first Benedictine nun, is remembered on 10 February. To this day all Anglican nunneries follow some form of the Benedictine Rule.
Finally, let us not forget St. Cornelius the Centurion (Acts 10; feast 4 February), the first Gentile to be baptized; Titus, Paul’s companion (6 February); and George Hebert (d. 1633; feast 27 February), an Anglican priest important in the development of a distinctive Anglican understanding of life in the Spirit, and remembered for his poetry, five poems of which are set to music in our hymnal.