Ecumenical Patriarch Barthlomew led a blessing ceremony yesterday for the inauguration of the reconstructed Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at Ground Zero in New York City.
The Patriarch was accompanied by Archbishop Elpidophoros of America and Metropolitan Emmanuel of Chalcedon, and was greeted by an honorary guard of Greek-Americans who serve in New York’s coast guard and police. The ceremony was also attended by distinguished members of the Greek-American community, US politicians, and relatives of the victims of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
In the moving ceremony at the site of Ground Zero, the Patriarch blessed religious objects that were salvaged from the ruined original church.
The patriarchal mission also brought a relic of St. Nicholas from Mount Athos in Greece, which was placed by the Patriarch in the centre of the high altar inside the church. In addition, Bartholomew took off the vestments he was wearing, signed them and donated them to the church.
St. Nicholas Church and National Shrine, named after the patron saint of sailors, began services in 1922 and was an important symbolic point of reference for Greek migrants, who in the early 20th century arrived at Ellis Island, the United States’ migrant reception centre.
The new church was designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava and is situated next to Liberty Park, near the 9/11 monument and museum. Its renovation cost 85 million dollars, which came mostly from donations.
Apart from being a central Greek Orthodox church in the city of New York, St. Nicholas is the only religious temple near One World Trade Center and will be open to people of all religions and sects. Its construction and features make it the second church after the Washington National Cathedral that will function as a national shrine in the United States.
St. Nicholas church will open for services next week.
RESOURCE | ABOUT SAINT NICHOLAS GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH
The St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, officially the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine, is a church and shrine under construction in the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York City. It is administered by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and is being developed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, based on the design of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The church is set to be completed in April 2022, coinciding with the Orthodox Holy Week, and will be consecrated on July 4, 2022.
St. Nicholas will replace the original church of the same name that was destroyed during the September 11 attacks in 2001—the only house of worship, and only building outside the original World Trade Center complex, to be completely destroyed.[note 1] The new church is located in Liberty Park, overlooking the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Its architecture draws from Byzantine influences, namely the Church of the Savior and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, as well as from the Parthenon in Athens. In addition to serving as a Greek Orthodox parish, St. Nicholas is officially planned as a “House of Prayer for all people” that will function as a national shrine and community centre, incorporating a secular bereavement space, social hall, and various educational and interfaith programs.
Initially scheduled to open in 2016, St. Nicholas’ rebuilding effort was beset by delays, cost overruns, and claims of financial impropriety. In 2019, the nonprofit Friends of St. Nicholas was founded to help complete the project, which continued under the auspices of the newly elected Archbishop Elpidophoros. The church was partially opened for a memorial service commemorating the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Greek immigrants founded the congregation of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in 1916. Parishioners initially worshipped in the dining room of a hotel on Morris Street owned by Stamatis Kalamarides. In 1919, five families raised $25,000 to purchase a new location for the church, a three-story tavern on 155 Cedar Street that was originally built in the 1830s as a private home. The modest structure was converted into a church and given a fourth story, holding worship services by 1922.
St. Nicholas was only 22 feet (6.7 m) wide, 56 feet (17 m) long, and 35 feet (11 m) tall. It was originally an old calendar church, but in 1993 began holding Wednesday services according to the Gregorian calendar. It was notable for its small size, unusual location, and juxtaposition with the large modern skyscrapers in the area—all other adjacent buildings had been demolished, leaving the church surrounded on three sides by a parking lot.
Before the attacks, the church had a dedicated congregation of about 70 families led by Father John Romas. On Wednesdays, the building was open to the public, often receiving visitors that were not Greek Orthodox; in addition to local residents and Greek immigrants, St. Nicholas attracted Greek shipping magnates passing through New York.