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Right Reverend Bishop Andrew Dietsche, The Episcopal Church, Diocese of New York, at the podium during the Ecumenical Prayer Service. Photo by Eleni Sakellis
NEW YORK – St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center hosted an Ecumenical Prayer Service on January 24 on the occasion of the 2023 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America offered words of welcome and His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan offered the Homily during the moving ceremony.
In his remarks, Archbishop Elpidophoros noted that the church is dedicated to St. Nicholas, the Wonderworker Archbishop of Myra, and that the original church building was the only house of worship destroyed in the attacks of 9/11. He added that it is also a shrine built of the same marble as the Parthenon in Athens, illuminated by an Athonite iconographer, the only church in the Western hemisphere so adorned. “Christian unity is need now more than ever, especially as we see racism on the rise in our land, leaders of the faith communities, especially those that bear the name of Christ, shoulder the responsibility… that we will never cease from pursuing what is right and what is just and practicing the good. Therefore you are all welcome as is every person regardless of their faith, you are all welcome in this place of reverence where those gave their lives in acts of heroism remembered in the very walls, may our prayers be united by their memory and may we ever strive to grow in faith, to grow in fellowship with one another… in every place so that we may bear witness that we are truly His disciples.”
Cardinal Dolan in his remarks said: “We praise God for the advancements made, we seek His mercy for our faults and failures, and continually repurpose ourselves to that noble goal articulated on Holy Thursday. Thus our gathering this evening.”
He went on to share his experience in the Conclave of Cardinals in the process of electing Pope Francis. “As we heed the exhortation of the Isaiah the Prophet, ‘Do good; seek justice,’ the unity through which we persevere in prayer and the advances we have made are not ends in themselves but means to an end… the end is the honor and glory of God.”
The Week of Prayer is particularly important for the American context. Its theme – “Do good; seek justice” (Isaiah 1:17) – was chosen and developed by the Minnesota Council of Churches. These words of the Prophet echo our responsibility – in the midst of our ecumenical quest for Christian unity – to condemn racism and hatred as a sin and to support the struggle for racial justice and equity.
The Ecumenical Prayer Service is an opportunity for leaders of all faiths to pray in a Church that will forever be bound to what it means to be an American: tolerant of different beliefs and respectful of other faith traditions and all people, while committed to a place for faith in the public square. It should be noted that on July 4, 2022, the rebuilt Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was consecrated and is now open to the public. The re-building of this Church was an act of faith – faith in God and in the American vision of religious liberty.
Also participating in the service were His Eminence Archbishop Anouchavan Tanelian, The Armenian Prelacy, Holy See of Cilicia; Right Reverend Bishop Andrew Dietsche, The Episcopal Church, Diocese of New York; Right Reverend Bishop Paul Egensteiner, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, New York Story-tellers; Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, Interim President and General Secretary of the National Council of Churches; Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith, World Council of Churches President from North-America; and Rev. Samuel Davis, St. Simon of Cyrene Orthodox Mission (New Brunswick, NJ), Orthodox Church in America.
Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith was one of the storytellers who offered her moving insights during the service as did Rev. Samuel Davis who shared his thoughts on his journey as an Orthodox priest.
Rev. Dr. Protopresbyter Nicolas Kazarian, presiding priest of St. Eleftherios Church in Manhattan, and Fr. Chrysostom Onyekakeyah from Nigeria were also among the participants in the service.
Among those present were Friends of St. Nicholas Chairman Michael Psaros, Nicholas Karacostas, His Grace Bishop Apostolos of Medeia, Chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Fr. Nektarios Papazafiropoulos, Chancellor of the Metropolis of New Jersey Fr. Chistoforos Oikonimidis, presiding priest of the St. Nicholas WTC community Fr. Andreas Vithoulkas and Presvytera Anthoula, St. Nicholas Parish Council members, Olga Pavlakos, Anthoula Katsimatides, and many members of the community.
Also present were Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Konstantinou, Consul of Greece Dimitris Papageorgiou, Theodore Klingos, and Peter Stavrianidis.
Archbishop Elpidophoros gave the closing remarks and also presented an icon of St. Nicholas to Reverend Bishop Andrew Dietsche who is retiring this year and was visibly moved as he expressed his thanks for the gift.
Video of the Ecumenical Prayer Service is available online: https://youtu.be/86nTdid6RlY.
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