Yesterday morning, the Orthodox Christian faithful took a dramatic step in reclaiming their church and regathering their worshipers. They celebrated the topping out of St. Nicholas National Shrine with a 6 foot, three inch Justinian cross.
The St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was a small oasis of Orthodoxy at 155 Cedar Street until it was destroyed by the collapse of the south World Trade Center tower after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
In Athens on November 16, President Obama mentioned the significance of the rebuilding, "And if anyone seeks an example of our shared spirit, our resilience, they need look no further than New York City, near Ground Zero, where the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas, once in ruins, is now rising again."
The New York Times noted that "the cross is the first overtly religious symbol to appear in the public realm at the World Trade Center, where officials have often contorted themselves to maintain a secular air. (What almost everyone knows as the “World Trade Center cross,” for instance, is officially referred to as the “intersecting steel beam.”)"
However, the church will offer regular worship services in its new sanctuary while also offering a separate space for contemplation and prayer by people of other faiths. The 40 structural pieces of the ribbed dome match the number in the dome of Hagia Sophia, a church building that was converted to a mosque but now operates as a museum in Istanbul.
“St. Nicholas will also offer the opening towards a nonmaterial reality: the presence of God. So this small chapel here will say the story that there is a God beyond what we see, what we feel and what we could statistically verify. And that’s the very great mission of this new St. Nicholas Church,” said Archbishop Demetrios, the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.
After joining with Archdeacon Panteleimon Papadopoulos and Deacon Eleftherios Constantine in chanting the “Feast of the Cross” — “The cross is the glory of the angels, and the defeat of the demons” — Archbishop Demetrios sanctified the steel cross with a sprinkling of holy water and water from the National September 11 Memorial & Museum pools . Mindful of the congregants who were gathered at the ceremony with the dignitaries, the Archbishop also blessed the crowd.
The Times quoted Mr. Patrick J. Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who said there was nothing inappropriate about the presence of the cross in a public park, because St. Nicholas was destroyed in the attack, because construction costs were being met privately and because the shrine would include contemplative space for the general public.
“A house of worship is going to have its own shape, style and iconography,” he observed.
The newly installed cross is an interim measure until the building is finished with a permanent cross and worshipers sometime in 2018.