During a flurry of construction and the buzz of the busiest neighborhood in America’s biggest city, a milestone took place in the long and complicated history of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. The cross that will adorn the dome of the church was blessed and placed high atop the structure, making it the centerpiece of remembrance and memorial to the only religious structure that was destroyed on September 11th.
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was founded a century ago in 1916 by Greek immigrants inhabiting the bustling Lower Manhattan neighborhood. Five families raised $25,000 amongst themselves and bought the building, which at the time was a tavern, and founded St. Nicholas as a house of worship for more and more Greek immigrant families moving into the area.
At the time, lower Manhattan was a bustling neighborhood of Lebanese, Greek and Syrian immigrants, filled with small businesses and produce stands and St. Nicholas became the core of Greek Orthodox life for the Greek residents.
For almost a century the church became a focal point of Greek life for many people in Manhattan. Even as family dynamics changed and people moved to the suburbs, most of the members comprising St. Nicholas commuted to and from the Manhattan church for Sunday services and feast days.
Among the church’s most valuable physical possessions were some of the relics (remains) of St Nicholas, St Catherine, and St Sava, which had been donated to the church by Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia. These relics were never recovered after the attack on September 11th.
The years following the destruction included complicated relationships with various government agencies, port authority officials and numerous special interest groups, including victims’ families, each of whom had a stake in the project due to its proximity to the site of the actual 9/11 Memorial and related structures.
The new building— not far from its original location, will serve the community of St. Nicholas as a fully-functioning Greek Orthodox church with its regular schedule of liturgies and feast days. But due to its historic significance and location, St. Nicholas will also be a shrine for people of all faiths and needs to visit and reflect, meditate and pay tribute to those who perished on September 11th.
The $40 million project— said to be mostly funded by donations from wealthy Greek Orthodox benefactors is currently under construction and designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who was inspired by Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turley— the greatest Christian church ever known in Christendom with its imposing dome and once the center of the Byzantine Christian world when the city was known as Constantinople.
On Monday, November 28, during a special blessing headed by Archbishop Demetrios, who heads up the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States, the 6-foot tall cross was hoisted up onto the dome.
“As we are here and we look around, we see the triumph of human mind and human spirit and human, really, disposition of overcoming any tragedy,” Archbishop Demetrios said to those that had gathered.
“But St. Nicholas will give an additional message,” he said. “St. Nicholas will also offer the opening towards a nonmaterial reality: the presence of God. So this small chapel here will say the story that there is a God beyond what we see, what we feel and what we could statistically verify. And that’s the very great mission of this new St. Nicholas Church.”
Photos from St. Nicholas National Shrine Facebook page.
Local news footage from the cross-blessing and raising ceremony: