On Sunday night, when Western Easter was being celebrated, 9.56 million people watched 60 Minutes, CBS’s famous television program.
That night, the program closed with a tribute to the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine that is currently under construction at Ground Zero.
CBS fulfilled its programming responsibility by presenting a religious segment, with an Easter theme, to the general public.
For its part, the Greek Diaspora felt the warm spotlight of an important American national television program.
However, the big winner was Orthodoxy. They honored our religion, our Church, monastic life, and the cultural treasure that is Mount Athos.
So we have to be proud of that.
But if one expected the program to shed more light and give definitive answers to the questions that still exist about the finances of St. Nicholas, then s/he was disappointed.
This may not have been the goal of the program. It is even likely that they did their research but did not find the information that a serious journalistic organization needs to make revelations, so they left it alone.
Now, a little history related to the Greek Diaspora: the building that evolved into the church of ‘Agios Nikolaos’ at the entrance of the port of New York first housed – according to 60 Minutes – a bar, which was bought by Greek sailors and turned into a church.
The years passed and over the decades the area was developed. Eventually the Twin Towers were built next to the temple, making the church’s property very valuable.
The Archdiocese wanted to sell it – as with all its other underutilized real estate holdings, i.e. St. Basil’s Academy – but the leaders of the St. Nicholas parish prevented it from doing so.
Then the tragic events of September 11, 2001 took place. St. Nicholas was the only House of God, as the program noted, that was destroyed in the terrorist attack.
And it is one of the few World Trade Center projects that has not been completed almost 20 years later.
Regarding the financial issue: Pelley, the journalist who presented the story, was content with only a statement by the former Archbishop of America Demetrios, who repeated his well-known ‘defense’ that he did not know about the transfer of the approximately $3.5 million from the St. Nicholas fund of the Archdiocese and that as soon as he was informed, he said, he took care of it. It was not the best moment of the program for our Greek Diaspora.
The journalist stated that the date has been set for the doors of the new church to open: September 11, 2021 – exactly 20 years after the terrorist attack.
But in an important omission for such an experienced journalist, Pelley did not make any reference to the new Archbishop, Elpidophoros, regarding his efforts for the completion of the project. In fact, from the moment Archbishop Elpidophoros was elected, he restored the climate of trust between potential donors and the Archdiocese, making it possible for it to collect the money needed for St. Nicholas’ completion.
Nor did he present a statement from a member of the organization Friends of St. Nicholas, who would have confirmed with great enthusiasm their decision to complete the project.
And since we are talking about donors, it is said that Mrs. Mary Jaharis, the widow of the late grand benefactor Michael Jaharis, has refused, at least until recently, to fulfill the promise of a donation made by that important Greek-American.
Let’s close with something pleasant.
The journalist visited the Monastery of Xenophon on Mount Athos, one of the most historic monasteries of the Holy Mountain, and which is led by one of Mount Athos’ leading abbots. There, an American-born monk talked about the monastery and showed Pelley the iconographic studios creating the holy icons intended for St. Nicholas and which will forever connect the Church and Shrine with Mount Athos, the garden of the Virgin Mary.
And that was a great Easter gift – for Greeks, for Christians, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant alike, and even for non-Christians and atheists.
At the same time, this increases the responsibility that all of us should feel for the completion and proper operation of the St. Nicholas church and its related areas and activities.