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St. Nicholas Ground Zero: Out of the Ashes, A New Symbol of Faith

By Nicholas Gage

Once firmly established in the United States, the major religious denominations in America took action to proclaim their presence by each building a great house of worship in a major thoroughfare in the country's most significant urban center - New York City.

The Episcopalians, the American version of the Church of England, made the first imprint with the construction of St. Paul's Chapel on lower Broadway in 1766 and went on to erect the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the enormous Romanesque edifice on Morningside Heights, beginning in 1892.  Not to be absent from the heart of the city, a decade later they built St. Bartholomew's Church, a magnificent Byzantine-inspired basilica, on Park Avenue and 52nd St.

The Catholics chose the same general area but on Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st Street to announce their presence when they began the construction of St. Patrick's Cathedral, their imposing Gothic temple, in 1910 across from what would later become Rockefeller Center.

The Rockefellers were Baptists and were not about to let their denomination go unrepresented once they made their vast fortune, so in 1926 they financed the construction of the tallest religious structure in America, Riverside Church, on Morningside Heights overlooking the Hudson River.

The Jews made their statement in 1958 with the construction of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue, 12 blocks up from St. Patrick's.

We Greek Orthodox have taken our time to make our presence felt in the Big Apple, content with our modest Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, some distance from the city's nerve centers on 74th St., between Second and First Avenues. Over the years, many Greek-American leaders have talked about buying or building a cathedral on Park or Fifth Avenues, now that we have made so much progress in America and achieved the second highest per capita income of any ethnic group. But the talk never went anywhere.

Now a terrible national tragedy has given us the opportunity to create a great shrine for our faith, and a spiritual memorial to all those who perished on 9/11.

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.

Selecting Santiago Calatrava to design the church was an inspired choice, for he is able to capture in his designs the past and the future in such imaginative ways as to astound both the eye and the mind.  There is a small bridge in Athens that he designed over a roadway halfway between the city center and Aghia Paraskevi that at first looks like futuristic spaceship ready to take off from its launching pad but then seems to take the form of an ancient Greek trireme gliding over the Aegean.

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. The shallow dome will have 40 ribs as does the dome of the Aghia Sofia, and alternating bands of stone at the corners will echo the walls of the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora. But the church will also be constructed in such a way as to create an ethereal effect reminiscent of the more mystical scenes of "2001: A Space Odyssey." This will be achieved by fusing the exterior stone cladding with glass that in the evening hours will create a luminous aura and make the whole church appear to glow from within.

Most of all St. Nicholas Church will have something entirely its own—what Laurence Durrell called "spirit of place." The original church, a neighborhood parish built in 1916, was completely buried by the collapse of the South Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11, the only place of worship destroyed in the terrorist attack. The new church will be built on a platform 25 feet above street level at the end of an open space that will include a non-denominational bereavement center for rest and meditation, a shrine that will attract pilgrims of all beliefs from all over America and the world.

The church and the park area it will crown will become a national destination that some 10 million people are expected to visit every year. That will make St. Nicholas Church at Ground Zero one of the most popular sites in New York City, attracting twice as many visitors as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example, and many times more than other churches in the area, including the most majestic cathedrals.

A terrible tragedy has brought us the opportunity to leave our mark on our new-found land and to do it in a way that is worthy of our faith, fitting to the memory of all those who perished on 9/11, and mindful of the promise of Jesus when he said, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people."

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This article first appeared in The National Herald and is used with permission.

Link to this article: http://www.thenationalherald.com/61885/


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.