Shrine to replace church destroyed on 9/11 nears completion

Sep 8, 2021, 7:42 AM | Updated: 8:08 am
Workers install marble on the exterior of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine, w...

Workers install marble on the exterior of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine, which is the only house of worship on ground zero, on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, in New York. Through an innovative process, interior lights are being designed to illuminate thin panels of marble mined from the same Pentelic vein in Greece that sourced the Parthenon, the ancient temple in Athens. The shrine will have a ceremonial lighting on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, while the interior is slated for completion next year. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

(AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

The domed sanctuary rising in Lower Manhattan, where workers are busy installing translucent Greek marble in time for a ceremonial lighting on Sept. 10, bears little resemblance to the modest parish church that John Katsimatides had discovered years ago.

He often visited the old St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church to say a prayer and light a candle as he went to or from work nearby on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower.

John Katsimatides “was thrilled that there was a Greek church right across the street from where he worked,” recalled his sister, Anthoula Katsimatides.

John, 31, a corporate bonds broker at Cantor Fitzgerald, was among the nearly 3,000 people killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The old St. Nicholas Church was also destroyed that day. While no one was killed in the building, it was crushed beneath the falling south tower — the only house of worship destroyed in the attacks.

“When we discovered … that St. Nicholas was also lost, we thought that there was some kind of a message there, that the victims did not die alone,” Anthoula Katsimatides said. “I remember my mom saying that … John and the other victims were being cradled by St. Nicholas.”

This Sept. 10, the eve of the date 20 years after the nation’s deadliest terrorist attack, she’ll attend the ceremonial lighting of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine, being built to replace the parish church and to honor those who were lost.

The ceremony will be a milestone in a project long beset with bureaucratic tangles and a financial crisis but now on track for completion next year.

“St. Nicholas brings me close to my brother,” Anthoula Katsimatides said.

The lighting of the church will come from within. Through an innovative process, interior lights are being designed to illuminate thin panels of marble, mined from the same Pentelic vein in Greece that sourced the Parthenon, the ancient temple in Athens.

The church is being built in an small, elevated park overlooking the World Trade Center memorial plaza, close to the reflecting pools that mark where the twin towers once stood. A huge, bronze sphere that once stood between the towers now stands, dented and damaged, in the park just beyond the chapel’s doors. Tour and school groups often gather on a flight of steps leading to the shrine.

The shrine’s concrete shell, passed daily by streams of tourists, has been one of the most visible signs of the unfinished work of the ground zero rebuilding effort. Work to install its marble cladding has been proceeding at a fast pace in recent weeks in time for the ceremonial lighting, though the church isn’t slated to be completed until next year.

The church is designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, with its dome, windows and iconography inspired by historic former Byzantine churches, including the world-renowned Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. A Greek iconographer is integrating traditional designs with imagery from 9/11, including tributes to slain rescue workers.

Given its prominent location near the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, the shrine is destined to become a signature American expression of Eastern Orthodoxy, an ancient Christian communion that still predominates in Greece and much of Eastern Europe but has a slender share of the U.S. Christian population.

In addition to its sanctuary, the shrine will have a separate space for meditation and reflection for people of all faiths.

“It’s going to have a rich liturgical life” as a church, said Michael Psaros, vice chairman of the Friends of St. Nicholas, the private entity overseeing the project in cooperation with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. “But this beautiful shrine we’re building belongs to New York, it belongs to the U.S., and it belongs to the world.”

Greek immigrants founded St. Nicholas on Lower Manhattan’s Cedar Street in 1916, converting a former tavern into a church and topping it with a small belfry and cross. According to parish lore, newly arrived Greek immigrants came there to offer thanks to St. Nicholas, patron of seafarers.

“Whatever we did in St. Nicholas was all volunteer,” said Olga Pavlakos, vice president of the parish. “It was a poor parish.”

Over the decades, even as the little church was islanded by a parking lot and dwarfed by the World Trade Center, parish leaders refused to sell to land-hungry developers.

After 9/11, the archdiocese always intended to rebuild, but its location on Liberty Street was settled only after litigation between the archdiocese and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

But costs soared beyond projections, and construction halted in late 2017 after the archdiocese fell behind on payments.

The newly created Friends of St. Nicholas, led by a core of wealthy Greek-Americans, assumed management of the project. It has completed fundraising for the church, with estimated costs of close to $85 million, and is now raising an endowment for maintenance and security.

Archbishop Elpidophoros, who began leading the nationwide archdiocese in 2019, said the symbolism of the shrine is important.

“Ground zero is worldwide known as as a place of religious hatred and violence, and the results of this religious hatred and violence,” he said. “Part of our responsibility was to restore the reputation of religion … as a factor of uniting people.”

The project has personal significance for the Rev. Alex Karloutsos, longtime vicar-general for the archdiocese. After the 9/11 attacks, he was among clergy offering spiritual support to recovery workers.

“People at that point were looking for something sacred, because they had just experienced that which is evil,” he said.

Among the surviving artifacts from St. Nicholas was a paper icon of St. Dionysius of Zakynthos — the patron of forgiveness for having forgiven his brother’s murderer.

“That icon was very poignant, because at the end of the day, for us to go outside of our hatred, we even had to forgive those who destroyed our brothers and sisters,” Karloutsos said.

___

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., speaks before President Joe Biden signs the $1.2 trillion bipa...
Associated Press

Sinema took Wall Street money while killing tax on investors

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona Democrat who single-handedly thwarted her party’s longtime goal of raising taxes on wealthy investors, received nearly $1 million over the past year from private equity professionals, hedge fund managers and venture capitalists whose taxes would have increased under the plan. For years, Democrats have promised to raise […]
23 hours ago
FILE- Internal Revenue Service taxes forms are seen on Feb. 13, 2019. The flagship climate change a...
Associated Press

Expanded IRS free-file system one step closer in Dems’ bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — The flagship climate change and health care bill passed by Democrats and soon to be signed by President Joe Biden will bring U.S. taxpayers one step closer to a government-operated electronic free-file tax return system. It’s something lawmakers and advocates have been seeking for years. For many Americans, it’s frustrating that beyond […]
23 hours ago
FILE - In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, air force and naval aviation corps of ...
Associated Press

China sending fighter jets to Thailand for joint exercises

BANGKOK (AP) — The Chinese air force is sending fighter jets and bombers to Thailand for a joint exercise with the Thai military on Sunday. The training will include air support, strikes on ground targets and small- and large-scale troop deployment, the Chinese Defense Ministry said in a statement posted on its website. China’s expanding […]
23 hours ago
FILE - This Aug. 9, 2020, still image taken from officer video provided by the Albuquerque Police D...
Associated Press

Suspect in 4 New Mexico killings left trail of violence

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — In the six years since he resettled in the United States from Afghanistan, the primary suspect in the slayings of four Muslim men in Albuquerque has been arrested several times for domestic violence and captured on camera slashing the tires of a woman’s car, according to police and court records. The […]
23 hours ago
Associated Press

Today in History: August 13, East Germany seals the border

Today in History Today is Saturday, Aug. 13, the 225th day of 2022. There are 140 days left in the year. Today’s Highlight in History: On Aug. 13, 1961, East Germany sealed off the border between Berlin’s eastern and western sectors before building a wall that would divide the city for the next 28 years. […]
23 hours ago
A Clinton County employee helps direct traffic as an Ohio State Highway Patrol vehicle leaves the s...
Associated Press

Ohio gunman appeared to threaten FBI after Trump home search

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A gunman who died in a shootout after trying to get inside the FBI’s Cincinnati office apparently went on social media and called for federal agents to be killed “on sight” following the search at former President Donald Trump’s home, a law enforcement official said. Federal investigators are examining social media […]
23 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
...
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
Shrine to replace church destroyed on 9/11 nears completion