St. Nicholas National Shrine to be completed by September 11

St. Nicholas National Shrine to be completed by September 11

St. Nicholas National Shrine to be completed by September 11

His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America on Monday expressed confidence that the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center will be completed before September 11 this year.

“The Saint Nicholas Shrine takes on a role of cenotaph for those who perished on 9/11, much as the Woman in the Hymn of Kassiani took on the role of a myrrh-bearer,” His Eminence said.

“It is an awesome responsibility and privilege to the Greek Orthodox Community, that our National Shrine would serve as a cenotaph for those who would engage it as such,” he added.

In a separate letter, Chairman Dennis Mehiel and Vice-Chairman Michael Psaros said that, despite the challenges of Covid-19, the rebuilding of the Church has continued unabated since the restart on site in August 2020.

“The complexity of this building cannot be overstated. The combination of light, stone (Pentelic Marble), and glass will result in an extraordinary glow on the exterior at night, and an ethereal translucence on the interior during the day. Combined with a full scale program of traditional Byzantine Iconography executed by one of the masters of Mount Athos, the Saint Nicholas Shrine will be a national and indeed, international, focal point for our Orthodox Christian Faith,” they said.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the worldwide leader of Orthodox Christianity, will also officiate the ceremony, which is scheduled to take place on November 2.

On 9/11 in 2001, two planes flew into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, tragically killing 2,977 innocent people, including 37 Greek Americans.

As the Twin Towers horrifically collapsed from the impact, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Manhattan was also buried. St. Nicholas was the only other building besides the Twin Towers completely destroyed during the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Saint Nicholas Church, which commenced services in 1922, was named after Agios Nikolaos, Patron Saint of Sailors, as it was the first stopping point for many Greek migrants after they left Ellis Island, the United States’ busiest migrant inspection station. For 85 years, the Saint Nicholas Church stood at 155 Cedar St, New York City, until the shocking terrorist attack occurred.

Last year, Archbishop Elpidophoros of America used sprigs of basil and holy water to bless the restart of construction works at the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. Construction was set to resume in the spring, then COVID hit, grounding all non-essential projects statewide to a halt for months.

The full announcement from His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America: 

The construction on our Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine continues apace, and we are confident that the exterior of the Shrine will be complete in advance of September 11, 2021, a most significant milestone to be observed. Part of what makes the Shrine so important to the entirety of the World Trade Center is the fact that it is the only religious structure within the site. We must never forget that Ground Zero became like a charnel ground for thousands of our fellow human beings who were murdered that day, as what little remained of their mortal coil disappeared in the smoke and ash. It is a grief-filled and sobering thought, especially for those families who were denied even the chance to bury the remains of their loved ones. So many of the funerals in the weeks and months after 9/11 were held for empty coffins.

When there is an empty tomb, it is called a cenotaph (Greek, κενοτάφιον). The most famous cenotaph in the world is, of course, the Anastasis in Jerusalem, the Holy Sepulcher. And for the Saint Nicholas Shrine, as the only House of Worship destroyed on 9/11, there is a sense that the rebuilt church will have some of the character of a cenotaph, a living place of memory carved out of stone. This is most appropriate, as Bishop Joachim’s article this month connects the intercessory role of St. Nicholas himself with a historic “refuge” (καταφύγιον) chapel appended to Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, to his role as a “powerful intercessor for the dead at the Last Judgment.”

The Saint Nicholas Shrine takes on a role of cenotaph for those who perished on 9/11, much as the Woman in the Hymn of Kassiani took on the role of a myrrh-bearer (μυροφόρου ἀναλαβοῦσα τάξιν). The events of 9/11 and the grievous loss of life, with the scant remains of those who perished, bring to the Shrine a further purpose, one that is intensified by the intercessory nature of the Saintly Church Father.

It is an awesome responsibility and privilege to the Greek Orthodox Community, that our National Shrine would serve as a cenotaph for those who would engage it as such. Like the ancient Martyria that were the tombs of the Holy Martyrs, the Shrine becomes both a repository of memory and a place of pilgrimage.

And like the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the Shrine will be an affirmation of the Resurrection from the dead, that every person may one day say with the Prophet Job (19:25,26):

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last He will stand upon the earth;
and even after my body has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh shall I see God!

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