NEW YORK – On one of the most beautiful days of the year, the future looked bright to the leaders of the Order of AHEPA who were given an private tour of the construction site for the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox National Shrine at the World Trade Center on October 10.
A fundraising campaign is underway to meet AHEPA’s pledge of $500,000 to the resurrection of the beloved St. Nicholas Church at Ground Zero and its transformation into not only a national shrine but a beacon on Orthodoxy in the New World.
Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), who made a special trip to be present, reflected the thoughts of those present. “It’s beautiful…It’s inspiring and I am blessed to be here. I can’t wait for the Church to be finished and I am grateful we will have the opportunity to share our faith with the rest of the world,” he said.
Andrew Veniopoulos, who is the project assistant working with the Archdiocese’s Executive Director of Administration Jerry Dimitriou and with Fr. Alexander Karloutsos, Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate “on anything that’s needed for St. Nicholas,” conducted the tour.
He explained that the Archdiocese put together a committee of architects to review designs and said Santiago Calatrava, who was chosen, impressed on all levels, but especially with his unique idea for a church that glows in the dark. The Churches outer translucent outer shell will come from Mount Pentelicon, the source of the Parthenon’s marble.
“It’s magnificent,” said Greek-American comedian and Ahepan Basile, adding “It will stand out When see it from the 9/11 memorial park…I think that it is outstanding and beautiful,” and he congratulated everyone involved.
Veniopoulos added that “wherever you are on the site you will see the church because it will be above the tree line” – St. Nicholas will indeed be a church on a hill. Liberty Park, 20 above the surrounding area, will rest on a 350-foot living wall of greenery that will face the September 11 memorial, a magnificent setting for Holy Week and Resurrection Services reminiscent of the atriums that were integral parts of Constantinople’s churches.
Standing where the four doors of the narthex will be located, Veniopoulos began his presentation with a description of the underground Vehicle Security Center upon which the Church will sit.
The Church, which has an exterior footprint of 4500 sq. feet – the old St. Nicholas was 1600 – and a usable interior space of about 2200 sq. feet, will have seating for approximately 150 people and standing room for 50 more.
The Narthex and the two stories above it will have windows facing the memorial park. The non-denominational bereavement center will be on the second floor, and there will be facilities for the parish on the floor above that.
The Church is seeking additional office space offsite and nearby for the parish and the shrine. There will be an executive director, a secretary, security personnel, a pastor and an assistant priest.
St. Nicholas will be open from 8 AM to midnight every day. “Similar to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It will be a functioning parish but tourists will also be coming through the Church” – perhaps up to one million of the ten million people per year who will visit Ground Zero Veniopoulos said.” 20,000 will be working there daily.
He said there is a budget for staffing and maintenance in place for the first five years, and he noted money is also being raised for the endowment for the parish’s long-term financial security.
Dimitriou has told TNH that hard construction costs are budgeted at $35 million and that that there are $37.7 million in pledges to date.
In addition to the parishioners who return, including Veniopoulos, who grew up attending St. Nicholas and now lives in Midtown Manhattan, the parish will reach out to Orthodox Christians in what has recently become a major residential neighborhood.
Construction began in August and is now at a critical phase. The pipes and ducts of the HVAC system which was donated by Peter J. Pappas were visible as the very lowest level of what is being built. Everything has to be done right now said Veniopoulos, because the cramped interstitial space that will soon be covered by a slab of concrete will be difficult to access later.
He said the target for completion is summer of 2017. Extremely good luck with the weather puts an Easter 2017 if the realm of possibility, be he noted, “You don’t want to pour concrete in the dead of winter.”
The Archdiocese has entered into an agreement with Gallagher and Associates, the noted museum planning and design firm,” Veniopoulos said. “Their interactive display are amazing. They are working with the Archbishop, Bishop Andonios of Phasiane and Father Alex” to enhance the experience of Orthodox and non-Orthodox visitors alike through things like cell phone aps that provide information about icons, the Orthodox Church and the history of the parish.
The Ahepans were impressed with the renderings of the Church’s exterior, but it is more difficult to imagine what the inside will look like. “There was a meeting just this week at Calatrava’s office about where everything goes, the iconostasis and other elements,” and iconographers are being contacted.
“Obviously the exterior has a modern feel, but the interior, which will also feature Pentelic marble, is going to be a Byzantine Church is all aspects,” Veniopoulos said.
The seeds for the special tour were planted at Ahepa’s Congressional Banquet earlier this year when Fr. Karloutsos was talking to National Sons of Pericles Advisor Jimmy Kokotas about questions of members across the country about the project’s progress
“Father Alex had just given a tour to Philoptochos and he said if AHEPA would like a tour he would set one up” Kokotas said.
Past AHEPA Supreme President and current Chairman of the Board Nicholas Karacostas, who is also chairman of AHEPA’s fundraising effort, told TNH he and Executive Director Basil Mossaides coordinated tour planning with Father Karloutsos. “It’s a privilege to get this tour and to see the progress that’s being made.”
Mossaides told TNH the pledge for $500,000 was made at the 2014 national convention, but the leadership hopes to raise $1 million.