NEW YORK – The Consecration of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center took place in a moving ceremony on July 4 in the presence of a great number of guests and officials who filled the church. Outdoor seating areas were set up for the many attendees to watch the services on screens via the live broadcast.
“Ground Zero is now a sacred ground, a place of memory, a place of contemplation, forgiveness and love,” said His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America during his speech, emphasizing the special symbolism of St. Nicholas, located in an area that 21 years ago became the burial place of those lost on 9/11.
The Thyranoixia of St. Nicholas Church took place last November in the presence of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. At the consecration on July 4, the Ecumenical Patriarchate was represented by the His Eminence Metropolitan Geron Emmanuel of Chalcedon, together with Metropolitan Prodromos of Rethymno and Avlopotamos. Archbishop Demetrios and Archbishop Spyridon, both former Archbishops of America, also participated. It should be noted that the terrorist attack of September 11 took place and the process of building the new St. Nicholas Church began during Demetrios’ tenure.
In addition, despite the fact that the 4th of July holiday may have kept some from attending, priests and bishops from across the country did attend, given that the opening ceremony also coincided with the 46th Biennial Clergy-Lay Congress, the main work of which started late Sunday afternoon.
Of the officials, they were present, among others, Ambassador of Greece to the U.S. Alexandra Papadopoulou, Consul General of Greece in New York Dr. Konstantinos Koutras, Consul General of the Republic of Cyprus Michalis Firillas, Permanent Representative of Greece to the UN Ambassador Maria Theofili, Attica Regional Governor Georgios Patoulis, Central Macedonia Regional Governor Apostolos Tzitzikostas, General Secretary for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ioannis Chrysoulakis, AHEPA Supreme President Jimmy Kokotas, AHEPA Chairman of the Board of Trustees Nicholas Karakostas, and EMBCA’s President/Founder and AHEPA’s National Cultural Commission Chairman Louis Katsos.
Also present were Friends of St. Nicholas Chairman Dennis Mehiel, Vice Chairman Michael Psaros, who was also the keynote speaker, Archdiocesan Council Vice Chairman John Catsimatidis, and businessman C. Dean Metropoulos.
Following the consecration service, Dennis Mehiel referred to all those who contributed to the rebuilding of St. Nicholas at a time when the project was considered a secondary priority for the State of New York which was recovering from the terrorist attack.
Mehiel praised George Pataki, who was governor at the time the Greek-American community’s first raised the issue of St. Nicholas, and Andrew Cuomo, who also gave the “green light” for the church’s new location on Liberty Street in spite of objections and the bureaucratic challenges the project faced. Mehiel also thanked the head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Steven Plate and his Greek Orthodox wife, Nancy, for all their efforts.
Mehiel then introduced Michael Psaros, who could not hide his emotion and enthusiasm for the completion of an effort of more than 20 years. “Over 20 years ago, the only House of Worship at Ground Zero was destroyed on September 11th,” Psaros said. “That Church was the first place our immigrant forebears encountered after they passed through Ellis Island to the dream of America. Today, we consecrate a magnificent new House of Worship at Ground Zero, a breathtaking architectural masterpiece designed by Santiago Calatrava, the world’s most famous architect.”
“New York now has a National Shrine, a monument truly worthy of the greatest city in the world. May ‘Our Lady of New York City,’ holding this city in Her embrace, bless and protect New York and America for millennia to come,” Psaros said.
He also spoke warmly about Fr. Alex Karloutsos, whom he described as a “rock of the Church in America.”
“Father Alex is the alpha and omega of the National Shrine. His sheer force of will, inspiration, love and eternally wise counsel over the past twenty years made this miracle possible. We are proud that Father Alex will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Biden next week for his contributions to our nation, including St. Nicholas,” said Psaros.
Archbishop Elpidophoros then honored Mehiel, Psaros, and Fr. Karloutsos, presenting them each with an icon. His Eminence also presented Fr. Karloutsos with the Golden Cross of Aghia Sophia.
The service then continued with the Divine Liturgy.
Among those who spoke with The National Herald on July 4, one of the heroes of St. Nicholas, Anthoula Katsimatides who lost her brother John Katsimatides on 9/11, was visibly moved as she noted that “it’s a bittersweet day. On one side, I am very happy that after so many years we have the blessing to be here at St. Nicholas, to open the gates, to honor the space and for this church to start blessing the whole world and remembering the people who died during that day, like my brother John. I am grateful for everyone who helped us reach this blessed day.”
Katsimatides added that St. Nicholas Church is also a symbol against religious fanaticism and intolerance.
Fr. John Lardas, presiding priest of Archangel Michael Church in Port Washington, shared his connection to St. Nicholas Church where in his younger years, “I was an assistant in the old St. Nicholas Church with the late Father John Romas. Then I moved to Brooklyn. After September 11, Father John and the parishioners attended church at Saints Constantine and Helen and we did everything we could to promote the importance of the rebuilding of St. Nicholas. Now, after so many years, we are at this historic event for Orthodoxy and especially for Orthodoxy in America, we experience with great humility the emergence of this Church of St. Nicholas.”
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