World Trade Center

'If You Want To Humble An Empire': A 9/11 story that got religion and shouldn't be forgotten

'If You Want To Humble An Empire': A 9/11 story that got religion and shouldn't be forgotten

What’s the statute of limitations for pulling a story out of the GetReligion guilt folder?

Seriously, I want to call attention to a remarkable piece of news reporting — written under tremendous deadline pressure — that predates GetReligion itself. This journalism-focused website, in case you need a refresher, launched in 2004.

As you undoubtedly know, today marks the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

It seems appropriate then to recall just how much Time magazine incorporated religion into its original in-depth report on the events of 9/11. My thanks to New York Times Godbeat pro Elizabeth Dias, a Time alumnus herself, for highlighting the story by Nancy Gibbs on Twitter this morning:

If I read the Time story back in 2001, I don’t remember it. At the time, I was religion editor for The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City. I was focused on my own reporting, including writing four bylined response pieces on 9/11.

But I’m glad I took the time to read Gibbs’ piece today. It brought back so many memories. And yes, it covered crucial glimpses of faith present at that time.

The opening itself — written in Time’s analytical style — certainly emphasizes that element:

If you want to humble an empire it makes sense to maim its cathedrals. They are symbols of its faith, and when they crumple and burn, it tells us we are not so powerful and we can't be safe. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, planted at the base of Manhattan island with the Statue of Liberty as their sentry, and the Pentagon, a squat, concrete fort on the banks of the Potomac, are the sanctuaries of money and power that our enemies may imagine define us. But that assumes our faith rests on what we can buy and build, and that has never been America's true God.

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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.

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