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Greek Orthodox church destroyed in 9/11 to rise again after fund-raising campaign

16 July 2021


The proposed St Nicholas National Shrine, at the World Trade Center

The proposed St Nicholas National Shrine, at the World Trade Center

A CHURCH that was destroyed in the attack of the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September 2001 is to rise from the ashes after a huge fund-raising campaign.

The Greek Orthodox St Nicholas’s was the only church destroyed in the terrorist attack, in which 2606 people were killed and 6000 were injured. No one was in the church at the time.

The church had been founded in 1916, in a house that has been used as a tavern, and it remained standing while the World Trade Center grew up around it, as church leaders resisted pressure to sell the site. It was destroyed when the second skyscraper collapsed.

Building work on the new church is under way, after a $95-million fund-raising appeal, and the exterior is due to be finished in time for the 20th anniversary this September of the attacks. Its location was moved a short distance away, as its original home on Cedar Street is now used for a vehicle security centre.

The new church is beneath the statue known as “America’s response monument”, which honours those who responded to the terrorist attack.

In its new incarnation, the church will be not only a place of worship for the Greek Orthodox Church, but also a national shrine and a place of pilgrimage, and will include an interfaith bereavement room.

In an email, the chairman of the Friends of St Nicholas’s, Dennis Mehiel, and the vice-chairman, Michael Psaros, who led the appeal, said: “There is no way the Greek Orthodox Church of America would not have rebuilt St Nicholas.

“The Church’s commitment to rebuilding St Nicholas emerged powerfully in the days after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and this was a commitment with civil authorities as well. The unjust death of so many thousands of our fellow citizens — innocent human beings who did not deserve to die in that horrific way — has left a profound and indeed ineffable sense of loss at Ground Zero.

“We could not bring back these lives, but at least we could bring back St Nicholas in memory of those who were lost, and in tribute to the heroes of that day and all the days that followed.

“The project has transformed from merely rebuilding the little church on Cedar Street to establishing a church that could also serve the site known as Ground Zero as a place of healing and memory. Hence, we are rebuilding the church as the St Nicholas National Shrine, ‘a house of prayer for all people’ (Mark 11.17).”

Referring to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, they described the new shrine as a cenotaph (a word that comes from the Greek for empty tomb).

“The St Nicholas Shrine will be a complete Greek Orthodox Church, with all the attendant worship and activity, but it will be a place of commemoration, like an ancient Greek funerary stele, that serves to memorialise lives and loss. In this way, the Shrine is very much like the very first Christian church buildings, which were built on sites of martyrdom and burial.”

Work on the interior of the shrine will continue until next Easter. Fund-raising for the building is now complete, but money is still being raised for an endowment fund. Money has been donated from the Greek people, the Greek government, and from around the world, as well as from wealthy donors in the United States.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople will visit St Nicholas’s in November for an opening service.

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