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A National Shrine for Everyone

On September 11, 2001, the thousands who senselessly perished in the terrorist attacks of that day were only the first and most grievous losses to our Nation. In the confused and stormy dark days that followed, even as we all gained some small measure of comfort from the extraordinary courage of our Fire and Police heroes, our national sense of security, safety, and even our some sense of identity in the wider world was deeply and perhaps forever shattered. In those days when our Archbishop, His Eminence Demetrios of America, ventured to Ground Zero offering prayer and solace to the survivors and rescue workers, the vanished Saint Nicholas Church was already beginning to speak up. There began in the hearts and minds of those sifting through the debris an utterance crying from that sacred ground unto the Lord on behalf of the blood of many brothers and sisters (cf. Genesis 4:10). And that cry became a story and a history – a story of those who were slain that fateful day, and a history yet to be written of the immigrant communities of lower Manhattan and their dream of America.

That is why the Encyclical of the Holy Eparchial Synod of our Church in America is so compelling. As the Hierarchs state:

The new Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at Ground Zero will be much more than a rebuilt parish. It will be a National Shrine of our Holy Archdiocese and a place of pilgrimage for our Nation and the whole world.

This recognition, this raising of the consciousness of every member of our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese to the value and significance of the Saint Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center is just the beginning. Saint Nicholas will be the only House of Worship in the entire sixteen-acre rebuilt World Trade Center site.

Hence the Holy Eparchial Synod, under the presidency of Archbishop Demetrios of America, is calling for the entire national Church to become stakeholders in the new Saint Nicholas at the World Trade Center. In order for this edifice to truly be the National Shrine it is called to be, it must be a National Shrine for everyone. Orthodox and non-Orthodox. Christian and non-Christian. Believer and non-believer.

This does not mean that as an Orthodox House of Worship, it will look or feel and different from any other Naos. In fact, the inspirations of the architect are Hagia Sophia, the Church of the Savior in Chora, and the very Walls of Constantinople! The interior of the finished Naos will be instantly identifiable as an Orthodox Church with all the accoutrement, furnishing and, of course, plentiful iconography. Saint Nicholas will function as any other parish with a rich liturgical life centered around the transfiguring cycles of feasts and fast that define every year of the grace of the Lord.

But as transfiguring as the liturgy is for the community that worships and understands what it is saying (cf. Acts 8:30,31), there is a transformative role for Saint Nicholas to play for the Nation and indeed the world, as the Hierarchs have said.

In a place where the ashes of mourning still fall into the landscape of memory, we are called to bring glory, in fulfillment of the words of the Prophet (Isaiah 61:3). And this is no self-glorification, but a real sense of the transforming, glorious love of God. This a profound responsibility to be shared by every member of our Holy Archdiocese: to uphold the re-building and ministry of the Saint Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center by prayer, by fasting, by feasting, by material support, by sharing resources, by donations, by telling the story from every housetop (cf. Luke 12:3), and writing a new history of human interaction and Divine love.

This is precisely why housed within the Saint Nicholas National Shrine will be a room of special purpose, a place of quiet non-sectarian reflection and meditation. And this is no concession to diversity – by no means! It is the exact opposite. It is the acceptance and even celebration of diversity. It is the witness to the triumph of our Nation's values of freedom of conscience and mutual respect for all religious expression that does not violate the freedom of others. And is this not precisely what the terrorists of 9/11 did their worst against? Did they not rob our fellow citizens and fellow human beings of their most basic freedom – the freedom to live, by their horrific and madness-fueled murders? Our answer to such negative, hate-filled nihilism must be the affirmation of life, liberty and the pursuit of true happiness.

That is why the Saint Nicholas National Shrine will rise in the shadow of the Stature of Liberty. That is why we will welcome all visitors who come in peace and with the mutuality of respect that every human being deserves. That is why the Golden Rule will be emblazoned for all to see:

So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

Truly, such a National Shrine is worthy of a nation-wide effort and campaign. The Holy Eparchial Synod, under the leadership of Archbishop Demetrios of America, is calling on the entirety of our Archdiocese to take up this noble and indeed glorious cause.

There is no other group of citizens who have this opportunity. No other religious body that has such an obligation, such a duty to all other members of its society. The challenge is ours, and our alone. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has been given this solemn charge and this sacred task. We are all called to give our finest and our best to this holy work of the Church. If all free human beings are citizens of Messolonghi, how much more are we all members of Saint Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center! Let us all – each and every one – heed the call of our spiritual fathers, and join this journey of faith.


Additional Stories

Memories of St. Nicholas: A Refuge
Series titled "Memories of St. Nicholas" We headed to social media to ask people to share their memories of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church before it was destroyed on September 11, 2001. This story is about a worker at City Hall who frequented St. Nicholas.
Memories of St. Nicholas: A Treasured Place
Series titled: Memories of St. Nicholas. The story from an individual who frequented St. Nicholas during their lunch hour, celebrated joys, and commemorated their grandmother's one year memorial at St. Nicholas.
St. Nicholas Ground Zero: Out of the Ashes, A New Symbol of Faith
The Church of St. Nicholas that will be built at the heart of Ground Zero replacing the one destroyed on 9/11 will make the most stirring statement that any house of worship has made in the United States in a long time. It will tell America in brilliant visual images what we are, where we come from, and where we are going. A fusion of the past and the future is what characterizes the new St. Nicholas Church. Calatrava has taken his inspiration from some of the great churches in Constantinople in creating his design.
A National Shrine for Everyone
The new Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at Ground Zero will be much more than a rebuilt parish. It will be a National Shrine of our Holy Archdiocese and a place of pilgrimage for our Nation and the whole world. This recognition, this raising of the consciousness of every member of our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese to the value and significance of the Saint Nicholas National Shrine at Ground Zero is just the beginning. Saint Nicholas will be the only House of Worship in the entire sixteen-acre rebuilt World Trade Center site.
Our American Parthenon
In her remarkable new book, “The Parthenon Enigma,” classical archaeologist Joan Breton Connelly fortuitously highlights the similarity between the rebuilding of the World Trade Center in the wake of 9/11, and the construction of that most famous of human monuments, the Parthenon. In the Persian sack of Athens in 480 B.C., the Older Parthenon, roughly in the same spot and yet unfinished, was destroyed in the fires that swept over the Acropolis. She writes of the motivations of Periklean Athens, a generation later, to rebuild the Parthenon:
A Tale of Three Churches: Part 2
Nearly eighteen hundred years ago, a famous man sardonically asked: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” As Orthodox Christians, we know that there is an answer and that answer is “Very much!” In the same way, we have seen that New York City has much to do with Jerusalem – as the world’s two most famous cenotaphs are located in each. But we began last issue with three Churches in our tale, and it is time now to include that third House of the Lord, and to behold how all three are intertwined in the work of salvation and history.
A Tale of Three Churches: Part 1
On September 11, 2001, in an act of terror and hatred, our Nation was attacked and three thousand of our fellow human beings were mercilessly murdered. The horrific deaths of the innocent victims of that tragic day were brought about by a hatred fueled by perverse and perverted religious views. In the face of the horror of that day, we all witnessed the heroic love of the responders who gave their last measure to save others. This altruistic love is at the heart of the rebuilding of the Saint Nicholas Church at Ground Zero, a National Shrine of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
The City Set On A Hill Cannot Be Hidden
It should not difficult for anyone to see that Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at the World Trade Center, a National Shrine of our Archdiocese, will truly be, as the Lord preached in the Sermon on the Mount, “the city set on a hill that cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14).
Rebuilding St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
The original St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church cast a reverent and faithful shadow on the World Trade Center. Greeks purchased the row house in 1892 as a community home, and it became the Saint Nicholas Church in 1916. For many Greeks immigrants, it would have been their first stop after seeing the Statue of Liberty and disembarking from Ellis Island. The little church was a spiritual jewel, open to all. Generations of New Yorkers stopped in to light a candle, say a prayer, or just sit quietly.
St. Nicholas: On this rock I will rebuild my Church
On September 11, 2001 the barbaric attack not only destroyed the majestic Twin Towers but also the tiny yet historic St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, located south of the second tower of the World Trade Center. In the aftermath of its destruction, very little survived: two icons, one of St. Dionysios of Zakynthos and the other of the Zoodochos Pege, along with a few liturgical items, a book, and some candles.