New York, NY.- A Ground Blessing ceremony for the Saint Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center is set for Saturday October 18, 2014 at 12:00 noon. The ceremony will include a combined prayer service of blessing of the site (agiasmos), and a doxology (a service of thanksgiving).
Established in 1916, the small Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas was the only house of worship destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001 when the South Tower fell and completely obliterated the old church edifice. The new Saint Nicholas National Shrine will be rebuilt only a short distance away from its original location, at 130 Liberty Street and will be overlooking the 9/11 Memorial.
Archbishop Demetrios of America, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America stated:
“Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox National Shrine, although destroyed in the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 is now, with the grace of God, being resurrected at the new World Trade Center and it will soon rise like a glorious phoenix as a National Shrine and a place of pilgrimage for our Nation. It will be a place of faith, a place of peace and a place of solace and hope.”
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America will preside at the historic event with the participation of the hierarchs of the Holy Eparchial Synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Expected to attend are officials from the City of New York, officials of the States of New York and New Jersey, chaplains and interfaith representatives, family members of victims of 9/11, representatives of Archdiocesan institutions and organizations and many faithful Orthodox Christians.
Faithful from around the country have been invited to attend the Ground Blessing marking the start of the rebuilding of St. Nicholas National Shrine, a Greek Orthodox church, a house of prayer and a place where people of all faiths will be able to visit while touring the 9/11 Memorial and the Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center. The new church, designed by world renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, will be a modern evolution of the Byzantine style church with a dome, and will fit in with the steel and glass structures of the surrounding area. The upper level of the church will include a non-denominational bereavement space, also open to all.
The Ground Blessing event is open to all faithful, however there is limited seating. Entrance is at the corner of Greenwich and Liberty Streets. Attendees are advised not to bring backpacks or bags. For those unable to attend, the service will be available on satellite and will also be live streamed on the Internet at www.stnicholasgroundzero.org and www.goarch.org
Live Broadcast: On Saturday, October 18th, there will be a live broadcast of the ground blessing ceremony from ground zero. The live broadcast will be available from the official St. Nicholas National Shrine web site at: http://www.stnicholaswtc.org and the Archdiocese home page at www.goarch.org
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.
Everything changed on 9/11. Saint Nicholas was completely destroyed in the collapse of World Trade Center Tower Two during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. During the weeks and months that followed, the Archbishop presided over numerous funerals and memorials for the many Greek Orthodox Christians who died that fateful day. He participated in interfaith and ecumenical events, at city, state and national levels. And most importantly for Saint Nicholas, the only house of worship destroyed on 9/11, the Archbishop inaugurated a dialogue with then Governor George Pataki to rebuild the church.
In the years following, as the rebuilding of the World Trade Center took shape, there were challenges to keep the Church as a priority for the site (16 acres), since it was virtually a sliver a land. Due to changes at the site, it was proposed that the Church be relocated to 130 Liberty Street, a short walk from its original location. Even when negotiations stalled, governmental authorities always affirmed the right of the Church to be rebuilt.
When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo took office, a new opportunity arose to meet the impasse. His office mediated settlement discussions that confirmed the site at 130 Liberty Street. Following the signing of an agreement, presided over by the Archbishop and the Governor, the Archdiocese commenced a rigorous search for a design architect. A special committee was formed, including academic experts in Church Architecture, to interview a select group of firms with international reputations for excellence.
Archbishop Demetrios set the tone for this process:
“The design for church must respect the traditions and liturgy of the Greek Orthodox Church, but at the same time must reflect the fact that we are living in the 21st century.”
In the end there was an overwhelming consensus advising His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios in favor of the design and expertise of Santiago Calatrava. Calatrava developed his plan from a wealth of Byzantine precedents, including the famous Church in Chora and Hagia Sophia itself. At the top of this page, you can see how Calatrava’s artistic inspiration for the design emerged from the mosaics of Hagia Sophia. The renderings presented here not only show its appearance, but its relationship to its environment. It is clear that the Church will be a lamp on a lampstand, and a city set on a hill (cf. Matthew 5:14,15)
The tradition of hospitality that Saint Nicholas exemplified throughout the twentieth century will continue at the new location. There will be a Meditation/Bereavement space and a Community room, housed in the upper levels above the Narthex, to welcome visitors and faithful.
The parish will continue to function as parish of the Archdiocese, but it will also be a National Shrine on hallowed ground. The scope of its mission will span the globe, as literally millions of visitors to the Ground Zero memorials and museum pass by it every year. Its doors will be open to all to light a candle, say a prayer, or just sit quietly. It will shine as a spiritual beacon of hope and rebirth to cherish the memory of those who were lost that fateful day, and to build a better future for generations yet to be born.
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.