The headline on a timely "'Splainer" feature from Religion News Service could not be more direct: "The ‘Splainer: Who was St. Patrick, and would he drink green beer?"
You know, or think you know, St. Patrick.
The guy with the shamrock. The cultural excuse for some of the most rowdy parties in the history of humanity, anywhere on earth where there are people who have any claim to be Irish.
Allow me a moment, along those lines, for a personal note: I am about an English as one can be, in terms of family heritage. However, my patron saint is St. Brendan of Clonfert, better known as St. Brendan the Navigator, who is another great hero of Irish Christianity. So cut me some slack on this topic.
So how does one start a news-you-can-use explainer feature about someone who is famous as a cultural figure, yet not as well known as the great Christian saint that he actual is? Let's look at the RNS overture.
Hint: My major problem with this piece is right here at the top.
For Catholics, Episcopalians and some Lutherans, March 17 is the Feast Day of St. Patrick. For the rest of us, it’s St. Patrick’s Day -- a midweek excuse to party until we’re green in the face.
But who was Patrick? Did he really drive the snakes out of Ireland or use the shamrock to explain the Trinity? Why should this fifth-century priest be remembered on this day?
OK, hold it right there.
Now, as everyone knows, there are about 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. That ancient communion goes right at the top of the list, if you are talking about feast days for St. Patrick. And it's true that there are about 85 million Anglicans in the world and, here in America, the small flock of Episcopalians is still a major player when it comes to making news. When you add up the various branches of Lutheranism, you get nearly 80 million believers.
Now, who are we missing there in this list of Christian communions that honor St. Patrick?
That would be the world's second largest Christian communion, as in the various Eastern Orthodox churches. So do the Orthodox have a feast day to honor St. Patrick?
Well, what do you know. The feast day of St. Patrick of Ireland, Bishop of Armagh and Enlightener of Ireland, is (wait for it) -- March 17. Let's turn to the OrthodoxWiki site and see if this sound like the great saint and missionary that we are looking for:
Our father among the saints Patrick of Ireland, Bishop of Armagh and Enlightener of Ireland, was born a Briton. Captured and brought to Ireland as a slave, he escaped and returned home. Later, he returned to Ireland, bringing Christianity to its people. His feast day is March 17.
Saint Patrick was born around 390 (likely in 387), at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in Scotland. His name is from the Latin Patricius, meaning high-born. His parents were part of the Christian minority of Britain; his father, Calpurnius, was a deacon, "the son of Potitus, a priest, of the village Bannavem Taburniæ."
At the age of 16, he was captured during a raiding party and taken to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep. During that time, he prayed frequently and came for the first time to have a true faith in God. At age 22, he had a vision in which God told him to be prepared to leave Ireland. Soon, he escaped, walking 200 miles to a ship and returning to England. In a dream, he saw the people of Ireland calling him, "We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us."
That sounds like the man.
So why leave the Orthodox out of that list? Maybe the Episcopalians and Lutherans are better known for throwing parties (at least on this particular date) than the Russians and the Greeks? That may be true, although I think the Russians and Greeks could catch up if they tried.
I realize that people don't think "Orthodox" when they hear about St. Patrick, but the many great Celtic saints from the ages before the Great Schism of 1054 actually have a lively following among the Orthodox, especially Orthodox converts in North America. Note the copy editors: Almost all of the saints before the Great Schism are claimed by churches in the West and the East.
In fact, if you look around, you might even find a St. Patrick Orthodox Parish or two. Honest.
So there needs to be a correction in this piece, in the online file copy -- because March 17 is the feast day of St. Patrick for the Orthodox, as well.
Now, back to some interesting material in the 'Splainer. The final question asks "what did he do that would make him worthy of getting a whole day dedicated to him (plus a bunch of parades and a whole lot of green beer)?
A: Short answer: Patrick was a maverick, an iconoclast, a trailblazer. And though he was high born, he never forgot the naked shepherd boy, cold and hungry and huddling on an Irish hillside. “The imagined Patrick to me is interesting as a cultural phenomenon, but not as a breathing man of faith,” said Philip Freeman, author of “St. Patrick of Ireland.” “He suffered terribly, was tormented by self-doubt, yet he always pressed forward to spread the Gospel.” He was also the first church father to speak out against the abuse of women, especially slaves. And at a time when Christian biggies like the Apostle Paul and St. Augustine never left the boundaries of the Roman Empire, Patrick was the first missionary to people considered barbarians.
Yes, there is a key word right there near the end that should be moved much higher in this piece, maybe even above the word "beer."
You see, if you created a Mt. Rushmore to honor the greatest MISSIONARIES in the history of world Christianity, St. Patrick of Ireland would almost certainly make the cut. (I would nominate St. Nina, Equal of the Apostles and Enlightener of Georgia, as well.)
So how to end this piece in honor of this great bishop, missionary and saint? With this famous prayer, of course -- a morning prayer of St. Patrick, also called the "Lorica" or "Breastplate" of St. Patrick. I know of at least one Orthodox bishop here in America who has asked that this be chanted at his funeral someday.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.
I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.
I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.
I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.