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?