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Church

Observations on an Immortal Day a Day Later – St. Nicholas at WTC “Opens Its Doors”

NEW YORK – From a distance, guests at the ‘Thyranixia-Door Opening’ ceremony for the St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine on November 2 could not see what was on the table set up in the opposite direction from the narthex of the nearly-completed nave where the ceremony was to take place, or the reason why the solemn procession led by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Bartholomew went there first. One by one, however, people were deeply moved to learn of the contents and purpose: a badly deformed bell; a battered metal plate with semi-molten candles; a damaged Holy Bible – the few items salvaged after the collapse of the South Tower of the World Trade Center crushed the original little St. Nicholas Church on September 11, 2001.

Amid memories and prayers for the victims of 9/11, a new day was about to dawn despite cloudy skies for the long-suffering historic parish in Lower Manhattan. With His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew intoning, “blessed is our God always, now and ever to the ages of ages,” the Thyranixia commenced at an altar set up outside the narthex.

On November 2, 2021, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America officiate at the Thyranoixia (Opening of the Doors) of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in downtown Manhattan. The original St. Nicholas Church was the only house of worship destroyed on 9-11. (Photo by GOA/D. Panagos)

After the ancient service Archbishop Elpidophoros informed the emotional gathering that “the Patriarch brings the gift of St. Nicholas himself – his relics are here before us, his left hand,” which will be permanently housed in the new church. He also noted that “the venerable presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch bestows an added ecumenicity to the mission of the Shrine, as well as a dimension of interreligious and intercultural values that comprise the vision and the love of His All-Holiness for all humankind.”

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew began his Apostolic Message by saying “we stand here today on this hallowed ground… where the world changed in a cruel and terrible moment 20 years ago. We stand here before the church… of the wonder-working Archbishop of Myra… we stand here today before a holy temple resurrected by faith and devotion, an extraordinary toil and labor. We stand here today as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our enthronement as the successor to the Holy Apostle Andrew, the first-called disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. And we stand here today celebrating the patronal feast of our spiritual son, His Eminence Elpidophoros, to whom we have entrusted our hopes for this Eparchy of the Ecumenical Throne in this great nation… This sacred ground of the American Experience, is where the Orthodox Christian Faith will take the lead in manifesting to the World that good is mightier than evil, that there is life beyond death, and that love always triumphs over hate.”

On November 2, 2021, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America officiate at the Thyranoixia (Opening of the Doors) of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in downtown Manhattan. The original St. Nicholas Church was the only house of worship destroyed on 9-11. (Photo by GOA/D. Panagos)

Begun during the tenure of Archbishop Demetrios – the iconic photo of His Eminence blessing and praying over workers at Ground Zero after the attack is now part of American history – the Church will be completed in Spring 2022 under Archbishop Elpidophoros, the common denominator being the Leadership of Fr. Alexander Karloutsos, who told The National Herald, “it was our vision, right after September 11. The late Michael Jaharis, Archbishop Demetrios, and I arranged to meet with Governor Pataki of New York. From the beginning we wanted to rebuild.” Fr. Alex said it was he who insisted the site be moved a few feet away to 130 Liberty Street, which the Thyranixia ceremony demonstrated is exactly the right spot. “The church now faces East,” he noted, reflecting Orthodox tradition, and dominates the entire World Trade Center as it overlooks the twin memorial pools whose perimeters are inscribed with the names of the almost 3000 people – including approximately 50 Greeks, who died on that terrible day.

After pointing out that Archbishop Elpidophoros came at the right moment to facilitate the resumption of construction after it was forced to pause several years ago, he noted that, “at the end of the day, we built this for the glory of God, dedicated to the celebration of the Faith and our culture – we are Hellenes, we are very proud of that, and this is the Parthenon of Orthodoxy. I insisted to Archbishop Demetrios: ‘We need to use the Parthenon’s marble’ and his Eminence agreed. And we will have iconography worthy of St. Nicholas. Wait until you see it. The icon of the Panagia that will bless the Port of New York was inspired by the Panagia that overlooks the Port of Patras.”

On November 2, 2021, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America officiate at the Thyranoixia (Opening of the Doors) of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in downtown Manhattan. The original St. Nicholas Church was the only house of worship destroyed on 9-11. (Photo by GOA/D. Panagos)

“It is the triumph of Orthodoxy and Hellenism in America,” he continued, as St. Nicholas promises to be the Orthodox Church in the world most visited by non-Orthodox, a beacon of the faith millions of Orthodox Christians in the New World and a monument to Hellenism in America on the soil where some of the very first Greeks settled in New York. “This is our monument, our St. Patrick’s – eight to 10 million people a year will visit.”

Fr. Karloutsos became emotional when he told The National Herald, “I used to celebrate as an altar boy with my father, who was a priest, at the original St. Nicholas. And then I returned here as a priest.” He paused and concluded by saying, “today was a real blessing and we thank everyone for being here and celebrating the best of our culture and our heritage.”

On November 2, 2021, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America officiate at the Thyranoixia (Opening of the Doors) of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in downtown Manhattan. The original St. Nicholas Church was the only house of worship destroyed on 9-11. (Photo by GOA/D. Panagos)

As a Shrine, St. Nicholas is also a cenotaph for the people who died there on 9/11, and the building will have a non-denomination space for people of all faiths to honor their dead and pray for world peace and harmony.

Fr. Anthony Limberakis, National Commander of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, was proud and pleased to be present with the Patriarch and Archbishop for what he called “a triple historic celebration.”

The Archons as an organization made a million dollar donation to St. Nicholas, and individual archons contributed even more, one of them being Michael Psaros, Vice Chairman of Friends of St. Nicholas which recently undertook responsibility for the remaining fundraising and the overseeing of the construction. “Today is like a dream.” Two-and-a-half years after the enthronement of Archbishop Elpidophoros, who arrived after the project was interrupted, “I cannot believe we are here today for the Thyranixia. It is a blessing of blessings. We will complete it before Pascha, and on that day we will chant ‘Christos Anesti’ for the first time, a great tribute to America, Orthodoxy, and Hellenism. And when the priest exclaims ‘come receive the light,’” he said, St. Nicholas will shine out to the World, its shell of revered Pentelic marble literally glowing at night, lit from within thanks to the design by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava.

On November 2, 2021, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America officiate at the Thyranoixia (Opening of the Doors) of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in downtown Manhattan. The original St. Nicholas Church was the only house of worship destroyed on 9-11. (Photo by GOA/D. Panagos)

Supreme President Jimmy Kokotas told TNH, “AHEPA is extremely honored to be here. It’s a blessing to be here and to have His All-Holiness with us. AHEPA contributed $1 million and laid the cornerstone at that ceremony. We are happy to be a part of this, and we all have to support His All-Holiness and His Eminence, to support the Faith. This is our American Parthenon and hopefully it will help us introduce the Orthodox Faith to Many people.”

Indeed St. Nicholas will be a ‘living community’ as Olga Pavlakos, long-time St. Nicholas Parish Council member said. “We’ve been waiting 20 years and I am here not only for myself but all the parishioners,” the living and departed. And next year we will be in full parish mode.” Fr. Andreas Vithoulkas, currently the Archdiocese’s Chancellor and who was elevated to Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the Thyranixia, will be Head Priest.

On November 2, 2021, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America officiate at the Thyranoixia (Opening of the Doors) of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in downtown Manhattan. The original St. Nicholas Church was the only house of worship destroyed on 9-11. (Photo by GOA/D. Panagos)

 

 

 

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