Beliefs

Greek Orthodox launch rebuilding of St. Nicholas, the only church destroyed on 9/11

Archbishop Demetrios of America addresses the crowd during a ceremony on Saturday (Oct. 18) that marked the beginning of rebuilding St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which was destroyed on 9/11. Religion News Service photo by Sarah Pulliam Bailey
Archbishop Demetrios of America addresses the crowd during a ceremony on Saturday (Oct. 18) that marked the beginning of rebuilding St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which was destroyed on 9/11. Religion News Service photo by Sarah Pulliam Bailey

Archbishop Demetrios of America addresses the crowd during a ceremony on Saturday (Oct. 18) that marked the beginning of rebuilding St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which was destroyed on 9/11. Religion News Service photo by Sarah Pulliam Bailey

NEW YORK (RNS) Leaders of a Greek Orthodox church that was destroyed during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center broke ground on a new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church that will overlook the 9/11 memorial.

The new domed building is scheduled to open in 2016, the same year as the church’s 100th anniversary. The church has raised $7 million of about $38 million needed.

Plans to rebuild the church were stalled by a dispute with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is in charge of overall rebuilding efforts at Ground Zero. Under a 2011 agreement brokered by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the church agreed to drop its lawsuit in return for building at a larger site.

On Saturday (Oct. 18), government and church leaders joined on a concrete platform surrounded by steel foundation beams and orange construction netting to break ground for the church, designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

Patrick J. Foye, executive director of the Port Authority, said the future building would be “an iconic house of worship,” comparable to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in midtown.

“Just as the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the birth, mourns the death and praises the resurrection, today we celebrate the rebuilding and the blessing of the hollowed land on which it will stand,” Foye said.

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church held a ceremony on Saturday (Oct. 18) to begin rebuilding the church that was destroyed on 9/11. Religion News Service photo by Sarah Pulliam Bailey.

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church held a ceremony on Saturday (Oct. 18) to begin rebuilding the church that was destroyed on 9/11. Religion News Service photo by Sarah Pulliam Bailey.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki, who was governor during 9/11, said the return of St. Nicholas to Ground Zero will fill in a missing piece of the rebuilding process.

“We had remembrance, we had commerce, but without St. Nicholas, we did not have faith,” Pataki said. “Well now today, we have remembrance, we have commerce, we have that rock, we have faith, right here at St. Nicholas.”

The new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, in this rendering, will overlook the 9/11 Memorial. Photo courtesy of the Saint Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center

The new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, in this rendering, will overlook the 9/11 Memorial. Photo courtesy of the Saint Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center

Pataki said it was appropriate that the rebuilt church would be Greek Orthodox.

“It was the Greek city-states that gave us our belief today in freedom,” he said to cheers from the crowd. “It will now be the Greek Orthodox Church that is the rock of faith that anchors all that is done here at Ground Zero.”

Calatrava, who also designed the nearby World Trade Center Transportation Hub, said he took his inspiration from the Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, both in Istanbul. Fusing stone and glass, light will glow from the inside out rather than by exterior floodlights.

The church will fit about 150 people at a time in a 4,100-square-foot building on the corner of Liberty and Greenwich streets. While small, the rebuilt church will be able to accommodate twice the 80 or so worshippers that were standing room only in the old church.

Some items from the old church were recovered, including a crushed bell, a candelabra, a few Bibles, mangled candles and two icons, which will be housed in the new church. Relics of St. Nicholas were never recovered.

Archbishop Demetrios, who heads the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, recalled the day when church leaders first saw the destroyed church, which was hit by falling rubble from the twin towers.

John Mamangakis signs a wall at the construction site where St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church plans to rebuild the church that was destroyed on 9/11, on Saturday (Oct. 18) in New York. Religion News Service photo by Sarah Pulliam Bailey

John Mamangakis signs a wall at the construction site where St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church plans to rebuild the church that was destroyed on 9/11, on Saturday (Oct. 18) in New York. Religion News Service photo by Sarah Pulliam Bailey

“We remember this very place filled with ruins, hiding under piles of debris, the pulverized remains of 3,000 innocent victims. Breathing a very heavy air, saturated with the dust of storm, wood, iron and with tiny particles of human bodies, we remember walking with heavy hearts to the specific place where our St. Nicholas stood as a building. … The church was not there,” he said. “We stood there frozen, paralyzed and cried.”

The church will include an interfaith and nonsectarian space for reflection and meditation.

“It will be a refuge for people in need of spiritual comfort, regardless of their specific beliefs or unbeliefs,” Demetrios said.

 

About the author

Sarah Pulliam Bailey

Sarah Pulliam Bailey is a national correspondent for RNS, covering how faith intersects with politics, culture and other news. She previously served as online editor for Christianity Today where she remains an editor-at-large.

13 Comments

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  • Sarah, Thank You for this story.
    It should provoke a lot of thought.

    “It was the Greek city-states that gave us our belief today in freedom,” – Gov. Pataki

    Exactly – so why do we repeatedly abandon it for religion?
    If only we could respect those Hellenistic pioneers who taught the dialectic; Socrates and Lucretius and the rest. Asking questions, even questioning the validity of the claims about Zeus and other gods!

    Instead, we get mumbo jumbo about ‘faith’ a primitive, inhuman concept which did not originate in Greece at all but long before in the caves superstitious illiterates. Greek culture WAS THE REMEDY for faith. Freedom is the cure for faith.

    Ground Zero is a place where God did nothing.
    Humans did everything.

    Humans crashed the planes – in the name of Faith – and slaughtered people.

    Humans cleaned up.
    Humans rebuilt.
    Humans endured and there isn’t the slightest evidence of God in any of it except as an inspiration to the hijackers who did the slaughter!

    Religion, Faith, God….all these primitive beliefs should have died forever at ground zero. The rebuilding of this church symbolizes not humanity conquering its demons, but blindly coddling them.

    I don’t celebrate the loss of St. Nicholas Church or any other destruction of houses of worship. They are beautiful relics.

    But this was an opportunity to directly confront the poison of religion; the phony baloney claims of God’s ‘protection’ and the hollow claims of Jesus.

    The fact that religion survives these horrors does not speak to our courage or our embrace of Freedom.
    But our collective cowardice.

  • There is a place for you inside The Church as well, “Atheist Max.” Be sure to visit it when the time comes. God bless you. 🙂

  • I think mr pataki is 100 percent correct without Saint Nicholas church built at ground zero the project in consider incomplete,the church is not only for Greek Orthodox people but also be for those who lost their love ones ,a holy place for prayers ,no matter what religion the decease people were theirs one god in my eyes .the church is. A must to be rebuilt for the 3000 people that lost their innocent lives ,because at the end of life for all is god ,may The Lord give all family’s the strength and prayers , and may we meet again amen

  • Congrats to the Greek Orthodox Church community for starting the rebuilding of St. Nicholas!

    To Atheist Max, it was the Byzantine east that preserved the manuscripts of the ancient Greek thinkers. Thank the Greek Orthodox Church for making that possible.

  • It’s a good thing that this church rebuilding is being initiated. People need more venues where they can experience humility and spirituality.
    As for all those “atheists”, I should say that they can have whatever beliefs that like, but do keep those to yourself. You, atheists, you all try to lecture any and all religious people with so much pressure, so hysterically, so psychotically that it always seems as though atheists are very unsure about their views and try way too hard to keep themselves convinced, while parading their useless ego and a desire to defile other people’s values.
    And them atheists are usually so insanely insulting. Like if they try to provoke their opponents who are normally uninterested and unwilling to enter any arguments with atheistic freaks just to get what is to be expected when you insult people in order to start running around screaming about “religious fanatics attacking us, intellectuals, etc.”.
    So, to “Atheist Max” I have this message: all your “human this, human that”, all your pseudo-“evidence” that religions somehow “cause” violence (while violence is caused by psychopaths most of whom are not religious and have no faith at all), all you cheap, flat provocation is pointless and boring. You all have the same exact “arguments” and “views” that you repeat after one another. Don’t try to “convert” anyone. Just learn to MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS. Get a job. Get a friend. Get a fish. Get yourself busy doing something, instead of chasing after religious people trying to convey your mind-numbing “ideas” to them. We all know WHY you do what you do. You don’t know it, because your are blind. So, stay blind, if you want to and stay away from the issues of faith and religion.

  • Dear Max,
    May you never reap the rewards of the faith of the people, the hope of the almighty God, and the LOVE of God the Father Jesus Christ the son and The Holy Trinity one in essence.

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