St. Nicholas Orthodox Church

New York Post probes Greek tragedy at ground zero, while asking few Orthodox questions

New York Post probes Greek tragedy at ground zero, while asking few Orthodox questions

To be perfectly honest, this is a story that tears my heart out.

I have been reporting and writing about the destruction of the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in lower Manhattan ever since Sept. 12, 2001. This was, of course, the tiny sanctuary crushed by the fall of the south tower of the World Trade Center.

I have also written columns about the long and complicated efforts by Orthodox officials to obtain a site near ground zero so that a new St. Nicholas could be built as a memorial and sanctuary. When I am in Manhattan, l live and teach nearby and pass the new construction site almost every day. My favorite pub is 50 paces away.

Now there is this, a recent headline from The New York Post: "How a church destroyed on 9/11 became mired in controversy." The overture states the basic facts:

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was to be a “beacon of hope” at the World Trade Center site, glowing at night as a symbol to the faithful and those seeking solace on hallowed ground.

Thousands of visitors were to walk through the church doors on Liberty Street to worship, light a candle or just sit quietly in a nondenominational meditation room overlooking one of the 9/11 Memorial’s reflecting pools.

Now the church is a half-built eyesore, and when those doors will open is uncertain. The project has been stalled for five months and become a quagmire of accusations and millions of dollars in missing donations and cost overruns. What was to be the proud symbol of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, and the only house of worship tending to the masses at Ground Zero, is now mired in controversy. ...

GetReligion readers will not be surprised to know that the main thing missing from this long and detailed report is (wait for it) religion. And here is the big irony in this story: If the Post team had probed the religious elements of this story if would have been even more painful to read, especially for the Orthodox.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Hey AP: St. Nicholas Orthodox Church at 9/11 ground zero will be 'flanked by towers'?

Hey AP: St. Nicholas Orthodox Church at 9/11 ground zero will be 'flanked by towers'?

I think about 9/11 every day, during my weeks in New York City teaching at The King's College in lower Manhattan.

There's a logical reason. When in New York, I live in a residence hotel next to ground zero. Each morning I walk around the edge of the park containing the footprints of the World Trade Center towers. That includes St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which is being rebuilt close to its original location 250 feet from the corner of the south tower.

At night, I often go a block or two out of my way to check out the construction. I started writing about the fate of this church -- the only house of worship destroyed on 9/11 -- two weeks after the towers fell. As an Orthodox Christian, I find one detail of the church's destruction especially haunting.

Orthodox believers want to search in the two-story mound of debris for the remains of three loved ones who died long ago -- the relics of St. Nicholas, St. Katherine and St. Sava. Small pieces of their skeletons were kept in a gold-plated box marked with an image of Christ. This ossuary was stored in a 700-pound, fireproof safe.
"We do not think it could have burned. But perhaps it was crushed," said Father [John] Romas. "Who knows? All we can do is wait and pray."

The safe was never found (click here for a 2014 update). How do you burn cast iron?

I was glad to pick up my newspaper here in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and see that the Associated Press, in its advance story for this 9/11 anniversary, focused on the construction of the new St. Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center. It's a pretty solid story, yet it contains one or two details that need clarification.

In one case, I am sure the Orthodox would appreciate a correction. Will the new shrine have towers like the current Hagia Sophia? Here is the overture:

NEW YORK -- A Greek Orthodox church taking shape next to the World Trade Center memorial plaza will glow at night like a marble beacon when it opens sometime next year. It also will mark another step in the long rebuilding of New York’s ground zero.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The New York Times gets the ground zero shrine story, but misses St. Nicholas Church

The New York Times gets the ground zero shrine story, but misses St. Nicholas Church

First things first: I am thankful that The New York Times covered this highly symbolic rite at the St. Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center.

I was at the site just over a week ago and asked some of the crew if they knew when a cross would be installed atop the emerging dome on the shrine. This project represents the end of years of struggle to replace St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church -- the only house of worship destroyed on 9/11.

This is a "local" issue for me, in a way, since I am an Orthodox believer and I walk past the site every morning on my way to The King's College, when I am teaching in New York City. Click here, here and here for my columns about the church, beginning just after the attack.

The Times piece gets many things right, but leaves some major holes about the church itself -- as in the people of St. Nicholas. From the very beginning, this is a news story about a New York landmark, as opposed to a house of worship. Here is some summary material near the top:

The topping out of the shrine with the cross was a milestone in the tortuous effort to rebuild St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, a little parish outpost at 155 Cedar Street in Lower Manhattan that was destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001, when the south trade center tower fell on it.
And it is more than 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.”)

I appreciate that the story gives a precise location for the original church, in terms of a street address. The key is that government agencies needed that tiny piece of land, so they took it. So what happened to the displaced church and its people?

Please respect our Commenting Policy